Although geologists are staple characters in many disaster movies, few are portrayed by women and, when they are, those movies are often panned by professional movie critics. If fewer people are exposed to geologists and what they do, it makes it more difficult to consider geology as a valuable field or potential career path, particularly for young women. This study examined theatrically-released movies in the U.S. and U.K. over a thirty year period (1986-2016) to find visual examples of women in roles as geologists. Criteria for actors included in this study were that the actor must be in a lead or supporting role, all movies must be theatrically-released, and all branches of the geosciences were included. Favorability rankings for each movie were obtained from RottenTomatoes.com, a website that rates movies with the TomatometerTM
, a score based on published opinions of hundreds of professional film critics. The percentage used indicates the quantity of positive reviews for a particular film, with ratings of 60% being considered “Fresh” and 59% and below “Rotten.” Also considering in determining a film’s success was its box office performance as some critically-panned movies are still box office successes and therefore reach a wide audience.
In the thirty-six movies studied, a total of forty-seven actors have portrayed a variety of geologists, two in a movie sequel. Of these forty-seven actors, 32% were women, largely in supporting roles. Of the fourteen movies that feature women geologists, 79% of them received a “Rotten” rating, with an average “Rotten” score of 30%. The remaining “Fresh” movies had an average “Fresh” score of 91%. Comparing these to movies with male geologists, the twenty-eight movies that feature male geologists have an average “Rotten” score of 36% for fifteen movies and an average “Fresh” score of 79% for the remainder. When considering the box office performance of the films with women geologists, nine of the fourteen films had major or modest box office success in their day. These financial successes were independent of ratings on RottenTomatoes.com. Although there are fewer opportunities for women to portray strong, positive geological role models in film, this likely says less about the science’s efforts of encouragement and retention and more about Hollywood casting practices.