Where Are the Women?: mainstream moviegoers are not turned off by films with female protagonists
My Where Are the Women? project, analyzing the films of 2015 for their representation of women, is now finished, and I’ve crunched some numbers.
Get an introduction to this analysis here. You can examine a comprehensive spreadsheet of the details about these 153 films here.
• only 22% of 2015’s movies had female protagonists
• best and worst representations of women on film in 2015 (and the average WATW score for the year)
• critics are slightly more likely to rate a film highly if it represents women well
• movies that represent women well are just as likely to be profitable as movies that don’t, and are less risky as business propositions
I’ve looked at how critics react to movies that represent women well (spoiler: they are slightly more likely to rate such films highly). Now let’s look at how audiences react to movies that treat women as fully human people.
There are two good measures of how much mainstream audiences enjoy a film. The first, though it is limited to the US, is Cinemascore, an independent service that polls moviegoers on opening night to gauge the general public reaction. Ratings can range from A+ to F, but most scores fall in the A-to-C range. As the Los Angeles Times explains:
If a movie earns an A, it was a true hit with its target audience. A B grade signals general satisfaction, if not wild enthusiasm. A C grade is bad news, the equivalent of a failing grade. Opening-night audiences rarely give Ds and Fs. According to [Cinemascore owner Ed] Mintz, opening-night moviegoers are the people most eager to like a new film, so the grades tend to be on a curve — if the biggest fans give a film a B-minus, it signals that the average moviegoer would like the movie even less.
So, broadly, a Cinemascore of A is roughly equivalent to a green light on my traffic-light scale, a B is a yellow light, and a C is a red light. It is very rare that a film earns a D or F with Cinemascore, so rare that it’s actually big news when that happens… and it did not happen for any 2015 Cinemascore evaluated. (Cinemascore appears not to rate movies that open first in limited release and later go wide, so there are fewer movies, only 121, in this evaluation than the 153 considered herein overall.)
Here’s how Cinemascore breaks down for films compared to their WATW scores:
(Hover over a dot for the film’s Cinemascore, title, and WATW score. Click here to see the chart in a separate zoomable window.)
The correlation between a film’s Cinemascore and its WATW score is only very slightly positive: 0.07. Which means audiences don’t care much one way or the other if a movie is about a man or a woman. Audiences are not turned off by women’s stories. This is an argument we often hear from the industry: that audiences do not respond to women’s stories. Clearly, this is not the case.
Here’s what we get when we compare Cinemascores with the gender of a film’s protagonist:
In the chart above, Cinemascores appear thusly:
A+ = 1.25 | A = 1 | A- = .75
B+ = .25 | B = 0 | B- = -.75
C+ = -.25 | C = -1 | C- = -1.75
(Hover over a dot for the film’s title and Cinemascore. Click here to see the chart in a separate zoomable window.)
The correlation here is negative, but still very tiny: -0.08. Again, moviegoers don’t care much whether a movie has a woman at its center, or a man; it doesn’t factor much into whether they like a film or not.
The other measure of how much mainstream audiences enjoy a film is box office — audiences vote with their money. So how does box office compare with a film’s WATW score?
(Hover over a dot for the film’s title, WATW score, and global box office. Click here to see the chart in a separate zoomable window.)
Again, the correlation is positive but weak — 0.09 — which again means that filmgoers are just as happy to pay for a movie that treats women well as they are to pay for one that ignores women or treats women badly.
How does box office measure up against the gender of a film’s protagonist?
(Hover over a dot for the film’s title and global box office. Click here to see the chart in a separate zoomable window.)
Once again, the correlation here is negative, but still very tiny: -0.04. Moviegoers are demonstrably not turned off by films with female protagonists.
(Once more, and not for the last time, huge thanks to reader RogerBW for pointing out the numeric correlations, and for sending me in the direction to learn more about statistical correlations. As I said to him, I never took a statistics course!)
Where Are the Women? was partially supported by a Kickstarter campaign — a HUGE thank-you to my generous Kickstarter supporters — but those funds did not begin to cover all the time, effort, and expense that went into this project.
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