Are men in romantic movies older than their female co-stars?

December 6, 2020 – 08:59 am

Is maggie too old to be in romantic moviesLast week, Oscar-nominated actress Maggie Gyllenhaal was widely as saying that (by Hollywood standards) she is already “too old” to play the on-screen love interest of a 55-year-old man in romantic movies. She’s 37. Following this, I have been asked by a few regular readers to crunch the numbers and look at whether there has historically been an age gap between male and female actors in romantic films.

So I built up a dataset of 422 romantic films (“rom coms” and romantic dramas) that grossed over $1m at the US box office and were released between 1984 and 2014. I then determined which two actors were the main hetrosexual on-screen couple (details of the methodology is at the bottom of the article) and looked at the actors’ exact ages when the film was released.

In summary

  • At no point in the past 30 years has the average annual age of female leads of these romantic films been older than the average age of their male counterparts.
  • On average, males leads in romantic films are 4.5 years older than their female co-stars
  • The age gap is slightly smaller on films directed by women
  • Women have directed 12% of romantic films between 1984 and 2014
  • Robert Redford, Dudley Moore and Richard Gere have the largest age gaps among male leads
  • Julia Roberts, Debra Winger and Winona Ryder are normally much younger than their male co-stars

The men have always been older

At no point in the past 30 years has the average annual age of female leads of these romantic films been older than the average age of their male counterparts. On average, the age difference between 1984-2014 is 4 years, 6 months and 29.6 days.

Age difference in romantic moviesBy contrast, the real-life age difference in England and Wales is 2.6 years, according to the .

The closest was in 1988 and 2009 when the men were just 0.6 years and 0.8 years older, respectively (that’s 219 and 292 days, for data pendants). The years with the greatest gaps were 1984 and 1991, with 10.4 years and 9.2 years (Want it in days? Course you do… 3, 781 and 3, 344 days).

The dystopian world romantic movies in 1984

1984 saw the release of a crop of romantic comedies which paired particularly older men with much younger women, including…

*my research looked at the exact age of the actors/ actresses upon the film’s release and Dudley Moore had a birthday between his two films on this list.

Blame It On RioBefore conducting this research I had never heard of but I was rather surprised to learn about this “light-hearted romantic comedy”. The romantic couple are a 51-year old Michael Caine and 18-year old Michelle Johnson. According to on IMDb, the plot is as follows…

Caine plays a man on holiday in Rio with his best friend. Both men have teenage daughters with them. When Caine falls for the amorous daughter (played by Michelle Johnson) of his best friend, they embark on a secret, if slightly one-sided relationship. Johnson’s father is furious when he finds out about the ‘older man’ in his daughter’s life, and sets out to hunt him down with the aid of Caine!

Average age of leads in romantic movies Blame It On Rio romantic movies Gender of  directors of Hollywood romantic movies Robert Redford stars in romantic movies


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