Films with female leads earn more at box office

Heroines rock the box office

Girl power in Black Panther

This 2018 action thriller featuring Florence Kasumba, Angela Bassett and Letitia Wright embodies emancipation on multiple levels, highlighting empowered black characters as well as women warriors. Set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, "Black Panther" pays attention to modern-day sensitivities with regard to gender roles and social identities.

Heroines rock the box office

Gal Gadot: Wonder Woman from Israel

Former Miss Israel Gal Gadot's performance transformed the DC Extended Universe thriller "Wonder Woman" into a feminist manifesto. Grossing $822 million (€720 million) at box offices worldwide, it was the 10th most successful movie of 2017, topping cinema charts for weeks-on-end.

Heroines rock the box office

Rogue One: Felicity Jones and the Bechdel test

"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" was the second most successful movie of 2016, trailing just behind another superhero film, "Captain America: Civil War." The sci-fi thriller passed the so-called Bechdel test; first developed in 1985, this qualitative measurement examines whether movies featuring at least two women who talk to each other actually speak about something other than a man.

Heroines rock the box office

Scarlett Johansson plays the 'Black Widow'

US actress Scarlett Johansson played the character of the Black Widow in several of the "Avengers" films. In 2015, she portrayed the S.H.I.E.L.D. spy with the arachnid name in "Avengers: The Age of Ultron," which also passed the Bechdel test. That movie grossed more than $1.4 billion, proving once and for all that intelligent female characters with depth matter more than just pretty faces.

Heroines rock the box office

Emma Watson tames the beast

It's not just female superheros that score at the box office. Emma Watson's 2017 portrayal of Belle in "Beauty and the Beast" grossed $1.26 billion and garnered two Oscar nominations (best costume design and best production design). This adaptation of the Disney classic was the second most successful movie in 2017.

Glenn Close's empowering speech at the Golden Globes underlined that women have great stories to tell. A recent study also shows that female-led films are top box office performers — invalidating Hollywood assumptions.

Beyond finding the talent that best fits a role, when major studios cast a movie, they always think about the bottom line, seeking actors who are already popular to boost their production's box office results.

However, it's difficult to quantify the impact of a cast on the success of a movie. Would a flop have been a hit with different actors?

Highly-paid actors do not necessarily lead to the commercial hits producers hope for. Analyzing the relationship between the colossal salaries of top stars and box office failures, business magazine Forbes publishes a list of "the most overpaid actors" every year.

Disproportionate salaries

Sandra Bullock, Adam Sandler and former "sexiest man alive" Johnny Depp have all made it onto the list of Hollywood's most overpaid actors. Studios only earned $2.80 for every dollar invested in the star for Depp's three most important films in 2016.

But the list isn't necessarily an indicator of quality. In 2016, Leonardo DiCaprio ranked eighth on the dreaded Forbes compilation, as his films The Revenant and The Wolf of Wall Street failed to perform at the box office. Nevertheless, DiCaprio was nominated for an Oscar for both roles, and won the Academy Award for his performance in The Revenant.

Renowned for his multi-million paychecks, Mark Wahlberg topped the 2017 Forbes list by starring in box office disappointments such as Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day.  In 2018, the actor's fees were at the center of a scandal when reports revealed that his female co-star, Michelle Williams, only made one percent of Walberg's pay for the reshoot of scenes of Ridley Scott's All the Money in the World

Study overturns Hollywood's preconceptions

Along with current pressure on Hollywood to eliminate its gender pay-gap problem, producers can now review their casting assumptions thanks to a recent US study by agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and tech company Shift7, which states that films with strong women's roles outperform male-led movies.

The study looks into 350 films produced from 2014 to 2017; 105 of those productions had a woman in a lead role. The movies are divided into five categories according to their productions budget, and the study concludes that the best performing films in each of these categories all had female lead protagonists.

"There has been an assumption in the industry that female-led films led were generally less successful. We found that the data does not support that assumption," notes CAA's Christy Haubegger.

The best performing films remain comic film adaptations from Marvel and DC, and many of them are centered on male superheroes — but female heroines are increasingly joining the fight.

