Favorite Films and Film Genres As A Function of
Race, Age, and Gender
Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D., Joe Antonio, B.A., Diane Lewis, B.A.
(Paper Originally Presented at American Psychological Association Convention,Chicago, August, 1997)
Journal of Media Psychology, Volume 3, Number 1, Winter, 1998

INTRODUCTION

America is becoming increasingly aware of its status as the most multi-cultural society in the world.  More and more foreign and domestically made movies are playing in more and more multi-theater complexes across the country.  As studios struggle to cater to growing ethnic appetites with movies which have cross-over appeal to other ethnic groups, research is needed on film tastes and preferences of our diverse population.  Yet, research on moviegoing habits and preferences has too often confined itself to college-aged filmgoers and White filmgoers at that (cf. Austin, 1986).

The present research was designed, in part, to compare preferences in films and film genres among different age, gender and racial/ethnic groups.  Whether these preferences indicate a growing, self-interested Balkanization of our society or merely a transitional period from a dominant White film culture to a multi-ethnic American film culture which is nonetheless as “American as cherry pie,” is still to be determined.  The present study merely sought to take a snapshot of the current state of affairs in this filmic section of what is known as “popular culture.”.

Previous research conducted by the first author with data on films released up to the end of 1991 (Fischoff, 1994) shows that what genre of film a person favors is a good predictor of what all-time favorite films a person will mention.  While there have been many attempts to find out why a person likes a particular film or film genre (e.g., Litman, 1983, Austin,1986) there have been few if any public, non-film studio sponsored studies which have attempted a large-scale, detailed analysis of the filmic qualities which contribute to a film being a viewer’s all-time favorite.  The present paper addresses only a subset of the larger amount of data collected.  Additional results will be reported at a later date.

There are "women's films" and there are "men's films," conventional wisdom holds.  Women’s films are not simply “romance” films.  They concern films where the story is told from the woman’s point of view (The Piano, Muriel’s Wedding), the woman is the clear protagonist or heroine (almost any Jodie Foster movie), or the story centers around women and women’s issues (The Color Purple, Beaches).  “Men’s films” tend to focus more on action, sex (rather than romance) and competition (Andrews, 1993, Fischoff, 1994).  If conventional wisdom is accurate, we would expect that favorite films should express a gender bias such that males would be partial to “men’s films,” and females would be partial to “women’s films.”. These expectations are consistent with Social Identity Theory which holds that people seek out particular messages which support their social identity (Abrams & Hogg, 1990).  Harwood (1997) extended the theory to selective choices in media viewing as a form of social identity gratification.  Film preference which is consistent or congruent with gender identity is what Fischoff’s 1994 study revealed.  It was expected that similar results would be found in the present study.

Results of the Fischoff (1994) study indicated that the most popular film genres were, in order of ranking, DRAMA, COMEDY, ACTION-ADVENTURE , ROMANCE and the combined category of SCIENCE FICTION /FANTASY.  Males and females showed the widest differences in genre preferences in ACTION-ADVENTURE  and ROMANCE.  Stability of genre popularity and of the gender-genre preference differential was investigated in the present study.

The bias of race or ethnic affiliation (hereafter referred to as racial/ethnic affiliation) has also generated much “conventional wisdom.”  In fact, much has been made of the racial Balkanization of television programs in recent years (cf., Braxton, 1997).  Given that there are few if any shows on television depicting the daily lives of Latinos or Asians, the Balkanization factor primarily addresses Blacks and Whites.  Shows on the weblets WB and UPN and Fox have built their audiences catering to Blacks, offering shows dominated by Black casts and storylines (even though, according to the WGA statistics reported to Fischoff with the promise of confidentiality, 76% of writers on such shows are White, male, and under 40).

Nielsen ratings show that Black TV audiences display remarkably little overlap with White audiences in terms of favorite shows (Keveney, 1994).  In that sense, then, it might be stated that both Whites and Black are partial to watching shows which feature actors and stories that reflect their racial or ethnic identification.  This partiality may be termed a preference for “racial identity congruence.”

Fischoff (1994) reported that, while Blacks and Whites did indeed show strong racial identity congruence when it came to favorite films, such racial/ethnic partisianism was absent in Asians and Latinos.  A number of Latin-themed movies have enjoyed wide exposure in the five years since the initial study was conducted.  It was of interest, therefore, to see if racial identity congruence trends have begun to make their way into the favorite film choices of these two underexplored racial/ethnic groups.

Finally, the present study investigated the relationship between age and the release dates of favorite films. Older people generally have a wider range of experience with evolving styles of filmmaking than younger people.  Since the mind stores images, feelings and attitudes or styles prevalent at the time of an experience, it is expected that older people will have a range of favorite films which span a far wider period of time than younger people.  That is, even though styles of filmmaking and explicit social values expressed in films change and evolve over time, favorite films are judged in terms of styles and values prevalent at the time a movie was first seen, rather than being judged according to current film standards and styles.

Moreover, it is expected that favorite films will have more likely been seen in theaters than on television because the context of experience of a film likely has a significant impact on the impression a film has on a viewer.  Because theatrical films are made to be shown in theaters with all the advantages a theater provides, small-screen viewing of films for the first time will probably detract from a film’s total impact.

