Charts: Movies that pass the Bechdel test have a better return on investment

The evidence that movies featuring women being people actually make money keeps rolling in. Here’s the latest data-dive from FiveThirtyEight — they ran the numbers on over 1,500 films released between 1990 and 2013 and found that movies that pass the Bechdel test see a great return on investment at the box office.

bechdel test over time

First, they looked at the films’ budgets, which showed that the median budget of those passing the Bechdel test was 35 percent lower than those that failed. Breaking out the three pillars of the Bechdel test individually was even more revealing. “Films that had at least two women in them got higher budgets than films that didn’t, but only when those women never spoke to one another.” Obviously. Hollywood has big bucks to spend on films where women are eye candy and/or plot devices.

budget for bechel test passing and failing

Yet, even when crippled by small budgets, female-driven films tend to outperform expectations. The total median gross return on investment for a film that passed the Bechdel test was $2.68 for each dollar spent, compared to only $2.45 for films that failed. And despite the claims of some within the industry that films with strong female leads don’t do well internationally, they hold their own abroad as well.

return on investment chart

As FiveThirtyEight notes, “Hollywood is the business of making money.” And the assumption that female-driven films are a financial risk is a persistent one. But the clues that times are a-changing are there if the industry cares to take notice.

Chart: Movies with strong female roles make more money
The Hunger Games: A story for women and girls that everyone can love
Infographic of the Day: Gender Inequality in Film (spoiler alert: there’s a lot)

Maya DusenberyMaya prefers TV honestly.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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