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TheStreet Open House

Hollywood Doesn't Care Who Buys Tickets to Its Movies

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- If anyone in the movie industry is still wondering why the number of moviegoers is dropping, their lack of imagination is part of the problem.

The Motion Picture Association of America released its annual report on moviegoer demographics a few weeks back and, heading into blockbuster season, there are a few numbers the industry is just going to outright ignore. Last year, women were 52% of all moviegoers and bought half of all tickets sold.

Despite the fact women have been going to the movies in greater numbers since 2009, the annual Celluloid Ceiling survey released by Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, found that between 1998 and 2012 they've been less likely to direct (just 6% of all directors, down 3% from 1998), write (10%, down 5%) or edit (17%, down 3%). In the 500 top-grossing films released from 2007 to 2012, male actors outnumbered actresses 2.25 to 1.

If studios aren't addressing that demographic shift behind the scenes, it's little wonder they've been so lax in changing what moviegoers are seeing onscreen. The studios see $10.9 billion in box office receipts from last year that surpassed the $10.8 billion brought in during 2012. Never mind that the number of moviegoers actually dropped from 1.36 billion to 1.34 billion during that span: Warner Brothers, Sony, Universal, Fox, Lion's Gate and the rest still got theirs.

Just how long that male-dominated strategy will keep paying off is a bit more debatable. In the MPAAs analysis of the five top-grossing films of last year -- Iron Man 3, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Despicable Me 2, Man Of Steel and Monsters University -- there was a vast discrepancy in the audiences of the non-animated features. While women were only 40% of the audience for Man Of Steel and 42% of those who saw Iron Man 3, they made up 54% of those who came to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Tony Stark and Kal-El have nothing on Katniss Everdeen.

But why pay attention to 52% of U.S. moviegoers -- womens' 50.8% share of the U.S. population -- when the money's coming in regardless? Why start casting more female leads and incorporating more prominent female characters when box office revenue has increased 17% in the past decade despite moviegoer numbers falling 11% during that same span?

Because jacking the average movie price up beyond last year's average of $8.13 only works so well when the number of movies being made by studios drops by 11% between 2012 and last year and almost 50% since 2006.

Besides, an appalling lack of diversity of any kind hasn't kept Hollywood from collecting. The number of African-American moviegoers increased 13% last year behind the strength of films including 12 Years A Slave and The Best Man Holiday, but also blockbusters including Man Of Steel, which drew an audience that was 12% African-American. While African-Americans make up 12% of the U.S. population, they buy 13% of all movie tickets. Hispanics, meanwhile, make up 25% of all moviegoers despite constituting just 17% of the U.S.

According to the 2014 Hollywood Diversity Report from the University of California at Los Angeles' Ralph S. Bunche Center For African-American Studies, 89.5% of the lead actors in Hollywood films in 2011 were white. Women fared little better, as 74.4% of leading roles that year were handed to men. More than 51% films featured a cast that was 90% white and nearly three-quarters of films had white actors filling at least four of every five roles -- despite the fact more diverse films generate a stronger return on investment.

Studios and casting agencies alike aren't about to change the status quo just because the MPAA's numbers show a demographic shift. The only numbers they tend to understand are the ones with $ in front of them. Showing up in greater numbers as males -- and white males, specifically -- stay home hasn't changed the face of Hollywood. Throwing that box office money behind the faces audiences would rather see just might.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: tips@thestreet.com.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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