With The Huntsman: Winter’s War arriving in theaters later this month, many have poked fun at the fact that a film starring powerhouses Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt, and Jessica Chastain is named after the sole male lead character. But, it stops being a joking matter when movies appearing to be headlined by women actually find the men taking over the conversation. In a recent analysis of the dialogue of male and female characters in roughly 2000 scripts, researchers found that a shocking number of lady-led movies actually have more lines spoken by male characters than the supposed women in charge.
One of the worst perpetrators is Disney — naming films after their girl-power Princesses, but then letting the Princes do most of the talking. While an equal ratio of dialogue isn’t sinister, selling a film as female-centric only to watch the main characters be pushed aside in favor of masculine voices is an unsettling example to show young girls. It suggests that even if strong female role models exist, they’re still living in a man’s world.
Here are 13 Female-Led Movies Where The Men Do All the Talking.
Emily Blunt delivered one of the most jarring and moving performances of 2015 as the fish out of water FBI agent caught up in the very grey world of the war on drugs in Mexico. Blunt effortlessly showed the strength and perseverance of a soldier, while revealing the confused woman behind the uniform. Her co-stars, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin, also brought fire and integrity to their roles — but the film was wholly Blunt’s journey.
Despite Blunt’s commanding presence on screen, Sicario sees a mere 21% of dialogue spoken by a woman. Perhaps if Blunt were able to say a bit more, that Oscar nomination wouldn’t have slipped past her. The eventual winner of the Best Actress statue, Brie Larson, was a part of a film that saw women with 61% of the dialogue. And, the nominees from Joy, Carol, and Brooklyn appeared to have a leg up as well, with over 50% dialogue coming from female characters (data was not available for 45 Years).
One of the most popular and profitable Disney movies in recent history, Frozen took the world by storm with its story of acceptance and love between two sisters. Ask any child (or parent for that matter) on the street who the central characters are, and there’s no other answer but Elsa and Anna. It’s Elsa’s struggle to overcome her fear and Anna’s journey to reconnect with her sister that serve as the beating heart of the film. Yet, even with two such clear and engaging leading ladies, the women of Frozen only speak or sing 43% of the lines.
The most memorable, touching, and viral moment of the film is, without question, Elsa’s powerful rendition of “Let It Go.” So, if Disney would like to have more money-making songs that inspire countless online covers, maybe they should let the women have the microphone more often. No one would wish to take away a moment of the sheer delight that is Olaf the snowman, but perhaps cutting those trolls wouldn’t have hurt.
11 STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
Star Wars: The Force Awakens made history with the franchise’s most diverse cast ever. Daisy Ridley’s Rey was the primary badass of Star Wars’s latest installment, but it seems that even being the most powerful new Jedi in the galaxy doesn’t provide a guarantee of equal speaking time. While a significant improvement over any previous Star Wars films (Episode I: 17%, Episode II: 17%, Episode III: 12%, Episode IV: 6%, Episode V: 11%, Episode VI: 7%), The Force Awakens’ 28% female dialogue hardly reflects the spirit of diversity that it was credited with. Even the addition of secondary female characters like General Organa, Maz Kanata, and Captain Phasma didn’t make an impact in terms of the speaking ratio in this thoroughly male movie.
And, with over $2 billion at the box office worldwide, there’s no denying that the fan base has grown from largely male to women representing a significant portion of the audience. Rey is primed to be at the head of the next film as its leading character; it’s time to give her the respect of a voice equal to her male counterparts. After all, when Luke starred in Episode IV, he and the other male characters had 94% of the dialogue. Surely, Rey and her fellow females deserve at least 50%.
When one thinks of Alfonso Cuaron’s feast for the eyes space drama, Gravity, the image most likely conjured is that of Sandra Bullock afloat and alone in the vast vacuum above Earth. Yes, George Clooney, was around for a little while; but, the film was almost entirely about Bullock attempting the impossible — a self-rescue in space.
And yet, even when she’s the only character for miles, Bullock still finds herself overrun with what men have to say. 54% of a movie starring a woman solo in space was dominated by male dialogue. Although, it’s possible that all that intense breathing and incomprehensible panicking could have bumped her number up if they were included in the original tally.
9 V FOR VENDETTA
Just like The Huntsman: Winter’s War, V for Vendetta is another example of a film that stars a female protagonist but is named after her male counterpart. There’s no doubt that V is a beyond essential part of the story, but the film is told through Evey’s eyes. The audience watches her transformation from ordinary citizen to radical disestablishmentarian. The noble cop Finch and his role as a sort of second narrator while uncovering the corruptness of the government is likely what tips the scale towards a male dialogue number of 58%.
That’s despite the film including a dream-like sequence during Evey’s imprisonment told entirely through the words of a woman V knew, Valerie. But, neither Evey’s metamorphosis nor the memories of Valerie resulted in the ladies of the film speaking more than the various male co-stars.
8 SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN
After raking in over 2.5 billion dollars worldwide in the Twilight series, it is safe to say that Kristen Stewart is a pretty bankable star (even more so in 2012 when the first Huntsman hit theaters). Add her tween appeal to Charlize Theron’s award-winning acting caliber, and you have an extremely strong combination of women headlining Snow White and The Huntsman.
