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Movies That Star Women Are a Better Return on Investment. So Why Aren’t There More of Them?


According to analysis from startup WealthSimple, movies that star women are a better return on investment for Hollywood than movies that star men. WealthSimple analyzed the box office of more than 2,100 movies and found that movies featuring women in the starring role generated a 176% median return on investment, compared to 127% for those starring men.

Admittedly, some of this is a side effect of Hollywood’s sexism. Big-budget, CGI-heavy blockbusters are overwhelmingly male, and those films tend to have bloated budgets that are harder to make a profit from. Hollywood generally invests less money in women-led films, so those films need to sell fewer tickets in order to turn a profit.

I still never want to hear another “economic” argument against gender equity in filmmaking again. Studios churn out horror films because they provide exactly this combination: lower budgets, higher returns. And yet, when it comes to women, the profit motive seems secondary to the patriarchy motive.

In 2016, women spoke only 27% of the dialogue in the top-grossing films. Only in Finding Dory did female characters speak more than 50% of the dialogue.

And yet, movies like Hidden Figures perform well above box office expectations. Even Bloomberg wrote about the film’s profitability, stating that it has the highest domestic box office of all nine nominees for Best Picture. (La La Land still leads internationally.) It generated $167.6 million from a budget of $25 million.

WealthSimple’s findings are particularly relevant in an industry with a pronounced pay gap. While the numbers vary year-to-year, since individual blockbuster contracts can tip the scales quite significantly, “the top-earning actress makes, on average, 58% of what the top-earning male actor brings in.” (Working actresses overall make 87% of what working actors make.)

Of course, these findings are the result of one study from one startup, and there are plenty of confounding factors involved in calculating a film’s costs and profits, so it’s not the final word on the subject. But it’s yet another piece of evidence against Hollywood’s claim that they cast so many white men because they’re just trying to attract the biggest audience, or get the most bang for their buck.

(Via Fast Company and WealthSimple; image via 20th Century Fox)

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