When you walk into a showing for Transformers: The Last Knight in a few weeks, you’ll expect to see more men than women filling the Coke-soaked seats. That’s because the franchise—with its pimped-up cars turned combat machines, unrelenting action sequences and, in some films, scantily clad women—has always been marketed to a male audience, or at least an archetypal masculine audience. The same goes for the Fast and the Furious franchise and just about every Marvel moving. But are action movies truly more popular among men, or is that as outdated a notion as the idea that every woman loves pink?
Research published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology explored whether gender impacts film preferences. To do this, a team of German researchers surveyed 150 adults on whether 17 movie genres were more preferred by men versus more preferred by women. Next, reserachers asked a group of 160 men and women to rate their own preferences on the 17 genres.
Results found that animation, comedy, drama and romance were perceived to be female genres, while action, adventure, erotic, fantasy, history, horror, science fiction, thriller, war and Western were made for men. At this point in the study, it was obvious to researchers that men and women are heavily influenced by stereotypes.
But when asked to rate their own preferences, female participants only preferred romance and drama over men; guys were more like to see action, adventure, erotic, fantasy, horror, mystery, science fiction, war and Western films. That means both sexes enjoy animation, comedy, history and thriller equally, which maybe explains the success of the Lego movies.
“Concerning the accuracy of the stereotypes, we observed that most gender stereotypes about movie preferences were accurate in direction, but inaccurate in size,” head researcher Paul Wühr concluded. “Participants typically overestimated the actual gender gap in movie preferences.” Meaning, while stereotypes regarding film preference were found to be more or less accurate, we exaggerate them.
Unlike most studies, Wühr does note that his research contains loopholes. “One major caveat on questionnaire data in general is that sometimes participants have never thought about a particular question prior to the study,” he mentioned. “In this case, participants could have inferred their missing knowledge (‘Do I like Western movies?’) from their own gender stereotypes. Thus, to some extent, stereotypes may have also influenced the results.”
For instance, research from Kansas State University asked 250 men and women to watch a romantic movie together and then rate their satisfaction on a seven-point scale. Women rated the movie a six and men rated it a five, a figure much higher than researchers predicted.
“Everyone thinks that women like romantic movies and that they drag guys along to them,” researcher Richard Harris told Reuters. “What was significant was that the guys also liked the movies, and that the choice to view a romantic movie was usually made together as a couple, not just by the girl.”
In both cases, men and women do fall in line with their gender stereotypes, though not as much as most assume. The takeaway here? Don’t limit your movie choices based on your gender, you could be missing out.