Daisy Ridley's character Rey took center stage in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"

Stereotypes don't pay

A change can actually be noticed in successful films with male lead roles. The study also checked the performances of films that passed the so-called Bechdel test, which measures the portrayal of women in works of fiction by asking three questions: Does it feature at least two women? Do they talk to each other? And is their conversation about something other than a man?

The three basic requirements were developed by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985. While they were first meant as a "little lesbian joke in an alternative feminist newspaper," as the cartoon author once said, the measurement is now a mainstream standard. "The Bechdel test is a low bar to clear, and it's surprising how many movies don't clear it," stated Liza Chasin in the study's press release.

The study nevertheless found that the basic requirements have been taken into consideration in the latest top blockbusters' storylines. Between 2014 and 2017, 11 films made over a billion dollars at the box office, including Jurassic World, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avengers: Age of Ultron. While not all of those films are female-led, they all passed the Bechdel test.

The last time a blockbuster raked in over a billion dollars without passing the Bechdel test was in 2012 — The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey's

Avatar characters voiced by Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana (AP)

The most successful movies of all time

'Avatar' (2009)

Leading the pack with box office earnings of $2.79 billion (€2.27 billion) is "Avatar" by director James Cameron. Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana and Sigourney Weaver, the epic sci-fi film is set in a 22nd-century mining colony on a moon called Pandora, and portrays a conflict with the original inhabitants, the Na'vi.

The most successful movies of all time

'Avengers: Endgame' (2019)

Disney's superhero blockbuster has already become the second-highest grossing movie, surpassing the $2 billion mark in just 11 days of its release. It took 47 days for "Avatar" to reach that milestone. The epic finale of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe phase is on its way to the top.

The most successful movies of all time

'Titanic' (1997)

Another box office smash for Cameron, "Titanic" has raked in $2.19 billion after multiple re-releases since it premiered nearly 20 years ago. The film, which dramatized the April 1912 sinking of the British passenger liner on its maiden voyage, saw a young Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet adopt the iconic pose pictured above.

The most successful movies of all time

'Star Wars Episode VII: the Force Awakens' (2015)

The seventh film in the Star Wars franchise made $2.07 billion at the box office following its much-hyped 2015 release. Produced and directed by J J Abrams, this was the first Star Wars movie not to involve the franchise's creator, George Lucas — the production company, Lucasfilm, was acquired by Disney in 2012.

The most successful movies of all time

'Avengers: Infinity War' (2018)

Gargantuan ambitions, and dizzying results: In 2018, the "Avengers" cast ensemble reunited for success. The Marvel Comics superhero team not only prevented the destruction of the universe, but the film also grossed $2.05 billion at the box office worldwide.

The most successful movies of all time

'Jurassic World' (2015)

Another hit from 2015, the long-awaited sequel to Steven Spielberg's 1993 hit "Jurassic Park" earned nearly $1.7 billion worldwide. The following sequel, "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," released in 2018, grossed over $1.3 billion internationally — but didn't make it into the top 10.

The most successful movies of all time

'Marvel's The Avengers' (2012)

Uniting Marvel comics' biggest names — from Captain America to the Hulk (above) — proved to be a successful recipe, as four "Avengers" films have since found their place in the top 10. The eclectic ensemble went down well with cinema audiences, who shelled out more than $1.5 billion to see the movie.

The most successful movies of all time

'Furious 7' (2015)

The seventh installment in the "Fast and the Furious" franchise made $1.52 billion in cinemas — again following a 2015 release. After actor Paul Walker (left) died in a car crash, his brothers stood in for him on set so that filming could be completed.

The most successful movies of all time

'Avengers: Age of Ultron' (2015)

The 2015 "Avengers" sequel revealed more about the dark past of the Black Widow, portrayed by Scarlett Johansson (picture). She reunited with Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk and the rest of the Marvel Comics crew to once again save the world. The eye-popping epic made $1.4 billion at the box office.

The most successful movies of all time

'Black Panther' (2018)

Another title in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is the highest-grossing film franchise of all time, "Black Panther" earned $1.35 billion at the box office. The film was praised for its cultural significance: The narrative centering on black superheros was compared by some writers to key events in history, such as Barack Obama's election as US president.