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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Where Are the Women?: movies that represent women well are just as likely to be profitable as movies that don’t, and are less risky as business propositions

watwprofit

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.

see also:

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
• mainstream moviegoers are not turned off by films with female protagonists


One of the excuses we hear frequently for the lack of women’s presence and women’s stories on the big screen is that Hollywood is a business, and if it made business sense, we’d have more movies about women. But as we’ll see here, movies with female protagonists and movies that represent women well are no more and no less profitable than movies with male protagonists and movies that don’t represent women well.

(These analyses on budget and profit include only those films for which a budget is available: 146 films out of the 153 overall.)

How does a film’s WATW score measure up against a film’s production budget?

(Hover over a dot for the film’s WATW score, title, and budget. Click here to see the chart in a separate zoomable window.)

The correlation here is .01, which suggests that there’s no significant difference between how much it costs to produce a film that represents women well and how much it costs to produce one that doesn’t. (In other words, it costs nothing to treat women like people onscreentweet.) But look at median budgets:

(Hover over a bar for exact figures. Click here to see the chart in a separate zoomable window.)

The median budget of movies that represent women well ($24 million) is 20 percent less than the median budget of movies that do not represent women well ($30 million). (Median numbers give a better idea of the general scope of the environment because megabudget outliers drag the average way up.)

What happens when we compare the gender of a film’s protagonist with its production budget?

(Hover over a dot for the film’s title and budget. Click here to see the chart in a separate zoomable window.)

There is a very slight negative correlation here: -0.06. Which again suggests that there’s no significant difference between how much it costs to produce a film with a female protagonist and how much it costs to produce one with a male protagonisttweet. But let’s look at median budgets again, compared to the protagonist’s gender:

(Hover over a bar for exact figures. Click here to see the chart in a separate zoomable window.)

The median budget of movies with female protagonists ($23 million) is almost 24 percent less than the median budget of movies with male protagonists ($30 million). (Again, median numbers give a better idea of the general scope of the environment because megabudget outliers drag the average way up.)

So now that we’ve seen what it costs to make these movies, let’s look at how profitable these movies are. (Determining a film’s profit is an exercise in calculated guesswork and a bit of sorcery. See the “Profit Score” section of the introduction for a detailed explanation of how I determined whether a film has been profitable.)

How does a film’s WATW score compare with its profitability? (In this chart, a score of 1 means a film broke even in theatrical release; above 1 means it turned a profit; below 1 means it did not turn a profit.)

(Hover over a dot for the film’s WATW score, title, and profit score. Click here to see the chart in a separate zoomable window.)

There is an extremely weak positive correlation here: 0.05. Which means that movies that represent women well are just as likely to turn a profit as movies that don’t represent women well are. (In other words, no loss of profit results from treating women like people onscreentweet.)

(This chart excludes two extreme outliers — Unfriended, with a neutral WATW score of 0 and a profit score of 25.64; and The Gallows, with a negative WATW score of -5, and a profit score of 172 — because they made the chart unreadable. They are included in the correlation.)

And how does profit measure up against the gender of a film’s protagonist?

(Hover over a dot for the film’s title and profit score. Click here to see the chart in a separate zoomable window.)

Again, there is an extremely weak positive correlation here: 0.07. Which means that movies with female protagonists are just as likely to break a profit as movies with male protagonists.tweet

(Again, this chart excludes the extreme outliers — Unfriended, with a mixed-gender ensemble and a profit score of 25.64; and The Gallows, with a mixed-gender ensemble and a profit score of 172 — because they made the chart unreadable. They are included in the correlation.)

So now we have concrete evidence that there is no business reason why Hollywood cannot tell more stories about women, or why Hollywood cannot put well-rounded depictions of women onscreen (even in movies with male protagonists, as some films with positive WATW scores have).

What’s more, the studios’ apparent thesis that movies about women are riskier than movies about men is completely trashed here. Since movies that represent women cost 20 to 24 percent less to produce and are just as likely to be profitable, movies about women are actually less risky, as business propositions, than movies about mentweet.

(Big 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!)

More analysis!


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.

If you find Where Are the Women? useful, interesting, or important, please support it now by:

buying some Where Are the Women? merch
becoming a monthly or yearly subscriber of FlickFilospher.com
making a one-time donation via Paypal


posted in:
where are the women
  • Bluejay

    In other words, it costs nothing to treat women like people onscreen.

    THIS. I’ve been arguing this broadly about the treatment of people in general.

    Thanks for all this amazing work, MaryAnn. I’ve enjoyed following the WATW film-by-film analysis and now it’s great to step back to see the big picture.

  • RogerBW

    I theorise that, as a producer, you need to make more effort to find a competent scriptwriter even if you don’t end up having to pay them any more. But I really don’t know.

  • Danielm80

    My Where Are the Women? project, analyzing the films of 2015 for their representation of women, is now finished…

    We should buy you a cap to throw into the air.

    And thanks.

    I wonder how many of the films about women needed to be low-budget, because studios wouldn’t support them financially.

  • RogerBW

    I was expecting them to skew low-budget, but it doesn’t seem to have happened.

  • Jonathan Roth

    Damn! Sweet data digging, MaryAnn.

  • Captain Megaton

    I love this stuff!! Thanks for the hard work.

    Probably the most important plot is “profits vs. WATW”. I think you could present it a different way though. Instead of profit on the Y access, make it a histogram and plot “total net profit” as the sum profits for a certain range of WATW score. What it would show, I believe, is that the movies at the extreme negative end of the scale are far less likely to make money than those with a positive or slightly negative WATW. It would support the conclusion that if you make a movie that treats women like shit, your movie is probably going to tank at the BO.

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