Male vs Female Actors on the AFI Top 100

While taking a fascinating course on psychology, the question came up of whether male actors or female actors (actresses) have access to more high quality role opportunities. I.e. we're ignoring the adult movie industry and cheaply churned out action flicks. We're curious which group of people has the ability to take a lead role in a high quality movie.

The idea of having male actors and female actors compete directly for Oscars appeals to me greatly. We don't have a "female director" and "male director" category. Why do we have actors compete separately? One argument would be because males get far more access to quality roles so they would always win. But is that true?

To look into this male vs female actor question, I decided to look at the AFI Top 100 movie listing. The American Film Institute put together the highest quality 100 films ever made, as of 2000. I tried to make a fair judgment of whether there was a good quality female role and male role in each film. I realize my choices may not be an exact science :) For example, High Noon does have two female characters, but they're "filler" to gaze adoringly or turn their backs on the hero. Some movies have neither listed, for example Fantasia and E.T.

RankMovieYearMale RoleFemale Role
1.Citizen Kane1941*
3.The Godfather1972*
4.Gone With the Wind1939**
5.Lawrence of Arabia1962*
6.The Wizard of Oz1939*
7.The Graduate1967**
8.On the Waterfront1954*
9.Schindler's List1993*
10.Singin' in the Rain1952**
11.It's a Wonderful Life1946*
12.Sunset Boulevard1950*
13.The Bridge on the River Kwai1957*
14.Some Like it Hot1959**
15.Star Wars1977**
16.All About Eve1950*
17.The African Queen1951**
20.One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest1975**
21.The Grapes of Wrath1940**
22.2001: A Space Odyssey1968*
23.The Maltese Falcon1941**
24.Raging Bull1980**
25.E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial1982
26.Dr. Strangelove1964*
27.Bonnie and Clyde1967**
28.Apocalypse Now1979*
29.Mr. Smith Goes to Washington1939**
30.The Treasure of the Sierra Madre1948*
31.Annie Hall1977**
32.The Godfather Part II1974**
33.High Noon1952*
34.To Kill a Mockingbird1962**
35.It Happened One Night1934**
36.Midnight Cowboy1969*
37.The Best Years of Our Lives1946**
38.Double Indemnity1944**
39.Doctor Zhivago1965**
40.North by Northwest1959**
41.West Side Story1961**
42.Rear Window1954**
43.King Kong1933**
44.The Birth of a Nation1915**
45.A Streetcar Named Desire1951**
46.A Clockwork Orange1971*
47.Taxi Driver1976*
49.Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs1937**
50.Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid1969**
51.The Philadelphia Story1940**
52.From Here to Eternity1953**
54.All Quiet on the Western Front1930*
55.The Sound of Music1965**
57.The Third Man1949*
59.Rebel Without a Cause1955**
60.Raiders of the Lost Ark1981**
64.Close Encounters of the Third Kind1977**
65.The Silence of the Lambs1991**
67.The Manchurian Candidate1962**
68.An American in Paris1951**
70.The French Connection1971*
71.Forrest Gump1994**
73.Wuthering Heights1939**
74.The Gold Rush1925*
75.Dances With Wolves1990**
76.City Lights1931**
77.American Graffiti1973**
79.The Deer Hunter1978**
80.The Wild Bunch1969*
81.Modern Times1936**
85.Duck Soup1933*
86.Mutiny on the Bounty1935*
88.Easy Rider1969*
90.The Jazz Singer1927**
91.My Fair Lady1964**
92.A Place in the Sun1951**
93.The Apartment1960**
95.Pulp Fiction1994**
96.The Searchers1956*
97.Bringing Up Baby1938**
99.Guess Who's Coming to Dinner1967**
100.Yankee Doodle Dandy1942**

Strong Male Role: 92
Strong Female Role: 66

It does seem clear that many movies are male-heavy. Part of that could be that this is a historical listing. Movies made in war years are about war and I don't think there was a single female speaking role in Patton. There wasn't one in Platoon. I don't think there was one in Bridge of the River Kwai either. Maybe part of this issue is a historical one which will fade as we move into the 21st century!

Original AFI Top 100
AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100

10th Anniversary of the AFI Top 100
AFI Top 100 Film Listing 10th Anniversary
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100 10th Anniversary
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100 10th Anniversary