Sandra Bullock's powerhouse leading role in sci-fi blockbuster Gravity has helped rocket the multi-award winning film to a global Box Office performance of more than $712m and counting. The lead character Ryan Stone pulls off a seemingly impossible mission back to earth, but achieving the reality of gender equality across the film and media industry can still seem light years away.
Bullock occupies 87% of Gravity's running time, more than any other Oscar nominee in 2014. However, according to research published in The New York Times, this year's lead actors average 85 minutes on screen, while the lead actresses average only 57 minutes.
In her acceptance speech at the Oscars, Cate Blanchett challenged the film industry on its representation of women. She thanked distributor Sony Classics: "For so bravely and intelligently distributing the film and to the audiences who went to see it and perhaps those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people."
In the UK, female cinemagoers account for 53% of the market (Film Monitor) which on average reaches more than 172 million admissions (Rentrak) per year. Contrary to stereotypes, these women aren't just turning out in force for the latest romcom, they're just as up for Oscar winners, heart-stopping horror or big budget blockbusters. However the representation of women both onscreen and behind the camera does not always reflect this reality.
The Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film in the US recently analysed on-screen representations of female characters in the top 100 films of 2013. The findings revealed that female characters remain dramatically under-represented with only 13% of the top 100 films featuring equal numbers of major female and male characters, or more major female characters than male characters.
It's not all depressing news however, a number of actresses, directors and executives are paving the way.
Oscar winning actress Geena Davis has spent the last decade campaigning against on-screen inequality as the founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Focusing on children's entertainment she is dedicated to reducing stereotyping and creating a wide variety of female characters. Speaking at the launch of UN Women, Davis explained: "If girls can see it, they can be it." UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon added: "Our job is to give girls and young women the inspiration and the tools to be what we know they can be."
Nina Jacobson is a studio exec turned independent producer who brought The Hunger Games to the big screen after her daughter was captivated by the books. Her career includes stints at DreamWorks, Universal and Disney, where she served as President of Walt Disney Motion Picture Group. As an executive, she shepherded The Sixth Sense, Remember the Titans, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Pirates of the Caribbean. As well as running her own production company, Color Force, Jacobson is also active with Teen Line, Feminist Majority Foundation, and Inner City Filmmakers.
With The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director. She has an impressive body of work including Point Break, Strange Days and, most recently, Zero Dark Thirty. She is also a film producer, screenwriter, television director and talented painter.
As the producer of Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty and The Master, Megan Ellison has become a powerful force in Hollywood. The daughter of software tycoon Larry Ellison, the third wealthiest man in America, Ellison has used her wealth to carve out a hugely influential role in financing smart and adventurous movies. Just this year her company, Annapurna Pictures, has also backed Her, American Hustle and The Grandmaster which between them received 17 Oscar nominations.