I’m Taking a Sabbatical…Sort Of

The lesser known but highly awarded Hitchcock classic, Rebecca, is one of three movies on my Watch List this week that women will probably “really like” more than men will.

With Memorial Day on the horizon and summer days not far behind, I’ve decided it’s time for a sabbatical, of sorts. Merriam-Webster defines “sabbatical”  as “a break or change from the normal routine” and that is what I’m doing. I’m discontinuing my Thursday post for the summer. Between a busy summer planned and a desire to make more progress on my objective database than I have so far, I’ve decided two posts a week is too much for now. I do plan on continuing my Monday Box Office Top Ten recommendations as my schedule permits. If an idea grabs me, I may even post it. This is why I call it a “sort” of sabbatical.

I’ve got a lot of ideas but a fair test of those ideas really needs a completed objective database. That will be my focus over the summer months. One idea that I’m playing with is developing a separate objective “really like” probability for men and women. My movie watch list for this week is a first pass at the idea. Presently, women like Avengers: Infinity War as much as men do even though it is a male oriented movie. With the exception of Do the Right Thing, the remaining movies on the Watch List are movies that women will probably like more than men will . Rebecca, an Alfred Hitchcock lesser known classic with ten Oscar nominations, is the best of the bunch. The last two movies appeal to women of different ages. Amanda Knox appeals to the younger set while Still Mine is aimed at AARP female members.

One of the things you’ll notice is that there isn’t much of a gap between the male and female probabilities for each movie. This gets to the point I made earlier about needing to pick up the pace in terms of completing the database. There isn’t enough data yet to create much space between the probabilities. I’m anxious to really get this moving so that the gender differences can become a more meaningful tool. That means more time spent on data and less on writing.

On to the sabbatical. Sort of.

Just Because a Movie Is Female Friendly Doesn’t Make It Female Oriented

Empowered women may make Star Wars: The Last Jedi a female friendly movie. At the end of the day, though, it is still a “guy movie”

Last Thursday I published the 2017 Objective Top Twenty. I promptly got blasted by my most important follower…my wife. She took one look at the list and said, “With the exception of Beauty and the Beast, these are all guy movies. That’s unacceptable.” I pointed out that six of the twenty received higher ratings from women than men. She replied, “It doesn’t matter. They are still guy movies.” As I thought about it, I agreed she was right. The movies may be female friendly but they are not movies that a woman would necessarily go to without being dragged there by some man. I had to fix this.

The first thing I did was profile the IMDB gender distribution of all of the movies on the list of movies considered for the top twenty. The first thing I discovered was that women, on average, rated the sample 3 points higher than men. When I leveled the ratings of the two groups it reduced the female friendly movies on the list from six to four. The second thing I discovered was that female IMDB votes make up only 17.4% of the entire sample. When we look again at the female percentage of all of the IMDB votes for Star Wars: The Last Jedi we discover that the female participation is a paltry 12.3% of the total. It’s definitely a guy movie. But, even when we level the ratings to compensate for the higher overall ratings of women, the female adjusted average rating for Star Wars is still 7.7 against a male rating of 7.5. This makes Star Wars: The Last Jedi a Male Oriented but Female Friendly movie.

Next I went in search of the 2017 movie that epitomizes “chick flick”, that movie which would make many men check their testosterone at the door. I came up with Girls Trip. Females still only make up 40.8% of all Girls Trip IMDB voters but it is significantly higher than the 17.4% for the entire sample. The adjusted average female rating for Girls Trip is 6.8. The male average rating is 5.9. This movie might be classified as Female Oriented and very Female Friendly.

I’m considering using the percentage of IMDB votes to classify movies as Male Oriented, Gender Neutral, or Female Oriented. Using this approach, the list of 2017 movies that are Female Oriented  and eligible for the Objective Top Twenty might include these movies:

2017 Released Movies Female % of All IMDB Votes
Beauty and the Beast  38.2%
Greatest Showman, The 36.6%
Hidden Figures 31.4%
Wonder 28.3%
Lion 26.7%
Lady Bird 26.5%
Coco 23.1%
Murder on the Orient Express 23.0%
Shape of Water, The 22.9%
Okja 22.3%

I believe that these movies pass the eye test as female oriented movies but first … I better ask my wife.

