chart of drama films by number of words by women and men

Chart of the Day: Analysis of 2,000 Films Shows How Much More Men Speak in Movies

The site Polygraph has undertaken a massive screenplay analysis — the largest ever — of over 2,000 movies, breaking down each word of dialogue by gender and age. The results offer a number of striking ways to visualize how Hollywood’s sexism and ageism shape the worlds we see on the big screen. 

The researchers found that women were the lead — i.e. they had the most dialogue — in just 22 percent of the films. They had the second place speaking role in about a third. But God forbid there be two women with major speaking roles — that only happened in 18 percent of the films. In over 80 percent of the films, two out of the top three characters with the most lines were men.

Of course, even if there’s a woman lead, that’s no guarantee that the overall dialogue will be more gender balanced. For example, Mulan ends up with majority male lines because the lead’s supporting character, Mushu, had 50 percent more lines than she did. Men speak more in pretty much every genre: 22 of 30 Disney films have a male majority of dialogue, as do 58 percent of rom coms. Can’t even let women speak more in so-called “chick flicks” that are supposedly “female-driven” and geared toward us.

Here, for example, is what the spread looks like for films in the drama genre:

chart of drama films by number of words by women and men

Meanwhile, the analysis by gender and age backs up what every older actress ever has always said: as women in Hollywood age, they can’t find parts, while men actually get more speaking roles over age 40.

dialogue by age and gender

If you head over to Polygraph, you can search by different subcategories and also see how your favorite movie stacks up. And they made enough of the raw data publicly available that some enterprising data geek could probably add in race as a variable to make things even more depressing.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is an 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. Before become a full-time writer, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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