Last October Meryl Streep was at the London Film Festival promoting her new movie Suffragette, a film about the struggle to secure the vote for women in Britain. She used the opportunity to criticize Rotten Tomatoes for its underrepresentation of female critics in its Tomatometer, the tool Rotten Tomatoes uses to grade movies. She pointed out that there were 168 women to 760 men among the critics used by Rotten Tomatoes. She felt that this one sided bias was negatively impacting women-driven movies at the box office. In an interview with the Daily Beast she said “I submit to you that men and women are not the same, they like different things. Sometimes they like the same thing but sometimes their tastes diverge. If the Tomatometer is slighted so completely to one set of tastes that drives box office in the United States.”
Meryl Streep is spot on when she says that sometimes men and women like the same movies but often their tastes differ. For example, in a recent demographic study I put together of the IMDB Top 250 Movies, here were the top 5 movies for men and women:
|The Shawshank Redemption||The Shawshank Redemption|
|The Godfather||Schindler’s List|
|The Godfather: Part II||The Godfather|
|The Dark Knight||12 Angry Men|
|The Good, the Bad and the Ugly||The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King|
Men and women agree on two of the top 5 but disagree on the other 3.
Is Rotten Tomatoes restricting, or not encouraging, women to participate as critics for their website, or are women simply less interested in film criticism? According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Females represented 52% of all moviegoers in 2014. In my study of IMDB’s Top 250, only 16% of the votes cast for Top 250 movies were by women, interestingly close to the 18% participation of female critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Here are the female participation rates by age groups for the Top 250 study:
|Age Group||Female % of IMDB Votes|
|18 to 29||18%|
|30 to 45||14%|
Some hypotheses for these results might include:
- Women are not as comfortable with technology as men, particularly in the older age groups.
- There is an unequal sharing of household responsibilities, particularly during the 30 to 45 child rearing years.
- Women go to the movies more than men because they don’t have time to watch movies when they are home. Men, on the other hand, find time to watch movies at home.
- There is a male bias to the Top 250 movies list.
- There are other things women would rather do than rate movies.
The data above is consistent with the first two hypotheses. The third hypothesis may also be a factor. My Top 250 data demonstrates that women have higher IMDB participation rates for newer movies, which supports greater viewership at movie theaters than at home. When ranked by release date from the oldest to the newest and divided into two groups of 125, there is clearly greater participation across all age groups for newer movies.
|Age Group||Oldest 125 Movies (Median Release Date 1963)||Newest 125 Movies (Median Release Date 2003)|
|18 to 29||15%||20%|
|30 to 45||12%||15%|
I think you see a convergence in the participation rates as the age groups get older because the old movies become more contemporary as the groups get older. But even for the oldest group, who may have watched many of the old movies when they were new, the participation is greater for the newer movies.
The fourth hypothesis is certainly true. In the Top 250 there are 142 movies that men rate higher than women and only 66 that women rate higher than men. But, in those 66 movies that women rate higher than men, women still are only 16% of the total vote.
In the final analysis, though, when you control for the first four hypotheses, I can’t get female participation in IMDB voting to a level greater than 23%. In fact, the single movie in the Top 250 with the highest female participation, the Audrey Hepburn classic Roman Holiday, has a participation rate of only 37%. By the way, the more contemporary version of the same movie, Notting Hill, has only 38% female participation.
All of which leaves me with hypothesis 5, rating movies is one of the things that you do on Mars rather than on Venus. Whatever the reason, Meryl Streep’s concern is real and change is hard. It happens one IMDB vote at a time.
Have I struck a nerve? Do you have any other hypotheses? Please leave comments.