Journal of Media Psychology
Favorite Film Choices: Influences of the Beholder and the Beheld
Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D.
Dept. of Psychology
Media Psychology Lab
California State University, Los Angeles
Journal of Media Psychology, Volume 3, Number 4, Fall, 1998
(Based on paper originally presented at APA, August, 1998)


A demographically diverse, nationwide sample of 560 respondents filled out a questionnaire regarding all-time favorite films, film genres, and elements contributing to film appreciation which were in the mind of the viewer or “up there on the screen,” i.e., elements of The Beholder and elements of The Beheld.  Major results of the study indicated that the movie genre Drama is the most popular genre in terms of all-time favorite films and it is the genre which engenders the most allegiance in terms of the genre proportions of the total number of all-time favorite films a respondent listed.  Results also found that what is “on the screen” (The Beheld) is a more potent force in determining a film’s all-time favorite status than what a viewer brings to the table in terms of seeking fantasy fulfillment, emotions experience, and autobiographic resonances to plot themes (The Beholder).  Additionally, the filmic elements of writing and of acting, directing, plot, central characters and cinematography were found to count more in the evaluation of a film than either the male or female leads.  Furthermore, male leads were found to be more potent as a force in all-time favorite films than were female leads.  Results also indicated that the experience of positive emotions outweighed the experience of negative emotion in favorite films.  Finally, while fantasy fulfillment is found in all films, different film genres cater to different fantasies and, surprisingly, sexual fantasies were of minor consequence for both males and females.  The most popular fantasy fulfillments concerned a triumvirate of time-honored themes.  They were, in order of importance, Triumph of the Underdog, Heroism, and Adventure.
    Over its youthful life span of a mere 100 years, movies have arguably replaced books and plays as this culture’s dominant popular art form, its primary source of both entertainment and fantasy fulfillment.  And while television is the more constant, daily source to feed the public’s information-entertainment appetite, people still genuflect to Hollywood and to the motion picture as the entertainment-fantasy fulfilling Mecca.

    How does the motion picture do its magic on the viewing audience?  What deep resonances in the human psyche are touched, sometimes forever, by the motion picture?  So dominant a popular culture art form as motion pictures, a form which shapes fashion, fantasies and individual and group ethnic, racial and gender identities, needs to be better understood if, as it can be argued, what we prefer in our films says something about us as individuals and as a society.

    Previous research conducted by the author (Fischoff, 1994, Fischoff, Lewis, and Antonio, 1997) showed that which genre of film a person favors is a good predictor of which all-time favorite films titles a person will cite.  Others have explored why a person likes a particular film or film genre (e.g., Litman, 1983, Austin,1986), and how demographic groups differ in terms of such preferences (Fischoff, et al, 1997).  There have also been studies on how effectively and reliably films can elicit targeted emotions (Gross and Levinson, 1995; Philippot, 1993), on films which elicit stress reactions (Johnson, 1980), fright reactions (Cantor, 1994; Carroll, 1990), on specific films (JFK) which impact on emotions, beliefs and political behavioral intentions (Butler, Cooperman, & Zimbardo, 1995), and on films which appeal to fantasies of hostility (Tamborini, 1991) and of the erotic (Weaver, 1991).  Tan (1996) has looked at the entire enterprise of films as an emotion-producing machine, even exploring the issue of whether emotions experienced while watching a film are, in fact, real emotions or only seem like emotions.  (He concludes that, if the content is there to elicit an emotion, even if it is on a two dimensional surface, like a screen, it is still a real emotion).
At the more mundane level of discourse, box office receipts tell us which films garner the greatest audiences and “all time best” lists of (if not the most audience-popular) movies have recently emerged (Newsweek, 1998).  There have, however, been few if any public, non-film-studio-sponsored studies which have attempted a large-sample, detailed analysis of both the filmic and the psycho-emotional qualities which contribute to a film being a viewer’s (as distinct from a critic’s) all-time favorite.  This was one of the purposes of the present study.

    Consistent with Uses and Gratifications theory (Blumer and Katz, 1974), a film’s impact and meaning may be seen as a joint function of both what the artists (individually or collaboratively) intended to create and what the audience seeks and/or receives from a film.  The overall impact of a film, then, emerges from the interaction between these two complimentary sources.  Each brings its intentions and expectations to the table and the outcome of the interaction is oftentimes difficult to anticipate.

    There are two primary perspectives when evaluating a total film experience , that of The Beholder and that of The Beheld.  The Beholder perspective addresses characteristics of the viewing audience (fantasies fulfilled, positive or negative emotional reactions, autobiographic associations, etc.) hereafter referred to as viewer elements.  The Beheld perspective addresses characteristics of the film (actors, direction, plot, cinematography, etc.) hereafter referred to as filmic elements. Clearly the evaluation of a work is as much in the eye of The Beholder as it is in the properties of The Beheld.  This combustible mixture of film intentions and audience expectations accounts, in part, for why movies are popular and critical successes or failures on both counts.  It also may account for why some films are memorable and others quite forgettable.