 

 

This Fall Women Will Be Able to Cherry Pick Their Movies

Last week Miranda Bailey (the film producer, not the Chief of Surgery on Grey’s Anatomy) announced at South by Southwest that she will be launching a new movie critic rating aggregator this Fall called CherryPicks

Last week Miranda Bailey (the film producer, not the Chief of Surgery on Grey’s Anatomy) announced at South by Southwest that she will be launching a new movie critic rating aggregator this Fall called CherryPicks (think Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic) . Just what we need, another Movie Critics website. Right! Actually, right, we do need this website. The unique feature of this website is that it will aggregate only female critics. And, in terms of seeking out “really like” movies, it is a perspective that is sorely lacking in the existing movie ratings options.

In Entertainment Weekly’s article introducing CherryPicks, Miranda Bailey points out that there is around a 4 to 1 ratio of male to female critics on Rotten Tomatoes. This disparity doesn’t usually come into play in reviews of the universally great movies. Many of these movies are gender neutral. But for a female oriented independent film that doesn’t have 300 reviews, gender inequity can be the difference between a Certified Fresh rating and a Rotten rating, and the box office impact that goes with it.

It’s even worse on IMDB, where male voters tend to overwhelm female voters in the development of the average rating for each movie. As women in Hollywood raise their voices, the divide between male and female voters on IMDB gets wider. I wrote about the male IMDB voter backlash that resulted with the 2016 release of Ghostbusters and its all female cast. Today, of the 165,000+ IMDB voters who rated Ghostbusters, less than 30,000 were women. The average rating from men is 5.0. The average rating from women is 6.6. The overall average rating is 5.3. The fact that women thought that the movie wasn’t bad was drowned out in the deluge of male votes that panned the movie. Its overall 5.3 rating suggests Ghostbusters is a bad movie when an equitable gender distribution of the movie probably would suggest that it actually was an okay movie and not bad at all.

Like it or not, rating websites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB drive how much movies get seen. For female movie producers, directors, and actors, how much their movies get seen determines how much they work and how much they earn. For them, a website like CherryPicks is critical to their livelihood.

For me, CherryPicks has a much more modest import. I want to be able to pick out a movie for Friday Movie Night that both my wife and I will “really like”. For followers of this blog, I need to be able to identify movies that women will like as well as men. I need data that isn’t skewed to men. I’m hopeful CherryPicks can play a part in providing a step towards a balanced perspective. For now, any list I produce which recommends movies will indicate whether IMDB suggests that the movie is female friendly,  male friendly, or just neutral. My weekly watch list which I published yesterday is the first list with these indicators. Next week’s final 2017 Objective Top Twenty will also include these indicators.

For now, this is the best I can do until CherryPicks is able to lend its voice in the Fall.

 

 

The Eighth Decade of Oscar Belonged to the Remarkable Dame Judi

In 1995 two actors eased their way into the consciousness of United States moviegoers after learning their craft across the oceans in Australia and England. The actor made an impression in a box office loser, The Quick and the Dead. The actress broke down the gender barrier in the testosterone laden James Bond franchise to become the first female to play M in Goldeneye. The New Zealand born actor was 31 years old. The English actress was 61. They are my Actor and Actress of the decade from 1997 to 2006.

In 1995 two actors eased their way into the consciousness of United States moviegoers after learning their craft across the oceans in Australia and England. The actor made an impression in a box office loser, The Quick and the Dead. The actress broke down the gender barrier in the testosterone laden James Bond franchise to become the first female to play M in Goldeneye. The New Zealand born actor was 31 years old. The English actress was 61. They are my Actor and Actress of the decade from 1997 to 2006.

Dame Judi Dench is the Actress of the Decade.

Top Actresses of the Decade
1997 to 2006
Actress Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Judi Dench 4 0 2 1 15
Hilary Swank 2 2 0 0 12
Meryl Streep 3 0 1 0 10
Kate Winslet 3 0 1 0 10
Nicole Kidman 2 1 0 9
Charlize Theron 2 1 0 9

It is remarkable for a woman to become a Hollywood star in her sixties. As I pointed out in a previous post, good roles for female actors peak between ages 22 and 31. Judi Dench has turned that statistic on its head. Beginning at age 63 with Mrs. Brown to the most recent, Philomena, at age 79, Judi Dench has been nominated for an Academy Award seven times. She won Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love, a Best Picture winner. While Judi Dench may have been fairly anonymous to United States audiences until the mid-90’s, she was not anonymous across the pond in Great Britain. She was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and is one of the most decorated actors in British theater history. She is also a ten time BAFTA winner, which is the British equivalent to the Academy Awards. So, Judi Dench did not just show up in the 90’s, she was always great.

The Actor of the Decade goes to Russell Crowe, beating out Sean Penn in a tie-breaker.

