In Hollywood, diversity has a slightly different meaning than it might in the "real world." Hollywood generally recognizes a film as "diverse" when it has at least 30% inclusion of women and/or members of minority populations among the cast and crew. When actress Frances McDormand popularized the term "inclusion riders" during her 2018 Oscars speech, she was referencing conditions within actors' contracts that "demand at least 50% diversity not only in casting but also the crew."
According to the powerhouse talent agency CAA, out of almost 100 feature films with budgets exceeding $100 million, there's a massive difference in the worldwide box office average between movies with diverse casts and without – a $120 million difference in favor of diverse films, to be exact. This eye-opening data proves that successful movies with diverse casts aren't the exception to the rule; diversity means bigger box office numbers across the board.
There are a variety of reasons diversely cast films do well at the box office. First, previously untapped talents are finally given an opportunity to share their abilities with the world. Also, movies that employ diverse creative teams include different perspectives and different stories, meaning it's not the same old formulas and business as usual when you sit down to watch a movie. And there's the not-insignificant fact that when folks who belong to marginalized communities see themselves and their lives reflected on the big screen, it benefits everyone. Representation truly does matter.
As of July 2018, Black Panther is the second highest-grossing movie of the year. But that's just one of the many superlatives earned by this diverse superhero movie that follows T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and his battle against N'Jadaka (Michael B. Jordan) for the soul of Wakanda. It is also the highest-grossing solo superhero movie of all time, as well as the highest-grossing movie by a Black director. In its first six months it earned nearly $1.35 billion against a production budget of roughly $200 million.
Manohla Dargis of the New York Times wrote in her review:
In its emphasis on black imagination, creation and liberation, the movie becomes an emblem of a past that was denied and a future that feels very present. And in doing so opens up its world, and yours, beautifully.
Actors: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, + more
Initial Release: 2018
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
#60 on The Best Movies for Tweenssee more on Black Panther
In many regards, Get Out is unusual for a major Hollywood film. It's simultaneously a horror movie, a comedy, and an incisive social commentary. Led by writer/director Jordan Peele and starring Daniel Kaluuya in his first leading onscreen role, it defied expectations and grossed $255.5 million against a $4.5 million budget. Kulaaya plays Chris, a young Black man who goes home to meet his white girlfriend's family, and encounters horror beyond his wildest imaginings.
Get Out earned four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor; Peele won for Best Original Screenplay. Critics lavished heaps of praise on the movie, and it appeared on many year-end best-of lists. Stephanie Young for The Root wrote the thriller was "unafraid to comment on race," noting, "Black people will never be able to relate to white privilege, and it’s obscenely displayed with violence and complete entitlement in Get Out in a way that’s sure to make folks uncomfortable, but isn’t that a testament to true artistry?"
Rolling Stone's Peter Travers called it, "A jolt-a-minute horrorshow laced with racial tension and stinging satirical wit. How is one movie all that? See Get Out, from debuting director Jordan Peele... and get woke."
Actors: Daniel Kaluuya, Catherine Keener, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, + more
Directed by: Jordan Peele
Also Rankedsee more on Get Out
Another superhero movie that bucks the trend to focus on characters not often given the spotlight, Wonder Woman is female-led, female-directed, and one of the top-grossing motion pictures of 2017. With a production budget of $149 million, Wonder Woman brought in over $821 million at the box office.
Gal Gadot plays the title character, an Amazonian goddess who must claim her birthright in order to save the world. Time magazine praised the film as setting a new benchmark for what superhero movies can be. Stephanie Zacharek wrote:
Wonder Woman points a way forward toward the possibility of better blockbusters. The movie’s opening section, which details Diana’s path from scrappy girl to fearless warrior, is clever and lively, as well as gorgeous to look at... Leaping and soaring through her training, she’s like one of Degas’s bronze ballerina sculptures grown up and come to life, strong and free and at least a little pissed off. Her grand jeté is all muscle and all heart. At last, it’s her time to shine.
Actors: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, + more
Initial Release: 2017
Directed by: Patty Jenkins
Also Rankedsee more on Wonder Woman
Moonlight may not have the triple-digit box office receipts of many movies, but its achievements are no small potatoes — especially considering it's an arthouse film with a comparatively small budget of around $4 million. Compare that to its worldwide gross of over $65 million, and you've got a significant hit.
Moonlight chronicles the life of Chiron, a gay Black man coming of age in Miami. It became the first film with an all-Black cast — as well as the first LGBTQ+-themed film — to win the Oscar for Best Picture. It was named the number one movie of 2016 on no less than 65 critics' lists. Of the movie's quiet, meditative power, Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "[Moonlight] doesn't say much. It says everything."
Actors: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, + more
Initial Release: 2016
Directed by: Barry Jenkins
Also Rankedsee more on Moonlight