The Chart That Shows The Movie Box Office Is Still Dominated By Men

Do men outnumber women in the movie industry? We delve into the past 100 years of the US movie industry to find out…

This year, there has been lots of discussion on the role of women in the movie industry, so we decided to do some digging of our own and looked into the gender split in each of the highest grossing movies of the last 100 years.

We researched every top grossing box office movie between 1916-2015 and using IMDb data (example) recorded the gender of both cast, crew and director to plot a trend of the last century of film-making.

 

 

Here’s a snapshot of what we found:

  • On average over the past 100 years, the movie business has been made up of nearly four men to every woman.
  • The relative gender gap was highest in the 10 years between 1936 and 1945 when there were approximately six men to every woman working on a given film.
  • Projecting the current trend into the next 20 years, the gap should start to close. In ten years’ time (2025) we could expect the gender-gap to be the smallest it has ever been with women constituting 26% of box office hits and men 74%; a trend that continues into the following decade with women at 31% and men at 69%.
  • Nearly three quarters of film cast have been male.
  • Nearly 80% of film crew have been male
  • No woman has directed the highest grossing movie in any of the past 100 years at the US Box Office.

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Cast vs. Crew

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Putting aside gender for a moment and just looking at the split of cast versus crew we can see a clear and probably unsurprising trend that the top box office films now require more and more crew in proportion to those in front of the camera.

As movie technology such as CGI advances and directors become more ambitious, there is an obvious requirement for large technical teams. If we compare the original 1993 Jurassic Park to last year’s sequel Jurassic World there’s a stark difference in crew required – the latest movie required over double the number of crew compared to 22 years earlier (1,480 vs. 690).

While this is perhaps not so surprising, when we drill into the gender make-up of cast and crew we see start to see something startling.

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The Cast

On average 72% of the actors in front of the camera in the highest grossing films have been men. However, during the middle of the century there’s a spike in the number of female cast members. Movies such as The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and The Graduate, all of which feature strong female leads could explain the increase. After these years, female cast members dipped, but there has been a resurgence recently with movies such as The Hunger Games, Pitch Perfect and Fifty Shades of Grey taking the lead.

Next we look behind the camera at the make-up of crew.

The Crew

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‘Crew’ in our research constitutes anyone listed in that section on IMDb – from camera operators to producers to the Director and the props teams. Above we see that a staggering four-out-of-five crew members have been male over the past century, at least for those films that smashed it at the box office.

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Directors

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You’ll not find a single female name in the credits of a box office hit of any of the last 100 years. Does the role of Director not appeal to women, or are the obstacles to women taking this role?

London-based female Director Amma Astante, who has worked both in the UK and the US movie industry, recently spoke about the issue in a Guardian report.

She comments:

“There are so few women working as directors, often a crew that hasn’t been led by a woman before has to go through a process to get used to it. That said, apart from the above example, male crew have mostly been collaborative, supportive and respectful.

“As a female director, once you have boarded a project, you’re already dealing with the converted – you have arrived in the position of head of the creative team because those responsible for financing and producing your project are comfortable with the idea of a woman in charge. It’s the figures that show something is wrong. Who directs most action movies? Are women directors naturally considered for these movies or is this still considered a male domain? The figures support the idea that men are perceived mainly as the directors. This conditioning affects women as much as men, and therefore some women looking to hire directors may think about the men out there before women.”

At a summit in December organized by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film, initiatives were discussed to overcome the “unconscious bias” present in the industry including a “gender parity stamp” which would certify organizations have met targets for equality.

The movie industry is reported to be working on initiatives to employ more women. At the end of last year Variety reported that influential “Hollywood insiders” are actively trying to tackle the gender issue with some form of stamp of approval for TV and film studios that provide substantial employment opportunities for women. Proposals such as anti-bias training and mentor programs were mooted and are believed to be being defined.

Download the full research dataset here (.xlsx, 16kb)

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