Top Actors of the Decade
1997 to 2006
Actor Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Sean Penn 3 1 0 0 12
Russell Crowe 3 1 0 0 12
Jack Nicholson 2 1 0 0 9
Denzel Washington 2 1 0 0 9
Jamie Foxx 1 1 1 0 7
Tie Breakers for Top Actor of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1997 to 2006
Actor IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Russell Crowe 8.3    1,798,645 81% Certified Fresh 522
Sean Penn 7.9       500,465 67% Fresh 398

Russell Crowe’s only three nominations in his career so far occurred in three consecutive years from 1999 to 2001. He won for Gladiator which was released in 2000.

If you were to read critics reviews of the 2012 Best Picture nominee Les Miserables, a common criticism of the movie is that Russell Crowe, in the role of Javert, wasn’t a very good singer. The irony in that criticism is that Russell Crowe was the lead singer for a moderately successful rock band called 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, also known as TOFOG. During a US concert tour, there were nights when a ticket to see TOFOG might command as much as $500 on ebay. In 2001, Crowe and his band performed on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. If you are interested, you can download songs of TOFOG from ITunes.

The next Actors of the Decade post will be for the current decade. The last nominations to be considered were announced two days ago. The winners will be announced on February 26th. My announcement of the decade winners will be in early March. Who knows, there may be another story as remarkable as Dame Judi’s.

Everybody Knows Jack…but How Many of You Remember Glenda

In the fifth decade of Oscar, one actor and one actress dominated the decade. It was the breakthrough decade for both of them. The actor would use this decade to build a career that would see him become the most nominated male actor in Academy Award history. The actress, after her stunning early success, would eventually retire from acting and pursue a second career that would take her to the doorstep of Prime Minister of England.

In the fifth decade of Oscar, one actor and one actress dominated the decade. It was the breakthrough decade for both of them. The actor would use this decade to build a career that would eventually see him become the most nominated male actor in Academy Award history. The actress, after her stunning early success, would eventually retire from acting and pursue a second career that would take her to the doorstep of Prime Minister of England.

So, everybody knows Jack Nicholson, no matter what your age. In fact, Nicholson is one of two actors, Michael Caine is the other, to earn Academy Award acting nominations in each of five decades. After years of struggling to break through as an actor, Nicholson used the anti-establishment mood in the United States during the period from 1967 to 1976 to become the “anti-hero” actor of the decade. In 1969, he took a small part in a movie with a budget of $400,000. That movie, Easy Rider, became a blockbuster with a $40 million take at the box office. Nicholson used his role in Easy Rider as a hard drinking lawyer to kick start his career and earn his first Oscar nomination as a Supporting Actor. He consolidated his breakthrough in 1970 with his iconic Lead Actor nominated role in Five Easy Pieces. Three more Lead Actor nominations followed in 1973 through 1975, including his first win in 1975 for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Here are the results for the decade including those other actors and actresses who made their mark:

Top Actors of the Decade
1967 to 1976
Actor Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Jack Nicholson 4 1 1 0 16
Al Pacino 3 0 1 0 10
Peter O’Toole 3 0 0 0 9
Dustin Hoffman 3 0 0 0 9
Marlon Brando 2 1 0 0 9
George C. Scott 2 1 0 0 9
Peter Finch 2 1 0 0 9
Top Actresses of the Decade
1967 to 1976
Actress Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Glenda Jackson 4 2 0 0 18
Faye Dunaway 3 1 0 0 12
Katherine Hepburn 2 2 0 0 12
Maggie Smith 2 1 0 0 9
Barbra Streisand 2 1 0 0 9
Jane Fonda 2 1 0 0 9
Liza Minnelli 2 1 0 0 9

I’d be willing to bet that very few of today’s younger moviegoers have ever heard of British actress, Glenda Jackson, let alone seen one of her movies. She wasn’t attracted to roles with guaranteed commercial success, preferring roles that challenged her as an actress. You may be surprised that between 1967 and 1976, Glenda Jackson was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning two, was also nominated for two Golden Globes for movies that she wasn’t Oscar nominated, and won a Primetime Emmy Award for her portrayal of Elizabeth I in the BBC series Elizabeth R. While she was never again nominated for an Academy Award, she did go on to earn three more Golden Globe nominations in 1978, 1981, and 1984. Despite her success, she was frustrated by the lack of good mid-life roles for women. She said, “An actor can do “Hamlet” right through to “Lear”, men of every age and every step of spiritual development. Where’s the equivalent for women? I don’t fancy hanging around to play Nurse in “Romeo and Juliet”. Life’s too short.”  In 1992, Glenda Jackson retired from acting to stand for election to the House of Commons as a member of the Labour Party. As a member of Parliament she rose to become a junior minister in the government of Tony Blair. She eventually became disillusioned with Blair and in 2005 threatened to run against him if he didn’t step down within a reasonable period. She was one of twelve Labour MP’s to rebel against their leader and call for an inquiry into the Iraq War. In 2014 Glenda Jackson retired from Parliament. Now, at the age of 80, she has resumed her acting career and is back on the British stage where it all began.

