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The Bechdel Test: Checking Our Work

Last week, we published a study of the financing and performance of films that pass the Bechdel test, a measure of how prominently a movie features women. We found that passing films have had disproportionately lower budgets than films that fail. We also found — despite a commonly held belief among producers — that there is little statistical evidence to support the idea that movies featuring women do worse than films that don’t.

I was encouraged by the positive response to the article, but I was blown away Monday when Brian Keegan, a postdoc fellow at Northeastern University, published a replication of our study. To test our findings, Brian redid our research from the ground up.

Keegan found the same thing we did, but he also took the research a step further, pulling in IMDb.com ratings and Metacritic scores. Movies that pass the Bechdel Test have been awarded 1.8 more Metacritic points by professional reviewers and 0.12 fewer stars by IMDb reviewers.

Keegan also made a larger point: FiveThirtyEight and similar sites should make their data available. We couldn’t agree more. We’re exploring ways of making our raw code and data available to readers, including through FiveThirtyEight’s GitHub account.

We’ve been a bit delayed in getting our Bechdel data up. But it’s here now.

Check out Keegan’s code and research here.

Walt Hickey is FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.

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