Dear Hollywood: We know how you can make more money in 2014.
Put more women on screen.
We analyzed the 50 biggest box office movies of 2013 to see if they passed the Bechdel test, which assesses whether a movie contains two or more women having a conversation about something other than a man. It is named after cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who wrote about it in her popular comic Dykes to monitor. (Bechdel actually attributes the rule to her friend Liz Wallace.)
The three-part criteria for a film to pass:
There must be (1) at least two women, who (2) talk to each other about (3) something other than a man.
Of the total 50 movies we watched, 17, or 36%, passed with flying colors. seven more technically past, but are deemed “dubious” by Bechdel watchers because of the dialogue (some were about a man, some weren’t, but not much).
What we found is this: the total domestic box office ticket count for successful films is significantly higher than the domestic box office total for unsuccessful films. We are talking about billions.
Perhaps even more shocking is that each director was male. We repeat: 50 films, zero directors. Maybe more women behind the camera would be a good start, huh? (UPDATE: A savvy reader informs us that Frozen was actually co-directed by Jennifer Lee, so make that 0.5 out of 50, with my apologies to Ms. Lee.)
A huge caveat: as stated on the Bechdel Test website, Gravity technically fails. We didn’t include it in the list of failures because it’s a special case: there are only two main characters onscreen in the film, and Sandra Bullock is one of them. She is also much more on screen than her co-star George Clooney. It made $254.6 million domestically, so even if we had included it in the failure total, the clear winner would still be the same.
Movies that have passed
Yes G.I. Joe can do it, anyone can (you would think). Fast and Furious 6? We are impressed. (And RIP Paul Walker.)
The heat is one of our favorites – a classic cop duo with two badass women: Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. They inspired many pairs of women to dress up as cops for Halloween, including the film’s official Twitter account documented in detail.
hunger games catch fire is another remarkable and inspiring little girl throughout with Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss as the heroine of her world, but the sequel has the added bonus of Jena Malone’s fierce Johanna Mason, who some would like to see replace Peeta and Gale as lovers .
Films technically successful, but requiring work
Ironman 3! He had such potential. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a strong female lead, but this time around she didn’t have Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), to bounce her ideas off. Even with Thor 2: Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster stands apart from Thor’s rather intimidating father (Anthony Hopkins), but most of her conversations with MILF Frigga (Rene Russo) or her intern Darcy (Kat Dennings) are about Thor.
One thing the filmmakers of Thor did: Marvel partnered with the National Academy of Sciences to sponsor a contest for young female scientists, inspired by astrophysicist Foster in the film. The “Ultimate Mentor Adventure” selected 10 winning girls from 300 entries to visit Hollywood, meet the cast, and get mentorship from real-life female scientists.
Movies that failed
Ron Burgundy and Captain Kirk, we need to talk.
We want to pay tribute to Peter Jackson for snubbing purist Tolkien fans and adding an entirely made-up character to The Hobbit just so there’s a woman onscreen (there isn’t in the book). The elf Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly, is capable of slaying orcs as well (and dreamily) as Orlando Bloom’s Legolas, but she’s also stuck in the middle of a love triangle. For her part, Lilly says she wasn’t a fan of the idea and was added in later covers.
As for the stoner epic It is the end, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg get points for Rihanna slapping Michael Cera and Emma Watson defending herself against rape. But still a pretty stunning failure by Bechdel’s standards.
Here’s to a better 2014.