Everybody does know Jack, but everybody should know Glenda as well.

 

In a Decade When Many New Stars Broke Through, Elizabeth Taylor Was the Brightest Star of Them All.

Elizabeth Taylor was beautiful. Because the picture above is in black and white, it doesn’t do justice to the allure of her distinctive , violet eyes. The world fell in love with her in 1944, at the age of 12, with her star turn in the Oscar nominated movie, National Velvet. Over the next dozen years, moviegoers watched her grow into a stunning beauty and a bona fide international star. The Oscar decade from 1957 to 1966 perfectly fits the peak of her acting career. In 1957, at age 25, she appeared in her first Oscar nominated role in Raintree County. Nine years later, in 1966, she appeared in her fifth nominated film of the decade, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for which she won her second Best Leading Actress award. It also marked the last nomination she would ever receive from the Academy of Motion Pictures.

elizabeth-taylor

Elizabeth Taylor was beautiful. Because the picture above is in black and white, it doesn’t do justice to the allure of her distinctive , violet eyes. The world fell in love with her in 1944, at the age of 12, with her star turn in the Oscar nominated movie, National Velvet. Over the next dozen years, moviegoers watched her grow into a stunning beauty and a bona fide international star. The Oscar decade from 1957 to 1966 perfectly fits the peak of her acting career. In 1957, at age 25, she appeared in her first Oscar nominated role in Raintree County. Nine years later, in 1966, she appeared in her fifth nominated film of the decade, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for which she won her second Best Leading Actress award. It also marked the last nomination she would ever receive from the Academy of Motion Pictures.

For the lead in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Elizabeth Taylor intentionally gained 30 pounds to play the past her prime Martha. The picture below is from the film. She sacrificed much of her beauty for the role.

elizabeth-taylor-2

Compare this to her picture from her first Oscar win in the 1960 film Butterfield 8.

elizabeth-taylor-3

It’s hard to believe that only six years separate the women in the two pictures.

Elizabeth Taylor was an excellent actress. But, she became a star because she was beautiful. Was this a case of the Hollywood double standard when it comes to women? Do many actresses have a shelf life that doesn’t outlast their beauty? A shelf life that doesn’t seem to apply, as much, to their male counterparts. This is a topic I’ll explore in greater depth in the future. But, for now, consider in the list below how dominant Elizabeth Taylor was in a decade filled with very strong competition. And after that she wasn’t dominant. She wasn’t even close.

Top Actresses of the Decade
1957 to 1966
Actress Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actress Nominations Lead Actress Wins Supporting Actress Nominations Supporting Actress Wins Total Academy Award Points
Elizabeth Taylor 1957 5 2 0 0 21
Deborah Kerr 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Shirley MacLaine 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Simone Signoret 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Sophia Loren 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Anne Bancroft 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Julie Andrews 1964 2 1 0 0 9

It was a decade when many actresses who were already active in the business broke through to become stars. With the exception of Deborah Kerr, all of the actresses on this list earned their first Oscar nomination within the decade. Only Julie Andrews had her movie debut within the decade. But even in her case, she had begun her career on Broadway before the decade began. It was a decade for actresses who weren’t household names, in most cases, to finally become stars.

On the Best Actor side, there was a similar story but not as pronounced.

Top Actors of the Decade
1957 to 1966
Actor Year of 1st Movie in the Decade Lead Actor Nominations Lead Actor Wins Supporting Actor Nominations Supporting Actor Wins Total Academy Award Points
Spencer Tracy 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Richard Burton 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Paul Newman 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Jack Lemmon 1957 3 0 0 0 9
Burt Lancaster 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Sidney Poitier 1957 2 1 0 0 9
Rex Harrison 1957 2 1 0 0 9

The decade produced a seven way tie for most Academy Award points. All of the actors made their film debuts prior to the decade, but only Spencer Tracy was an established star. Three of the actors (Newman, Poitier, and Harrison) were nominated for the first time during the decade. From this list of excellent actors, who is the Actor of the Decade?  You may be surprised, but the winner of the tie breakers is Jack Lemmon.