METHODS

Subject Sample
A nation-wide sample of 560 respondents, (Male, n=264, Female, n=296) ranging in ages from 15-83i , with education levels ranging from High School to Graduate Degrees and representing racial/ethnic groups of Whites (n = 218), Latinos (n =151), Asians (n = 103), Blacks (n = 82), and Other (n = 6) comprised the respondent poolii.  Respondents were contacted either in person or by mail.  Data was collected between April, 1996 and February, 1997 .

Questionnaire
As part of a more comprehensive and detailed four-page questionnaire, respondents were asked to list up to 15 of their all-time favorite films.  Films cited by respondents were categorized by the research team according to their judged genre “fit.”  The genre, defined by narrative conventions, plots, and themes carrying socially-shared meanings, is a common simplifying device (or heuristic) on which audiences base preferences (Austin & Gordon, 1987). The genres used to classify films followed, with some modification, from a system employed by Litman (1983).  This entailed using the classification procedures applied by local video rental stores and descriptions provided by recent movie guides (Halliwell, 1989, Maltin, 1991, Skorman, 1989 and Martin & Porter, 1996.).

Sixteen film genres were used in the initial categorization process:ACTION-ADVENTURE,  DRAMA, COMEDY,ROMANCE , MUSICAL, HORROR, ANIMATION, SCIENCE FICTION , FANTASY, MURDER/THRILLER, ROMANTIC-COMEDY, ACTION-COMEDY, BIBLICAL-RELIGIOUS, DOCUMENTARY, ANIMAL-BASED, SPORT-BASED.  ( iiiDescriptions and examples of each genre are listed in Endnotes.)

Ultimately, the subgenres ROMANTIC-COMEDY and ACTION-COMEDY were collapsed into the ROMANCE and ACTION-ADVENTURE genres respectively.  Detailed analysis of responses to questions concerning filmic and emotional elements of these film subgenres revealed that they had more in common with ROMANCE and ACTION-ADVENTURE, respectively, than they did with COMEDY.

 Consistent with the first author’s previous research, data analysis will be presented in two ways:
 1. In terms of all cited films (hereafter designated as All Cited Films), both for all respondents and for all films cited by individual demographic groups.

 2. In terms of the Top 25 films (hereafter referred to as Top 25) for all respondents and by individual demographic groups.  Films in this list are ranked in terms of their frequency of citation by group members.  Occasionally, because of ties, certain Top 25 lists will contain more than 25 films.  To use one tied film and not another would merely be an alphabetic decision.  It was therefore decided to occasionally run over the limit of 25 for purposes of representative accuracy.

RESULTS
Because of the massive amount of data generated by the study, discussion of results will generally be limited to the seven most popular genres.  Results of statistical analyses are generally reported in the Tables rather than being presented in the text of the paper.

Genre and Film Popularity For All Respondents
The number of individual titles cited by 560 respondents is 1,678.  The total number of movie citations (including multiple references of the same film) is 5,930iv , yielding an average of 10.6 films cited per respondent.  The differences between the number of films cited by groups within each demographic category, e.g., Age, Gender, Race/Ethnicity were not significant.  Table 1 shows genre frequencies and genre rankings for All Cited Films and the Top 25 films.

All Cited Films
The greater popularity of DRAMA, ACTION-ADVENTURE, COMEDY, ROMANCE, SCIENCE FICTION, and FANTASY genres compared with the remaining eight film genres, parallels previous research results (Fischoff, 1994), demonstrating a consistency of genre popularity across a five year period.

Films in the DRAMA genre comprised 31% of All Cited Films, a figure almost twice as high as its nearest competitor, ACTION-ADVENTURE.  The DRAMA genre clearly addresses issues which leave the more lasting impression for the greatest number of moviegoers.  With the exception of Asians, this popularity cuts uniformly across all age, gender and racial/ethnic groupsv.

TOP 25
In order of the frequency of genre-related films cited, ROMANCE, ACTION-ADVENTURE, DRAMA, SCIENCE FICTION and FANTASY were the top ranked film genres.  Thus, DRAMA dropped from first to third place in the focus shift from All Cited Films to Top 25 films.  As later discussion will show, the jump of ROMANCE into the top spot was due pricipally to the consensus in female affection for films like Casablanca, Gone With The Wind, Ghost, Pretty Woman, and Legends of the Fall.  Males had only one ROMANCE film in their Top 25 list, Casablanca.

SCIENCE FICTION films were strongly represented (15% of the Top 25), with the Star Wars trilogy leading the way.  The first chapter in the trilogy, Star Wars, ranked as the second most popular film (the FANTASY genre representative, Forrest Gump, coming in first).  That the data was collected before the 1997 re-release of the trilogy attests to the series’ abiding popularity.

The films Forrest Gump, E.T., and Wizard of Oz contributed to the FANTASY genre’s 4th-ranked position in the Top 25 list.  The “feel good” dimension of these films is a salient issue relating to the FANTASY genre’s popularity.  It will be explored in greater detail in a later section of the paper.

