Of Course

04.03.149:47 AM ET

Hollywood’s Gender Test

The data shows: it pays to include women

Unbeknownst to many, there is an actual test (dating from 1985) that measures gender bias in Hollywood movies.  Known as the Bechdel test (after graphic novelist Alison Bechdel, who thought it up), a film “passes” if it satisfies three modest criteria: it includes at least two named women, the women have a conversation with each other, and that conversation is not about a male character.  A budget and box office analysis of 1615 films released between 1990-2013 found that the median budget of movies that passed the test was, perhaps unsurprisingly, substantially lower than the median budget of all films in the sample. But perhaps more interestingly–and importantly–the data failed to provide evidence for the myth that women-powered films don’t deliver at the box office. In fact, films with meaningful interactions between women seem to have a better return on investment! Whether Hollywood ignores this data (and women), particularly in light of recent successes like Twilight, Hunger Games and the record-breaking Frozen, is a test the dollar-driven industry can’t afford to fail.