    While research into the emotional impact of film (e.g., Cantor, 1991; Tan, 1996; Zillmann & Bryant,1991) has looked at indices of emotional reactions to film in a piecemeal fashion, there is little empirical evidence on the gestalt of the total film experience, i.e., the feeling one takes away from the theater at the completion of the movie.  Film experiences are indeed comprised of visual and auditory episodes of emotionalism strung together for 90-120 minutes.  But the true impact of a film is a process which cannot be adequately understood without the entire film experience, beginning to end, being assessed.  Moments in time are contributory parts but not the whole of the experience of a movie.

    Often, essays on the subject of what it is about films that people find so appealing have focused on the issue of fantasy fulfillment.  Movies are considered to be the principal source of such fulfillment in contemporary popular culture both as regards academic (Austin, 1989; Mitroff and Bennis, 1989; Munsterberg, H., 1916/1970; Sorlin, 1977; Tan, 1996; virtually any psychoanalytic study of a film) and non-academic discourse (e.g., Schickel, 1985).  Indeed, the success of the current megahit, Titanic, and such movies as Gone With The Wind or Pretty Woman have been touted as being so popular precisely because they fulfilled romantic fantasies of women, while such movies as Star Wars allegedly fulfilled a variety of male fantasies such as being a hero, having a rip-snorting adventure, and getting the ultimate revenge.

    Previous research by the author (Fischoff, 1994, Fischoff, Lewis, and Antonio, 1997) found significant differences between males and females concerning preferences for film genres and for specific films.  The research also found that females were very willing to rate highly male-oriented films (e.g., Star Wars or Braveheart) while males were rather unlikely to return the favor for female-oriented films (e.g., Beaches, Thelma and Louise or Fried Green Tomatoes).  It was of interest in the present study, therefore, to explore if gender differences were equally substantial when it came to ratings of filmic and viewer elements of favorite films.  Of particular interest was how males and females may differ concerning the types of fantasies fulfilled by favorite motion pictures.  Gender stereotypes would predict that males would find adventure and hero fantasies and sexual fantasies more fulfilled by favorite films than would females.  Females, on the other hand, would be expected to find the fantasies of being loved and being needed and, more generally, romance fantasies fulfilled by favorite motion pictures.

    The present study sought to explore the following research questions (RQs):
    RQ1.  What are the respective contributions of filmic elements (The Beheld) e.g.,  actors, director, plot, cinematography, etc. and of  viewer elements (The Beholder) e.g., emotional reactions, autobiographic associations, fantasy fulfillments, etc., to the determination of a film as a viewer’s favorite?
    RQ2.  Do negative emotions or positive emotions contribute more in the appreciation of a favorite film?
    RQ3.  How important is viewer fantasy fulfillment in a favorite film?
    RQ4. How do males and females differ in terms of the particular kinds of and weight attributed to fantasy fulfillment and experiencing positive, negative or valence-neutral emotions when adjudging a film to be a favorite?
    RQ5. Are some genres disproportionately represented in the collective list of the sample population’s all-time favorite films?
    RQ6. Individually, do viewers show evidence of a “favorite genre,” i.e., a genre from which the majority of their favorite films have been drawn?

Subject Sample
    A nation-wide sample of 560 respondents, (Male, n=264, Female, n=296) ranging in ages from 15-83 , (Average age males =38.7, Average age females = 32.7), 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 pool .  Respondents were contacted either in person or by mail.  Data was collected between April, 1996 and February, 1997
    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.”  Respondents were then asked to select and explore, on a more detailed level, their all-time favorite film through a series of questions about it.  The Likert-type questions were broken up into two parts, each part presented on a separate page. The first part consisted of 40 items identified as Film Elements (filmic elements).  Respondents indicated on a six-point scale how important (6 = Very Important) each listed element was in their appreciation of the selected film.  On the second part, identified to the Ss as Emotions or Feelings (viewer elements), respondents were asked to rate the degree of presence of the listed 42 emotions, fantasy fulfillments and autobiographic associations experienced when viewing the selected film.  Respondents indicated on a six-point scale the degree of presence of that element (6 = Strongly Present) in the film they selected.

    Both filmic and viewer elements were subsequently collapsed into a series of 16 factors which were created to reduce the 82 elements to a more manageable level.  This was accomplished by clustering items into factors based on intuitive relationships, reliability coefficients (Chronbach’s alpha) and factor analytic techniques.  Some elements were found to be so totally unimportant (means scores close to 1) in the evaluation of a film that they were excluded from further analysis.  Elements relating to gay and lesbian themes, physical or mental handicap themes and animals with human trait (Disneyesque) fantasies were illustrative of these excluded elements.  Other elements did not fit into any meaningful factor cluster and were, therefore, analyzed separately.  Valence-neutral emotional elements such as envy, excited, tearful, drained/exhausted, and filmic elements such as the portrayal of ethnic, religious, racial points of view, are illustrative.  In the end a total of 67 elements and 16 factors were the subject of the analysis discussed below, except where otherwise noted.  Results are discussed both in terms of Factor Scores and in term of individual element scores.

Film Genres
    Films cited were classified according to genre.  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). Although there is obviously no “true,” definitive classification of film genres, the genres used to classify films in the present study 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; Martin & Porter, 1996; Skorman, 1989).
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, and Sport-Based.  ( Descriptions 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 viewer elements of these film subgenres revealed that they had more in common with Romance and Action-Adventure, respectively, than they did with Comedy.

