Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Lawrence have shown that female leads can carry big-budget films, but Hollywood still marginalises women on screen to just 30 per cent of speaking roles, according to a new report.
Women remained dramatically under-represented in 2013 despite films such as Hunger Games 2 and Gravity heralding a supposed banner year for female actors, the study, titled "It's a Man's (Celluloid) World", found.
In the 100 top-grossing domestic US films, females comprised 15 per cent of protagonists, 29 per cent of major characters and 30 per cent of speaking characters - a degree of marginalisation largely unchanged since the 1940s.
"It's gender inertia. We're seeing very little change in the number of female characters that we're seeing on screen," said the study's author, Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Centre for the Study of Women in Television, Film & New Media at San Diego State University.
Recent box-office hits such as Gravity starring Bullock, Hunger Games starring Lawrence, and the animated feature Frozen, featuring the voice of Kristen Bell, masked the "remarkable stability" of women's marginalisation over decades, she said.
The Heat, starring Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, was another film that prompted buzz over supposedly widening roles for female actors.
"Many people think the number of female protagonists and characters must be increasing which is why it's important to look at the numbers. It's very easy to be misled by a few high-profile cases," said Lauzen.
Cate Blanchett alluded to the problem in accepting the best actress Oscar for Blue Jasmine. "Those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the centre are niche experiences - they are not," she said. "Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money."