Guest Post: Gender and Hollywood Scriptwriting – “Houston, we have a problem”

Happy Thursday everyone! Today we’ve got a special guest post from Yorkshire. Izzy is writing about a topic that’s dear to my heart and an important discussion point.

So without further ado, let’s dive into Izzy’s post…


How many times in a day do you quote the lines of a TV program or movie? Personally I wouldn’t be able to count the number as my days are littered with “Houston, we have a problem” (Apollo 13, 1995) and “I’ll be back.”  (The Terminator, 1984) sometimes I don’t even realise I’m doing it and I bet you’re the same!

So, when this quiz landed in my inbox:  I thought nothing of it other than ‘I love quotes! I’ll be good at this!’ (As it turns out I didn’t score as well as I’d hoped but that’s irrelevant for now.)

It wasn’t until I was thinking about the quiz a few hours later that I put my literature degree head on (I only recently graduated) and began to analyse the quiz how I had been taught by lecturers, in a way that delves deeper than face-value.

What did I discover?

Well, after some further Googling I compiled this:


The most obvious revelation is that male characters are written more memorable lines.

My second discovery was that a high proportion (but by no means all) of the famous lines spoken by male characters are fueled with aggression, whereas five out of the seven most memorable female lines are projected through love of either a man or family life. 

The questions is, ‘Why?’

In 2014 only 15% of Hollywood film script writers were female (with numbers fluctuating around that figure, if not lower, for decades). Again in 2014, females made up only ‘12% of protagonists featured in the top 100 grossing films.’ Again, this percentage seems to have always been the norm.

Those stats can help to explain my findings.

• If 80-90% of Hollywood film script writers are male then it is understandable that they will write male-centric stories with male protagonists.

• If 80-90% of protagonists are male then they are likely to have the most lines in a movie, therefore increasing their chances of having a memorable one.

• We can also assume that 80-90% of characters in Hollywood have had their lines written by a man. This may explain why famous female lines are written with the intention of underlining their affectionate personality- because women are stereotypically affectionate and as a male writer it is easier to write stereotypes than it is to dedicate time to researching the female psyche.

My last thought is a little more obscure and far more open to debate.

HeresJohnnyJack Nicholson came up with ‘Here’s Johnny’ (The Shining) on the spot, as did Robert De Niro with his famous line “You talkin’ to me?” (Taxi Driver). This opens the debate of if male actors embody their characters with more vigour and intensity than their female counterparts. Do they ‘feel’ their characters on a more personal level? Do they have a closer relationships with the people they are playing? Or, as only 2 out of the 18 male lines equals to 11% and 11% of the 7 female lines is 0.77, maybe an incredible, unscripted female line is yet to come…..

This article by Entertainment Weekly’s Jeff Labrecque [in regards to Maggie Gyllenhaal being deemed too old to play the love-interest of a 55-year-old man – ed] highlights that male ‘tastes,’ i.e. a preference to date significantly younger women, is embodied across the cinematic world in terms of casting. It can then only be assumed that male scriptwriters also write female character’s lines in relation to their ‘taste’, as well as based on assumptions as mentioned earlier.


I have great respect for the likes of Emma Thompson who write screenplays such as Nanny McPhee presumably so that she has the opportunity to play a leading Hollywood role regardless of her age, and most definitely without a male screenwriter’s sexual agenda. I cannot wait to see more of the same and experience Hollywood productions written by women for female actors of ‘a certain age’ or otherwise. Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, writers of Saving Mr Banks, wrote their P.L. Travers beautifully- highlighting their female characters’ insecurities as well as defiance, likeability as well as unpleasantness. It is safe to say that they wrote a well-rounded and very human character, and the sooner this sort of female characterisation becomes the Hollywood norm the better.




Izzy S. is a drama graduate with an interest
in literature and screenwriting

Check out Izzy’s blog
Follow her on Twitter

Thoughts on this article? We’d love to hear from you!

24 thoughts on “Guest Post: Gender and Hollywood Scriptwriting – “Houston, we have a problem”

  1. Great and thought-provoking article, Izzy. I agree that anything as lopsided as this, gender-wise, is going to produce the results you’ve noted. I think it also means, as well stocked we are with quotable lines from TV & movies, there’s been an iceberg size of stuff we’ve not seen because women haven’t had a chance to write them.

    I think there’s unscripted female lines out there, but they aren’t promoted or mentioned to the same degree as men’s. The same bias is in play. I’d heard about that “…Maggie Gyllenhaal being deemed too old to play the love-interest of a 55-year-old man” news and found it absolutely ridiculous, and in keeping with the short shelf-life of women in the movie industry.

