Who Speaks More In Movies, Men Or Women? This Study Holds The Answer

"Mushu, her protector dragon, has 50% more words of dialogue than Mulan herself"

Most Popular
Snow white slow clap
GIF

You've probably heard of the Bechdel test, an assessment of films based on the criteria of containing at least two female characters who talk to each other about something besides a man. It's a solid experiment, but new research from visual essayist and data insight company Polygraph has gone one further by compiling the largest ever study of script dialogue to assess whether films really do have a gender bias.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The research aimed to answer questions like 'How many movies are actually about men?' and 'What circumstances generate more diversity?' The census, as they describe it, analysed 8,000 screenplays, matching character lines to actors to asses the percentage weighting between male and female characters' dialogue.

Most Popular

The results are as surprising as they are interesting. Firstly looking at 30 Disney and Pixar films Polygraph found that "22 of 30 Disney films have a male majority of dialogue. Even films with female leads, such as Mulan, the dialogue swings male. Mushu, her protector dragon, has 50% more words of dialogue than Mulan herself."

Even in "Disney princess" films like Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid, male characters have over 70% of the dialogue.

Two out of the four (!) films where females had 60% or more of the dialogue are recent releases like Frozen or Inside Out, but many of the films with male-dominant dialogue were also recent like Wreck It Ralph.

Beyond animation, even romantic comedies had surprising dialogue distributions which are supposedly primarily designed for a female audience. "Romantic comedies have dialogue that is, on average, 58% male. For example, Pretty Woman and 10 Things I Hate About You both have lead women (i.e., characters with the most amount of dialogue). But the overall dialogue for both films is 52% male, due to the number of male supporting characters."

Overall the percentages of films where women dominated the scripts were starkly less than when men did:

"In 22% of our films, actresses had the most amount of dialogue (i.e., they were the lead). Women are more likely to be in the second place for most amount of dialogue, which occurs in 34% of films. The most abysmal stat is when women occupy at least 2 of the top 3 roles in a film, which occurs in 18% of our films. That same scenario for men occurs in about 82% of films."

The study also assessed the issue of age in film and whether there is a bias towards younger women, and if men have longer careers in Hollywood.

"The amount of dialogue, by age-range, is completely opposite for women versus men. Dialogue available to women who are over 40 years old decrease substantially. For men, it's the exact opposite: there are more roles available to older actors."

See individual films in more detail below: