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Why Are All the Movies About Men? Harry Potter Should Die…2013 Movies in Review

January 7, 2014

My teenage daughter has a complaint about movies lately, mainly that she doesn’t want to watch what she terms “boy movies.” Her cousin, who is eleven months younger, indulges in a plethora of movies in which he can fantasize that he is the hero. My daughter, not so much. It’s hard enough to find a Disney movie in which the parents aren’t killed off in the first scene or two (cue screaming moment when she watched it at first at 3 years old and came running to find her mother). It’s harder, still, to find a movie in which women and girls aren’t fantasizing about boys or men constantly. And, guys, while I know you love to believe it, there are other thoughts in our heads besides how we can satisfy men. So, we are struggling with finding movies to watch together.

Do an experiment. Go to the Wal-Mart $5 bin, and look for movies in which women or girls are on the front cover without competing for male attention. Look at photo placement: it’s all men or women standing behind men. We all know that Wal-Mart is about as misogynist as they come, so try another experiment: try to find a movie in which girls aren’t trying to identify if boys like them AND (the killing “and”) try to find them in the lead role. It just doesn’t happen.

I swear it was blasphemy when I told people that my main issue with Harry Potter, the classic Christ story, is that he never dies to give Hermione a chance to really save the day. It’s still my main issue. Harry is so good, so kind, so miserable, weak, pathetic and terminally uninteresting as a character (who can stand the constant whining after all???) that I wish whatever-her-name-was, oh, Rowling, would just kill him off and let Hermione kick some dark dude ass. Trust me, there are plenty of people who would have turned up for that show. Instead, we have a self-indulgent wannabe character that never has any depth. Why can’t he just kill someone? Why can’t Jesus ever be bad to anyone except bankers? ( I agree with being bad to bankers on general principle, but he could be bad more than once…) It’s a snooze fest. Whiny, victimized men who bemoan their fate and use women to comfort them without anything returning affection? Check and double-check with Harry and Jesus.

All of this New Year’s introspection of the cinematic foibles of gender representation (also found in print, too, by the way, but don’t get me started) led me to a review of 2013 movie roles for women. And while I understand that 2013 brought us  nothing in the way of Harry Potter, for which I am eternally grateful, there were lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of movies about men, more men, and in case you were hungry for men, more men. People wonder why I rarely watch a movie all the way through, and well, just check out what’s out there, the same story. Who wants to watch the same story over and over?

The movies that did the best last year met the stringent standard for Hollywood described by Bechdel, that two female characters have a leading role and talk to one another about something other than men. Here is the breakdown:


According to Bitch Media’s interpretation of these results, more women in leading roles equal better box office sales:

Good news: Blockbuster films with meaningful female characters made more money in 2013 than films that focused exclusively on dudes.

Pop culture website Vocativ crunched the numbers on box office revenue for the top-grossing films of the year with an eye on which films pass the Bechdel test and which didn’t.

Of the 50 top-grossing films of 2013, 24 technically pass the Bechdel test. The combined box office revenue of those 24 films is a whopping $4.22 billion. The combined gross of the films that failed the Bechdel test was $2.66 billion.

One take-away from that list of top 50 films of the year? Geez, the top-earning films in America are horrible.Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 made $116 million and our society is crumbling at its very foundations.

But anyway, the Bechdel test isn’t a perfect judge of how women are portrayed in a film, but it’s useful for a couple reasons. First, it helps just put gender on the radar of movie-goers. Secondly, it can be a sign of good writing. Often, failing the Bechdel test is a sign of lazy writing. There are certainly great films that don’t include two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than men, but I see it as a red flag when screenwriters can’t imagine a plotline that includes dynamic female characters who are integral to the story.

Even many of the top-grossing films that passed the Bechdel test this year revolve around men’s stories. While they include female characters, blockbuster films like Man of Steel, Elysium, The Great and Powerful Oz, The Hangover Part III, The Wolverine, Iron Man 3, Thor 2, World War Z, The Great Gatsby all focus on the journey of male main characters. Actress Kamala Lopez summed up this depressing dynamic when I talked with her about gender and Hollywood this fall, “Hollywood’s not interested in stories about women. Hollywood is interested in women as parts of stories that are driven by men.” It’s interesting to consider how some of these films—particularly Elysium—could have been more creative and compelling films if they were told from the perspective of women. That was essentially the selling point of The Heat, which was pretty much just a regular buddy cop film made more original by starring two funny women.

Hmm, guess other people may like to see women on the silver screen, too. Perhaps there will be some movies out there for my daughter by the time she is an adult. Given that we have only 5 more years, I am not sure that will happen. I hope, for her sake, that there are more stories told about her generation. I have given up on mine; I just can’t make it through a movie without getting bored. For my daughter, of course, I wish for better things.

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