    Again, ridiculous and short-sighted. It should and must change, and anyone who enjoys TV & film hopefully will be on the side that delivers more and better quality of both. Meaning, firing both barrels…male AND female points of view, behind and in front of the camera.

    1. Izzy

      I absolutely agree! And I am waiting for the day when undiscovered female – written scripts from bygone years begin to emerge and are given the publicity they deserve.

  2. MovieLove

    Awesome article, I often think about gender representation in movies (thus my blog) but this really takes it a step farther. Thanks!

  3. I just recently read that Rose McGowan got fired by her agent for refusing to do a film starring Adam Sandler because of the script’s demands to have her audition in a push-up bra and display some cleavage. That is bullshit.

    1. Izzy

      I suppose a casting panel’s agenda has to mirror that of the director, script writer etc. which, as the stats above show, will more than likely be made up of males.
      Poor form from her agent.

  4. Izzy, outstanding article! I am thrilled to see female leaders like Emma and Reese Witherspoon who immediately come to mind who are trying to change the lopsided representation. Women are as complicated as men and their characters should represent that. I’m so sick of stereotypes and shallowness. I think things are changin, a little, and I have hope when I see actors like Charlize Theron who demonstrate how strong they can be in diverse, strong roles. Anyway, great job. Thanks Ruth for posting Izzy’s article!

    1. Izzy

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the read. I also loved Charlize Theron’s character in Mad Max!I’m also enjoying female comedians: Rebel Wilson, Melissa McCarthy etc. getting the screen time they deserve. As you said, times are changing, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings.

  5. Really interesting read! Great analysis on the memorable quotes too, hadn’t ever considered the gender-related differences. Those male-dominated numbers are ridiculous, and I’d go along with your subsequent reasoning in regard to why males get more of the great lines. Hopefully with more characters like Furiosa things will start to even out. Diversity can only be a good thing in Hollywood!


    1. Izzy

      Hi Adam, thanks for joining in the conversation. Here’s to the future of Hollywood and the expansion of diversification!

  6. Like the commenter above mentioned about Rose McGowan’s firing, it seems like the culture in Hollywood is so rife of gender discrimination and sexism. I’m tired of it. I’m so tired of seeing the same tired female stereotypes in films. It makes sense of course if 80 to 90% of the scripts are being written by males. It’s like come people…women are over 50% of the population and we go to the movies.

    1. Izzy

      Having written theatre scripts at University I will admit to writing male characters as stereotypes because it’s so easy to fall into the habit. I was picked up on that particular flaw in my writing and went on to do extensive character research in future pieces.
      Like you suggest, stereotypical characterisation is a worn out trend, and I hope too see more thorough research into the female voice as time goes on.

  7. Nice write up Izzy! It’s sad that even in the 21st century, Hollywood still don’t want to change and sexism and racism still exists in that town. But as long as it’s being run by mostly old white dudes, nothing is going change anytime soon.

  8. abbiosbiston

    Excellent post. Hollywood is seriously lacking in interesting female characters. On my blog I do lots of top 10 lists and so often they are dominated by male characters because there are so few really exciting female characters.

    1. Izzy

      Thanks Abbi! Agreed! Have you ever seen the Dutch version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? Now THERE is am interesting female lead!

  9. Very interesting article. I found myself thinking of several more great movie lines from women but as a whole the point is true. It does seem men are written more “memorable” lines. But I don’t know if the equates to “better” lines. Also action thrillers and horror movies seem to generate the most of these lines. Again, that certainly doesn’t mean they are better. In fact some are pretty shallow yet completely memorable.

    One thing is for sure though, movies would be better if the female voice had a stronger presence.

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  11. Izzy

    Hi Keith! Your absolutely right, memorable does not equal better. The question lies with Why do we remember them? Do we remember the characters better and thus their lines?
    Anyway, on the topic of great female lines which haven’t been memorised, I LOVE Fight Club’s Marla Singer’s lind ‘You’re not getting this back. I consider it a**hole tax.’ Said with purpose and emotion 🙂

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  14. Nice post! Unfortunately, Hollywood is now male-centered, and I’m not sure if it’s ever going to change. It’s sad that most great roles for women are in films made outside of the Hollywood studio system. Leading women had terrific roles in the early years of Hollywood, but that’s changed. Maybe it will change back, in time.

    1. Izzy

      Thanks Josh! I love finding obscure movies and feature films which bypassed Hollywood, not only because of they are more willing to explore the female psyche, but also because they open their minds to explore the minds of EVERY social group- different ages, genders, sexuality and ethnicity. It’s a wonderful world that I don’t think Hollywood is brave enough to enter yet.

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