Among the 100 highest-grossing movies at the U.S. box office in 2012, 28.4 percent of speaking characters were female. That's a drop from 32.8 percent three years ago, and a number that has stayed relatively stagnant despite increased attention to the disparity and several box-office successes starring women.
"The slate of films developed and produced each year is almost formulaic -- in the aggregate, female representation hardly changed at all," said USC researcher Marc Choueiti.
When they are on the screen, 31.6 percent of women wearing sexually revealing clothing, the highest percentage in five years of USC research on the issue. For teen girls, the number who are provocatively dressed is even higher; 56.6 percent of teen girl characters in 2012 movies wore sexy clothes, an increase of 20 percent since 2009.
Researchers said these trends persist because Hollywood studios believe attracting a male audience is the key to box office success. "Given that females go to the movies as much as males, the lack of change is likely due to entrenched ways of thinking and doing business that perpetuate the status quo," said study author Stacy L. Smith.
Researchers found, unsurprisingly, that female characters are more prevalent and less sexualized in movies written and directed by women. But only 24 women have directed top-grossing films in the last five years. In 2013, female directors were outnumbered by men 5 to 1.