Sorry, Cate Blanchett: I was wrong about ‘female films’ not making money

Many readers took me to task for my article that analyzed Oscar winner Cate Blanchett‘s (“Blue Jasmine“) declaration that “female films with women at the center” earn money.

Here’s a quick refresher of what went down:

Curious to see whether or not Blanchett was correct in her Oscar speech, I presented a list of 2013’s Top 30 money makers and noted that only four of those films headlined an actress as the first-billed star: “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,”Frozen,” “Gravity” and “The Heat.”

Shocked by the results, I wagged my finger at Hollywood and scolded, “Things will need to dramatically shift in Hollywood from the ground up, starting at the screenplay level and continuing on up to the casting department.”

I (foolishly) assumed my point had been made about the film industry’s injustice regarding female-driven movies, but boy oh boy was I wrong! You roared back at me in the comments section.

Below, just a sampling of your rebukes.  

“Marcus this is so beneath your other written pieces, which are far more superior and usually a pleasure to read,” wrote Awardzilla.

“To be fair, she said they make money. She didn’t say they would dominate the box office from top to bottom,” said Denton.

“Oh, what a stupid article this is. The ‘facts’ as they’re laid out do NOT account for movies starring women that actually turned a profit — i.e., made money. Listing movies by box office gross alone is inaccurate and misleading,” declared FilmRush.

“i usually like your post dear sir. but i have to write this because i think your article didn’t go eye to eye with Cate’s speech. listing those movies is non-sense! of course there are more men-centric movies there with the usual action hero stories than female-centric ones because the system as it is dictates it,” commented Josel Garlitos.

To see many more of our readers’ colorful comments, click here and then scroll down to the bottom of the page.

What I failed to do — and what many of you were quick to point out — was analyze the box office reports of female-centric films compared to their production budgets. After all, as any economics professor will tell you, that’s how you know whether or not a film “earned money.”

Everybody who took the time to mention that aspect in the comments was dead on, and I thank you for the nudge in the right direction. The list I provided of the Top 30 films of 2013 was still incredibly relevant to the Hollywood bias against female stars, however it didn’t specifically address Blanchett’s claim and for that I apologize.

You all know what that means, right? It’s time to examine yet another list of box office results!

This time, we’ll only focus on films where a woman received first billing (i.e. “female films with women at the center”), comparing their initial production budgets to their domestic grosses. Since we looked at the Top 30 yesterday and only came up with four examples, this time we’ll broaden our search to the Top 150 films, the number it took me to finally find 30 female-led movies. (All budget estimates are courtesy of IMDB.)

#1 “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (Jennifer Lawrence)
Production Budget = $130 million
Domestic Gross =$424 million
Profit = $294 million

#3 “Frozen” (Kristen Bell)
Production Budget = $150 million
Domestic Gross = $389 million
Profit = $239 million

#6 “Gravity” (Sandra Bullock)
Production Budget = $100 million
Domestic Gross = $270 million
Profit = $170 million

#15 “The Heat” (Bullock again)
Production Budget = $43 million
Domestic Gross = $159 million
Profit = $116 million

#31 “Epic” (Amanda Seyfried)
Production Budget = $100 million
Domestic Gross = $107 million
Profit = $7 million

#44 “Saving Mr. Banks” (Emma Thompson)
Production Budget = $35 million
Domestic Gross = $82 million
Profit = $47 million

#47 “Mama” (Jessica Chastain)
Production Budget = $15 million
Domestic Gross = $71 million
Profit = $56 million

#48 “Safe Haven” (Julianne Hough)
Production Budget = $28 million
Domestic Gross = $71 million
Profit = $43 million

#64 “Evil Dead” (Jane Levy)
Production Budget = $17 million
Domestic Gross = $54 million
Profit = $37 million

#67 “Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor” (Jurnee Smollett-Bell)
Production Budget = N/A
Domestic Gross = $51 million
Profit = N/A

#68 “The Call” (Halle Berry)
Production Budget = $13 million
Domestic Gross = $51 million
Profit = $38 million

#78 “August: Osage County” (Meryl Streep)
Production Budget = $25 million
Domestic Gross = $37 million
Profit = $12 million

#81 “Carrie” (Chloe Grace Moretz)
Production Budget = $30 million
Domestic Gross = $35 million
Profit = $5 million

#82 “Philomena” (Judi Dench)
Production Budget = $12 million
Domestic Gross = $34 million
Profit = $22 million

#83 “Texas Chainsaw 3D” (Alexandra Daddario)
Production Budget = $10 million
Domestic Gross = $34 million
Profit = $24 million

#85 “Blue Jasmine” (Cate Blanchett)
Production Budget = $18 million
Domestic Gross = $33 million
Profit = $15 million

#87 “Side Effects” (Rooney Mara)
Production Budget = $30 million
Domestic Gross = $32 million
Profit = $2 million

#89 “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” (Lily Collins)
Production Budget = $60 million
Domestic Gross = $31 million
Profit = Lost money

#95 “The Host” (Saoirse Ronan)
Production Budget = $40 million
Domestic Gross = $26 million
Profit = Lost money

#104 “Baggage Claim” (Paula Patton)
Production Budget = $8.5 million
Domestic Gross = $21 million
Profit = $12.5 million

#106 “The Book Thief” (Sophie Nelisse)
Production Budget = N/A
Domestic Gross = $21 million
Profit = N/A

#111 “Admission” (Tina Fey)
Production Budget = $13 million
Domestic Gross = $18 million
Profit = $5 million

#113 “Enough Said” (Julia Louis-Dreyfus)
Production Budget = N/A
Domestic Gross = $17 million
Profit = N/A

#114 “Dark Skies” (Keri Russell)
Production Budget = $3.5 million
Domestic Gross = $17 million
Profit = $13.5 million

#120 “The Last Exorcism Part II” (Ashley Bell)
Production Budget = $5 million
Domestic Gross = $15 million
Profit = $10 million

#121 “Labor Day” (Kate Winslet)
Production Budget = $18 million
Domestic Gross = $13 million
Profit = Lost money

#140 “The Bling Ring” (Katie Chang)
Production Budget = $15 million
Domestic Gross = $5 million
Profit = Lost money

#141 “Pulling Strings” (Laura Ramsey)
Production Budget = N/A
Domestic Gross = $5 million
Profit = N/A

#146 “The To Do List” (Aubrey Plaza)
Production Budget = $1.5 million
Domestic Gross = $3 million
Profit = $1.5 million

#149 “In a World” (Lake Bell)
Production Budget = N/A
Domestic Gross = $2 million
Profit = N/A

As you can see, Blanchett was correct that female films do make money. Assuming the production budgets are accurate, my (amateurish) calculations result in a rather impressive Hollywood profit margin of around $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion.

Keep in mind, though, that the domestic box office total for all films released in 2013 was a record-high $10.9 billion, with pure profit likely being somewhere closer to the $5 billion mark after production budgets are removed from that total. That means the profit from female-driven films only accounted for about a fifth of last year’s film revenues.

Of course, that low number is mostly due to the the fact that there just aren’t enough female films being made to begin with, not that people aren’t seeing them. And hey, wasn’t that ultimately the point Blanchett was trying to make in her Oscar speech in the first place?

Whichever way you count up the bling-bling, one thing is clear. Hollywood, if you’re reading this, it’s time for a change.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments section at the bottom of this post. 

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