Sorry, Cate Blanchett: ‘Films with women at the center’ don’t make money

“Those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences, they are not. Audiences want to see them, and in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people!” exclaimed Cate Blanchett while accepting the Best Actress Oscar for “Blue Jasmine.”

Blanchett’s female empowerment mantra received a tidal wave of good cheer from her peers in the Dolby Theatre Sunday night, especially compared to the muted reception she got for thanking her scandal-ridden director Woody Allen.

But does Blanchett have her box office facts correct? (See the list of 2013’s top money makers below.)

While there’s no question certain audiences will always want to see female-driven movies, the idea that those movies “earn money” is perhaps a statement more designed to inspire hope than reflect actual facts. Sorry for the reality check, Cate!

Case in point, “Blue Jasmine” only earned $33 million at the domestic box office. That’s a respectable number, but hardly earth-shattering. Perhaps Blanchett wasn’t referring to her own film as a cash cow, but to one of her four Oscar rivals?

Led by Sandra Bullock, “Gravity” grossed $269 million domestically, easily making it one of the most successful films of all time headlining an actress. Besides earning box office green, “Gravity” also scored Oscar gold in the form of seven trophies Sunday night — Best Director (Alfonso Cuaron), Cinematography, Film Editing, Visual Effects, Music Score, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing — but it lost out on Best Picture to “12 Years a Slave.”

I got a lot flack last week for writing that “Gravity” would lose Best Picture because it starred a woman, but as long as the academy’s majority voting demographic remains old, white, and male, this unfortunate curse will likely hold true for many years to come. Over the past 20 years there have been only two Best Picture winners where a woman received top billing: “Chicago” (2002) starring Renee Zellweger and “Shakespeare in Love” (1998) fronted by Gwyneth Paltrow.

As for Blanchett’s other three Best Actress contenders: Amy Adams‘ film “American Hustle” stole $147 million (good enough for 2013’s Top 20), Judi Dench‘s movie “Philomena” found $34 million and Meryl Streep‘s dramedy “August: Osage County” grabbed $37 million.

Let’s break down 2013’s Top 30 movies by the criteria that matters most to studios — money, money, money! We’ll also list the first-billed star for each movie to determine whether Blanchett’s claim is true that female films do well at the box office. (All results are courtesy of IMDB.)

#1 – “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” – $424 million – Jennifer Lawrence
#2 – “Iron Man 3” – $409 million – Robert Downey Jr.
#3 – “Frozen” – $389 million – Kristen Bell
#4 – “Despicable Me 2” – $368 million – Steve Carell
#5 – “Man of Steel” – $291 million – Henry Cavill
#6 – “Gravity” – $269 million – Sandra Bullock
#7 – “Monsters University” – $268 million – Billy Crystal
#8 – “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” – $257 million – Ian McKellen
#9 – “Fast and Furious 6” – $239 million – Vin Diesel
#10 – “Oz the Great and Powerful” – $235 million – James Franco
#11 – “Star Trek Into Darkness” – $229 million – Chris Pine
#12 – “Thor: The Dark World” – $206 million – Chris Hemsworth
#13 – “World War Z” – $202 million – Brad Pitt
#14 – “The Croods” – $187 million – Nicholas Cage
#15 – “The Heat” – $160 million – Sandra Bullock
#16 – “We’re the Millers” – $150 million – Jason Sudeikis
#17 – “American Hustle” – $147 million – Christian Bale
#18 – “The Great Gatsby” – $145 million – Leonardo DiCaprio
#19 – “The Conjuring” – $137 million – Patrick Wilson
#20 – “Identity Thief” – $134 million – Jason Bateman
#21 – “Grown Ups 2” – $134 million – Adam Sandler
#22 – “The Wolverine” – $133 million – Hugh Jackman
#23 – “Anchoman 2: The Legend Continues” – $125 million – Will Ferrell
#24 – “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” – $123 million – Dwayne Johnson
#25 – “Lone Survivor” – $122 million – Mark Wahlberg
#26 – “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” – $120 million – Bill Hader
#27 – “Now You See Me” – $118 million – Jesse Eisenberg
#28 – “The Butler” – $117 million – Forest Whitaker
#29 – “The Wolf of Wall Street” – $113 million – Leonardo DiCaprio
#30 – “The Hangover Part II” – $112 million – Bradley Cooper

The results are in, and only four of 2013’s Top 30 films headlined an actress, or just about 13%.

Last year’s Best Actress champ Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook“) starred in 2013’s biggest money maker — the much-anticipated “Hunger Games” sequel — while the year’s 3rd place grosser was two-time Oscar winner “Frozen” starring Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel as sister queens.

Special kudos go to 2009 Oscar winner Bullock (“The Blind Side”), who starred in the other two top-earning female-driven films of 2013: 6th place “Gravity” and 15th place “The Heat.”

For Blanchett’s Oscar speech to become a reality, 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.

Until that day, Cate, it’s my unfortunate duty to inform you that the female-driven film world is still very, very flat.

Rewatch Blanchett’s Oscar acceptance speech below, then sound off on this controversy in the comments section below.

UPDATE: See my responses to your comments!

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