NEW YORK • What do Trolls (2016), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014), Moana (2016) and Wonder Woman (2017) have in common?
All are global box-office hits with women in leading roles.
They are also part of a broader trend. According to findings from Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and shift7, a company started by former United States chief technology officer Megan Smith, the top movies from 2014 to 2017 starring women earned more than male-led ones, whether they were made for less than US$10 million (S$13.7 million) or US$100 million or more.
The research found that films that passed the Bechdel test - which measures whether two female characters have a conversation about something other than a man - outperformed those that flunked it.
"The perception that it's not good business to have female leads is not true," said Ms Christy Haubegger, a CAA agent.
Casting women in leading roles is still more the exception than the rule in Hollywood. Women accounted for about a quarter of sole protagonists in the top films of last year and they played about one-third of major characters, according to research from San Diego State University.
The report from CAA, a leading talent agency, is part of an effort to pressure Hollywood into putting more women and people of colour on screen and behind the scenes.
Last year, the agency released a report indicating that movies with multi-ethnic casts performed better on opening weekends than those with more homogeneous casts.
The question now is whether the industry will take heed. The San Diego State University study found that the number of female protagonists with speaking roles in top films dropped last year from the previous year.
The CAA and shift7 report looked at the top films at the global box office from 2014 to last year, using information from Gracenote, a data and technology provider owned by Nielsen.
"Lead actor" was determined by the performer listed first on Gracenote. This meant that both Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) were designated male-led films, with Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill listed as the leads for each, rather than Daisy Ridley.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was led by Megan Fox and Trolls by Anna Kendrick.
The analysis was based on 350 films with budgets listed on Gracenote. Of those, 105 were led by women and 245 by men.
The data was further broken down by budget size, partly because the tentpole films made for more than US$100 million are a key part of studio business and the study's authors decided that they needed to be considered on their own. (In that category, there were 75 male-led films and 19 starring women.)
The other categories were films made for less than US$10 million, US$10 million to US$30 million, US$30 million to US$50 million and US$50 million to US$100 million.
In each bracket, the average earnings for female-led films surpassed those of male-led counterparts.
While women account for about half of movie tickets sold, Ms Haubegger said she believed the greater success of films starring women and people of colour can be attributed to a thirst for fresh storylines.
"You've got superhero fans who haven't seen innovation in superhero movies in 36 years," she said.