Even without the extra background given to Theron’s Evil Queen character, one would think that Snow White’s story would be the most important one in her own movie. Not the case it seems, as her dialogue in addition to Theron’s and all the other females in Snow White and The Huntsman only added up to 39% of the lines spoken. Only time will tell if the additions of Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain to the sequel can knock the women’s speaking roles up higher than the eponymous Huntsman.
7 ANNA KARENINA
As an actress who has tackled dialogue from nearly every recent century, including the likes of the most famous Jane Austen character of all time, everyone knows that Keira Knightley can handle a hefty script. With Anna Karenina, she took on the words of two great writers, Tom Stoppard (screenplay) and Leo Tolstoy (author). The adaptation of this detailed and intricate Russian novel is woven tightly around Anna’s passions and plights, but the societal restrictions on women shows through in the limited 44% of lines spoken by females as well as the tragedy of Anna’s circumstances.
Some would argue that historical accuracy demands a more silent woman, but that seems like a stretch when any story told on film can give life to a person’s thoughts and dreams as well as the words they say out loud.
One of the more startling statistics and examples on this list is the Disney classic, Mulan. While other Disney films like The Little Mermaid, in which a man falls in love with a woman who cannot speak, and Beauty and the Beast, which contains an almost classic example of Stockholm Syndrome, have been picked apart since their releases for their portrayals of women, Mulan has maintained a good reputation. In comparison, it shows a strong woman who finds inner strength, gains the respect of men, and saves China—quite a step up for Disney.
Which is why it is so shocking to learn that a mere 25% of dialogue in Mulan is attributed to female characters. You would think that as the lead in a film aimed at young girls, Mulan’s thoughts and words would be more relevant to the audience than those of any man. But, the sexism that forces Mulan to impersonate a man in the film apparently goes beyond the time period of ancient China.
5 ZERO DARK THIRTY
Jessica Chastain’s whip-smart and relentless character in Zero Dark Thirty might be described as the strong, silent type. But, when was the last time you heard of a man described that way who still said less than his female co-stars? Ryan Gosling’s Drive managed to have 84% of the dialogue go to men; the rarely described as loquacious Batman was at 90% in The Dark Knight; and, the not overly-wordy Mark Wahlberg was up at 73% in The Fighter. Women can still have great roles in such films, as evidenced by Melissa Leo’s Oscar in the latter example.
But, a taciturn female lead shouldn’t have to relinquish her quota of lines to a mere 38%, as was the case in Zero Dark Thirty, if such a standard would never be expected of a man.
Queen Elizabeth was one of the most powerful women in history, made even more so by the fact that she ruled an empire without the need of a man at her side.
When it came time for the flawless Cate Blanchett to portray her in the film Elizabeth, this regal monarch was only given 43% of the say in her own story. If Daniel Day Lewis’ Abraham Lincoln or Colin Firth’s King George IV had only spoken 43% of the lines in their biographical movies, you can believe there would have been outcry about women taking over the films. Fortunately, the follow-up film, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, did see that increase to 53%, but that still doesn’t come close to the 88% Lincoln saw or the 90% for The King’s Speech.
3 THE HUNGER GAMES
One of the favorite heroines to young girls for the last several years has been the stoic, brave, and sincere Katniss Everdeen in her fight against The Capitol. Katniss Everdeen acted as a foil to many other popular fictional female characters in that she was not interested in fame or glory, but only in protecting her family and trying to do what was right.
Her inspiring journey that started as a New York Times Bestselling series grew into a multi-billion dollar franchise and a star-making role for Jennifer Lawrence. It’s not dissimilar to the rise of the Harry Potter books and films that saw Daniel Radcliffe shoot to international stardom. When such a high-budget series was lead by a male character though, Harry and his male co-stars never received less than 79% of the dialogue. In The Hunger Games, the central character and her fellow females only got 45%.
(Data only available for Harry Potter 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6)
2 PRETTY WOMAN
It’s true that a movie revolving around a cliché like a “hooker with a heart of gold” was unlikely to attempt to break down many sexist barriers. What Pretty Woman stands as an example of is the consistent pattern of romantic comedies, supposedly from the woman’s point of view or at least specifically aimed at women, being more about how men discuss the woman in question rather than her own opinions.
And, if a minted star like Julia Roberts was only receiving 46% of the dialogue, one can imagine that less famous actresses in similar rom-coms would be given even fewer lines to express themselves.
A movie series so notoriously “girl” in the most ridiculous sense, featuring excessive voiceovers of the inner thoughts of a smitten teen, still can’t muster more than 48% of the dialogue for the female characters. The Twilight book series takes place largely in Bella Swan’s head as she fantasizes and obsesses over her mysterious vampire love. But, when translated to the screen, none of the first three Twilight films (data was not available for Breaking Dawn Part I or II) find the women of the film (which include Bella’s mother, her female friends, and women vampires) speaking more than half of the time.
How exactly does a sullen vampire overtake this brigade of female voices? Let's just hope that the seemingly dead reboot rumors stay that way.
ADDITIONAL FILMS: The Queen (44%), The Young Victoria (48%), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (29%), Knocked Up (37%), 10 Things I Hate About You (46%), The Princess Bride (11%), Election (39%), and no doubt numerous others that weren’t included in the 2000 scripts analyzed.
Did any of the films on the list surprise you? Are there other films that you think would also make the list? Let us know in the comments!