Geek films, and films in general, are making lower returns on investment because they do not pass the Bechdel test for female participation in a film, according to an interesting meta-analysis of gender bias in the movie business on Nate Silver’s new FiveThirtyEight site on ESPN. The analysis was done to test conventional wisdom in Hollywood that women are more likely to go to a film made to appeal to men than men are to go to a film made to appeal to women. The analysis also tested the conventional Hollywood wisdom that films made for and about men do better outside the U.S.
The Bechdel Test, named for a 1985 Alison Bechdel strip from Dykes to Watch Out For, requires movies to satisfy three criteria to pass: there are at least two named female characters in the film; who have a conversation with each other; and that conversation is not about a male character.
FiveThirtyEight analyzed over 1,600 films released from 1990 to 2013, based on data from the Bechdel test website and The-Numbers.com, a leading box office and budget data site, to determine if there was a relationship between the prominence of women in a film and the film’s budget and gross profits. The analysis was adjusted for inflation.
The conclusions? First, looking at the film budgets and box office revenues, the analysis found that films that passed the Bechdel test had a higher return on investment (box office revenues/budget) than films that did not. "The total median gross return on investment for a film that passed the Bechdel test was $2.68 for each dollar spent," the analysis said. "The total median gross return on investment for films that failed was only $2.45 for each dollar spent. And while this might be a side effect of films with lower budgets tending to have higher returns on investment than films with higher budgets, it’s still a strong indicator that films with women in somewhat prominent roles are performing well."
And second, that relationship was not limited to domestic release; the higher ROI for Bechdel Test-passing films held true in international markets as well.
In the process, the analysis uncovered the fact that budgets for films passing the Bechdel Test are lower than films that fail; and that the percentage of films passing the test went up from 1970 to 2000, but has plateaued since.
Analyses by FiveThirtyEight (538) carry some weight. It started as a polling aggregation blog created by writer and statistician Nate Silver, who correctly forecast the outcome of every state election for the 2012 presidential election, based on his unique methodology of balancing polls with comparative demographic data. Formerly licensed to appear in The New York Times, and currently owned by ESPN, the site offers statistical analysis-based articles on topics from politics and sports to lifestyle and science.
In search of an explanation for why Hollywood behaves the way it does, the analysis noted (and quantified) the lack of women in directing, producing, and writing roles.
Geek films may be fairly typical, with about half of the films passing the Bechdel test. For example, we took a look at films based on Marvel and DC characters since 2000, and both Marvel and DC-based films fell at around 50% passing the Bechdel test. On the DC side, there were six films since 2000, and of those three passed the test (Batman: The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, and Catwoman), and three failed (two Batman films and Green Lantern).
On the Marvel side, there were an amazing 24 films since 2000, with 22 of them tested. Ten of the 22 films tested passed, or 45%. Avengers, the top grossing film on either list, flunked the test. Five of the six X-Men films (that includes the Wolverine pics) passed, along with both Thor movies, two of the three Iron Man movies, and one of the Fantastic Four films. Both Cap films, the first X-Men film, the first Fantastic Four movie, all four of the Spider-Man films, Daredevil, and Blade II failed. Blade: Trinity and Elektra were not tested.
If geek films are typical in how they handle female characters (about half passing the Bechdel test), there’s a lot of opportunity to expand their audiences. And now there’s some data that backs that up.
New Research Shows Missed Opportunity
Posted by ICv2 on April 3, 2014 @ 12:55 am CT
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