    A portion of the research data under discussion was previously presented (Fischoff et al. 1997).  While that presentation looked at the comparative analysis of 14 film genres, the present study looks at only seven genres: Action-Adventure, Drama, Comedy, Romance, Musical, Science Fiction, and Fantasy.  Films representing the genres Horror, Animation, Murder/thriller, Religious, Documentary, Animal-Based, and Sport-Based were excluded from the present analysis because so few films representing each of these genres were selected by respondents to be explored as all-time favorites.  Of a total of 531 films (one per S) so explored (out of a total of 5,930 originally cited), only 26 films represented these excluded genres.

Genre Popularity
    Answering the fifth Research Question(RQ) Are some genres disproportionately represented in the collective list of the sample population’s all-time favorite films, Tables 1 and 2 below show that, regardless of gender or age, the Drama genre is the one from which the greatest proportion of all-time favorite movies are cited.

Table 1
Proportion of All Cited Films by Genre and by Sex of Respondents

Table 2
Proportion of All Cited Films by Genre and by Age of Respondents

    The popularity of the Drama genre was also evident in the genre of the film that each S chose to answer questions about on a detailed level.  Table 3 below displays the means of 15 factor scores and the means of the sub-elements of which they were comprised.  The 16th factor, Fantasies Fulfilled, is presented on a separate table below.  Of the seven possible genres from which to draw a favorite film, the Drama genre was the overwhelming genre of choice.  Fully 45 % of all favorite films selected to be scrutinized by Ss were Dramas.  The next two highest represented genres were Romance (17%) and Action-Adventure (11%).  All other genres were cited in single digit percentages.

Table 3
Factor and Sub-Item Scores for All Ss, Genres, and Genders

    This result in favor of the Drama genre relates directly to RQ 6 which concerned whether individually viewers show evidence of a “favorite genre,” i.e., a genre from which the majority of their favorite films have been drawn?  In other words, are people who are partial to one film genre (e.g., Comedy), likely to select most of their favorite films from this genre?  It may be expected that since the Drama genre is the favorite genre, there may be a greater likelihood for people who prefer the Drama to include other Dramas in their all-time favorite list as compared with people who mentioned other genres in their lists.

    To answer this question, an analysis was conducted on the responses of Ss who cited at least four favorite films.  The average number of films cited by each S was 11.1.  It was felt that four was a minimally sufficiently number of cited films from which to discern trends in genre preferences.  For each S, the number of films cited from each genre as a percentage of the total number of films cited was calculated.  Using 51% cited films from a particular genre as the cutoff point, the following distribution emerged (see Table 4 below):

Table 4
Genre Allegiance
Total N = 510

    The results of the analysis are unambiguous.  Of the Ss who cited Dramas, 21% of them had Dramas constitute at least 50% of all their cited films.  The closest genre rival was Science Fiction.  Only 5% of those Ss, however, had Science Fiction films constituting at least 50% of the total number of favorite films cited.  Clearly, then, the Drama genre engenders the most consistent genre allegiance of the 14 genres initially explored.

Age and Genre Preferences
        Although in the present research paper, age was not a demographic variable involved in the analyses (It was explored in depth in Fischoff, et al, 1997), it is noteworthy that, in terms of all films cited by the three age groups -- Young (25 years old and younger), Middle (ages 26-49) and Older (50 and above) -- significant differences in genre preferences emerged on 10 of the 14 (64%) genres (see Table 2 above).  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 all age groups, its strength of preference for Young Ss was significantly below that for Middle and Older respondents.  Additionally,  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.  Middle and Older age Ss were the more likely to cite Romance genre movies as their all time favorite.

    Younger people were responsible for the citing of the majority of Action-Adventure movies as well as the majority of Animation, Horror and Murder/Thriller movies.  Hollywood studios, based on their own research on box office demographics, generally target the under-25 set when they release these genres of films.  The results reported here, then, are to be expected.

Filmic and Viewer Element Factor Differences
    RQ 1 concerned whether filmic or viewer elements differed in terms of their respective contributions to the determination of a film being a viewer’s favorite.

                                                                        Table 5

Ranked Mean Factor Scores For All Ss Across All Genres

    The factor Featured Elements combines the most popularly understood and discussed aspects of a movie: central characters, acting, direction and cinematography.  Leading man and leading woman elements were not included in this factor because they had unacceptable correlations with these elements and, for that matter, with most of the other elements in the survey.  These movie leads, however, did find a marginally acceptable statistical home with the factors Maleness and Femaleness.

    Recall that the 67 filmic and viewer elements were mostly collapsed into 16 factors.  As Table 5 above indicates (statistical analyses of genre comparisons are reported in Table 3 above), the factor Featured Elements yielded the highest mean (M) rating when summing across genres (M = 5.17).  This indicates that the four elements (acting, director, central characters, and cinematography) are, in combination, considered the most important elements in determining a movie’s all-time favorite status.

    The Action-Adventure genre attained the highest Featured Elements mean Factor score (M = 5.37) while Comedy attained the lowest (M = 4.78).  All other genres had means at or above 5.0.  Statistical analysis indicated that, while the Comedy genre was significantly lower than all the other genres, the other genres were not significantly different from each other.