Although the MUSICAL is one of the seven most popular genres in terms of All Cited Films, only two movies from this genre, Grease and The Sound of Music, made it to any group’s Top 25 list.  Only one of them, The Sound of Music, was mentioned frequently enough by all demographic groups to elevate it into the Top 25 for all respondents.  Not surprisingly, Older respondents, recalling Hollywood’s Golden Age of musicals, expressed the strongest affection for this genre.

Although only one film in the ANIMATION genre, The Lion King, was mentioned with sufficient frequency to be included in the Top 25 for all respondents (see Table 2), its popularity was pervasive in that it was also included in the Top 25 lists for all demographic groups inspected separately (see Tables 3-5).  Only three other films, Star Wars, E.T. and Forrest Gump, had that distinction.  Clearly, these four films touch viewers in such a universal way that cultural/experiential factors which may otherwise fragment film preferences among demographic groups, are overridden.

Films in the COMEDY genre (as distinct from romantic- or action-comedy subgenres) are remarkably underrepresented in respondents’ Top 25 lists, while films in the HORROR genre are totally absent.

                                            TABLE 2

Table 3
Top 25 Films by Age

 
 
 

TABLE 4
Top 25 Films by Gender

TABLE 6
Top 25 Films for All Racial/Ethnic Groups

Age and Genre Differences

As Table 6 indicates, for All Cited Films the three age groups, Young (25 years old and younger), Middle (ages 26-49) and Older (50 and above) show significant differences in popularity of genres on 10 of the 14 (64%) categories.  Most notably, the age groups differed rather substantially when it came to the genres of ACTION-ADVENTURE, DRAMA, ANIMATION, HORROR, and MURDER/THRILLER.  While the DRAMA genre was ranked first for the Young, its strength of preference was significantly below that for Middle and Older respondents. But, except for DRAMA, young people show the stronger preferences for these other genres.  Those in the Older age range show the least appreciation for films in the HORROR genre; only two respondents in this age range mentioned a HORROR film as a favorite.
TABLE 6
Proportion of All Films Cited by Genre and by Age of Respondents

Top 25
Results of genre preferences in the Top 25 (see Table 7b) are consistent with those for All Cited Films except that the differences are somewhat more polarized between the Young and the Middle and Older.  For example, while ACTION-ADVENTURE films for those in the Young group comprised 20% of All Cited Films, they constituted 26% of Top 25 films.

TABLE 7a
Genre Frequencies of Top 25 Films for All Demographic Groups: Gender, Age, and Ethnicity

Gender

TABLE 7b
Age

TABLE 7c
Race/Ethnicity

Gender and Genre Differences

All Cited Films
As Table 8 indicates, males and females display distinctly different patterns of film genre preferences.  The largest differences occur with the ACTION-ADVENTURE, ROMANCE  and SCIENCE FICTION  genres. As might be expected, males and females differed significantly on the SPORTS-BASED genre, with males preferring these films twice as often as females (2.3% vs. 1.1% of All Cited Films ).
TABLE 8
Proportion of All Cited Films By Genre and By
Sex if Respondents

The gender-genre differences are most dramatically expressed in the age group below 26yrs., i.e., the Young.  For example, Young males, who constituted 21.5% of sample males, accounted for only 13% of all male-cited ROMANCE films but accounted for 31% of male-cited ACTION-ADVENTURE films.  Thus, they cited 1/3 more than their proportionate share of male-cited ACTION-ADVENTURE films and 1/3 less than their proportionate share of male-cited ROMANCE films.

Young females, on the other hand, are less polarized on the issue of ACTION-ADVENTURE vs ROMANCE.  They constituted 43% of all females in the study and cited 45% of all ROMANCE films for women.  This is consistent with their proportion of the sample’s female population.  On the other hand, they cited 61% of all  female-cited ACTION-ADVENTURE films.  Age, therefore, does nothing to enhance or dull female’s appreciation of ROMANCE films; but it does strongly affect their appreciation of ACTION-ADVENTURE films.

Clearly then, ACTION-ADVENTURE is more the young person’s genre.  But young males and females drastically part company on the issue of ROMANCE.  Here, young males undercite ROMANCE films while young females cite in proportion to their percentage of their respective sample gender populations.

Top 25
Trends evident above are more extreme in the Top 25 listings (see Table 7).  Females are more partial to the ROMANCE genre with 8 (31%) out of the "Top 25" films falling into that category compared with 15% in the All Cited Films tally.  Male preferences yielded only 1 ROMANCE film (4%) in the Top 25 vs. 9.6% in the All Cited Films tally.

Ethnicity and Genre Differences
All Cited Films
Table 9 presents genre frequencies of All Cited Films by each ethnic/racial group.  Some differences are particularly interesting.
TABLE 9
Proportion of All Cited Films by Genre and by Race of Respondents


 
 

Whites mentioned the fewest number of ACTION-ADVENTURE movies.  Even when we eliminate respondents in the Older age group, a group which finds ACTION-ADVENTURE less popular than the other age groups and in which Whites are overrepresented, White respondents still mentioned ACTION-ADVENTURE the least often of the four racial/ethnic groups.  Compared with other groups, Whites generally found more to like in the COMEDY, ROMANCE, and MUSICAL.genres.

