Movies That Pass the Bechdel Test Perform Better

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Photo: Disney Animation Studio

The absence of female directors and producers in Hollywood probably explains why, in the post-Bridesmaids era, there are still so few movies about women. Still, it’s nice to know that the imbalance is for no legitimate business reason, and the movies that do get made sell just as well as their testosterone-heavy counterparts. Nate Silver’s data-journalism outfit, FiveThirtyEight, reports that movies that pass the Bechdel test (the film has more than one named female character; these women talk to one other; they talk about something other than men) perform slightly better than those that don’t. 

Although the median budget of a Bechdel test–passing film is 35 percent less than that of a failing film, the total median gross return on investment for the passing one is higher ($2.68 for each dollar spent on those that passed the test, compared to $2.45 for each dollar spent on those that failed). More important (for the future of female-centric movies), these results held up in the essential international-distribution game. Case in point: Frozen has now grossed more than $1 billion internationally, despite involving, as FiveThirtyEight put it, “two central female characters, Anna and Ilsa, discuss[ing] the isolationist policies of Arendelle, plans to build a snowman, and the time Ilsa locked their civilization in an eternal winter.”