    An interesting sideline to these results concerns age and genre preference.  Since younger Ss were the more likely to cite an Action-Adventure movie as an all-time favorite, apparently they consider the Featured Elements to be as important to the enjoyment of this genre as to any other genre.  While critics frequently describe Action-Adventure movies as “popcorn” fare, younger viewers obviously have aesthetic disagreements with such an assessment.  In their minds there are obviously artistic standards in Action-Adventure movies which are as important as they might be in Dramas.
Comedy is another story.

    It will become apparent from the results presented below that the Comedy genre frequently ranks lowest of all the genres in terms of perceived importance of the filmic and viewer elements which were the focus of the present study.  Audiences obviously love comedies, especially romantic comedies like When Harry Met Sally, and comedies comprise a substantial portion of the films released each year.  However, when it comes to evaluating the artistry of the craft of comedy writing, like Rodney Dangerfield, Comedy “can’t get no respect.”  This is the case even though, according to most writers and actors, Comedy is one of the most difficult genres to successfully execute.  This is not to say that these elements are not recognized as important in the Comedy genre, only that, compared with the other genres, these elements are comparatively less important to respondents.

    The next highest Factor, also the factor comprised of the greatest number of elements, 14, was Writing, (M = 4.84).  This mean rating is significantly different than the Featured Elements Factor (p < .001).  Statistical analysis indicated that Drama (M=4.94) and Romance (M = 4.92) attained the highest factor mean scores while Comedy (M = 4.40) attained the lowest.  Clearly, the elements which constitute the Writing Factor are extremely important to the appreciation of a favorite film.  The fact that writers themselves are “suffered” by studios and remain anonymous to all but the most Hollywood savvy audiences, stands as a curiosity that will be explored later.

    The third highest factor, Maleness (M = 4.17), contained elements relating to the male gender (male lead, the portrayal of men, and identified with male lead).  Its mean rating is significantly lower than that of the Writing Factor (p < .001).  Statistical analysis revealed that the genres Action-Adventure (M = 4.64) and Romance (M = 4.45) yielded the highest means for this factor and were significantly different from the genre with the lowest mean, Science Fiction (M = 3.70). Thus, while males found much to identify with in the traditional male genre domain, Action-Adventure, they found much to identify with as well in what is traditionally considered to be a female genre domain, Romance.

    These three top factors deal almost exclusively with filmic elements.  Clearly, then, filmic elements, i.e., what is up there on the screen, contributed more in terms of a film being considered an all-time favorite than viewer elements, e.g., emotions, fantasies fulfilled and autobiographic resonances.  Few other viewer elements, even at the individual genre level, rivaled the means of and most sub-elements in the Featured Elements and Writing Factors.

Fantasy Fulfillments

    RQ 3 concerned the importance of fantasy fulfillment in favorite films.  The Fantasy Fulfillment Factor in the present study was comprised of 12 fantasies which have been frequently mentioned as reasons why movies have such a universal appeal (Austin, 1989, Tan, 1996).  Results from the present research seems to suggest, however, that while films do have the ability to fulfill certain fantasies, fantasy fulfillment is not necessarily (at least consciously) their strongest suit.  What is “on the screen” seems the more potent force.

    It is probably true that no movie fulfills all of an audience member’s fantasies, nor is it expected to do so.  Research has shown that different moods are evoked by different films (Martin, 1990).  The same is assuredly true for the subject of fantasies.  So, it is perhaps not surprising that, while statistical analysis showed a significant difference between genres in terms of Fantasy Fulfillment (an ANOVA yielded a significant main effect for Genre, F = 4.27, 6.487, p < .001), the overall mean, or average, for the Fantasy Fulfillment Factor, across all genres, was only 2.32.  This mean score, a point on the six point Likert-type scale (6 = Strongly Present), suggests that, across all genres, Fantasy Fulfillment was only a modest presence in the configuration of forces which went into a film being considered an all-time favorite.

    Even when we look at the 12 fantasies which constituted the Fantasy Fulfillment Factor as they exercised their influence in each movie genre individually, the potency of influence is still, in most instances, surprisingly modest.  Table 6 below shows the mean fantasy scores for each fantasy for each genre.  The highest Fantasy rating for each genre is printed in bold type.

Table 6
Mean Fantasy Fulfillment Scores by Genre

    Looking at the interplay between genre and particular fantasies, surprises are few but nonetheless provide empirical validation for “common knowledge.”  Action-Adventure movies have their highest fantasy scores with Adventure (M = 4.78) and Hero (M = 4.81) fantasies.  Drama’s highest score is for the Triumph of the Underdog fantasy (M = 3.29), which is also the highest for Comedy (M = 3.12), suggesting that Comedy and Drama share common themes -- conflict and triumph over adversity.  Fantasies fulfilled for films from the Romance genre were, as might be expected, Romance (M = 3.83)and Being Loved (M = 3.69).  The Musical genre fulfilled Musical fantasies (M = 4.90) most strongly while Science Fiction and Fantasy fulfilled Adventure (M = 4.81) and Triumph of the Underdog fantasies (M = 3.36) respectively.  Given that in previous research (Fischoff, et al, 1997) a movie like Star Wars was a strong leader in the Science Fiction genre and movies like Forrest Gump and It’s A Wonderful Life were top contenders in the Fantasy genre, the fantasies fulfilled by them, are easy to understand.