While the dominance of the DRAMA  genre overall is generally consistent across demographic groups, it is noteworthy that Blacks cited films in the DRAMA genre significantly more than the other groups (38% vs. 30% for Whites, 25% for Latinos, and 19% for Asians).  This result will be explored in greater detail in the Discussion section.

Asians, by comparison, not only cited the most ACTION-ADVENTURE movies, they also cited the most SCIENCE FICTION movies.  Asians also cited the least number of films in the COMEDY genre and the least number in the DRAMA genre.  Universality of bold and simple storylines of ACTION-ADVENTURE and SCIENCE FICTION films as well as cultural differences in ability to relate to dramatic and comedic themes of American movies may account, in part, for these results.

Latino respondents distinguished themselves from the three other racial/ethnic groups by their citing significantly more films in the HORROR genre.

Top 25
Table 5 shows the Top 25 lists for each racial/ethnic group. The preference on the part of Asians for films in the ACTION-ADVENTURE and SCIENCE FICTION genres, as mentioned above, garners additional support from the fact that these two genres constitute 56% of movies comprising the Asian Top 25 list.  These are the highest proportions cited by any racial-ethnic group.

TABLE 5
Top 25 Films for Racial/Ethnic Groups

The robust preference for films in the DRAMA genre on the part of Blacks compared with all other racial/ethnic groups is even more pronounced when it comes to their Top 25 list.  Of this list, 14 or 56% of them are dramas compared with 24%, 16% and 4% for Whites, Latinos and Asians respectively.  These differences are significant.

Similar to Asians, Latinos showed a departure from Blacks and Whites in their Top 25 list in that ACTION-ADVENTURE, ROMANCE, and SCIENCE FICTION tied for first place as the most popular genres while DRAMA ranked fourth.

Age Differences and Recency Bias
Table 10 shows the release dates by 20 year intervals of All Cited Films as well as of the Top 25 films.  As predicted, there is a strong tendency for younger respondents to favor recently released films.  This recency bias is inversely related to age, r = -.58, n = 555, p < .001.  For the Young, over 86% of All Cited Films were released between 1980 and 1997.  For the Middle and Older, the period between 1980 and 1997 constituted only 60% and 46% of favored films respectively. This difference between the three age groups is significant, (Chi2=36.7, df=2, p < .001)    Similar results were found for the Top 25 films.
TABLE 10
20 Year Release Dates for All Cited Films and for Top 25 Films by Age Groups

Gender-Identity Congruence

Recall that the term, “women’s films,” refers to films where the story is told from the woman’s point of view, or the woman is the clear lead protagonist or the story centers around women and women’s issues. Table 4 shows, as predicted, that, in terms of gender-identity congruence, for their "Top 25" films, women chose 10 movies (38%) which are “women’s films”: Color Purple, Beaches, Joy Luck Club, Gone With The Wind, Pretty Woman, Like Water for Chocolate, Twister and Silence of the Lambs, The Sound of Music, Wizard of Oz.  Men, in stark contrast, placed no "women's films" in their Top 25 list (see Table 4).  Interestingly, in the previous study by Fischoff (1994), women cited only 6 (20%) “women’s films” in their Top 25.  The women in the present sample have nearly doubled that percentage; in the present and earlier studies, men cited no “women’s films.”

Women did mention a number of ACTION-ADVENTURE, SCIENCE FICTION and DRAMA films in their Top 25 list, films which may be considered either within the male domain of genre preference or simply as films which star men or are shot from the male point of view.  Clearly, women are less restrictive in their gender cross-over behavior than are men whose preferences tend to be male gender exclusive.

Ethnic Differences in Ethnic Identity Congruence

How does racial congruence translate into movie preferences?  For All Cited Films, the results are remarkably consistent with Nielsen data for television as regards Black and White viewing habits.  Nielsen statistics show that Blacks and Whites share very little overlap in terms of most watched TV shows (Keveney, 1994).vi

TABLE 11
Racial/Ethnic Differences in Racial/Ethnic Identity Congruence
For All Cited Films and for Top 25 Films




As Table 11 reveals, Whites show an overwhelming preference for race congruence with proportions of racially congruent films ranging from 96% (Director and Writer) to a low of 87% (Supporting Cast).  A content analysis and frequency count of 100 randomly selected pages of films listed in Martin and Porter’s 1225 page Video Movie Guide (1996), was undertaken for the study.  It found that over 90% of all films domestically released are predominately White-congruent in terms of Director, Writer, Story, and Lead, and Supporting actors.  A high degree of racial congruence for Whites, then, might be expected.  Whites show a rather overwhelming partiality for White-congurent movies.  Indeed, only seven movies (3%) were cited which dealt with interracial themes.

For Black moviegoers the numbers attached to race congruence are surprisingly robust given the relatively low proportion of Black films released compared with White films.  Racial congruence ranged from a high of 45% (Supporting Cast) to a low of 21% (Director).  Given that compared to White-congruent film releases, so relatively few Black films are released (approximately 10% of all films after 1970), the race congruence preferences of Blacks is exceptionally strong, in fact dramatically disproportionate to that for Whites.

Clearly then, Blacks and Whites show film preferences which strongly mirror television series preferences.  These racial congruence statistics are even more dramatic when it comes to films making it into the Top 25 list (see bottom of Table 11).  White racial congruence proportions rise to 100% in some categories while Black proportions increase to 48% in the category of Story.  These results, overall, are what was expected based on previous research (Fischoff, 1994).

When it comes to Asians and Latinos, compared with Whites and Blacks, the results are strikingly different.  Again, as Table 11 reveals, Latinos showed a higher degree of racial congruence than Asians, but the numbers for both groups were dwarfed in comparison with those for Whites and Blacks.  This is true for the figures for All Cited Films and for Top 25 films.

But, a change seems to be in the wind, especially for Latino moviegoers.  Results from Fischoff (1994), had White and Black racial congruence patterns comparable to those in the present study.  Latinos and Asians in that study had no movies in their Top 25 lists that were racially congruent.  In the present study, however, Latinos had racial congruence proportions ranging from 16 to 20% of Top 25 films.  Clearly, Latinos are displaying an increased appreciation of race-congruent films related, perhaps, to increasing ethnic consciousness as well as a somewhat greater number of Latin-theme films being either produced or distributed in the United States (Klady, 1997).

Asian respondents, by comparison, mentioned only one race-congruent film in the Top 25 list, The Joy Luck Club.  Some reasons for this are explored in the following section.
 
 

DISCUSSION

Genre Popularity
The DRAMA genre, grabbing almost 31% of All Cited Films, seems the genre which captures the hearts, minds and memories of moviegoers.  Yet, the popularity of SCIENCE FICTION and of FANTASY films is undeniable when considering the tremendous success of such films as Star Wars and Forrest Gump.  As both genres deal with either the future or with the influence of the paranormal, the supernatural, or the exceptional and fanciful in the present, it is clear that departure from reality has an abiding appeal for humans.

Clear also, as the void in the HORROR genre in any Top 25 list suggests, some departures from of reality are more welcome than others.  Research shows that, generally, people anticipate feeling entertained and feeling good when they leave a movie (Austin, 1989).  Films in the HORROR genre, however, while providing entertainment through excitation and arousal, often leave people feeling nervous and unsettled, rather than “feeling good”(Cantor, 1994, Bryant and Zillman, 1994); this is not a state which leads to fond memories.  In fact, the two most frequently cited HORROR films, Nightmare on Elm Street and The Exorcist, were each mentioned only six times, i.e., only 12 out of 560 people mentioned either of these two films.

It is worth noting that in the Top 25 for all respondents, there was a virtual void of films in the COMEDY genre.  Obviously, people differ radically on what is a memorable comedy; not enough consensus was available across all respondents to single out any one comedy for Top 25 honors.

This reasoning is, of course, somewhat age-bound.  Young people did, in fact, place the comedy Dumb and Dumber in their Top 25 category.  And respondents in the Middle age group did list the romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally in their Top 25.  But, in general, there was simply not enough consensus across all respondents to place either of these films in the Top 25 for all respondents.

Recency Bias
What accounts for those respondents 25 years and younger to be so wedded to the modern or most recent film releases and for this bias toward modernity to decrease as a function of increasing age?  Growing appreciation for special effects and violence may count for a lot.  Films released in the 1990’s, such as Heat, Terminator 2, Pulp Fiction, Seven, American Me, Jurassic Park, Independence Day, and Twister, which were either steeped in violence or were plot-light and special effects heavy, found great popularity, but only with younger moviegoers.

Other factors are also relevant to the age divide in film affections.  Certainly, the younger the respondent, the less time he or she has had to see movies.  Except for students of film, younger people’s tastes in styles of filmmaking are generally more intensely forged in the modern film idioms than is the case for older moviegoers.  They have had the viewing time over the years to witness and appreciate the changes in film content and style.

However, while film styles change, for older filmgoers a favorite film from an earlier era may be viewed through the stylistic lens that was in fashion at the time the film was initially viewed.  The term “aesthetic time capsule,” might best describe this dynamic.  The term suggests that it is not simply nostalgia for older movies that determines continuing affection for earlier movie experiences.  Rather, a key determinant may be the continuous reactivation of the aesthetic filter that was operating at the time a movie was initially seen.  This flexibility in stylistic shifts, leading to an appreciation of films from earlier film eras, would simply be unavailable to most younger filmgoers for whom there is only one valid film style.  It may also help us understand why many young people find so many movies “boring.”

Finally, not only when a film was seen but where it was seen may be a relevant consideration for understanding the recency bias.  Our research reveals that 67% of respondents initially saw their favorite film in a movie theater versus seeing it first on broadcast or cable television (13%) or on videocassette (29%).  Obviously seeing a movie at home is a completely different experience than seeing it in a theater.  This “gestalt” or context of seeing a film in a theater (in the company of others, big screen, superior audio and visual transmission, departure from daily routines, etc.) makes the likelihood of a movie becoming a favorite greater when first seen in a theater than if it were first seen on a home television screen.

Gender Differences
As expected and predicted, males and females live in rather different worlds when it comes to movie preferences.  These differences play according to gender stereotypes, with men more likely to prefer movies that are action oriented while women prefer relationship, especially romantic relationship, movies.  This gender polarization was most dramatic in younger filmgoers with males exhibiting somewhat more gender-stereotypicality than females.

