Women buy 55% of movie tickets

Recently, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) came out with some earth-shattering stats that reveal women buy 55% of all theater tickets. That’s women, as in, not men. You can download the pdf of stats here, or read coverage from Women and Hollywood and Marketing to Women Onilne. From Melissa Silverstein:

I know exactly why the 2009 numbers increased.  If you follow the business it’s not too hard to figure it out.  The reasons are New Moon and The Blind Side with a side of The Proposal (now Sandra Bullock’s Oscar makes even more sense.)  Maybe folks are going to try and say that it is a fluke because there were two female centric successes and we don’t have those frequently.  Friends, that is the whole fucking point.  It’s like that line from Field of Dreams – “if you build it they will come.”  It is only looked at as a fluke because of the shortsightedness of people who won’t believe that women will continue to go to the movies.

Pink ticketsMelissa’s thinking here makes sense. But since nobody tracks the demographics of who is going to which movie in any serious way, there is room for additional speculation. We’ve heard in recent years that women pay for dates more often than they used to (movies being typical date fodder). Could it be the wage gap is finally closing, and the spending power of women is reaching parity with men? There could be any number of cultural factors at work here, but what seems clear from any reading of these stats these stats is that movies which appeal to women are worth making.

But Hollywood executives might just find it easier to dismiss all this as a non-recurring phenomenon. Or, as The Other Patrick pointed out:

So any day now, films will be target primarily at women, and only dumb actioners will be made for men. Right? right?

Or the studio executives will see that and think: “See, we’re doing it right. Women go to the movies even when we don’t make films for them, so why should we start.” Because either way, women do it wrong.

Yes, exactly. If we watch, we’re “easy to please”. If we don’t watch, we’re “impossible to please.” That’s why women can’t vote with their dollars in the entertainment marketplace. It’s not that we don’t generate the numbers – see above. It’s that no matter what numbers we generate, the film industry is working from a data set which assures them it’s just not possible that women are actually worth appealing to – and once you’ve eliminated the impossible, you consider the improbable. Hollywood has always managed to find any number of improbable scenarios to explain away the (im)possibility that women are consumers and somebody ought to want our money.

Another quote from Silverstein’s article:

Here’s the money quote from the MPAA:

“A higher percentage of women than men are moviegoers in all categories of frequency.”

In. All. Categories. of. Frequency.

Women make up 9 million more filmgoers than men.

This will make a nice shut the hell up the next time some dude feels the need to “mansplain” to you how chicks don’t go to movies enough, and if chicks did, why then surely those lovely film executroids would accommodate their little pink-lovin’ asses better. It’s just not true. Huge industries do leave money on the table. They just do – all the time. I’m frequently looking to buy services or products only to find they’re not available, or they’re available but shipping will cost 3 times the product price, or they’re available but the website doesn’t show you all your options because they want you to call a customer service rep and let them tell you what to buy so you’ll overspend, or because someone wants to hard sell me something I was already prepped to buy before the salesfool made me homicidal.

It happens all the freaking time, people. Free markets are beautiful things, but buyers can only purchase what’s offered. And even when they do spend, if the people in charge are so incapable of reason that they look for ways to explain that spending away, it doesn’t change the industry’s scope like it should.


  1. Fraser says

    You know, i was reading the linked non-recurring phenomenon post and despite Goldman, it seems like studios try to recur a lot. Star Wars led to a spate of SF films; one super-hero film that succeeds encourages more; and as Pictures at a Revolution (which I just finished) points out, the success of Sound of Music and My Fair Lady led to a spate of big, big musicals in the late sixties (almost all of which sucked, unfortunately). It seems much more of an issue with women-centered films (which isn’t that surprising).

  2. Mel says

    Alice in Wonderland, a movie about a proactive young women, and the woman she fights to put another woman back on the throne, is doing great in the box office. Better than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, another Tim Burton movie with a bigger Johnny Depp role and a boy hero.

    And the producer (iirc) attributes it to the amazing combination of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp (who does not have nearly as much screen time as the posters lead one to expect, and who is kind of another boring “wacky” character with weird makeup).

    It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with Alice.

