It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? The idea that women talking to each other in films is even something that WE are talking about.
You’d think it was a given, but you’d be surprised by how often a film fails to include a single scene where two female characters have a conversation with each other about something other than a man.
In fact, hundreds of films fail to pass this simple standard, known as the Bechdel test – a test named after American cartoonish Alison Bechdel, who drew attention to how few films actually passed this assessment.
But new research has revealed that making sure a film passes the Bechdel test can actually make it more profitable at the box office.
FiveThirtyEight have analysed the ticket sales for 1,615 films released since 1990 and categorised them according to whether they passed or failed the test. And found that films that passed and prominently featured women fared better financially.
“We found that the data doesn’t appear to support the persistent Hollywood belief that films featuring women do worse at the box office. Instead, we found evidence that films that feature meaningful interactions between women may in fact have a better return on investment, overall, than films that don’t,” said FiveThirtyEight’s Walt Hickey.
The Betchdel test isn’t a foolproof way of defining gender equality in filmmaking – Gravity fails the test, but only because, being stuck in space, Sandra Bullock’s character has no opportunity to talk to another woman – and it also doesn’t take into account the depth or importance of the female characters in question.
But it is a revealing way of shining a light on those Hollywood blockbusters which are surprisingly male dominated. For example, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey fails because it doesn’t actually contain two named female characters, The Avengers fails because none of the women talk to each other and The Hangover III fails because although two women talk to each other, they are discussing a male character.
In an industry very much governed by profit, the news could encourage a shift towards films with more female protagonists. A shift, which with female driven films like The Hunger Games, Twilight, Blue Jasmine and Frozen (which this week became the highest grossing animated film of all time) proving so successful at the box office, has arguably already started.
Blue Jasmine star Cate Blanchett said as much in her Oscar acceptance speech when she referenced “[those] in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the centre are niche experiences,” adding: “They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money.”