Age interacts with gender substantially, however.  As women get older, they come to prefer Action-Adventure far less than their younger counterparts.  Women between the ages of 26 and 49 (Middle) prefer Romance 2:1 over ACTION-ADVENTURE (259 vs 136 citations).  Women 50 yrs. and over prefer Romance almost 4:1 over ACTION-ADVENTURE (78 vs. 21 citations).  Indeed, the correlation between age and the number of ACTION-ADVENTURE films cited by women is -.33 (df = 294, p < .001).  For ROMANCE, by comparison, the correlation between age and the number of ROMANCE films cited by women is -.03 (df = 294, ns), virtually zero.  This would suggest that, regardless of age, women are enamoured of ROMANCE movies.

An interesting contrast in this regard is the correlation between age and number of ROMANCE films cited by men.  Here the correlation is .37 (df = 262, p < .001).  This means that as males age, there is a growing tendency for them to cite ROMANCE  films as favorites.  Similar with women, however, the correlation between number of ACTION-ADVENTURE films cited and age is -.31 (df = 262, p < .001).

Finally, gender stereotyped movie preferences are more blatant in men, but only for young men.  As men move past 25, they drift away from such gender-based partiality and begin to look more similar to their female counterparts.  Similar trends were found in previous research (Fischoff, 1994).

It is not immediately clear why women show less of a dismissive attitude toward Action-Adventure movies than men show toward Romance movies.  But a portion of the data collected in the larger study from which the present data were drawn may shed some light.  On a 6-point Likert scale (with 6 being Very Important) women were equally likely to favor a movie because of the lead actor or actress (M = 4.73 and M = 4.71, for male and female leads respectively, t = .25, ns).  Men, on the other hand, showed a distinct gender preference and were significantly more likely to favor a movie because of a male lead than they were to favor a movie because of a female lead (5.07 and 3.77 for male and female leads respectively, t = 9.0, p < .001.)

Gender Identity Congruity
Since, relative to films with the male point of view, so few women's films are produced, statistical analysis of the differences in between males and females as regards gender-congruence preferences is questionable.  But, clearly, when women’s films comprise 38% of women’s Top 25 list while men placed no such films in their list, there is a substantial gender disparity.  There are at least two possibilities for this disparity: 1) either out of necessity (so few female-oriented films are produced) or design (single females accompany their male dates to male-oriented movies more than the reverse, [Andrews, 1993]), female crossover interest in "male films" is greater than is the reciprocal for males;  2) females are attracted to “male films” because they are attracted to male leads (e.g., Brad Pitt in Seven).  A third possibility is that females are not so much more flexible as males are more constricted and/or have not yet found the need to find female-issue movies worth their time and effort.

Racial Identity Congruity
Recall that only one Asian-themed film, The Joy Luck Club, found its way into the Asian Top 25 list.  Unavailability of Asian movies cannot account for this.  Many brilliant Chinese and Japanese films, for example those by Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern, Shanghai Triad) and Akira Kurosawa (Ran, Throne of Blood), have been distributed in this country and find their way onto television or videocassette.  It may be that the film style and story rather than racial congruence of film elements is, at present, more important to Asians than to Whites, Blacks or Latinos.

Paranthetically, it might be noted that, as more and more films are made which address the interests and concerns of the increasingly ethnic-conscious, non-White segments of the moviegoing population (seen in the growing preference of Blacks and Latinos to find favorite films in ethnically-congruent film offerings), it might be expected that the same will occur for Asian-themed movies.  This has implications for the young preferring more recently released movies.  Films from the pre-1980’s, which are mostly White-congruent, will become even less preferred, watched or watchable by younger, minority consumers of movies.

Race, Film Titles, and Genre Preferences
That a total of almost 1,678 separate films were cited by 560 respondents as favorites clearly indicates that few films possess universal stature.  What is memorable for one person or demographic group of people may be rather incidental to another group.  For example, while movie critics frequently place Citizen Kane and Gone With The Wind in the list of favorite movies (cf. Denby, 1991), such critics are predominantly White and male.  In the present study these two movies ranked in the Top 25 only for Whites.

By way of contrast and comparison, Blacks cited 12 films (48%) in the Top 25 which concerned Black themes or top-billed Black actors and/or writers and directors.  Not one of these films made the Top 25 lists of Asians, Whites, or Latinos.  Latinos, while less race-congruent in film favorites than either Whites or Blacks, nevertheless had race-congruent films in their Top 25 list which were absent from the other racial groups, viz., Mi Familia, Like Water For Chocolate, A Walk In The Clouds, and American Me.

A contrast between Blacks and other racial/ethnic groups was also seen in Blacks’ overwhelming preference for DRAMA-genre films.  This genre comprised 56% of Blacks’ Top 25 list.  Inspection of the titles of films comprising the Black Top 25 provides an explanation.  Blacks are partial to race-congruent films.  Spike Lee, the Black writer/director generally makes dramas.  Three of his films are in the Top 25.  Denzel Washington, a Black superstar, was a lead in three of the films in the list.  Three other dramas, Waiting To Exhale, Driving Miss Daisey and What’s Love Got To Do With It? either starred or co-starred Blacks.  Thus, of the 13 dramas in the Black Top 25, 10 were race-congruent.

Finally, as Tables 5 indicates, Latinos, in terms of Top 25 film citation frequencies, proportionately display the greatest unanimity in favorite film citations.  This may, in part, be attributable to their being so relatively few Latino-themed films domestically distributed by major studios or major indpendents (like Miramax),or afforded wide release (over 300 screens), or receive substantial paid or free advertising or publicity.   It is also possible that, had the majority of Latino respondents come from regions of the U.S. other than the Southwest (e.g., Florida or New York), Puerto Rican or Cuban films might have gathered greater representation and diluted the unanimity.

When Is Memorable Not Synonomous With Favorite?
It is noteworthy that the movie, Schindler’s List, while present in the Top 25 lists for Younger and Middle age groups did not make it into the Top 25 for those in the Older Age group.  In fact, only two people out of 106 respondents in the Older category mentioned it at all.  Since Whites constituted over 50% of those in the Older category, this omission is something of a curiousity, especially given the film’s critical acclaim and box office success.

One explanation for this omission is that Schindler’s List may be a film that many people felt was on their “should see” list (Fischoff, 1997), but, for older respondents, “should see” does not translate into “want to remember.”  Many racial/ethnic groups have their own Holocausts; some, like Cambodians and Native Americans, even had popular Hollywood movies chronicling them (The Killing Fields, Little Big Man).  But such movies seem not to make it to any group’s Top 25 list.

Perhaps powerful and critically praised films which remind people of their ethnic group’s Holocaust, especially those who were alive and bore witness to it, are too painful to be fondly recalled.  As regards Schindler’s List, for those born after 1960, those for whom the Holocaust is indeed “ancient history,” the quality of films such as Schindler’s List may be a powerful film experience rather than something which explores a topic that is “too close for comfort.”  In fact, for older people, Schindler’s List may, in the truest sense of the term, be the quintessential HORROR film.

A Final Comment on Individual Films

The Star Wars trilogy, already carrying mythic status in film pantheons, while obviously SCIENCE FICTION and initially a jaw-dropping special effects movie, has owed its popularity to the presence of images which are themselves mythic or, in the Jungian sense, archetypal: heroism, evil, father-son rivalry, wise elders, etc.  It should be noted that the survey was conducted before the re-release of the Star Wars trilogy in the spring of 1997.  So, clearly, we are speaking of a film series which needs no reminders to hold on to the imagination of a culture.

The films falling within the FANTASY genre, Forrest Gump, Wizard of Oz, and E.T. all concern innocents triumphing over evil,or misguided adult forces or simply overcoming a mental handicap.  Gerhardt Weibe (1970) documents how entertainment media like television serve the important function to the world-weary viewer of restoring equity in the world.  FANTASY films can and do offer the same restorative balm.  The theme of "the triumph of innocence" is a prominent theme in the history of written civilization.  Such timeless prominence indicates how precious is the theme for all of us who must reconcile an often unpleasant reality with the yearning for the ideal to supplant it, if not in reality then at least in our filmic fantasies.

 REFERENCES
Abrams, D., & Hogg, M. A. (1990). Social identity theory: Constructive and critical advances. Hemel Hemstead, England: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Andrews, Suzanna (1993, May 23).  Film: The Great Divide; The Sexes at the Box Office.  New York Times, 2, p. 15.

Austin, Bruce A. (1986, Spring). Motivations for movie attendance. Communications Quarterly 34, 115-126.

Austin, Bruce A. (1989).  Immediate Seating: A look at movie audiences.  Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Austin, B. & Gordon, T. (1987).  Movie genres: Toward a conceptualized model and standardized definitions.  In Current research in film: Audiences, economics, and law, vol. 3, edited by Bruce Austin.  Norwood, N.J.: Albex.
Braxton, G. (1997, Jan. 27).  Black and White Television. i, Calendar, p. 1.

Cantor, J. (1994). Fright responses to mass media productions.  In J. Bryant & D. Zillmann (Eds).  Responding to the screen: Reception and reaction processes.  Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Denby, D. (1991, Winter).  It’s a wonderful list.  Premiere Magazine, Special Edition, 10-17

Klady, L. (1997, March 17).  “Selena” courts untapped demo. Daily Variety, pp. 1,42.

Fischoff, S. (1997, March-April).  Rosewood, Schindler’s List and the “Should” Movies. The Los Angeles Psychologist.

Fischoff, S. (1994).  Race and sex differences in patterns of film attendance and avoidance.  APA Convention, Los Angeles, August 15.

Halliwell, L. (1989).  Halliwell Film Guide, 7th ed.  New York: Harper & Row

Harwood, Jake (1997).  Viewing age: Lifespan identity and television viewing choices.  Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 41(2), 203-213.

Keveney, B. (1994, May 30). Black & White television.  Hartford Courant, p 3D.

Litman (1983, Spring).  Predicting Success of Theatrical Movies:  An Empirical Study.  Journal of Popular Culture, 159-175.

Maltin, L. (1991). Leonard Maltin’s 1992 Movie and Video Guide.  New York: Signet.

Martin, Mick &  Porter, Marsha (1996).  Mick Martin & Marsha Porter's 1997 Video Movie Guide.  New York: Ballantine Books.

Martin, Mick & Porter, Marsha (1992).  Mick Martin & Marsha Porter's 1993 Video Movie Guide.  New York: Ballantine Books.

Skorman, R. (1989). Off-Hollywood Movies: A Film Lover’s Guide.  New York: Harmony Books.

Zillmann, D. (1994). Television viewing and physiological arousal.  In J. Bryant & D. Zillmann (Eds).  Responding to the screen: Reception and reaction processes.  Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

 ENDNOTES

i    Results of comparisons betweenn racial/ethnic groups are necessarily qualified by the
uneven distribution of the respondent population in the age category.  Only 9 (6%) of the Latino
population sampled falls into the Older category whereas Older constitutes 26% of Whites, 24%
of Blacks and 19% of Asians.  Relatedly, 66% of Latino respondents fall withing the Younger age
group.  Comparable figures for the other racial/ethnic groups are: Blacks, 39%, Whites, 19%, and
Asians, 50%.  Thus, Latino trends tend to be overinfluenced by Young respondents and underinfluenced by Older respondents.  Whites tend to be somewhat underinfluenced by Young respondents and overinfluenced by Middle Age respondents.

ii   In the preliminary stages of data collection, ethinci groups were divided into subgroups of Asians and Latinos corresponding to different ethnic cultures.  In other words, data was initially collected separately for Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, etc.  However, subsequent comparative analyses of these groups in terms of films cited and responses to questions concerning film elements and emotional reactions to films cited indicated that there were no significant differences between these separate Asian cultures.  This allowed for collapsing different Asian cultures into one ethnic/racial group, Asian.  Similar results obtained for various Latino subgroups, viz., Mexican, Guatemalan, Salvadorian, etc.

iii   Meaning of Film Genres
    Drama: dramas (eg., The Deer Hunter, The Godfather) tend to be character and plot driven rather than action, comedy, or special effects driven.

    Action-Adventure: (e.g., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Bad Boys) the overriding focus of these films is fast pace, derring do, exploding guns, cars, and people.  Males tend to dominate the storyline and male interests and values are paramount, even if women are featured as "heroes or villains."  Females, except for the occasional movie like Thelma and Louise or La Femme Nikita, tend to be surbordinate interests and of subordinate focus.

Science Fiction: (e.g., Jurassic Park, Alien, Star Wars) often but not always close to action-adventure, films in this genre either take place in the future or involve the influence of futuristic or extraterrestrial forces impacting on the present.

Fantasy: (It's a Wonderful Life, Forrest Gump, Michael).  involve the influence of the magical, miraculous, or supernatural on everyday happenings and ordinary people.

Horror: designed to commerce in intense fear, whether induced by supernatural forces (e.g,, Nightmare on Elm Street) or by bizarre, deranged humans (e.g., Psycho, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?)

Musical: Films where the score is as much the star as the actors (e.g., Sound of Music, Fame).  Films which have music or scores which are secondary to the storyline (e.g., Wizard of Oz) are otherwise classified.

Murder/Thriller: Films which emphasize or focus with inordinate detail on the murder, maiming, or torturing of people in a realistic rather than Horror-type setting (e.g., Cape Fear, or almost any Scorsese movie)

Comedy: Films which protray people, relationships, or events in a deliberate and consistently humorous way iethe with jokes and one-liners or because of the situations conceived (e.g., Dumb and Dumber, A Fish Called Wanda, almost any Neil Simon movie).

Romance: Films, dramatic or comedic in mood, which focus on the love relationship between people (e.g., Gone With The Wind, When Harry Met Sally) or which have become known as epitomizing romance even if that was not necessarily the original conception or intent (e.g., Legends of the Fall).

Biblical-Religious: Films with biblical or religious themes (e.g., The Ten Commandments).

Animation: Films which are exclusively or primarily animated (Bambi, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?).

Sport-Based: Films where athletics is the thematic focus regardless of subplot (Rocky, Tin Cup).

Animal-Based: Films where animals, naturalistic or animatronic, are the leads or the focus (e.g., The Black Stallion, Babe).

Documentary: Films which are news film archival or non-fiction examination of real people or events or social movements (e.g., Life and Times of Harvey Milk, Roger and Me.)

iv.     It should be pointed out that films which our population selected as memorable or favorites are not necessarily movies which make the most money at the box office.  They are films which seem to linger in the memories of respondents when box office smashes may fade into memorial oblivion.  Consequently, although we have no data to support it, these films may endure a longer and more steady videocassette rental life and, when on broadcast or cable television, may continuously engender a core of faithful viewers.  Indeed, some movies which were, in effect, box office disappointments (e.g., Shawhank Redemption, The Joy Luck Club) were mentioned very frequently while box office smashes such as Jim Carrey's  Mask, went almost unacknowledged.

v.   As there are o published data indicating how lmany films from each genre are released each year in the U.S., it is ot possible to say whether this proportion of total number of films cited in the Drama genre, or any genre for that matter, is greater or less than might be expected solely on a chance basis.

vi.    The scarcity of Asian- or Latino-themed, regularly scheduled, English programs on broadcast channels makes it impossible to describe or predict each of those community's respective viewing habits.
 


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