in 2016’s biggest films, barely a quarter of dialogue came from women
Actresses were on screen, they were just very, very quiet.
Bad news, people: despite the efforts of female filmmakers, 2016 turned out to be a bad year for actresses. While directors like Andrea Arnold, Amma Assante, and Mira Nair drew critical praise — and female-lead films such as Ghostbusters, Bad Moms, Bridget Jones's Baby, and The Girl on the Train — made bank, female stars still stuggled to get a word in.
A new report by data scientist Amber Thomas reveals that only 27% of the dialogue in the year's biggest films was spoken by a woman. Thomas also found that of the top 10 earning movies of the year, not one featured the female cast delivering 50% of the lines. Among the movies Thomas 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% 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% as many words as Will Smith's Deadshot. 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% 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 the characters were over the age of 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, 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 an all girls boarding school — on the horizon, at least we're guaranteed some chatty women in coming months.
Text Wendy Syfret