Emma Stone is a mere 26 years old, but in the last cinematic year, she’s had four onscreen love-interests who were over 40, including two male characters who were impotent. Jennifer Lawrence is Hollywood’s most in-demand young actress, but ever since she won her Oscar, it’s hard for her to find a screen lover who isn’t approaching middle age. And Scarlett Johansson has been paired with older actors so often that when she romanced Mark Ruffalo in this summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, their 17-year age difference was the least nitpicked aspect of their union. These three young, smoky-voiced actresses are often referred to as wise beyond their years, and in 2015, they’ve all got the graying love-interests to match that perception. It isn’t news that Hollywood likes to pair its older men with younger women, but as these charts will show, there’s surely something unusual going on when the three hottest actresses in the 30-and-under bracket are routinely steered toward men of a certain age.
2011 was a breakout year for Emma Stone, who spent that annum filming The Amazing Spider-Man and topping the box office with her twofer of Crazy, Stupid, Love and The Help. It was also the year that the then-49-year-old Jim Carrey found himself so intoxicated by Stone that he put out a YouTube video fantasizing about a potential sex life with her that would eventually produce “chubby little freckle-faced kids.” People recoiled from Carrey’s proposal at the time, but maybe he was onto something: Aside from the Spider-Man franchise that paired her with real-life beau Andrew Garfield (who’s only five years older), Stone has since spent her tenure on the A-list beaming at men old enough to be her father, including Gangster Squad’s Sean Penn (54 at the time of release), and Colin Firth (53) in the comedy Magic in the Moonlight, from noted May-December advocate Woody Allen. Last winter, she wooed the impotent Edward Norton (45) in Birdman, and a few weeks ago, she squired the similarly flaccid Joaquin Phoenix (40) in Woody Allen’s Irrational Man, which played at Cannes. And then there’s this past weekend’s troubled Aloha, where the petite Stone feels so ill-matched with her 40-year-old screen lover Bradley Cooper that Hitfix’s Drew McWeeny wrote how Cooper “comes off as a sad, broken old man who is attracted to her youth like a vampire.” Yikes!
Jennifer Lawrence had no love interest in the Oscar-nominated Winter’s Bone, so for most audiences, the first time she showed off her sexual side was when she clambered into Michael Fassbender’s bed in X-Men: First Class in an attempt to seduce the 14-years-older actor. (At first, his character brushes her off by saying, “Maybe in a few years,” but a minute later, they’re locking lips. So much for that age difference.) Not long after, Lawrence booked The Hunger Games and vaulted into Hollywood’s top echelon, and if it weren’t for the teen-targeting sequels to that movie, where she gets to kiss young peers like Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, she’d be exclusively matched with much older men onscreen. In two separate movies, she’s hooked up with Bradley Cooper (who was old enough to drive when Lawrence was born), and director David O. Russell routinely pairs her with actors who are pushing 40, including Cooper, Christian Bale in American Hustle, and Edgar Ramirez in this winter’s Joy. Later in the year, Lawrence is expected to shoot the romantic drama Passengers opposite another actor who’ll be in his late 30s, Chris Pratt. It’s further confirmation that like Stone, Lawrence’s ascent to the A-list will continue to push her into the arms of older men.
At 30, Scarlett Johansson has had the longest career of these three actresses, and since it began with roles in which she came on to Billy Bob Thornton (in The Man Who Wasn’t There) and shared a deep, platonic affair with Bill Murray (in Lost in Translation) before she was even out of her teens, perhaps it should come as no surprise that Johansson frequently struggles to find love interests who are near her own age. She’s much more likely to make out with men who’ve got more than 15 years on her, as she did with Hugh Jackman in Scoop, Aaron Eckhart in The Black Dahlia, Javier Bardem in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Jon Favreau in Chef, and Mark Ruffalo in Avengers: Age of Ultron, to name just several of her older screen paramours. In real life, Johansson is married to a man who’s two years older than she is, but in the movies, I don’t think she’s ever dated someone that close in age.
After reading these charts, perhaps it’s no surprise that at 37, Maggie Gyllenhaal was recently deemed “too old” to play the love interest of a 55-year-old male actor; if over-the-hill stars can continue to have their choice of A-list women who are 30 and under, why should they ever stop? There are a host of other factors at play here, too: Since most prestige movies are made by middle-aged men about middle-aged men, actresses like Jennifer Lawrence have to age themselves up to grab those high-profile roles, a pattern that not only contributes to a continued dearth of leading men in their 20s but also indirectly takes parts away from actresses like Gyllenhaal. Indeed, Lawrence keeps playing roles for David O. Russell — bitter widow, divorced mom, single-mother mopping magnate — that would typically call for women in their 30s, not a woman who’s yet to even hit 25.
And while we don’t necessarily look to the movies for realism, steering these young actresses toward near-constant May-December romances is wholly out of step with what’s actually going on in the culture. According to the 2013 census, nearly 60 percent of heterosexual married couples are within two to three years of each other; a union separated by 15 years, like the one between Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook, comes up only 1.6 percent of the time, and some of Emma Stone’s recent screen romances with men who exceeded her age by 20 years are reflected by a mere one percent of actual couples. I don’t doubt those percentages would be different if you surveyed only Hollywood, where aging movie stars and powerful producers routinely walk the red carpets with blonde 20-somethings on their arm. But shouldn’t we want more for our best young actresses than an onslaught of onscreen age disparities that evoke the notion of a trophy girlfriend?
* Methodology: Because accurate production dates for movies can be hard to come by, when collecting data for these charts, we measured the stars’ ages on the day the film in question was released and promoted.