The gender & age of moviegoers

4 March 2011

Mark Harris has a piece in GQ right now that offers a dark explanation of why Hollywood makes such a lot of garbage — you know, all those sequels and superheroes — but I’ve gotten stuck on a passage midway through. Hollywood makes movies for one group of viewers: men under 25, he explains. Moreover:

In Hollywood [if you] have a vagina, you’re pretty much out of luck, because women, in studio thinking, are considered a niche audience that, except when Sandra Bullock reads a script or Nicholas Sparks writes a novel, generally isn’t worth taking the time to figure out. And if you were born before 1985 … well, it is my sad duty to inform you that in the eyes of Hollywood, you are one of what the kids on the Internet call “the olds.” I know—you thought you were one of the kids on the Internet. Not to the studios, which have realized that the closer you get to (or the farther you get from) your thirtieth birthday, the more likely you are to develop things like taste and discernment, which render you such an exhausting proposition in terms of selling a movie that, well, you might as well have a vagina.

In short, as writer-producer Vince Gilligan explains, “Hollywood has become like Logan’s Run: You turn 30, and they kill you.”

Except hang on, that doesn’t make sense vis-à-vis the actual numbers of moviegoers. As the blogger Melissa Silverstein shows in her roundup at Women & Hollywood, women buy tickets and attend films in exactly the same numbers as men, and it’s viewers over 25 who see vastly more movies — over 60%. In short, Hollywood is still putting all its eggs into that basket made up of 23% of the moviegoers between the ages of 12 and 24. Hell, it’d make more sense to market to the whopping 15% of the moviegoing populace between the ages of 2 and 11 — and to their parents.

Nor does it make sense when you look at the trends with big-budget cable TV series. Suddenly it’s not just HBO making quality series; it’s also TNT and AMC and USA (and Showtime, natch), all of which seem to be targeting a population in its 30s & 40s. From Justified to The Closer, Saving Grace, Mad Men, and Nurse Jackie, these shows feature a surprising number of great women actors in their 40s, for gods’ sake. Hollywood could sell more tickets to me if my choices weren’t limited to the appalling The Green Hornet and Justin Bieber Never Say Never; but now that you mention it, I’d rather stay home with Edie Falco.

Oh, did I forget that Hollywood has thrown to us ladies movies like Just Go With It (the Jennifer Aniston vehicle) and No Strings Attached (Natalie Portman’s poorly-considered followup to Black Swan)? Can you feel your intelligence being insulted?

A long time ago I remember hearing a news story about the brilliance of McDonald’s, which varied its menu to suit local populations. In Hong Kong it sells fried rice; in India it sells the McAloo Tikki burger; in Turkey you can get a Kofteburger. McDONALD’S DIVERSIFIES TO SELL FOOD. Why can’t Hollywood?


9 Responses to “The gender & age of moviegoers”

  1. Hattie Says:

    Nothing Hollywood makes is directed at my gender or age. So I just go for the comedies and the movies you recommend. I think most movies today are visually hideous and too loud.

  2. Didion Says:

    Exactly! And yet we’re the ones who buy the tickets. Hollywood is blowing it because they can’t figure out that their audience wants something better.

    No wonder The King’s Speech was such a hit — damn, a smartly-written show about adults and a happy marriage. If only Hollywood could learn from that example.

  3. JustMeMike Says:

    I’m with Hattie and you Didion – if it wasn’t for comic books, cartoons, and video games, Hollywood;s number of films produced and released would be drastically smaller.

    On the other hand – The Adjustment Bureau opened today, and was quite adult, thank you.


  4. JE Says:

    Exactly right. Helen Mirren complained about this a while back, in her wonderful blunt style:

    “Dame Helen Mirren has condemned film-makers for aiming movies at young men, saying Hollywood ‘continues to worship at the altar of the 18- to 25-year-old male and his penis.’ ”

    • Didion Says:

      Oh Dame Helen. Glurb.

      Was this the same speech in which she hoiked her spanks?

      • JE Says:

        I think so.

        And I must say I loved Logan’s Run. Hilariously bad at almost every turn. Of course, I’m a sucker for all those old cheesy science fiction flicks.

      • Didion Says:

        And I must say that this is my favorite image that I’ve ever, ever posted to this site. I think I still want to be Jenny Agutter.

  5. servetus Says:

    It’s so bizarre to contrast this with the “end of men” discourse.

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