Table 7 below shows the mean scores for each fantasy across all genres rather than inspecting each genre individually.  It also compares males and females in terms of Fantasy Fulfillment scores.

Table 7
Average Fantasy Fulfillment Across All Genres For All Ss and For Males and Females


    While all Fantasy scores for all Ss across all genres, viewed collectively, are fairly low to moderate (M = 2.32), several results stand out.  The fantasy of Triumph of the Underdog is the most consistently strong presence of all fantasies, followed closely by Hero and Adventure ratings in that order.  One of the fantasies served rather minimally by filmgoers is the Sexual fantasy (M = 2.02).  As Table 8 below shows, this is true even when age is taken into consideration.  Although younger people are more responsive to sexuality and nudity in movies than are older people, the responsiveness is nonetheless quite modest.  Nor is gender a differentiating component.  It is modest for males as well as females.  This will be discussed in greater detail in the next section.

 Table 8
Sex Factor, Sexual Fantasy Fulfillment and Romance Element Means by Age and by Gender

Gender Differences
    RQ 4 was concerned with how males and females differed as regards filmic and viewer elements. As Table 3 above evidences, males and females are impressively similar on many of their ratings in this regard.  The largest differences between them tend to be found within the Maleness and Femaleness factors (see Close-up, Table 9 below) and with the Autobiographic Resonance Factor, the Violence Factor, Positive and Negative Emotions Factors and Special Effects Factor.
Based on previous research (Andrews, 1993, May 23; Fischoff, 1994) it is not surprising that the overall mean (M= 3.64) for the Femaleness Factor, containing items relating to the female gender (female lead, portrayal of women, identified with female lead) was significantly lower than the comparable Maleness Factor mean (M =  4.19,t = 5.36, df = 505, p < .001).  Women are more likely to relate to and identify with the male lead than are men, correspondingly, to the female lead.  In fact, if the means for male and female respondents on Table 9 below are inspected, it is abundantly clear that, while there is no substantial difference between males and females when it comes to rating same sex elements in the gender factors (Femaleness for females, M = 4.30, Maleness for males, M = 4.54), a difference of .14, it is in opposite gender ratings that gender differences are most blatantly apparent.  Females identify with male elements to a moderate degree, but less than they identify with female elements (M = 3.84 for Maleness vs. M = 4.30 for Femaleness). but this difference is a substantially smaller one than is the parallel case for males.  Males are much less inclined to identify with the female elements (M = 2.98 for Femaleness and M = 4.54 for Maleness, Mean difference = 1.56 (t = 12.76, df = 240, p < .001).
Table 9
         Male and Female Means on Same Sex and Opposite Sex Factors

    While there was no difference between the genders in terms of the overall Sex Factor, females found the sub-element sensuousness of the story, significantly more important than did males (Females, M = 3.52, Males, M = 2.91, t = 3.65, df = 503, p < .001).

    Clearly sexual fantasy needs do not count very high in moviegoer minds when it comes to being forever touched by a movie.  Sex may play an important role in finding a movie enjoyable (recall Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct).  But romance, rather than sex, has far more power to enflame the heart and mind.  And, as Table 8 indicates, when inspecting the means for Romance and Sexual fantasies, this is true for both males and females, although it is significantly more true for females when it comes to Romance Fantasies (M = 4.03 for females) than it is for males (M = 3.21 for males).
Stereotypes of the two genders predict that the element sensuousness would, indeed, be favored by females.  But stereotypes would also predict that sex and nudity would be favored by males.  This does not seem to be the case for all-time favorite films. Respondents of both genders generally downplayed the importance of sex and nudity.

    Along more anticipated lines, in terms of the Violence Factor and its sub-elements, males were the more likely to find violence an important factor in their favoring a movie.  As Table 3 indicates, males score significantly higher than females on the four element ratings which constituted the Violence Factor, with particular partiality paid to the elements of action and violence.  It should be noted, however, that even though males favored elements in the Violence Factor more than females, the importance of such elements to both groups was, at best, moderate.

 Positive and Negative Emotions
    As Table 3 indicates, females were more likely to have experienced a strong presence of Positive Emotions than males.  But there was no significant difference between the genders as regards the Negative Emotions Factor.  At the individual element level, however, certain expected differences did emerge.  Females considered the presence of the emotions romance, happiness, sadness, and hope more important in their all-time favorite films than did males.  Males report the presence of more anxiety in their favorite films than did females.

    On the valence-neutral emotion elements envy and tearful, females produced higher mean scores than males, while males felt that excitement was a stronger presence in favorite films than did females.

Gender Differences in Fantasies Fulfilled
    When looking at gender differences (refer to Table 7 above), males score somewhat higher than females on the Fantasy Factor (all fantasy fulfillments combined, M = 2.44 for Males and M = 2.21 for Females).  Interestingly, while females score highest on the romance fantasy (M = 3.07, not unexpected) and second highest on the being loved fantasy (M = 3.02), their third highest fantasy fulfilled is Triumph of the Underdog.  Males score highest on Hero and Triumph of the Underdog and Adventure fantasies.  Thus, both males and females attach importance to Triumph of the Underdog fantasy fulfillment.

