The Hollywood Expiration Date

Have you noticed the Hollywood expiration date?

If you are a guy, maybe not. If you are a girl, you probably have. Have you noticed that the best female actors in the world suddenly start disappearing right around age 40?

It’s been around since the golden age of Hollywood, the classic age gap. Take Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face (1957); he was 58. Hepburn was 28, a 30 year age gap. No one thinks of it as strange, because that is the norm. Other examples are Frankenstein (1931): Colin Clive was 21 years older than Mae Clarke. Bing Crosby was 56 in White Christmas (1954) while Rosemary Clooney was 26, a 25 year age gap.


In 1957’s Funny Face, Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn are 30 years apart.

You could excuse the older movies in some sense; the age gaps in real marriages tended to be bigger back then after all, but how about modern movies?

In Woody Allen’s film Magic in the Moonlight (2014) Emma Stone was 25, Colin Firth, 53, 28 years apart. 1997’s As Good As It Gets: Jack Nicholson was 60 to Helen Hunt’s 34 years, a 26 year age difference. Lost in Translation (2003): Bill Murray was 52, Scarlett Johansson 18, a 34 year age gap.

Recently James Bond actor Daniel Craig was asked how he felt about Bond’s character, “succumbing to the charms of an older woman?” His love interest, played by Monica Bellucci, is 4 years older than Craig.

“I think you mean the charms of a woman his own age.” was Craig’s response.

So what happens to the women who hit 40 and are suddenly no longer considered able to play a suitable romantic lead?

When Meryl Streep turned 40 in 1989, she was offered 3 roles as a witch.

“When I was 40, I was not offered any female adventurers, or love interests, or heroes or demons. I was offered witches because I was ‘old’ at 40.”

Patricia Arquette said in an interview:

“Most of the stories for women are about being young, and desire, and falling in love, while the rest of the parts are usually pretty damn boring, supportive characters. ‘OK, honey, you can do it!’ ‘OK, son, you can do it!’”

The fact is that women over 40 are almost never offered romantic leads. A woman would seem to lose her sex appeal and acting ability, whereas men never seem to expire.

Research by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University found that women comprise 15% of protagonists in the top-grossing films of 2014. They made up 29% of major characters, and 30% of all speaking characters.

“Only 13% of the top 100 films featured equal numbers of major female and male characters, or more major female characters than male characters. Female characters were younger than their male counterparts and were more likely than males to have an identifiable marital status. Further, female characters were less likely than males to have clearly identifiable goals or be portrayed as leaders of any kind.” wrote Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D.

Of that 15% of female protagonists, how many do you think were over 40?

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2 Responses

  1. Profile photo of L.J. Kelley L.J. Kelley says:

    I turned 39 over the weekend. This was a much needed read. Thanks!

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