Tie Breakers for Top Actor of the Decade
Avg IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes Ratings for Nominated Movies
Released from 1957 to 1966
Actor IMDB Avg Rating # of Votes Rotten Tomatoes % Fresh How Fresh? # of Critics Reviews
Jack Lemmon 8.3    299,677 95% Certified Fresh 116
Paul Newman 8.0    113,496 94% Certified Fresh 100
Spencer Tracy 8.2      72,424 90% Fresh 50
Richard Burton 8.0      79,113 87% Fresh 78
Burt Lancaster 7.8      20,515 91% Fresh 45
Rex Harrison 7.7      90,039 77% Certified Fresh 81
Sidney Poitier 7.7      16,476 90% Fresh 30

In a relatively close contest with Paul Newman and Spencer Tracy, Jack Lemmon wins on the strength of his leading roles in two movies just outside the IMDB Top 100 Movies of all time, The Apartment (105) and Some Like It Hot (116). His third nominated movie, Days of Wine and Roses is no slouch either. These movies generated more interest from today’s viewers and critics, as well.While just outside this decade, it should be noted that Lemmon also won Best Supporting Actor for his 1955 performance in Mr. Roberts. Of Newman and Tracy’s six nominated roles in the decade, only Tracy’s Judgment at Nuremberg (149) cracks the IMDB Top 250.

Next month I’ll look at the two decades between 1967 and 1986. I suspect we’ll be talking some more about some of the names on this decade’s list. Can you guess who the new stars will be?

Can the Westerns Genre Thread the Gender Gap Needle?

The big box office news this past weekend was the big decline in ticket sales for Suicide Squad and the strong opening for Sausage Party. But, without much fanfare, the best performing movie of the weekend was Hell or High Water. Because it only opened in 32 theaters this weekend, you won’t find it in the box office top ten. It was, however, the number one movie of the weekend in terms of ticket sales per theater, racking up an impressive per screen average of $18,500, well ahead of Sausage Party at $10,828 per screen. Could the Western genre be experiencing a renaissance?

The big box office news this past weekend was the big decline in ticket sales for Suicide Squad and the strong opening for Sausage Party. But, without much fanfare, the best performing movie of the weekend was Hell or High Water, a modern day Western. Because it only opened in 32 theaters this weekend, you won’t find it in the box office top ten. It was, however, the number one movie of the weekend in terms of ticket sales per theater, racking up an impressive per screen average of $18,500, well ahead of Sausage Party at $10,828 per screen. Could the Western genre be experiencing a renaissance?

Westerns were very popular in the twentieth century up until the 1960’s. After that it seemed like their audience rode off into the sunset with the heroes of this genre. The decline of the Western genre may be influenced by the growing purchasing power of women. Today women purchase more than half of the tickets sold at movie theaters and Westerns have not been popular with women.

In a study I did of IMDB’s top movies from the Western genre the problem becomes evident. Women typically make up around 16% of the IMDB vote. For the Western genre women make up around 9% of the vote. For all movies, women have the same IMDB average rating as men. For Westerns, women have an average rating that is 0.3 points lower.

It appears that movie studios recognized that they had a problem attracting women to Western movies and began to make them more female-friendly. My study bears this out.

Movie IMDB Average Rating
Release Male Female Female % of all Votes
Pre-1970             8.4             8.0 8.5%
Post-1969             7.8             7.8 13.0%

In terms of female participation and average rating, the gender gap was clearly narrowing in the Post-1969 era.

In my 40 movie sample, three actors appear in multiple movies and they are instructive of the Western gender gap.

IMDB Average Rating
# of Movies Male Female Female % of all Votes
John Wayne 6             7.9             7.4 10%
Clint Eastwood 8             8.4             8.1 7%
Kevin Costner 4             7.7             7.7 13%

John Wayne and Clint Eastwood are symbolic of the golden age of Westerns and representative of the gender gap experienced by the genre. John Wayne is the tough as nails hero. Clint Eastwood is the tough as nails anti-hero.  Kevin Costner, on the other hand plays a more charming and humanistic hero in his movies. Where John Wayne is an Indian fighter in his roles, Costner becomes a friend of the Indians in Dances with Wolves. Where Clint Eastwood is the less than noble loner, Costner in Open Range becomes the romantic partner of the female ranch owner in her quest to protect her land.

In the Post-1969 era of the Western genre, movie producers are clearly recognizing the need to appeal to women to make the genre viable again. On the flip side, the average male vote is lower as the machismo in these movies is mitigated. It is an interesting case study in movie market dynamics.

It will be interesting to track Hell or High Water  as it moves to wider release next week. In early IMDB voting, it has 15% female participation in the voting, above average for the genre, and a male average rating of 8.2, suggesting strong male appeal. Early on it is threading the gender gap needle. We’ll have to wait a few weeks to see if this early trend continues.