New research from CAA and tech firm Shift7 shows casting women as leads in films at all budget levels offers a significant box office boost compared with male-led averages.

Analyzing 350 films released between January 2014 and December 2017, the companies determined that 105 of them listed women first in billing blocks, press notes or distributor-issued final credits.

Across five budget categories (below $10M; $10M to $30M; $30M-$50M; $50M-$100M; and $100M-plus), female-fronted titles out-grossed male-led rivals on average. Budget figures were pulled from Studio System, a database owned by Gracenote.

CAA
Creative Artists Agency

The margin was greatest in the higher cost brackets. Among films costing $50 million to $100 million, worldwide box office for women-led films averaged $318 million compared with $243 million for men. For the top budget category of $100 million and up, women-led titles collected $586 million compared with $514 million for men.

CAA and Shift7 joined forces through Time’s Up, taking part in a working group aiming to improve the depiction of women on screen.

“This is powerful proof that audiences want to see everyone represented on screen,” said Amy Pascal, one of the working group’s heads and the former chairman of Sony Pictures. “Decision-makers in Hollywood need to pay attention to this.”

Joining Pascal in leading the group are Megan Smith, CEO of Shift7 and former U.S. Chief Technology Officer, and Liza Chasin, producer and founder of 3dot Productions. CAA agent Alexandra Trustman and actor/advocate Geena Davis are among the group’s other members.

Along with the box office of female-led films, the research assessed the commercial performance of films that pass the Bechdel Test, a measure of the representation of women in film, television and other fictional works. Films that passed the test — which gauges whether a film has multiple women who speak to each other onscreen about topics other than men — outperformed films that flunked it, the study found.

Since 2012, all films to pass $1 billion in global box office have passed the Bechdel Test.

“The Bechdel Test is a low bar to clear, and it’s surprising how many movies don’t clear it,” Chasin said. “Understandably, the studios think about the bottom line, so it’s great to see a growing body of data that should make it easier for executives to make more inclusive decisions.”

Davis, whose eponymous Institute on Gender in Media began analyzing data in 2004, said the new findings show “there is so much unconscious bias in this space. The truth is that seeing women and girls on screen is not only good for everyone – especially our children – it’s also good entertainment and good business.”

Time’s Up President and CEO Lisa Borders highlighted the business aspect to the conversation. The findings, she said, “offer a clear approach” to delivering strong financial results “as studios consider their fiduciary responsibilities to their investors.”

Added CAA’s Christy Haubegger, “Women comprise half the box office, yet there has been an assumption in the industry that female-led films led were generally less successful. We found that the data does not support that assumption.”

See the full study by CAA and Shift7 HERE.