Entertainment & Arts

Female roles have positive impact on box office says study

A scene from Frozen Image copyright Film company
Image caption Frozen tells of two sisters, Anna and Elsa, who live in a magically snowbound kingdom

Films in which named female characters have conversations that do not revolve around men are likely to enjoy more box office success than films which do not, according to an influential US website.

The FiveThirtyEight blog analysed films released since 1990 adjudged to have passed the so-called "Bechdel Test".

It found they tended to cost less to make and deliver a better return.

Disney's Frozen is a recent film that conforms to "rules" established by US cartoonist Alison Bechdel.

To pass the test, the film must have at last two female characters and a scene in which they converse on a subject that does not involve a male character or men in general.

Frozen, the most successful animated film ever, passes because it has two female protagonists, Anna and Elsa, who have conversations about a range of topics, among them political matters in the fictional kingdom of Arendelle.

Gravity, in contrast, does not pass because it only has one female character, Sandra Bullock's astronaut Ryan Stone, who only ever converses with male characters.

Image copyright Film company
Image caption Sandra Bullock plays an astronaut stranded in space in the Oscar-winning Gravity

According to its statistical analysis, FiveThirtyEight said films that pass the "test" deliver an average return of $2.68 (£1.61) on every $1 (60p) spent on their production.

Films that do not, it continues, deliver an average return of $2.45 (£1.47) - though it does concede that such releases tend to have significantly larger budgets and belong to male-skewed genres like action and fantasy.

Writer Walt Hickey has claimed his findings contradict the prevailing Hollywood wisdom that female-oriented films do not perform as well as those aimed at men, particularly internationally.

"We found no evidence in the data to support the idea that films with women perform any worse at the box office than films without them," he wrote.

FiveThirtyEight based its findings by analysing box office data - compiled by tracking site The Numbers - on 1,615 films released since 1990.

It then analysed how the 53% of them that passed Bechdel's test - among them such box office hits as Titanic, Jurassic Park and the Harry Potter films - compared with the 47% that did not.

FiveThirtyEight boosted its profile significantly two years ago with its highly accurate forecast of the 2012 US presidential election results.

Founded in 2008 by statistician Nate Silver, it takes its name from the number of electors in the United States electoral college.

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