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Female-led Films Outshine Male-led Movies at Box Office, Confirms Study

A new study released Tuesday by Creative Artists Agency and shift7 has confirmed earlier research that female-led movies consistently outearn their male-led counterparts at the global box office.

The study considered the 350 highest-grossing films worldwide, from January 2014 through December 2017, using earnings data from Nielsen’s Gracenote. Films with a woman listed as the lead -- including Wonder Woman, Moana, Inside Out and, perhaps surprisingly, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- averaged higher box offices globally. The results were reported by CBS News and TicToc by Bloomberg.

The “lead actor” of a film was determined by the listed cast order in a movie’s billing block, press notes and final credits. Of the films considered, 105 qualified as female-led, while the remaining 245 were male-led, with a substantially more one-sided margin in films with budgets greater than $100 million. Of those, 75 were headlined by men, with only 19 qualifying as female-led.

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The study also revealed that films that pass the Bechdel test, regardless of top-billed star, performed better at the box office as well. The Bechdel test, a way to measure the representation and autonomy of women in fiction, asks whether a movie or written work features at least two women, with names, speaking to one another about something other than a man. The test was first suggested by cartoonist Alison Bechdel.

Notably, every film that crossed $1 billion at the box office -- a short list that includes Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World and Beauty and the Beast -- passed the test. The study also showed that, for films with budgets of $100 million or more, those that passed the Bechdel test grossed, globally and on average, $200 million more than their male-centered counterparts.

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"Women comprise half the box office, yet there has been an assumption in the industry that female-led films led were generally less successful," said Creative Artists Agency agent Christy Haubegger in a statement. "The conventional 'wisdom' that it's financially more risky to feature female protagonists is not backed up by data.”

Megan Smith, co-founder of shift7 and former Chief Technology Officer of the United States, also suggested that female-led films perform better because "the threshold for actually getting the films made is higher." In short, women need to work harder just to get their films greenlit in a historically male-dominated industry -- something that, hopefully, is going to change.

"This is powerful proof that audiences want to see everyone represented on screen," said Amy Pascal, former chairman of Sony Pictures. "Decision-makers in Hollywood need to pay attention to this."

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