In 2010 I saw 100 different movies in 100 different theaters. Here are the details.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Gender Representation in Digitally-Animated Films

Animated movies weren't among my favorites as a kid, but when I saw Toy Story (1995) during my first year in college, I was hooked on the new digital medium. Since then I've seen more than eighty digitally-animated movies.

Something's been bothering me, though, since Brave (2012) garnered attention for featuring a strong female lead. Animated movies are targeted at kids, and there are as many girls as boys in the world; so why aren't there more female characters in these movies? What examples are we setting for children if most of their movie heroes are male?

The Data

Curious, I compiled a list of movies that meet the following criteria:
  • Theatrically released
  • Sold at least 10,000 tickets in US
  • Rated G or PG 
  • Digitally-animated (e.g., not animated by hand, rotoscoping, or stop-motion, and no or few live-action sequences)
Conveniently, exactly 100 movies meet those criteria. Then, to map the data:
  1. To determine which character is the lead, I looked first to the IMDB cast list. For about a third of the movies the cast is listed alphabetically, in order of appearance, or in some other manner not representative of character importance; in these cases I referred to the corresponding Wikipedia entry to identify the main characters. In a few cases, I just had to use my judgment.
  2. Each character is considered separately, even if voiced by the same actor.
  3. Character gender typically corresponds to voice actor gender. In cases where they differ, I favored the character's gender; for non-human roles, I favored the actor's gender. Again, in a few cases I just had to use my judgment.

Female Leads

How many of these movies feature a female lead? Just ten.
  • Hoodwinked (2006)
  • Happily N'ever After (2007)
  • Battle for Terra (2009)
  • Monsters vs. Aliens (2009)
  • Tangled (2010)
  • Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil (2011)
  • Brave (2012)
  • Epic (2013)
  • Frozen (2013)
  • The Croods (2013)
Girls are represented in the lead just ten percent of the time. They fare better as the secondary character, securing this position in 31 of the movies. Of those, four are on our original list (i.e., the primary and secondary characters are both female).
  • Hoodwinked (2006)
  • Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil (2011)
  • Brave (2012)
  • Frozen (2013)
Contrast that to the 61 titles where the primary and secondary characters are both male. If you went to see a random digitally-animated movie in the past twenty years, you're nine times more likely to have seen a movie with a male lead, and fifteen times more likely to have seen a movie with a male in the top two spots (contrasted to seeing a female in the top two spots).

Weighted Roles

What if we look at the top 10 characters in each film, instead of just the top 2?

Being in the lead is more important than being in the tenth position, so I don't want to weight them equally. Therefore I employ the following system: The first position is worth 10 points; the second is worth 9 points, and so on, with the tenth position worth just 1 point. So the first position is just slightly better than the second position, but ten times better than the tenth position. With this formula, I then determine which percentage of the available points (not all movies have ten significant roles) have been earned by each gender.

This graph shows how each movie scores.

  • The vertical axis is the year of release, beginning with 1995 (top) and ending with 2014 (bottom, including movies still in the theater).
  • The horizontal axis is the percentage male (far left) vs. female (far right). A movie in the middle of the chart, according to my formula above, would have equal representation of males and females.
  • Where several movies are competing for the same position on the graph, I tried to center them as a group around their desired position.
  • If two movies score the same percentage, I look only at the first role, then the second role, etc., to decide which should be on the left (more male) or the right (more female). As a result, the movie on the left of the tie appears slightly more male than it actually is, and the movie on the right of the tie appears slightly more female than it actually is. Therefore, if a movie has an adjacent neighbor, its horizontal position is an estimation.
  • Via colored borders I've emphasized Pixar and Dreamworks productions, collectively contributing 36 films to the medium.

The median movie is 74% male, 26% female, with only two movies at least 50% female.

Among movies with a female lead, Hoodwinked TooThe Croods, and Brave also capture the top three spots for female representation. Frozen, despite having two female leads, is still 62% male and ranks 13th. Monsters vs. Aliens, 76% male, ranks the lowest at 57th.

Box Office Impact

FiveThirtyEight recently concluded that movies passing the Bechdel test earned more per dollar spent than movies that fail the test. Within the context of digitally-animated movies, does a movie's gender make-up affect the box office?

In the chart below, I replace Year with Millions of Tickets Sold on the vertical axis. Each movie's position on the horizontal axis has been reasserted, placing it where it should be, even if it overlaps another movie.

There is only a 2% correlation between Percent Female and Millions of Tickets Sold. I was hoping there would be a stronger (positive) correlation, but this chart at least suggests that studios wouldn't be taking a financial risk if their animated movies feature more female roles.


  1. Reading the statistics did not seem too shocking, just based on my past experience of these films, but the visual representation is horrifying. Not only are we lacking female heroines and leaders as role models, but girls will naturally assume they have no place in stories, comedy, action... perhaps influencing the futures of this generation of young people. Hopefully since half of the equally gender-represented films were made in the last two years or so, we'll be seeing an upward trend.

  2. Wow, my intuition about this was totally of. If you had told me this was the case for live action movies I would have totally expected this but for animation I always though females were much more well represented. Indeed, for the drawn animation of my youth the Disney films all seemed to be female leads, The only one I can think of that was a male lead was The Lion King which I never watched.

    Can you produce the list of 100 movies.