Women’s Media Center Releases New Study on Women Representation in Sci-Fi and Superhero Films

A new study by the Women’s Media Center (WMC) in association with BBC America shows that 97 percent of science fiction and superhero films have been directed by men over the last 10 years.

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Titled SUPERPOWERING WOMEN in Science Fiction and Superhero Film: A 10-Year Investigation, this study is the second in a series of studies from Women’s Media Center in collaboration with BBC America highlighting the importance of representation.

Using data from Box Office Mojo and IMDb, the study’s authors examined the superhero and sci-fi flicks that received a wide theatrical release from January 2009 to December 2018. The report found that only 14% of the movies were led by women or girls. 55% were led by males, and 31% featured female and male co-leads. The past five years have seen “some improvement,” with females leading or co-leading 53% of superhero/sci-fi films, as compared to 2009-2013’s 36 percent. However, overall, 47% of the last five years’ films have featured solo male leads.

Pat Mitchell, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Women’s Media Center noted, “At this time of enormous, sweeping, social change, it’s important that television and film provide an abundance of roles and role models for diverse girls and young women.”

This study follows another that WMC and BBC America released last October which revealed how female representation in superhero and sci-fi stories can have an empowering effect on girls in the real world. Conducted as part of the organizations’ mission to boost representation of women and diversity on-screen, “Superpowering Girls: Female Representation in the Sci-Fi/Superhero Genre” underlines the gender disparity in confidence and opportunity — and reports on the positive impact superheroines and female sci-fi leads can have on girls in the real world.

The study showed that youth from every demographic expressed a desire for more female heroes in the science fiction and superhero genre, with girls and youth of color especially wanting more sci-fi/superheroes who look like them.  The study also confirmed that representation onscreen can positively affect a child’s confidence, sense of opportunity for the future, and overall self-image.

Julie Burton, President and CEO of the WMC, stated, “Representation matters, and impressive box office numbers show that women filmmakers make great films and women and girls lead the charge to watch them. Despite that, our analysis shows we still have a long way to go for sci-fi and superhero films to reflect inclusive perspectives and portrayals of women and girls.”

Impressive box office numbers for films starring and/or directed by women — such as Wonder Woman, the updated Star Wars franchise, Black PantherCaptain Marvel — are adding momentum to a lasting change where women filmmakers are invested in and the stories and voices of women and girls are heard. Wonder Woman – which was released in 2017 and was the first big-budget superhero film directed by a woman – Patty Jenkins — made over $412 million in the box office. On the horizon is Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), the first superhero film directed by an Asian American woman – Cathy Yan.  Julie Burton, noted, “Women-directed Superhero films are historic, inclusive, representative and something we want to see a lot more of.” 

The report highlights to what extent women have been missing from behind the camera and women and girls from in front of the camera. Key findings from this latest report show:

Behind the camera:

  • Only 3% of sci-fi/superhero film directors were women during the 10-year period.
  • Five of the six films directed by women over the last 10 years were released in the last four years of the report.
  • 88% of the most influential behind-the-scenes roles (directing, producing, writing and editing) were held by men, with just 12% going to women.

In front of the camera:

  • 14% of sci-fi/superhero films released between 2009 and 2018 had female solo leads, compared to 55% with male solo leads and 31% of films with male/female co-leads.
  • In the last five years, there has been some improvement, with 53% of films having female solo or co-leads, compared to 36% between 2009 and 2013.
  • Despite improvements, in the last five years, 83% of sci-fi/superhero films have had male leads, with 47% of the films having male solo leads.

Women and girls of color:

  • In 2018, two major motion pictures in the sci-fi genre were directed by and starred women and girls of color: A Wrinkle in Time, directed by DuVernay and starring Storm Reid, and The Darkest Minds, directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and starring Amandla Stenberg. This represents a significant change from 10 years ago.

Read the full report.