Women’s rights made a major impact on Hollywood in the 1970s. Feminism, now a dirty word, was such a force to be reckoned with that you didn’t dare depict a woman in a film who didn’t have, at the very least, her own identity. It was a hard fought war. But like most things go in Hollywood, economy drives the movement. Thus, once Julia Roberts became the $100 million dollar baby in the 1980s with Pretty Woman, the strong female characters began to slowly disappear. At the same time, the rise of the blockbuster drove the cost of movies higher. Roberts was one of the few women who could command the same salary as Tom Hanks or Tom Cruise. That’s what made her so powerful back then. But those high salaries demanded high box office returns and sadly, at least according to Hollywood, those would shrink because what sells at the box office are films starring men, made by men.
If you’d like to see how dramatically things shifted away from films featuring strong female characters, I already researched it once, trying to track Best Picture nominees and to see how many were in the top twenty at the box office that year. But a curious detail emerged and that was after movies started making upwards of $100 million, strong female characters all but vanished in the highest grossing films of the year. That leads us to today, to ask why so few of the Best Picture contenders feature strong female leads.