    Surprisingly, males score somewhat higher than females on the fantasy of Being Needed, although the difference between the sexes was not statistically significant and the means are at the lower end of the scale.  Clearly, both males and females place stronger emphasis on Being Loved than on Being Needed.  It should be noted, however, for Ss who mentioned Action-Adventure films as their favorites, Being Needed was rated higher than Being Loved.

    To summarize, the genders expressed fantasy fulfillments in predictable, gender consistent ways and Triumph of the Underdog is seemingly the strongest fantasy served to filmgoers, at least in terms of all-time favorite films.  Finally, fulfilling sexual fantasies is not a high priority item when it comes to all-time favorite films for men or women.  And despite current gender stereotypes, men, like women, are more touched by movies which fulfill Romance fantasies than Sexual fantasies.

    In terms of the Pride Factor, neither gender was particularly more or less likely to find the issues of pride in gender, in culture, or in race of significant importance in all-time favorite films.  While gender pride was the highest mean for the three pride variables, both males and females had means well below 3.00, suggesting that such pride did not figure prominently in movie evaluation.

    This result is not to suggest that how males and females are portrayed on screen is considered unimportant.  Females were significantly more partial to feeling pride in gender than were males (Females, M = 3.10, Males, M = 2.68).  Moreover, as Maleness and Femaleness Factor sub-elements indicate, subject identification with the same sex lead and same sex reactions to the portrayal of males and females revealed strong same sex gender biases.  However, females rated the portrayal of men more important than men did the portrayal of women.  Males seem to carry the inclination toward gender polarization both in life and in their film preferences.

Selected Factors

Male and Female Leads
    As noted above, the elements male and female leads did not fit within the Featured Elements Factor because of unacceptably low intercorrelations with other elements in the Factor.  But they deserve special consideration given the important place that movie stars hold, both in the public mind and in the casting and marketing considerations of film studios.  Overall, as Table 10 below indicates, male leads figure more importantly than female leads in all films when ignoring the issue of genre (M =  4.79 and M = 4.31 for male and female leads respectively, Mean Difference = .59, T = 5.89, df = 504, p < .001).  The male lead figures most prominently in the Action-Adventure and Romance genres.  Indeed, with the exception of the Musical genre, the male lead element is consistently rated higher in importance than the female lead.

    When the respective ratings of male and female leads are broken down by gender, it is obvious that this gender difference is largely attributed to the tendency for males to discriminate more than females in the differential weight attached to male and female leads.  As Table 10 reveals, for female Ss, while there are slight mean rating differences between male and female leads, some of which favor male leads and others which favor female leads, none of those differences are statistically significant.

    Just the opposite is true for male Ss.  Five out of seven of the genres evidence statistically significant differences between male and female leads.  The difference is always in the direction of higher ratings for male leads, except for the Musical genre.  That difference, while substantial, is not statistically significant because only six male Ss cited a favorite film from the Musical genre.

Table 10
Rating of Male and Female Leads by Genre and by Gender

Positive Vs Negative Emotions

    RQ 2 concerned the differential importance of Positive and Negative Emotions in favorite films.  Results of the present study (see Table 3) indicate that movies tap into a full range of emotions but that, on balance, Positive Emotions significantly outpace Negative Emotions (Mean = 3.85 and Mean = 3.30, for Positive and Negative Emotions respectively).  When genres are inspected individually, only for the Drama genre is there a reverse of this relationship with the negative emotion, sadness, likely most responsible for this most modest reversal.

    For all Ss across all genres, the Positive Emotions of hope and inspiration yielded the highest mean scores.  But the emotion happiness has the absolute highest score (M = 5.61) when genres are looked at individually.  This occurred for the Musical genre.  The genres Comedy and Fantasy were second and third most highest.

    Musical aficionados seem to be the happiest of moviegoers.  That the Musical genre has fallen on such bad times of late seems to be unfortunate for those who seek happiness at the cinema, although Comedy and Fantasy films seem to fill some of the void left by the decline in musical productions.  Young people do not seem to appreciate the few musicals which are released and older people hang on to the memories of films like Singing In The Rain, Gigi, and The King and I.  In fact as reported elsewhere (Fischoff, et al 1997) only the movie The Sound of Music seems to be alive and well in the minds of people of all ages.  For those under 25, except for the movie Grease, the musical is generally “a genre without portfolio.”  Unpublished research supporting a similar dismissal of the Musical genre by young people was found by psychologist Martin Kaplan of Northern Illinois University (personal communication, July 23, 1998).

    Looking at Negative Emotions ratings at the individual genre level, Dramas elicit the highest. (M = 3.70), followed by Action-Adventure (M = 3.40).  For people citing a Drama as the most favorite film, clearly emotions such as anger, sadness, and anxiety, while classified as Negative, are nonetheless important experiences in the ultimate enjoyment of a film.  The emotion, tearful, which seemed to fit with no factor, yielded a mean score of 3.50.  It did not fit into the Negative Emotion category because people cry for good and bad reasons, for joy and for sadness.  In the present study, the correlation between tearful and sadness was .51, but intercorrelations of tearful were only .20 with happiness, .31 with hope and .21 with inspired.  This suggests that tearful is more connected with negative than positive emotions, speaking to tears of sadness rather than to tears of joy.