    They make up the sexist narrative to justify whatever happens. A movie with a female main character is popular? It must be the male director and a male supporting actor! If the director had been female, then it would have been the male producer, or maybe the male audiences who like seeing a hot chick fight a dragon.

  3. says

    Fraser, those are pre-Blockbuster era. Back then, they DID try to learn from their successes and failures. It was just after the time of SW that everything changed. And crystallized, because they seized on the idea that SW was *the* formula (and every formula since has been a slight derivation on it).

    It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with Alice.

    Of course not! I mean, Sigourney Weaver/Ellen Ripley isn’t the reason the Alien franchise worked. Kate Winslet’s character had nothing to do with the success of Titanic, either. /eye-roll

  4. SunlessNick says

    Kate Winslet’s character had nothing to do with the success of Titanic, either.

    I remarked a while back that Titanic did a lot better than any of that year’s other romantic films, or for that matter than most romantic films ever have. And therefore that if women were going to see it in such greater numbers, it might be an indication that more than just the romance was a draw – and that maybe this other draw was the thing we’re guaranteed to get in any film about the Titanic – a huge iceberg and stories of survival (or of facing death).

    And maybe the same thing goes for New Moon: putting the criticisms of its romantic style aside for a moment, if it’s doing better than this year’s other romances, perhaps that’s because it also offers supernatural beings and deadly battles.

    Sort of like how a dose of action gives men an excuse to watch things like the changing feelings of three men for one another (Apollo 13), a dose of romance giving women an excuse to watch harrowing or inspiring brushes with death (Titanic). If that’s totally wrong, and the popularity Titanic and New Moon is just based on them hitting romantic nerves exceptionally well, then that still implies that making films that hit romantic nerves exceptionally well is a big market. But if it’s right, then that implies there are even bigger markets just round the corner.

  5. says

    Alice in Wonderland, a movie about a proactive young women, and the woman she fights to put another woman back on the throne

    This is interesting, because I decided not to go see Alice in Wonderland because all the promotional material had given me the impression Alice didn’t really do much in the movie – in the trailer I saw, you didn’t even get to hear her speak.

    So even when they do make movies where the main character is a woman, that apparently isn’t a selling point. I’m relieved to hear that she is proactive in the movie, but annoyed that the promotional material couldn’t have told me that

  6. Anemone says

    We had a talk by Dr. Tannin MacBeth (a researcher on media content) at Women in Film and Television Vancouver the other day, and she talked about how hard it is to see past stereotypes. Once you have a stereotype in your brain, it’s easier to see all the many exceptions as exceptions rather than see them as better data. Now that she mentioned it, I see it everywhere.

  7. Mary says

    @ Cara Marie: Go and watch Alice! Now!

    It’s one of those few movies that’s about a female character on The Hero’s Journey.
    Alice starts out as an innocent girl and grows into a self-confidant woman who dares to pursue her own dreams. Plus she learns how to sword-fight and there’s absolutely not even a hint of a love story.

  8. Robin says

    I kind of wonder how they acquired this data and how accurate their interpretation of it is. (Lies, damn lies, and statistics.) Do they count tickets bought for children (or men or silicon-based extraterrestrials or whatever) by women as a woman buying many tickets, or as many people of varying genders seeing the movie? The second excerpt seems to be directly equating every ticket purchased by a woman with a set of female eyeballs watching said movie, but that’s not always the case.

    That said, if women truly are the majority market — which seems likely, since we’re the majority population — I really hope that the entertainment industry finally gets that they’re ignoring an awful lot of potential money.

  9. says

    Cara Marie, but gosh, we mustn’t alienate the BOYS with our marketing!

    Nick, I like your theory about how one element gives people a gender-stereotyped comfortable excuse to watch a movie that might normally supposedly not appeal to their gender (or that they would get accused of Gay Cooties for watching, or whatever). Since young people are particularly vulnerable to gender conformity pressure and young people continue to make up a big chunk of the market, this makes sense.

    Anemone, that’s very well said, and exactly what’s happening here: the disproving data comes along, but it has to be an exception, because the stereotype is privileged as fact rather than an interpretation of facts.

    Robin, I *always* wonder about the data. But seriously, if they start questioning it now that it’s not saying what they want to hear, after all those years of merrily accepting similarly collected data that did conform to their expectations, I’m calling for blood.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *