in 2016’s biggest films, barely a quarter of dialogue came from women

Actresses were on screen, they were just very, very quiet.

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Jan 17 2017, 9:21am

Bad news people, despite the efforts of female filmmakers, 2016 turned out to be a bad year for actresses. While directors like Andrea ArnoldAmma Assante and Mira Nair drew critical praise, and female-lead films such as Ghostbusters, Bridget Jones's Baby and The Girl on the Train made bank, female stars still stuggled to get a word in.

In a new report by data scientist Amber Thomas, she reveals that only 27% of the dialogue in the year's biggest films was spoken by a woman. She also found that of the top 10 earning movies of the year, not one saw the female cast delivering 50 percent of the lines. Among the movies she studied were Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, The Jungle Book, Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Deadpool and Suicide Squad — several of which had female leads. Rouge One was actually the worst represented film: only 9 percent of speaking characters were female. Similarly while Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn took up most of the promotional space around Suicide Squad, she only spoke 42 percent as many words as Will Smith's Deadshot. So one can deduce that we're ready to see women in leading action roles, just not hear them.

Among the year's blockbuster successes Finding Dory came closest to having a balance of dialogue, with female characters representing 43 percent of the speaking cast. These recent figures are of course part of a larger trend we've been conscious of for decades. Just last year a Polygraph study of over 1000 movies found that dialogue given to female characters declined steadily when they were over 31. For men, the dip only hit when they were 42 or above.

But while the numbers are disappointing, they're also surprising when you consider who is actually watching these films: women make up the majority of US film audiences. Additionally, it's been proven that films with female leads deliver larger returns.

On the upside, three weeks in and 2017 is already looking more promising. With Roxanne, Roxanne; The Lure, Raw and Sofia Coppola's remake of The Beguiled — a 1971 drama set in a all girls boarding school — on the horizon at least we're guaranteed some chatty women in coming months. 

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Text Wendy Syfret