    Drama yielded the lowest rating for happiness (M = 3.80).  Drama, then, had the highest rating for sadness and the lowest rating for happiness when compared with all other movie genres.  The fact, as mentioned above, that Dramas are also the most frequently mentioned all-time favorite movies and that the Drama genre elicited the greatest viewer allegiance, suggests that in a movie theater there is more to life than the pursuit of happiness.

The Violence Factor

    The Violence Factor does not appear to be a notable element for contributing to a movie’s status as a favorite in terms of the genres covered in the present analysis.  The overall mean of the Violence Factor, across all genres, is 2.65, placing it into a slightly unimportant status (a mean substantially below the 4.41 mean it garnered with the Horror and Murder genres, both of which had too few movie citations to be included in the present analysis).  The Violence Factor mean ratings for Action-Adventure and Science Fiction were 3.52 and 3.68 respectively.  These were the two genres in which violence elements figured most favorably.  Of all elements in the Violence Factor, action carried the most weight, and, again, Action-Adventure and Science Fiction were the leaders in terms of mean action score (M = 4.75 and M = 5.19 for the respective genres).
The Writing Factor
    As Table 3 indicates, within the Writing Factor, the sub-elements of plot, dialogue, character relationships and ending are the most important writing contributions to a movie’s being an all-time favorite.  The film’s message or moral is also a significant factor in this regard.  In terms of genres viewed individually, the Drama genre reveals the greatest importance attached to the elements of Writing (M = 4.94) while the Comedy genre is ranked lowest in the importance of Writing Factor elements (M = 4.40).  Lowest, it should be reminded, is not to be construed as meaning that writing is unimportant, merely that, compared with other genres, it registers as less important.

The Ending
    As regards Comedy, it is no surprise that the humor in the storyline is the most important writing element.  Nor is it, upon reflection, surprising that the Comedy genre places the least emphasis on the ending.  It has long been understood that how a film ends can disproportionately and profoundly affect a moviegoer’s evaluation of a film (one of the reasons why focus groups lead production companies to change endings, as in, e.g., Fatal Attraction) because it is a summarizing point in the storyline.  In effect, the ending colors one’s sense of adequacy or inadequacy of closure of the story that has just unfolded.  Comedies, by comparison, if executed well, so entertain throughout that the ending itself carries less weight than the stream of images and positive feelings which preceded it.  To put it bluntly, if one is truly amused all the way through, so what if the ending fell short.

Genre Preference and Age
    The results shown in age preferences for particular film genres are consistent with previous research (Fischoff, 1994) which also showed that, regardless of gender, Older Ss favored Drama and Romance over all other genres while those in the younger age categories showed a wider distribution across all genres of favorite movie citations.  This reinforces the evidence for the tendency for older Ss to be more impressed by matters of the heart and matters of the human condition than by matters of violence, murder and mayhem and fantasy dimensions of Hollywood’s take on life on the screen.  In that sense, values looked for in movie fare may correspond to values holding a prominent position in the affairs of life.

    This age-related movie genre preference is consistent with the writings of Erik  H. Erikson (1959) and his theory of life span development and its elaboration by Peck (1968) and others.  They assert that, as males age, they become more concerned with wisdom than physical power, more concerned with social relations and companionship than with sexuality, and more involved with family and self-awareness than with taking on the world and beating it, if not into a pulp, at least into submission to their wants, needs and raging hormones.  Women, it should be noted, reveal fairly consistent preferences across age groups for Drama and Romance films.  The big change, then, occurs in men
Fantasy Elements
    Each film genre caters to a different subset of fantasies.  Nevertheless, the importance of the fantasy Triumph of the Underdog as compared with all other fantasies across all genres cannot be overstated.  Clearly this is a theme that most anyone can relate to.  Most people have been, at one point or another, an underdog in a dog eat dog, power oriented society.  The fact that, collapsing across all genres, Triumph of the Underdog fantasy is even higher than the Hero fantasy speaks to the likelihood that our collective fantasy of triumphing speaks more about redressing an imbalance than about standing out from the crowd per se and receiving its accolades.  Other fantasies can be higher than Triumph of the Underdog in any particular Genre (e.g., in Action-Adventure or Science Fiction where  the Adventure fantasy ranks higher), but looking at movies collectively rather than by genre, the Triumph of the Underdog Fantasy assumes the dominant place.

    Taken as a group, the fantasies of Hero, Triumph of the Underdog and Adventure is a triumvirate which supports the notions that underlie not only most Hollywood movies but fairy tales, music lyrics, biblical parables and legends, and epic poems.  From one nation to another and from one millineum to the next, the human species has spoken with a singular and dramatic voice:  We are insatiably and vicariously enthralled with tales of legendary or mythic role models who explore the dangerous and the unknown and who demonstrate the triumph of the human spirit over the forces of tyranny and oppression. In virtually all media of expression, American popular culture carries the torch of this historic voice.  Our rooting for the underdog in our motion pictures, the quintessential literature of our popular culture, is no exception.

