Disney in Denial; Part 7; Star Wars Loses Women
The prior post in this series demonstrated that catering to the tastes of activists didn’t create a Star Wars heroine that appealed to female audiences. In this post, we’ll demonstrate how, despite, Lucasfilm’s efforts, interest in Star Wars among women relative to men declined with each successive release of its sequel trilogy.
Kathleen Kennedy, President of Lucasfilm, a division of Disney, was aware Star Wars appealed primarily to men. She sought to change that, but it’s not clear that she considered the possibility that men’s preference had more to do with Star Wars genre (science fiction/military conflict) than it did with the films themselves.
An objective way to test for gender preference is to compare the ratings men and women provided for the six Star Wars films of the original and prequel trilogies released before Disney acquired the franchise in 2012. The difference? Not much. On average men rated the films just 0.05 points higher than women on IMDB’s 1-10 scale.
But under Kennedy’s stewardship that changed radically. The gender ratings gap of The Last Jedi, Disney’s 2nd trilogy film, rose to 0.6 points in favor of women, 12 times greater than the prior gap! This represented a titanic shift in the focus of the franchise.
Her gamble didn’t pay off.
Foremost, The Last Jedi made $732 million less than The Force Awakens, the prior film of Disney’s Sequel Trilogy. Secondly, two metrics indicate women’s engagement with Star Wars fell over the course of their trilogy—the exact opposite of Lucasfilm’s intent.
The first engagement measure (top chart) shows the proportion of women in the opening night audience for the films of Disney’s Star Wars trilogy. As I demonstrated in the fourth post of this series, the opening weekend audience is a real-world gauge of the size of a film franchise’s engaged audience.
According to PostTrak as reported by Deadline, the proportion of women in the audience dropped for each successive film. It started at 36% for The Force Awakens (about where it was for Revenge of Sith, released in 2005, according to Deadline), dropped to 33% for The Last Jedi, and sank further to 32% for The Rise of Skywalker.
The second engagement measure (bottom chart) shows the proportion of women among people who took the time to rate each Star Wars trilogy film on IMDB. To Lucasfilm’s credit, The Force Awakens, the first film of Disney’s sequel trilogy, appeared to increase the interest of women in the franchise over the prior five films.
But that interest was short-lived. The proportion of women raters fell with each subsequent film, reaching a franchise low of 12.3% with The Rise of Skywalker in 2019.
Summarizing, The Last Jedi made much less money than The Force Awakens. Fewer women were in the audience on its opening weekend, and fewer women rated the film on IMDB. Then these trends carried through to the final film of Disney’s sequel trilogy.
Why? In the next few posts, I’ll demonstrate how a zero-sum game approach is hampering Disney's success with both male and female audiences in theaters and on Disney+.
In my next post, I'll describe how Disney's attempt to cater to women in its Star Wars films ended up dissatisfying both sexes.