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Go, Wonder Woman! Movies led by women dominate box office, study finds

Filmmakers respond to the new study, which looked at 350 top box office films that featured women in lead roles and passed the Bechdel test.

Movies with female leads, like Wonder Woman, do better at the box office than some fans might realize. 

Warner Bros.

Films with women in top roles earn more than films with men in the lead, according to a new study

The study, released Tuesday by Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and technology company Shift7, looked at 350 top box office films (105 led by women, 245 by men) from 2014 to 2017. A "female lead" was defined as a woman listed first in the film's official press materials. 

The movies were divided by five budget levels: under $10 million; $10 million - $30 million; $30 million - $50 million; $50 million - $100 million; and over $100 million. 

The 2017 movie Wonder Woman, starring Gal Gadot, qualified as one of the top female-led movies during the survey timeframe, making $821 million worldwide.

"The perception that it's not good business to have female leads is not true," CAA agent and researcher Christy Haubegger told The New York Times. "They're a marketing asset."

The data also found that the films with female leads passed the Bechdel test, which stipulates that two female characters have a conversation about something other than a man.

"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," actor Geena Davis, who founded and chairs the research organization the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, said in a statement. 

I asked some filmmakers and directors what they thought about the findings.

"I think the study is great and I hope Hollywood takes heed," Final Destination filmmaker Jeffrey Reddick said. "I work in the horror genre, which is hugely profitable, and most of the biggest horror franchises star female leads -- Halloween being the most recent example. They've also shown that movies that are all men and don't have any female characters statistically bomb at the box office as well. It's great Hollywood is course-correcting."

Documentary filmmaker Annalise Ophelian said it makes sense women-led, Bechdel-test-passing films would perform so well. 

"Women make up over half of potential audiences, we want to see ourselves on-screen and we buy movie tickets, lots of them," she said. "But better on-screen representation is good for folks of all gender orientations."

The Magicians co-creator Sera Gamble said she's hopeful we'll get more female-led films in years to come: "There's zero downside to this artistically and it's long-term lucrative for the suits."

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