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How Were Women Represented in Top Films of 2013? It's a Man's (Celluloid) World, Folks

Photo of Ryan Lattanzio By Ryan Lattanzio | TOH! March 11, 2014 at 4:19PM

2013 was a banner year at the box office for women, with Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Lawrence, Melissa McCarthy and others demonstrating that females can carry big-budget movies to success. But was last year truly that different from years past? San Diego State's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film weighs in with a new report.
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Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams in "American Hustle"
Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams in "American Hustle"

2013 was a banner year for women at the box office, with Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Lawrence, Melissa McCarthy and others demonstrating once again that females can carry big-budget movies to success. But was last year truly that different from years past?

The numbers from the latest It's A Man's (Celluloid) World report, compiled by San Diego State's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, are in. Unfortunately, females remained dramatically underrepresented as protagonists and major or minor characters in the top 100 grossing films of 2013. In comparing the most recent figures to the films of 2011 and 2012, the report surveys about 7,000 characters across 300 movies. Check out a graph from the report below, and read the report, in full, here.

According to the study, women comprised 15% of protagonists, 29% of major characters and 30% of all speaking characters. Only 13% of the year's top grossing films featured equal numbers of major male and female characters, or more major female characters than men. 

As per Hollywood's bevelled standards of age and beauty, female characters were mostly younger than their male counterparts, and more likely to have an identifiable marital status than any goals or leadership roles. (Think "American Hustle" and even "Frozen," whose women, at the end of the day, just wanted to get the guy.)

Last year, the New York Film Academy created a similar study that surveyed how women have fared in film over the last five years -- with equally alarming findings about gender parity.

Here's how the comparison of male and female characters stacked up over the last three years:

Graph 1


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.