'Bad Moms' to 'Jason Bourne': Which 2016 Films Pass (or Flunk) the Sexism Test?

Jason Bourne Bad Moms Split H 2016
Universal Pictures; STX Entertainment

THR applied the Bechdel-Wallace standard to the top-grossing films of the year to see which box-office hits featured more than two female characters (engaging in conversation about anything other than men).

THR recently gave the 25 top-grossing films of 2016 the Bechdel-Wallace Test. What's that? It's a quiz developed in 1985 by graphic novelist Alison Bechdel and her friend Liz Wallace that reveals just how sexist (or not) any given work of fiction might be. To pass, the work simply has to affirmatively answer three questions: 1. Does it have more than two female characters (with names) in it? 2. Do those characters engage in a conversation with each other? 3. And is that conversation about anything other than a man? Shockingly (or not), only about half the movies we tested passed.


Pass! (achieved all three things)

• The Conjuring 2
• Bad Moms
• Sausage Party
• Finding Dory
• Suicide Squad
• Trolls
• Captain America: Civil War
• Batman v. Superman
• X-Men: Apocalypse
• Independence Day: Resurgence
• Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Incomplete (achieved only two out of three)

• The Secret Life of Pets

Fail (achieved only one out of three)

• Doctor Strange
• The Angry Birds Movie
• Sully
• Central Intelligence
• Kung Fu Panda 3
• Star Trek Beyond
• Jason Bourne
• The Jungle Book

Seriously? (achieved none)

• The Magnificent Seven
• The Legend of Tarzan

When it comes to sexism on film, the system is indeed rigged. According to a study released by Slated, a film economics firm, female driven films are typically shown on only a third as many movie screens as male driven films. The average budget for movies with female directors is also substantially less than the average budgets for those directed by men. Bad Moms producer Suzanne Todd says her female-centric film — directed by two men, Jon Lucas and Scott More — went through several different incarnations and budget levels in its infancy before getting made and becoming the first R-rated comedy of the year to make more than $100,000 million. “If Bad Moms had been directed or written by a first-time, female director, it would have been much harder or probably impossible to get it made,” says Todd. The Conjuring 2's Vera Farmiga has been thrilled to be able to play a strong, female character throughout the franchise's successful run. "It’s a privilege for me to play Lorraine Warren, to portray her strength, sensitivity, devotion and exhaustion." The horror film clocks in 27 scenes where women interact without speaking about a man, one of the highest of the film's that were tested. 

Screenwriter Katie Dippoid, who wrote one of the least sexist movies of the year — Ghostbusters, which passed the Bechdel-Wallace test with flying colors by having 36 scenes involving two or more women talking about something other than a man — notes that even for female scribes it can be difficult to avoid sexist stereotypes. “I still have to push and ask myself, ‘Why did I automatically make that character male? Could that girlfriend character be more than just annoyed at the guy characters?”

This story first appeared in the 2016 Women in Entertainment Power 100 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.