The Bechdel Test, FiveThirtyEight, Rotten Tomatoes

TL;DR

Each point in this figure represents one of the top 50 grossing films of 2016, positioned to reflect the number of positive reviews it recieved from top critics (x-axis), and negative reviews (y-axis), both according to Rotten Tomatoes.1

Points are further colored to reflect whether the film passes the Bechdel Test.2 Mouseover any point to see the film’s name, and additional details.

Introduction

FiveThirtyEight recently published a revisitation of the Bechdel Test3–a litmus for Womens’ representation in film–in which they invited contributors to re-imagine the test, using new criteria.

The canonical Bechdel Test asks whether a film counts at least two named female characters in its cast, and whether they converse about subjects other than men. A rather low bar!

FiveThirtyEight’s proposed variants consider the representation of other groups (e.g. Latinas), the role of female supporting cast, and the makeup of the film’s crew.

How does a film’s performance on the Bechdel Test compare with its critical reception? FiveThirtyEight scored the top-50 grossing films of 2016, on each of its Bechdel Test variants. This post joins those data with critical scores collected from Rotten Tomatoes.

Rotten Tomatoes and Critical Opinion

Do top critics–those who write for large audiences, according to Rotten Tomatoes–prefer films that pass the Bechdel Test? Do they not? This sample suggests little preference, either way.

What if a more inclusive sample of critics is consulted? Again, little preference is shown.

Critical Consensus

It’s also worth wondering how well the two groups of critics agree, in general, since the ability to choose between them is a prominant feature of Rotten Tomatoes.

They agree fairly well, at least for these 50 commercially successful films.

Variations of the Bechdel Test

What about FiveThirtyEight’s proposed Bechdel Test variations? Select a variant from the menu below to update the graph. For descriptions of each test, see the article on FiveThirtyEight.

Conclusion

The Bechdel Test, and its variations are a useful litmus to use when selecting a film. Combined with critical consensus, it offers a convenient means of avoiding the worst and most redundant films of the year.

Nevertheless, It’s worth noting that the Bechdel Test alone is no guaruntee of quality.

Comment and Suggestion to patrick.mcmurchie@gmail.com