Featured Elements
    Featured Elements expresses an importance which might and should be expected.  Its constituent sub-items, central characters, acting, directing, and cinematography, are some of the most obvious and visible aspects of any film experience.  Whether or not, however, audiences truly understand the role of the director and/or could distinguish between a good and less good or poor director is a moot point.  And, while cinematography is “on the screen” for all to see and appreciate, few moviegoers with whom I have spoken understand or ever even mention the craft as contributing to their appreciation of a film.  Special effects and spectacular vistas is one thing, cinematography is quite another.  It may be that directing and cinematography are terms with which people are familiar, crafts for which Oscars are given but they get knee jerk credit, not because of an audience’s discerning eye but because one simply loves or admires a film and thus all of the creative elements are bathed in a halo effect.

     By contrast, acting and central characters are less arcane film elements and, indeed, most people will describe these elements when praising or trashing a movie.  In other words, audiences may not know directing but they believe they know acting.  But, it is important to recall that every element in the Featured Elements Factor received a mean score higher than what is generally considered to be the movie selling top item, the star(s), especially the male lead.  Only when it comes to the genres Action-Adventure and Romance does the male lead achieve even a minutely higher rating than the Featured Elements mean rating achieves across genres.

The Writing Factor
    Much of what appears on the screen originates in the mind of the writer of a film whether or not it is the original writer or his or her collaborators or rewriters.  Yet, few audience members even know the name of the writer of a favorite film.  In a previous study by Fischoff (1994), 73% of the over 500 respondents said that the writer of a film was not a factor when considering whether or not to see a movie.  Actors and, to a lesser degree, directors are arguably the most recognized members of the ensemble who bring a movie to a theater.  Yet, in most instances the writer’s mind has created the plot or storyline, the characters, the dialogue, the mood, the pace, the dramatic tension, the (non-Jim Carrey, non-Robin Williams) dialogue-rich humor, the sensitivity to the details of human interaction and, finally, the ending.  Withal, the ultimate irony in Hollywood is the oft-told theory that many movie fans think that the actors make up the dialogue and the director creates the story.  The writer is, thus, the invisible, unsung force in creating a movie and the writer’s efforts are clearly recognized but, alas, unattributed.

    Results of the present study indicate that this obscurity is in name only.  Audiences clearly recognize the importance of the screenwriter(s), even if they don’t know for sure just how much he/she does in terms of what is on the screen.

Positive and Negative Emotions
    Females found Positive Emotions more important to a movie being an all-time favorite than did males.  Males, moreover, found such Negative Emotions as anger, anxiety, outrage and terror as having a greater presence in their all-time favorite movies than females.  Males also indicated that violence played a larger role in their favorite film than did females.  Finally, males are more likely than females to be excited and drained or exhausted when watching a favorite film than are females.  Females, on the other hand, are far more likely to enjoy crying and feeling sad.

    Positive Emotions weighed in more heavily in the appreciation of favorite movies than negative emotions.  This bias was especially the case for females while males enjoyed negative and adrenalized emotions to a far greater extent than females.

    Thus, males and females both experience a rich emotional life in the movie viewing, they just emote in different ways and for different reasons.  Males might like to play the safe harbor to their female dates when watching a film like Scream, but evidence here suggests that the safe harbor harbors a false front.

Filmic Vs Viewer Elements
    As stated previously, the factor Featured Elements attained the highest overall rating while the second highest Factor was Writing.  Clearly, of course, what is on the screen has no intrinsic meaning independent of what a viewer brings to the table.  A male or female lead, an evaluation of dialogue, direction, cinematography, etc., all these variables derive their ultimate meaning from the bank of film memories a viewer brings to each new movie experience.  And what a repository of film experiences it is.  Conservatively, by the time a person reaches the age of 25 they have seen almost 3,000 motion pictures, either in theaters or on their television screen.

    Still, viewers are more likely to see what is on the screen as something external to themselves than as an interaction of perceived and perceiver characteristics.  People talk about their emotional reactions to a film in terms of what a film caused them to experience, i.e., “something out there did something to something in me.”  They do not customarily say, “my experience and background led me to experience the movie in this or that way.”  In effect, it may be conjectured that most people who view movies externalize responsibility for their enjoyment or evaluation of a film.  There are, of course, exceptions.  People have been heard to say, ”I don’t know, the film just didn’t move me even though everyone else in the audience was crying,” or, “I didn’t care for it.  Maybe because I didn’t feel good that day,” or “I just couldn’t relate to it,” etc. But, these are exceptions to the usual reactions to a film.  Thus, it is not surprising that filmic elements were generally given the highest ratings as compared with viewer elements.

    In conclusion, results from the present study indicate that the appeal of movies is a complex network of interacting and cross-influencing forces in The Beholder and The Beheld.  What forces go into a movie becoming an all-time favorite may not be the same forces which entice people to go out on a Saturday or on a hot, August night.  What makes a movie linger in our hearts and minds is likely the chemistry of dreams, passions, deep, even subconscious resonances and our fascination with movie stars and the fantasies they play out, reaching from the sound stages of Hollywood to the shared and private moments we anticipate and often realize when we enter the theater, sit down and forget about the reality which we left at the entrance doors and embrace the reality offered on the screen before us.


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