About a month ago, I watched Apollo 13 for the first time and almost shed a tear when Kathleen Quinlan had to stay at home and deal with an unruly teenager while Tom Hanks went up in the rocket. I like Tom Hanks, I really do, but he's only ever taken second billing to a female lead twice: Sally Field and Kim Basinger and that's because he had bit parts in those movies. Tom Hanks has had top billing in almost 80% of his movies.
So, a few weeks ago I started a project on my radio show called Women in Film. I did a quick scan of the website of the International Movie Database's (IMDB.com) Most Popular Films of 2012 and discovered that 75% of them had a man in the leading role. Of the 25% of those 100 movies that featured a female lead role, just six actresses were over 40. They were Naomi Watts, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Garner, Barbara Streisand and Dame Maggie Smith. Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Garner and Gwyneth Paltrow are only just into their forties, even though they certainly don't look even close to 40 years old (which is another story). Only two of those women were much older: Barbara Streisand and Dame Maggie Smith.
In fact, most of the female actresses I have research have not even had top billing in half of the movies in which they appeared:
Julia Roberts 45%
Whoopie Goldberg 38%
Meg Ryan 28%
Diane Keaton 38%
Jodie Foster 34%
Halle Berry 45%
Michelle Pffeifer 25%
Sigourney Weaver overall has had top billing in 34% of the movies in which she has appeared, but 36% before she hit 40 and - interestingly - that statistic moves up to 50% by 2006 when she was 57. So statistically speaking Weaver had her best career between 40 and 57 years old. She's still working at age 64 and has had top billing in an average of 34% of the movies in which she has appeared in her 40-year career. So this is an extraordinary achievement for an older actress.
Even the hilarious, smash hit comedy, This Is 40, about a married couple hitting 40 years old, features a female costar - Leslie Mann, who played one half of the married couple - billed below the male lead, Paul Rudd. This is remarkable if you consider that she's married to the writer and director of that movie, Judd Apatow. Judd Apatow wrote a lead role in his own movie, for his wife, but yet she was not billed as the star of the show. She had to come after her male co-star in the credits on the movie poster even though the movie was about a couple. If your own influential husband can't put a 40 year-old woman in the top billing in his own movie, that he wrote and directed, what hope is there for any other female actresses?
Since then I saw this article in the Guardian, with the following statistic: only 28% of the speaking roles in the movies of 2012 went to women.
Today I saw this article by Kristen Scott Thomas about how she feels invisible as a middle-aged woman.
In contrast, television has more outstanding female roles: The Fall, House of Cards, Veep, The Newsroom, 30 Rock, Arrested Development, The Borgias, Game of Thrones and if you haven't seen Battlestar Gallactica, go straight to Netflix immediately. Maybe that's why I'm watching fewer and fewer movies these days.
Finally, just to make a change, here's 55-year-old Sharon Stone loving life.