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Suck It, Haters: Female-Led Films Make More Money

by Inkoo Kang
March 4, 2014 12:00 PM
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"Sorry, Cate Blanchett: 'Films with women at the center' don't make money," proclaims an embarrassing editorial by Marcus James Dixon at the Gold Derby today. 

Dixon was referring, of course, to Blanchett's Best Actress speech at the Oscars this weekend, when she chided "those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences." In no uncertain terms, the Blue Jasmine star declared, "They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people." 

Blanchett is absolutely right that movies about women make money. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Frozen were the first and third top-grossers, respectively, of 2013 releases. And it's not just female-led blockbusters that perform well, but mid-budgeters, too. 

In fact, a look at the 100 highest-earning movies of 2013 reveals that movies with a female protagonist earned 20% more on average than movies with a male protagonist. The numbers break down to $116 million on average for female-led movies and $97 million on average for male-led ones. 

Not that there were so many of movies with female protagonists in the first place. Of the 100 movies I ran the numbers on, only 16 had girls or women as the clear main characters: 

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The Heat
Saving Mr. Banks
Safe Haven
The Call
August: Osage County
Texas Chainsaw 3D
Blue Jasmine
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
The Host 

It's important to note that female-led movies made so much money on average even against high-performing franchise installments like Man of SteelThe Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and Fast and the Furious 6, whose colossal marketing budgets virtually guarantee a monster hit. 

That kind of context is exactly what's lacking in Dixon's piece, which looks at only the top 30 films of last year and concludes that audiences just aren't interested in watching female-led movies, since only four movies made his truncated list. Most damningly, Dixon never mentions that Hollywood's institutional sexism simply means there are a lot fewer movies about women, period, and that many of last year's high-performers were cash-grabbing sequels, most of which are basically contractually obligated to feature male protagonists. 

So unless Dixon is trying out his #slatepitches, I don't know why in the world he would write such a patently flawed and misleading argument in support of an unjust status quo. Let's hope we can get his head out of his ass sometime soon. 

[h/t Box Office Mojo]

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More: Awards, Sexism, Cate Blanchett, Box Office

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  • vp19 | June 11, 2014 10:54 PMReply

    Up in Hollywood heaven, I can imagine Carole, Myrna, Bette, Claudette, etc., applauding this article -- but, they add, "make sure they get scripts every bit as good as the best we received."

  • ashleyarrington. | June 11, 2014 5:43 PMReply

    "this is me at my most sadistic-and truthful."

  • onlyyesterday | June 11, 2014 1:36 PMReply

    I know this is a positive piece. But even in a positive slant and with the weight of facts behind it just makes me so sad - I do not want to push for equality in a creative medium off the basis of its 'financial viability'.

    Meanwhile over in the games industry this week we have Ubisoft telling the world 'women characters are too expensive a feature' to include in their lead franchises.

  • Davey | June 11, 2014 10:13 AMReply

    Bragging about making money on INDIEWIRE makes no sense.

  • Truthsayer | April 4, 2014 4:20 PMReply

    So are you saying that you would like to have more female actresses play characters that are in some kind of psychotic phase and/or breakdown just so more people can come and watch woman stereotypically portray woman?The movies that did gross a lot already had a following so of course those will make a lot of money.Women usually watch a movie more than twice thats why top grossing movies lie Frozen and Hunger Games make so much money.Not because they're so good but because they exploit womans' emotional attachment and make money off of them.Movies that have woman just as regular people but not as "women" like Alien or the women in Terminator set a good example showing that it does not matter the gender as long as you are a good actor.What you are saying in your article is that woman should keep playing the main character in horror movies and YA novel adaptation just to show that women in movies make more money than men and expand the types of movies woman should be put in.You are such an idiot.

  • LOL | June 11, 2014 6:38 PM

    If you are mentioning Terminator or Alien as something par excellance for woman leading rolls because they are not showing stereotypical women - that is kind of sad because it seems like a woman is only worth of showing and representing something if she is acting like a stereotypical man. I don't see nothing bad in showing that woman are more prone to giving away their emotion, why do we always have to run from something like that to show that woman are capable of being something. Being something does not mean that you have to be a man-like woman. I'm not saying anything against any movie because all in all, a good movie is a good movie and discussing gender issues in something like the core of film-art is kind of ridiculous because I don't think that any screen-writer, director is thinking in a way that he or she wants to discriminate anyone, they just have an idea and do something we all appreciate afterwards. Production companies on the other hand, I wouldn't go there, I don't think I have enough knowledge to go there. But anyway, my point is ... There is no right type of woman to show on screen and by trying to break down every stereotype about woman is also kind of discriminating for us because it seems that everything that was ever said about us is wrong and that we should rebuild our whole history, that we are a wrong kind of woman if we want be emotional but a right kind of woman if we want to be strong as a man. Now, that's, excuse me for saying, crap.

  • Ingrid | March 9, 2014 8:14 AMReply

    Honestly, I think it's more about the film than about who is the main character. The problem is that they do not try they are wont to do scripts on the men and the writers are men! Not because it is not profitable, it's just how they do it. If there were more films centered on women, I guarantee they would earn money! Lots of money!

  • Teresa | April 20, 2014 12:40 PM

    I agree, but old films had female centered plots...have you seen 'terror from beneath the sea'? It's a good film with Peggy Neal in the led role, and in a role reversal she has a male side kick who wears one of those black rubber wetsuits from the sixties:)

  • Woody T | March 5, 2014 1:46 PMReply

    Both analyses stink. His, for the reason you mentioned (and others... damn, what an awful column), but yours is off as well. You're comparing 84 films to 16. The fact that studios are more hesitant to green light female-centric films means that those films which do get produced have already gone through a selection process that the others haven't. In other words, we would expect that the film which are female-centric to have a higher average return, because we would expect that, as a result of the discriminatory green-lighting process, those which are green lit will be of a higher quality on average. Thus, the disparity in returns is not caused by the fact that they are female centered, but on the fact a film has to be objectively better when it is female centered in order to be made in the first place. (This is not to support the discrimination in any way, only to note that your analysis is mistaking correlation with causation.)

    That being said, underlying point--that there should not be this discrimnation against female centered projects and that the discrimination is harmful--is absolutely true.

  • Gina | March 5, 2014 9:25 AMReply

    What about Twilight? I know it's very cool to mock this franchise, but it was highly, excessively profitable. Twilight showed the power of female audience to the movie industry.

  • Maria Giese | March 4, 2014 5:38 PMReply

    LOVE this!

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