In comments at the group’s annual CinemaCon meeting in Las Vegas, the president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners noted that the industry was finding strength by creating roles highlighting gender diversity.
For decades, the movie industry has faced questions regarding the way it portrays women.
For example, many films fail the Bechdel Test, a basic test to see if films have (1) at least two women in the film that (2) talk about something other than a man. Recent hit films like 22 Jump Street, American Sniper, and The Grand Budapest Hotel have failed this test.
But the National Association of Theatre Owners sees an opportunity to change this dynamic in 2015. Simply put, it just makes good business sense.
During this week’s CinemaCon event, NATO President and CEO John Fithian suggested that putting women in lead roles would help drive record box-office numbers this year.
“2015 will rock at the box office because it will be the year of women,” Fithian said, according to Variety. “We have so much more to come, with big female roles in horror, comedy, science-fiction, animation, family, western, thriller and action. Personally, I am so pleased that my daughter can see more women in leading roles than ever before.”
Films with female leads, such as Fifty Shades of Grey and Cinderella—both of which pass the Bechdel Test, by the way—have seen box-office success with audiences made up of more than 60 percent women.
Fithian’s take on things, which also highlighted the diversity of film ratings at the box office, differs somewhat from the conventional thinking emphasized by box-office analysts. Currently, the film industry is riding high on the success of the latest entry in the Fast and the Furious series, which recently topped $1 billion in worldwide revenue; later this year, new Avengers and Star Wars films are expected to drive massive profits for theaters.
But if Fithian is right, it could be a significant shift for the film industry as a whole. A study released earlier this year by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that just 12 percent of the protagonists in the top-grossing films of 2014 were female, a 3 percent drop from 2013.
Recent successes, such as The Hunger Games series, could be playing a role in changing the dynamic. In both 2013 and 2014, films in the Jennifer Lawrence-starring film series became the highest-grossing domestic films of their respective years, topping the high-grossing superhero movies Iron Man 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy.
“In 2015, women get a little more of the limelight,” Fithian said.