Chick Flicks: The 25 Highest-Grossing Movies with Female Leads

Let’s compare and contrast two lists today: the 25 top grossing movies of all time, and the 25 top grossing female-led movies of all time. Maybe when all this is done we’ll learn a little something about women’s representation in the media. Probably not though! You want to learn facts, go watch Bill Nie.

Okay, first, the easy part. Movies that pass the Bechdel test (meaning that two female characters with names talk to each other about something other than a man) are bolded.

The 25 Top Grossing Movies of All Time (U.S. Box Office)

1. Avatar (starring Sam Worthington) [$760,505,847]

2. The Avengers (starring Robert Downey, Jr.) [$615, 996,809]

3. Titanic (starring Leonardo DiCaprio) [$600,779,824]

4. The Dark Knight (starring Christian Bale) [$533, 316, 061]

5. Star Wars (starring Mark Hamill) [$460, 935, 665]

6. Shrek 2 (starring Mike Meyers) [$436,471,036]

7. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (starring Henry Thomas) [$434,949,459]

8. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (starring Ewan MacGregor) [$431,065,444]

9. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (starring Johnny Depp) [$423,032,628]

10. Toy Story 3 (starring Tom Hanks) [$414,984,497]

11. The Hunger Games (starring Jennifer Lawrence) [$405,882,323]

12. Spider-Man (starring Tobey Maguire) [$403, 706,375]

13. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (starring Shia LeBeouf) [$402,076,689]

14. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (starring Daniel Radcliff) [$380,955,619]

15. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (starring Hayden Christensen) [$380,363,555]

16. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (starring Elijah Wood) [$377,019,252]

17. Spider-Man 2 (starring Tobey Maguire) [$373,377,893]

18. (Info not available! Does this pass?) The Passion of the Christ (starring Jim Caviezel) [$370,270,943]

19. Jurassic Park (starring Sam Neill) [$356,784,000]

20. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (starring Shia LaBeouf [$352,358,779]

21. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (starring Elijah Wood) [$340,478,898]

22. Finding Nemo (starring Albert Brooks) [$339, 714,367]

23. Spider-Man 3 (starring Tobey Maguire) [$336,530,303]

24. Alice in Wonderland (starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp top billed) [$334,185,206]

25. Forrest Gump (starring Tom Hanks) [$329,691,196]

So, in terms of lead actors, that is one homogenous-ass list. Only two of these movies have female main characters (The Hunger Games and Alice in Wonderland) and only one of those two gave top billing to a woman. Only two of them (Toy Story 3 and Finding Nemo) star actors who were age fifty or older at the time the movie was made, and both of those are animated, because who wants to look at crow’s feet, am I right? None of them star an out actor, which is a shame but not too surprising. What is more surprising is that none of them star an actor of color, either! What? Come on, America. You’re killing me here. Only 2/5 of them pass the Bechdel test, which is extra depressing when you think about how low a bar the Bechdel test actually sets. Seriously, all that has to happen is an interaction like:

Mary-Jane: Good morning, Aunt Mae. How are you?

Aunt Mae: Fine. Nice weather we’re having.

Mary-Jane: Yep! Well, see you later.

THAT WOULD GET YOU A PASSING GRADE ON THIS DAMN TEST. And less than half of these movies have even THAT level of female representation. Grim.

Now, moving on to the 25 top grossing female-led movies of all time!

It was a little difficult to pin down what makes a movie female-led. For instance, Tilda Swinton got top billing on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but she really can’t be described as the lead– the three children (only one of whom is female) seem to share that title equally. Hayley Steinfeld clearly played the protagonist of True Grit, but Jeff Bridges got top billing. Similarly, Mia Waskowska played the clear protagonist and title character of the 2010 Alice in Wonderland reboot, but Johnny Depp got top billing and was more prominently featured in the ad campaign. It’s a tricky business,  but, for my purposes, I’ve decided to only count a movie as female-led if (what I consider to be) the film’s protagonist is female, and a female also received top billing.

Once again, bolded movies pass the Bechdel test.

1. The Hunger Games (starring Jennifer Lawrence) [$405,227,711]

2. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (starring Kristen Stewart) [$300,523,113]

3. New Moon (starring Kristen Stewart) [$296,619,304]

4. (? Anybody know whether this one passes Bechdel?) Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt. 1 (starring Kristen Stewart) [$281,275,991]

5. The Blind Side (starring Sandra Bullock) [$255,950,375]

6. Twister (starring Helen Hunt) [$241,688,385]

7. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (starring Nia Vardalos) [$241,437,427]

8. The Exorcist (starring Ellen Burstyn) [$204,565,000]

9. Brave (starring Kelly Macdonald) [$208,774,173]

10. Tangled (starring Mandy Moore) [$200,807,262]

11. Monsters Vs. Aliens (starring Reese Witherspoon) [$198,332,128]

12. Twilight (starring Kristen Stewart) [$191,449,475]

13. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) (starring Adriana Caselotti) [$184,925,485]

14. Beauty and the Beast (1991) (starring Paige O’Hara) [$171,301,428]

15. Chicago (starring Renee Zellwegger) [$170,684,505]

16. The Help (starring Emma Stone) [$169,705,587]

17. Bridesmaids (starring Kristen Wiig) [$169,076,745]

18. The Proposal (starring Sandra Bullock) [$163,947,053]

19. The Sound of Music (starring Julie Andrews) [$163,214,286]

20.(? Not sure if this one passes, either.) Scary Movie (starring Anna Faris; Carmen Electra top billed) [$156,997,084]

21. Sex and the City (starring Sarah Jessica Parker) [$152,637,269]

22. Snow White and the Huntsman (starring Kristen Stewart) [$152,589,315]

23. Lilo & Stitch (starring Daveigh Chase) [$145,771,527]

24. Mamma Mia! (starring Amanda Seyfried; Meryl Streep top billed) [$143,704,210]

25. Juno (starring Ellen Page) [$143,492,840]

First, the good news: 19 of these 25 movies passed the Bechdel test. I guess that’s not surprising since if your main character is a lady it’s a lot easier to slip up and accidentally have her talk to another lady about, you know, lady-stuff, whatever that is.

But once again, zero people of color, zero out actors, and this one only has one top-billed actor over age fifty: Ms. Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia! At least she got to actually appear on screen, unlike Hanksy and Brooksy.

It’s also a little disheartening to look at the amount of money these movies made. Avatar, the top-grossing movie of all time, made a little less than twice what The Hunger Games, the top-grossing female-led movie made, and #25 on the female-led list (Juno) made about a third the amount earned by #25 on the general list (Forrest Gump).

I’d love to hear any analysis any of my readers might have of these numbers. I’m but one human, and I don’t really know what to make of these statistics I have gathered!

Part 2: The 25 Highest-Grossing Movies Starring People of Color coming soon!

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1 Comment

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One response to “Chick Flicks: The 25 Highest-Grossing Movies with Female Leads

  1. lennyburnham

    I looked through to figure out what the highest grossing movie to have an out lead is. The Smurfs comes in at #255, but it looks like Hank Azaria is billed above Neil Patrick Harris. So close!

    Out bisexual Angelina Jolie stars in #307 Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. (Mr. and Mrs. Smith was also all the way up at #140, but they gave Brad Pitt top billing on that).

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