Film criticism is an overwhelming blokey business. According to the data we collected for our recent series of pieces analysing different aspects of film reviewing, of the 842 critics we were able to identify the gender of, 609 are men - that’s around 72%.
And this made us wonder: What impact could this gender divide have on review scores? Are there films that appeal more to masculine or feminine sensibilities? Are men more forgiving of - or oblivious to - sexism and misogyny in films, so will score them higher?
Today, Gizmodo UK can exclusively reveal that (in slightly awkward stereotyping fashion) critics who are men really do like Bladerunner 2049 and The Fast and The Furious more than their female counterparts - and that women critics are much more into the likes of Sisters, Sex and the City, and, umm, Independence Day Resurgence.
Methodology and Pre-Empting The Internet
We used the same dataset as when we told you about the most contrarian critics - or which films are the most divided amongst critics. Basically, we took all of the critics listed on Metacritic who have their own page, and then we worked out the average scores for each film in Metacritic’s database based scores from men, and scores from women. Then we worked out the gap between the two.
Obviously this might not be perfect, or fully complete: Due to the dominance of the men, we had to filter this list to films that had at least 6 women review each given film so that the scores would represent something resembling a critical average rather than any weird outliers. And we also filtered the list to include films that have more than 30 reviews overall for the same reasons - otherwise films with fewer reviews, as well as being way more obscure, could be skewed more easily. This gave us a pool of about 1721 films overall and you can take the results with as many pinches of salt as you deem necessary.
This number is derived from critics who have their own page on Metacritic, and who we could (fairly) confidently figure out the gender of, based on either their name or a cursory Google search. We had to manually enter the gender of each, so we might have got a few wrong - but even if we did, given the number of critics and the scale of the gender disparity, we’re confident that our data is fairly meaningful.
And yeah, because this is the internet where bad faith interpretations are basically mandatory, it obviously goes without saying that gender isn’t destiny and that each and every one of us is special and unique in our opinions… But it’s also true that cultural norms and expectations on gender shape us throughout our lives which means that there are meaningful divisions which can be elucidated by aggregating the views of people based on gender, and that any analysis offered here is not an attempt to say how the world should be, but merely reflect the state of how things actually are right now with no value judgement on top of that. In other words what we’re saying is just keep reading because this is pretty interesting.
The Films Most Skewed Towards Men
So here’s a list of the films with largest gender disparity. To be 100% clear - this isn’t a measure of which films men or women think are the best - these are the films with the biggest gap in favourability. So a film that is rated 50/100 by men and zero women would not be a good film - and it would still have an enormous gender gap.
So here we go. First off, here’s films that skew the most towards men in terms of favourability:
Top of the list is… Oz: The Great and The Powerful, a prequel to the Wizard of Oz. I’ve not seen the film, so I can’t comment on why this might be, but around the time of release it was definitely tagged as being… problematic… on the gender front. Slate said that “In Raimi’s Oz, Male Frauds Are Heroes and Female Frauds Are Pathetic” and Jezebel had a piece titled “Why Oz the Great and Powerful Is A Major Step Back For Witches and Women”.
Bladerunner 2049 is also an interesting inclusion this high up as there was a huge debate about the gender politics of it.
Other high ranked, men-skewed films include The Ugly Truth, a romantic comedy, which despite being written by women also got tagged as being sexist. Hall Pass, a gross-out comedy, which you might expect on a list like this. Also The Polar Express. Women critics it appears, on average, do not like weird CGI Tom Hanks as much as the men they work with.
The Films Most Skewed Towards Women
And now for the other end of the list. The films that are most preferred by critics who are women, compared to the men:
There is one slightly awkward reading of this - which is that it fulfils a bunch of stereotypes: It appears that women critics are much warmer towards Sex and the City and Fifty Shades of Grey, but that subjective skimming of the list would also miss out a bunch of other films which aren’t thought to be massively aimed at women - like Ocean’s Thirteen, Team America and Independence Day 2.
The Bechdel Test
One thing we did notice - or perhaps I was psychologically primed to notice - from the second list is the number of films that feature women protagonists and characters. Sisters is about two women, Marie Antoinette is a film about, well, Marie Antoinette. And so on.
So - we wondered - could it be that more women in film get a more favourable reaction from women critics?
There is actually a way to test this hypothesis. The Bechdel Test is a popular rule-of-thumb for measuring the representation of women in film. The idea is that you take it and score a film based on the following criteria:
1) Does it have at least two named women in it? (One point)
2) Do they talk to each other? (Two points)
3) Is that conversation about something other than a man? (Three points)
If you’ve not come across this test before you might be astonished just how many films fail this super basic criteria: Over the 7485 films in the BechdelTest.com database, only 57.5% of films score 3 points. A further 10.1% score two points, 22% score one point - and 10.4% of films score a big fat zero. Yep, that’s despair you’re feeling now - and it’s sort-of amazing that even some utterly massive films fail so spectacularly: Baby Driver, which was adored by critics and cinephiles only passes one test, as does the less critically acclaimed Emoji Movie. Dunkirk - perhaps unsurprisingly - gets a dishonourable zero Bechdel points.
Anyway, we decided to see how this matches up against our data. We downloaded the Bechdel data and ended up with a pool of 2433 films that could be easily matched to our data.
To do this, we took the list of films, ordered by the gender gap and split the list into percentiles each representing 10% of the films. So the bottom 10% were the films most preferred by women, and the top 10% were most preferred by men, and so on. And then counted of the films in each percentile how many scored which Bechdel score.
So in the stacked bar graph below, for example, in the lowest percentile (films most favoured by women critics), 65 films scored 3 Bechdel points, 11 scored 2 points, 26 scored 1 point, and 6 scored zero.
If there was is a relationship between Bechdel score and the gender gap, we’d expect to see a higher proportion of 3s at the lower end and a smaller at the higher...
…Though as you can see, there doesn’t appear to be a relationship there. So what about if we use the method to compare Bechdel scores with the scores of female critics. Do women give films better scores if they pass the test?
...No. Again, there is no relationship between the scores and the Bechdel ranking. And finally, what about overall scores? Maybe I’m implicitly doing the men a disservice by implying that they too wouldn’t be receptive to Bechdel-smashing films?
But no! Even when Bechdel scores are compared with the mean scores of all the critics together, regardless of gender, there appears to be no relationship between the two.
However, it is important to note - and for the avoidance of any misinterpretation - that does not imply that the Bechdel test, or creating films that treat women better is a waste of time. It isn’t. All it shows is that the Bechdel test doesn’t appear to impact whether critics - whether they’re men or women - like a film or not.
In fact, perhaps the data above, in the first section, perhaps shows us the most important point: That representation matters. If critics who are men and critics who are women respond differently to films, and score them differently - which they do appear to do in some cases - it perhaps demonstrates a need for greater diversity among film critics.
Critics are influential people - their job is to literally shape the critical consensus. Is it any surprise that the Best Director Oscar has only been won once by a woman, when the critics who shape the cultural conversation that Oscar voters pay attention to are overwhelmingly men? How would that conversation change if more of the voices in it were women? On the strength of this data - if it is statistically significant - it certainly suggests that it would be different.