We all know that Hollywood has a tendency to cast older men opposite much younger women. Recently, 37-year-old Maggie Gyllenhaal was turned down for a role because she was "too old." The part was to be the love interest of a 55-year old man. But the charts below, included in a Vulture article by Kyle Buchanan, really make it clear how relentless is the studios' drive to match mature male leads with much more youthful actresses. The charts take a look the films of three young female stars--Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett Johansson--and graph their ages alongside those of the males they were paired with in each movie. The results demonstrate pretty clearly that these women almost never headline movies with men who are anywhere near their age.
The disadvantage of displaying it this way is that it makes it look like the oddity is that the men are so old. But I think that the more relevant point is actually that the women are so young. (Although it does raise the issue of where the older male actors come from if all of those playing opposite the young women are well north of forty. Are there fewer parts available for a 25-year-old actor if he has to compete with Edward Norton (45) and Mark Ruffalo (47)? I suspect that this is less a paradox than it seems. There are likely a much larger number of decent roles for men, given the number of genres that are male-oriented versus those that skew female. But I don't know.) The point has been made before, but the charts make it stunningly clear: for the most part, the captivating young women of yesterday are put out to pasture early, while men who age can still get really good parts.
I'm sure it's hard for the 30-year-old Scarlett Johansson to imagine that before too long she will be too old to play the parts that she is playing now. (I was her age once. It goes by really fast!) In fact, it seems hard for me, a mere filmgoer, to believe. Who wouldn't want to see a Scarlett Johansson movie? She's talented, charming and attractive, and it's hard to believe that any of those things will be less true in ten years. But it's just true that you don't see Meg Ryan (53) as much as you used to. How about Sondra Bullock (50) or Renée Zellwegger (46)? They should be playing the parts opposite the men in their forties and fifties. Is it really true that people wouldn't go see movies that featured such casting? I'd like to think that it's not, though part of me says that you can't go wrong betting on the small-mindedness of human beings. (And by "human beings" in this case, I assume that I mostly mean "men." But I don't have the data on that either.) I don't know. I have no doubt that the studios see the safest course as simply doing what they've been doing. In any case, it appears that even at the heights of stardom, success is fleeting...at least for women.