In 2018, only four of the 100 top U.S. films were directed by women, and that's been the drumbeat since 2007. But female moviegoers are no longer looking for the status quo. They want to see more women behind the camera, bringing female-driven stories to the big screen.
"The level of conversation is catching on, and people are becoming more aware of the imbalance that's happening on screen and behind the camera and starting to question why," said Alicia Malone, a Fandango correspondent and author of "The Female Gaze."
According to a Fandango survey of 1,000 female moviegoers, 63 percent said they preferred to see female-driven stories told by female filmmakers and writers, up from 57 percent in 2018. Some 85 percent of these survey takers also said they want to see more female ensemble films, up from 75 percent last year.
"I think audiences have a lot more power than they realize to affect Hollywood," Malone said. "I always like to say that Hollywood is a business, and America tells me that the customer is always right and the audience is the customers. So, if they start voicing what they want, and demanding what they want, and showing up at the box office, then Hollywood will listen."
And these consumers aren't the only ones asking for this change. Hollywood producers and actors have been demanding more female filmmakers be hired for projects.
Celebrities like J.J. Abrams ("Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), Tessa Thompson ("Creed II"), Bryce Dallas Howard ("Jurassic Park: The Lost World"), Reese Witherspoon ("Big Little Lies") and Jordan Peele ("Get Out") have pledged their commitment to working with a female director on a feature film in the next 18 months.
"Some people think there are a lack of female filmmakers," Malone said. "But that's not the case, there is a lack of opportunity."
She said people in a position of power in Hollywood are the gatekeepers and, traditionally, these executives have hired more male than female filmmakers. However, she said, when a female director is hired, there is a higher chance that they'll hire other women for the production.
While there have been female directors in Hollywood since the early 1900s, Malone said that it wasn't until the '90s that there was a surge of these filmmakers in the industry. In fact, Julie Dash's "Daughters of the Dust," released in 1991, was the first wide-released film to be directed by a female African-American director.
"People are now demanding more, which is exciting," Malone said. "Which makes me really optimistic, I think for the first time, in my entire career that things are changing. Because, hopefully, the next step from that is actual change from Hollywood."
Malone, who will be speaking at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, this weekend, pointed to an all-female panel she's on, called "Critics' Preview of SXSW Film," as a major indicator of change. In the past, she said, an all-female panel would have been called out as a female critics panel.
"It's not a female guide to the SXSW film festival, it's just a critics panel," she said.
For a while, there was a myth in Hollywood that films starring women don't perform well at the box office. But that idea has been all but shattered, as a report from the Creative Artists Agency and Shift7, in conjunction with the anti-sexual harassment organization Time's Up, found that these movies actually dominated male-led movies at the box office from 2014 to 2017.
The study, released in December, examined 350 films, 105 of which were led by women. The films were separated by budget size into five different groups — budgets less than $10 million, budgets between $10 million and $30 million, budgets between $30 million and $50 million, budgets between $50 million and $100 million and budgets over $100 million. In each category, the female-led films outperformed the male-led films.
"In the future, we hope to not have to do surveys about women in film, not to have panels on women in film and not only have women direct movies about women and men direct movies about men," Malone said. "The idea is that a variety of voices, a variety of perspectives will make movies better for all us."
Disclosure: NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC, owns Fandango.