The NEW MOON Gender Gap

November 24, 2009
A thought by James Berardinelli

An email sent to me yesterday read: "James, See that you loved NEW MOON as much as I did. You gotta check out the imdb rating splits. It will blow your mind."

First, a word about IMDb ratings: they have their uses but to rely too heavily on them for anything can be misleading. They are open to manipulation, meaning that a hot new movie can rise to the top propelled by little more than fanboy enthusiasm. Also, there's no requirement that someone actually see the movie to vote. Flaws aside, however, they are excellent tools for spotting trends and explaining anomalous box office performance. What one uncovers by looking at them for Twilight: New Moon is, to say the least, eye-opening.

With more than 15,000 votes cast, the movie currently has a rating of a 4.5 - not that surprising. But the devil's in the details. Female viewers (across all ages) rate New Moon a 7.1. Perhaps surprisingly, the rating is not age-dependent. Those in the under-18 and the 18-to-29 range rate it 7.1. Those in the 30-to-44 range rate it 7.0. And those in the 45+ range rate it 6.5. So the film plays well to females of all ages. Men, however, are not as cheerful. The overall male score is 3.6, and it too is largely age-independent. Boys under 18 rate it at 3.9. Men 18-to-29 rate it 3.5. Those 30-to-44 rate it 3.9. Finally, those who are 44+ rate it 3.6.

Digging a little deeper… 11.1% of the males give it a perfect 10 out of 10, but a whopping 57.2% give it a 1 out of 10. For females, the numbers are almost reversed, with 43.6% giving it a 10 and 15.4% a 1. The median for males is a 1 with an arithmetic mean of 3.3. For females, the median is a 9 with an arithmetic mean of 7.3.

Going back to the base ratings (7.1 vs. 3.6), this provides a "gender delta" of 3.5 - a gap the likes of which I have never before encountered. No "chick flick" has produced this kind of disparity and no "macho movie" has come close. For comparison's sake, here are a few examples:

Twilight - Male: 5.6, Female: 7.0, Delta: 1.4
When Harry Met Sally - Male: 7.6, Female: 8.0, Delta: 0.4
Sex and the City - Male: 4.9, Female: 7.1, Delta: 2.2
The Proposal - Male: 6.7, Female: 7.6, Delta: 0.9
Titanic - Male: 7.2, Female: 7.9, Delta: 0.5
Mamma Mia! - Male: 6.3, Female: 7.5, Delta: 1.2
The Notebook - Male: 7.8, Female: 8.6, Delta: 0.8
The Ugly Truth - Male: 6.4, Female: 7.1, Delta: 0.7
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - Male: 6.1, Female: 6.5, Delta: 0.4
Inglorious Basterds - Male: 8.5, Female: 8.6, Delta: 0.1
Reservoir Dogs - Male: 8.5, Female: 8.2, Delta: 0.3
Patton - Male: 8.1, Female: 6.5, Delta: 1.6
300 - Male: 7.9, Female: 8.0, Delta: 0.1
Beowulf - Male: 6.6, Female: 6.1, Delta: 0.5
Grindhouse - Male: 7.9, Female: 7.4, Delta: 0.5
The Dirty Dozen - Male: 7.9, Female: 8.1, Delta: 0.2
Cool Hand Luke - Male: 8.3, Female: 8.3, Delta: 0
The Longest Yard - Male: 7.2, Female: 6.8, Delta: 0.4
Hoosiers - Male: 7.5, Female: 6.9, Delta: 0.6

Discounting New Moon, the biggest deltas were 2.2 for Sex and the City, a film that is known far-and-wide as being much better liked by women than men (called an "uber chick flick" by one pundit) and a 1.6 for Patton, which is known to appeal more to men than women (and more to this writer than to others of his gender). Also, the original Twilight scored a 1.4 - definitely a "pro-female" movie but not outrageously so. So where did the 3.5 delta come from?

Obviously, there are aspects of New Moon that tap into subconscious female desires while simultaneously triggering something disdainful in males. Elements that men find to be dull, tedious, and cheesy are embraced by women as soulful and romantic. And therein lies the difference. There's probably something else at play as well. I'd bet that most of the women who saw and liked the movie have read (and loved) the book. Most of the men who hated the movie probably haven't read the book. Viewed from a somewhat detached perspective, New Moon is not very good as a stand-alone motion picture. But for someone immersed in the mythos, it might work extremely well. So background plays a part as well.

But a 3.5??? Wow. It's surprising that men and women can react so differently to a movie. It's like they're seeing two different films and, in a sense, perhaps they are. I have often commented that if there are 100 people in a theater watching a motion picture, 100 different movie experiences are unfolding. The images and sounds might be the same, but they are being filtered through different hopes, thoughts, and memories. That's why some people laugh at a joke and others don't. Some cry when a character dies; others roll their eyes. It's about perspective. With New Moon, male viewers are processing the cinematic elements differently than women. The male perspective is more analytical and cynical; the female one is more forgiving and romantic. It happens all the time, but this is the most extreme example out there (at least that I'm aware of). Don't expect New Moon to suffer a catastrophic second-week collapse, either. Although few new viewers will be lured to multiplexes to see it, many of those who gorged on it during its opening weekend will be back for seconds, thirds, and more. That's what kept Titanic afloat for all those weeks between its release and its Oscar win. Men liked Titanic nearly as much as women, but women kept coming back while men stayed home after a first or second viewing.

That being said, females who dragged male companions to see New Moon should be aware that, while you may have had a good time, he probably did not. You owe him one.