Hollywood Gender Gap: 2016 Movies Had More Major Female Characters But Fewer Speaking Roles

29 percent of protagonists in 2016’s top 100 grossing films were women, San Diego State University study finds

While more women played major characters in films in 2016, the percentage of female characters with speaking roles has declined, a new study has found.

Women accounted for 37 percent of major characters in the 100 top-grossing 2016 films, up 3 percentage points from the previous year, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University’s annual “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World” study.

But despite female-centered hits like “Hidden Figures,” “Ghostbusters” and “Bad Moms,” only 32 percent of the 2,595 female characters actually had speaking roles, down 1 percentage point from 2015.

Women made up 29 percent of all protagonists in the top grossing films, up from 22 percent the year before and an all-time high since the study began in 2002.

“While audiences were still more than twice as likely to see male characters as female characters in top grossing movies, females fared better as protagonists and major characters in 2016,” Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center, said in a statement.

Films with at least one female director and/or writer featured higher percentages of female protagonists and major female characters in comparison to films with exclusively male directors and/or writers.

For example, in films with at least one female director and/or writer, women comprised 57 percent of all protagonists — compared to just 18 percent in films with exclusively male directors and/or writers.

This is an increase from last year, where, in films directed by women, 40 percent of the speaking roles and 50 percent of protagonists were female, whereas in movies directed by men, women only accounted for 30 percent of the speaking roles and 13 percent of the protagonists.

Twenty-four percent of all female characters were nonwhite last year, whereas 27 percent of black, Latina and Asian women were major characters in 2015 films. The numbers of Asian and black female characters increased slightly, while the percentage of Latina characters decreased.

In 2016, female characters were also younger than their male counterparts. The majority of female characters were in their 20s and 30s, while the majority of male characters were in their 30s and 40s.

Women were most likely to appear in comedies (28 percent) followed by dramas and horror films (24 and 17 percent, respectively), while men were most likely to appear in dramas (30 percent), followed by comedies and animated films (17 and 13 percent, respectively).