Do you ever watch a mainstream movie with a male protagonist (duh, what’s a female protagonist?) who ends up getting together with a much younger woman and nobody says anything about it? Of course you do! It happens all the time. Vulture did an interesting study earlier this year looking at the ages of leading men’s onscreen loves over the years. While the men age, the women stay about the same age. It’s pretty much a given that in most movie couples, the man’s going to be older than the woman, often by many years, even decades. But that’s because older male movie stars are considered distinguished gentleman who are totally in the same league as women half their age, but older female movie stars… what are those even? Don’t they all get pushed out to sea on an ice floe?
That’s not entirely true. There have been some movies where the woman is older than her male love interest, but here’s where the double standard continues to come into play. Often in these cases the age difference is the overriding theme of the movie, and instead of a woman happening to be interested in a younger guy, she’s either a comical cougar, a criminal hooking up with a teenager, or a sad woman going through a phase or having an affair. Still, it’s never a bad thing to balance out inequality onscreen. Let’s look at 14 rare examples of this set-up, some of which approach the age difference in a more stereotypical way than others.
1. Jennifer Aniston and Jake Gyllenhaal in The Good Girl
Age Difference: 11 years
This movie is also known as the one where Jennifer Aniston showed us she could be a dramatic actress but then decided to take her clothes off all the time instead. The heroine is a dissatisfied woman who embarks on an affair with her younger co-worker. Here we have the “unhappy woman cheating on her older husband” trope. Still, it’s always nice to see a film buck tradition and examine a woman’s psyche.
(Photo: Tom Jaeger, Future Image, WENN / C. Smith, WENN)
2. Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate
Age Difference: 6 years
This one’s a classic. What’s most surprising, however, is that these two were only 6 years apart when Hoffman’s character was supposed to be young enough to be Bancroft’s son. Still, the fact that the characters are clearly far apart in age, even if the actors aren’t, is important. Mrs. Robinson was the original cougar, to the point where we now use her name as a euphemism.
(Photo: Photografx, WENN / WENN)
3. Sigourney Weaver and Aaron Stanford in Tadpole
Age Difference: 27 years
This movie is about a teenage boy who gets caught up in a love triangle with two older women. The other woman is played by Bebe Neuwirth, who is 18 years Stanford’s senior. Here, of course the romances are big no-nos.
(Photo: C. Smith, WENN / WENN)
4. Jennifer Coolidge and Eddie Kaye Thomas in American Pie
Age Difference: 19 years
Ah, Stifler’s mom. We still reference it today when talking about cougars. Obviously in this case, since it’s a comedy, the hook-up is played for laughs. Not exactly the most flattering way to portray older women, but there you have it.
(Photo: PNP, WENN / FayesVision, WENN)
5. Anne Reid and Daniel Craig in The Mother
Age Difference: 33 years
In this movie, a dissatisfied grandmother embarks on an affair with her daughter’s lover. Clearly the age difference is a huge part of this film’s concept, but props to the filmmakers for depicting it with actors whose age difference is actually as vast as the characters’, unlike in The Graduate.
(Photo: Dan Wooller, WENN / Ivan Nikolov, WENN)
6. Angela Bassett and Taye Diggs in How Stella Got Her Groove Back
(Photo: FayesVision, WENN / Daniel Tanner, WENN)
7. Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd in I Could Never Be Your Woman
(Photo: Nikki Nelson, WENN / HRC, WENN)
8. Michelle Pfeiffer and Rupert Friend in Chéri
Age difference: 23 years
Michelle Pfeiffer’s not one to shy away from a role like this, since here the age difference is even bigger. In this period piece set in 1900s Paris, the female character even becomes something of a sugar mama to the hero. Well, we don’t see that onscreen very often, you have to admit.
9. Mary Steenburgen and Johnny Depp in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
Age Difference: 10 years
Here Steenburgen’s character is — you guessed it — a dissatisfied housewife cheating on her husband. We don’t get a whole lot of insight into her life, since she’s only a minor character. She mostly serves to give Depp’s character more complexity.
(Photo: Brian To, WENN / Joe Alvarez, WENN)
10. Cate Blanchett and Andrew Simpson in Notes on a Scandal
Age Difference: 10 years
Here’s another illegal romance, in which Blanchett plays a teacher having an affair with a teenage student. The interesting thing about this movie, however, is that the big conflict actually occurs between Blanchett and Judi Dench’s character, who knows about the affair.
(Photo: WENN / Doug Meszler, WENN)
11. Laura Linney and Topher Grace in P.S.
(Photo: FayesVision, WENN / Brian To, WENN)
12. Uma Thurman and Bryan Greenberg in Prime
Age Difference: 8 years
In this case, the heroine discusses the fact that she’s with a younger man with her therapist. The therapist also happens to be the man’s mom and Meryl Streep, but that’s less relevant to this discussion.
(Photo: Daniel Deme, WENN / Judy Eddy, WENN)
13. Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson in Water for Elephants
Age Difference: 10 years
I haven’t actually seen this movie, so correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like the age difference isn’t really a big issue here. In fact, I’ve seen some complaints that their age difference negatively affects their chemistry, to which I say, watch any mainstream action movie and get back to me. I think it’s kind of awesome that this film cast an older woman and didn’t draw attention to it by making it the main theme.
(Photo: Brian To, WENN / FayesVision, WENN)
14. Helen Mirren and Olivier Martinez in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
Age Difference: 21 years
In this TV movie based on a Tennessee Williams novel, a widower falls for a younger Italian man. And let’s face it, Helen Mirren is fabulous. Age is never an issue.
(Photo: PBI, WENN / WENN)
Additional research by Olivia Wilson.