Women held two-fifths of the leading roles in the 100 highest-grossing films at the domestic box office in 2019, according to a study released Wednesday.
The latest report released by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film also found that women made unprecedented gains as protagonists — defined as characters from whose perspective the story is told — in 2019. Women accounted for 40% of the protagonists in the 100 top-grossing films, up from 31% last year.
Comparatively, 43% of those films featured men in protagonist roles and 17% had a combination of male and female protagonists.
In 2019, 45% of female protagonists appeared in studio features and 55% were in independent features, a major change from 2018, when female protagonists appeared in 68% of independent features and just 32% of studio features.
Last year, female protagonists were most likely to appear in horror movies, followed by dramas, comedies, action movies, sci-fi movies and animated movies, according to the study titled “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World.”
“We have now seen two consecutive years of substantial gains for female protagonists, indicating the beginning of a positive shift in representation,” said Martha Lauzen, the center’s executive director. “That said, it is important to note that moviegoers are still almost twice as likely to see a male character as a female character in a speaking role.”
The study found that women made up 37% of major characters — up 1% from 2018 — and 34% of all speaking characters — down 1% from 2018.
Major characters were defined as characters that appear in more than one scene and are instrumental to the action of the story.
In 2019, 68% of all female characters with speaking roles were white, 20% were black and 5% were Latina.
Without the boost provided by the film “Crazy Rich Asians” in 2018, the percentage of Asian female characters in speaking roles fell from 10% to 7%, its rate in 2017.
In movies with at least one woman director and/or writer, women comprised 58% of protagonists, 42% of major characters and 39% of all speaking characters.
In movies that featured exclusively male directors and/or writers, women accounted for 30% of protagonists, 35% of major characters and 32% of all speaking characters.
Despite the gains for women in protagonist roles, women were more likely than male characters to have a known marital status, while male characters were more likely to have an identifiable occupation and were more likely to be seen doing work in a work setting, the study found.
The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film has conducted the Celluloid Ceiling study since 2002, and used year-end box office data from Box Office Mojo to complete it.