September 27, 2017

THE WOODERSON EFFECT: As Tom Cruise gets older, his on-screen love interests stay the same age.

It’s a well-known fact that Hollywood likes to pair older men with younger women. And to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with an age gap between two consenting adults. According to the 2013 US Census, 4.8 percent of heterosexual married couples included a husband 10-15 years his wife’s senior.

The problem, rather, is that Hollywood doesn’t really care about showcasing the stories of that 4.8 percent so much as normalizing the expectation that women are only romance material when they’re in their mid-20s/early-30s, whereas men are free to age and remain conceivably f—able.

Of the leading men frequently cited in critiques of the age gap, Tom Cruise is the highest-paid. Consequently, the way he’s represented on screen matters. He is worth the deep dive. And deep dive I did. I crunched the numbers for every single Tom Cruise movie, comparing his age relative to that of the actresses playing his love interests over time.

All told, Cruise’s age gap mirrors, and indeed confirms, the larger critique of Hollywood’s bias against older actresses. This isn’t just anecdotally-sourced rhetoric, by the way. There’s more and more statistical evidence showing how women age out of Hollywood. Time and The Pudding, for instance, do a great job at visualizing how more roles and dialogue are available to men as they age, where the opposite is true for women.

Why is Hollywood such a cesspit of misogyny and ageism?

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