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Female audiences wield cinema clout

News, 24 March 2015

LOS ANGELES: Hollywood executives focused on shoot-em-up movies they expect will attract young men are having to reassess future output in the light of growing evidence that women may be a more reliable audience.

According to the New York Times, "women have delivered the three biggest live-action openings of the year". These include "Insurgent", the audience for which was 60% female, "Fifty Shades of Grey", 67% female, and "Cinderella", 66% female.

Nor was this just a fluke, it insisted, as it listed "a parade of movies aimed at young men" that had "bombed over the same period".

"You can never put your finger on it entirely, but you have to ask the questions," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. "Is this just the cyclical nature of the movie business? Or does it point to a more serious shift in habits?"

According to one analyst, it's the latter. Paul Dergarabedian of Rentrak, which tracks box-office data, said the clout women wield at the cinema has moved "from sporadic to continuous".

And he added that he expected the practice of producing all-action summer blockbusters built around special effects would change as a result.

Several factors appear to be instrumental in this development, including young men being more easily distracted by other entertainment, whether video games, sports or YouTube comedy clips, as well as a more general reluctance to have to show up in a certain place at a certain time to see a movie.

Teenage girls, however, "still seem to want the experience of going to the movies as a group", said Terry Press, president of CBS Films.

The focus on entertaining young men has paid dividends in the past. Figures from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) show that, for 2014's top five highest-grossing movies, four saw male cinema-goers attending in higher numbers than their female counterparts.

But, as the Guardian pointed out, these figures disguised some other shifts that Hollywood has not obviously addressed. Most notably, 23% of cinema-goers were from Latino backgrounds, compared to their 17% share of the total population.

Data sourced from New York Times, Guardian; additional content by Warc staff