Where Are the Women?: crunching the numbers


major conclusions:

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
movies that represent women well are just as likely to be profitable as movies that don’t, and are less risky as business propositions
• essays about Where Are the Women? conclusions at alternative weekly newspapers Salt Lake City Weekly and Pacific Northwest Inlander

The Where Are the Women? project was designed to drill deep down into the films of 2015 in order to determine how well — or how poorly — they represented women. The project has now come to its end, and you can examine the final ranking here. The ranking includes 270 films released in the US, Canada, and the UK, in both limited and wide release (including every wide-release North American film and most of the UK wide-release films). The project also rated and ranked every film nominated for both the 2014 Oscars (awarded in early 2015) and the 2015 Oscars (awarded in early 2016), films that span the release years of 2014, 2015, and 2016 (though not inclusive of all films released those years, of course). In all, I examined a total of 295 movies — on a granular level, using criteria I developed myself informed by almost 20 years as a film critic and a lifetime as a female film fan — for their depiction of girls and women. The list of films is below, if you’re curious. (Oh, and the Kickstarter supporting this project was funded only to the level of 130 films over the first six months of 2015, so I’ve delivered more than twice what I had promised.)

This analysis will look only at the 153 films that opened in wide release in the United States between December 25, 2014, and December 18, 2015. There are good reasons — both philosophical and practical — for limiting the analysis like this. Firstly and most importantly, the US wide releases are the ones that most people in North America — the largest film market on the planet — are exposed to, even if they never actually see the films, thanks to saturation marketing and advertising. These are the films that set the standard, for better or for worse; these are the films that Americans (and Hollywood!) think about when they think about movies. (I would have liked to also cover all UK wide releases — and I am missing only 10 out of 151 wide releases in the UK in 2015 — but reliable box-office numbers are not available for UK releases, and with a lot of overlap with North America, the results would be much the same overall anyway. And it would be impossible for a single person to cover all releases in the US; industry site The Numbers lists almost 800 movies released in the US in 2015.)

You can examine a comprehensive spreadsheet of the details about these 153 films here.

One of the key figures in that spreadsheet is the “Profit Score,” a determination of just how profitable — or unprofitable — a film has been. There can probably be no genuine way to know how well a film does, in a business sense, because Hollywood is so tight-fisted with its numbers; even production budgets are often wild guesses or rough estimates, and they do not include splits of ticket prices with cinemas, the costs of marketing, and so on. But this is the formula I used:

• For films with budgets over US $100 million, I divided the global box office figure by three times the announced or estimated budget; this multiplication of the budget is to account for those ticket splits, marketing, and other costs. The idea is that a film has to earn, in ticket sales, three times what it cost to produce (not counting marketing and ticket splits) in order to turn a profit.

• For films with budgets under US $100 million, I divided the global box office figure by 2.5 times the announced or estimated budget, to account for a likely smaller marketing budget.

• For films for which no global box office figures are available — either because it did not get a release beyond the US or because I could not find global box office figures — I divided the domestic box office figure by two times the announced or estimated budget, to account for an even smaller domestic-only marketing budget.

Using this formula, a film that scores more than 1 means it turned profit. This figure does not take into account ancillary sales and residuals, such as from DVD releases, streaming rights, TV syndication, and so on. As far as I am aware, there is no ready public source for such comprehensive numbers, and even if there were, it would be many years before a definitive decision on the profitability of any given movie could be made.

(I got budget and box-office figures mostly from The Numbers and Box Office Mojo. I have indicated on the chart the few films for which budgets are estimated or not available. See Hollywood Reporter and Adweek for examinations of how movie marketing costs have skyrocketed in recent years, which influenced my formula.)

Is my Profit Score a bit speculative? Absolutely. But I think it is a reasonable and well-supported speculation, and it forms a basis for comparison.

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

The 295 films WATW looked attweet:

100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, The
33, The
45 Years
90 Minutes in Heaven
99 Homes
Absolutely Anything
Age of Adaline, The
Alex of Venice
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip
American Sniper
American Ultra
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Barely Lethal
Begin Again
Best of Enemies
Beyond the Lights
Beyond the Mask
Big Eyes
Big Game
Big Hero 6
Big Short, The
Big Significant Things
Black Mass
Black or White
Black Sea
Boxtrolls, The
Boy & the World
Boy Next Door, The
Bridge of Spies
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Cartel Land
Charlie’s Country
Child 44
Connection (La French), The
Crimson Peak
D Train (aka Bad Bromance), The
Danish Girl, The
Danny Collins
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Dawn Patrol
Diary of a Teenage Girl, The
Divergent Series: Insurgent, The
Do You Believe?
Dressmaker, The
Embrace of the Serpent
Emperor’s New Clothes, The
Every Secret Thing
Ex Machina
Face of an Angel, The
Fantastic Four
Far from the Madding Crowd
Fathers & Daughters
Fifty Shades of Grey
Film Critic (El Critico), The
Finding Vivian Maier
Furious 7 (aka Fast & Furious 7)
Gallows, The
Gambler, The
Get Hard
Gift, The
Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me
Gone Girl
Good Dinosaur, The
Good Kill
Grand Budapest Hotel, The
Green Inferno, The
Guardians of the Galaxy
Gunman, The
Hallow, The
Hateful Eight, The
He Named Me Malala
Hitman: Agent 47
Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The
Hot Pursuit
Hot Tub Time Machine 2
Hotel Transylvania 2
How to Change the World
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Huevos: Little Rooster’s Egg-Cellent Adventure (Un Gallo con Muchos Huevos)
Human Centipede III (Final Sequence), The
Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, The
Hunting Ground, The
Imitation Game, The
In the Heart of the Sea
Inherent Vice
Inside Out
Insidious: Chapter 3
Intern, The
Into the Woods
Irrational Man
It Follows
Jackie & Ryan
Jem and the Holograms
John Wick
Judge, The
Jupiter Ascending
Jurassic World
Keeping Room, The
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
Last Days in Vietnam
Last Five Years, The
Last Witch Hunter, The
Lazarus Effect, The
Lego Movie, The
Letters, The (aka Letters from Mother Teresa)
Lila and Eve
Little Boy
Little Chaos, A
Loft, The
London Road
Longest Ride, The
Look of Silence, The
Love & Mercy
Love the Coopers (aka Christmas with the Coopers)
Mad Max: Fury Road
Madame Bovary
Magic Mike XXL
Man from U.N.C.L.E., The
Man Up
Maps to the Stars
Martian, The
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
McFarland USA (aka McFarland)
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Messenger, The
MI-5 (aka Spooks: The Greater Good)
Miss You Already
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Mississippi Grind
Mistress America
Molly Moon and the Incredible Book of Hypnotism
Monkey Kingdom
Monsters: Dark Continent
Moomins on the Riviera
Mr. Holmes
Mr. Turner
My All American
Night Before, The
No Escape
Old Fashioned
Our Brand Is Crisis
Overnight, The
Paper Towns
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2
Pawn Sacrifice
Peanuts Movie (aka Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie), The
Perfect Guy, The
Pitch Perfect 2
Program, The
Project Almanac
Racing Extinction
Return to Sender
Revenant, The
Ricki and the Flash
Rock the Kasbah
Royal Night Out, A
Run All Night
Salt of the Earth, The
Salvation, The
San Andreas
Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse
Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The
Secret in Their Eyes
Seventh Son
Shaun the Sheep Movie
Sinister 2
Sisterhood of Night, The
Slow West
Son of a Gun
Son of Saul
Song of the Sea
SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, The
Spooks: The Greater Good (aka MI-5)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Steve Jobs
Still Alice
Straight Outta Compton
Strange Magic
Suite Française
Taken 3
Tale of the Princess Kaguya, The
Ted 2
Ten Thousand Saints
Terminator Genisys
Testament of Youth
Theory of Everything, The
Top Five
Town That Dreaded Sundown, The
Transporter Refuelled, The
True Story
Two by Two: Ooops… The Ark Has Gone (aka Two by Two: God’s Little Creatures)
Two Days, One Night
Unfinished Business
Vatican Tapes, The
Victor Frankenstein
Visit, The
Voices, The
Walk in the Woods, A
Walk, The
War (Krigen), A
War Book
War Room
Water Diviner, The
We Are Your Friends
Wedding Ringer, The
Welcome to Me
What Happened, Miss Simone?
When Marnie Was There
While We’re Young
Wild Card
Wild Tales
Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom
Woman in Black 2: The Angel of Death, The
Woman in Gold
X-Men: Days of Future Past
X+Y (aka A Brilliant Young Mind)

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Tue, Apr 12, 2016 9:44am

Thanks for releasing the raw data!

reply to  RogerBW
Tue, Apr 12, 2016 3:23pm

That is surprising – I was expecting/hoping that high-WATW films would be more profitable on average. On a more positive note, it is hard evidence to counter the claim that movies that represent women well don’t make money. Thank you for taking the time to analyze the data.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Tue, Apr 12, 2016 5:50pm

I’ll be posting some analysis of budget, box office, and profitability very soon.

Tue, Apr 12, 2016 8:33pm

This analysis of dialogue in movies by gender is interesting:
If a bit simplistic (it’s based only on dialogue in scripts, and devoid of context). It looks like some films with high WATW scores still have dialogue dominated by men, and vice versa. Despite it’s limitations it’s interesting just on the basis of being such a large sample. Also the genre with the largest share of dialogue by women appear to be horror.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Elwood72
Wed, Apr 13, 2016 9:45am

Women do tend to feature prominently in horror movies… mostly so they can be threatened. :-(

Thu, May 12, 2016 10:57pm
MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Anonymous
Fri, May 13, 2016 10:00am

Conclusion: there is no significant correlation between watw score and profitability. […] It wouldn’t harm Hollywood to make movies with better portrayals of women.

That’s what I said. Why are you repeating my own work back to me?

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, May 16, 2016 9:19am
Catherine Asaro
Catherine Asaro
Sat, Jul 23, 2016 1:47am

Thank you for the excellent project. My family and I always went to your reviews first when we wanted to see a movie, both because the reviews are great, but also because of the Where are the Women project. I hope that more reviews adopt the Johanson analysis for women in movies.

It reminded me of this comic strip I had up on my door when I was a postdoc … :-)