Age-gap rom-coms have never been hotter. But they're a bandaid for a bullet hole.

Before I knew what Nicole Kidman's latest movie A Family Affair was about, I knew she was dating Zac Efron's character in the film. 

Whether the movie intentionally sold itself like this or not — this was an age-gap rom-com. 

The film finds Kidman's character Brooke starting a relationship with a famous Hollywood star, played by Efron, despite finding out that he is the boss of her daughter. The film itself has been struck by mixed reviews, but there's one thing that's dominated the discourse: the almost 20-year age gap between the actors playing on-screen lovers. 

This isn't the first time the actors have played love interests: they first crossed paths on the big screen in the 2012 drama The Paperboy, another movie that drew sizeable controversy at the time for the age divide between the stars. 

Watch the trailer for A Family Affair. Post continues after video.

Video via Netflix.

But in 2024, age-gap movies are having a moment. 

A Family Affair comes off the back of the comparatively more critically praised rom-com, The Idea of You, which saw Anne Hathaway dating Nicholas Galitzine with a 12-year age gap between the stars. Hathaway played a single mum who falls for a younger man, who happens to also be a huge pop star. 


Considering both these films feature a desirable woman playing opposite men younger than them, one could assume that ageing is no longer the curse it once was to a woman's career in Hollywood. 

However, this isn't painting the full picture. 

As these two rom-coms have been released, the industry has still shown how much age plays a role in women being cast in roles. In the case of Challengers, some criticised the film for needing to 'age up' Zendaya, who at the time of filming was a 26-year-old which meant she required a more mature hairdo to be accepted as an older age in the film. 

Then there was the uproar caused by casting Blake Lively in It Ends With Us. At just 36 years old, the Gossip Girl star was criticised for being too old for the role, with fans expecting someone in their 20s to be chosen instead. 

The movie copped criticism for casting Blake Lively in the lead role. Image: Columbia Pictures. 


These are conversations that almost never happen when it comes to the famous men cast in movies. 

A woman's age is still a topic that's constantly being discussed. Until something changes, the recent onslaught of age-gap rom-coms are — to invoke the words of Taylor Swift, a woman who knows all too well about an age-gap romance — just a bandaid over a bullet hole. 

Because let's be real, we wouldn't be talking about anyone's age if the man was older than the woman, a double standard Kidman knows well. 

Kidman told People that "there isn’t enough" of these kinds of stories challenging the norm. "We’ve had it from way back with older men and younger women, that’s just always been the norm — it’s okay, it’s completely acceptable," she said. 

"The problem is we’ve not had the equivalent from all different viewpoints." 

Listen to The Spill hosts discuss some depraved age-gap rom-coms. 

There's long been a double standard with age gaps in rom-coms where men are commonly a lot older than the woman playing their love interests. 


There are countless examples but here are just a few. 

In the 1997 rom-com As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson was 60 years old when he was meant to be dating Helen Hunt, who was just 34. In another '90s classic, Six Days, Seven Nights, Harrison Ford was 55 when he played opposite the late actress Anne Heche, even though she was only 29.

For the ultimate rom-com classic Pretty Woman, Richard Gere was 40 when he played Julia Roberts' lover — she was only 22 at the time. 

Richard Gere and Julia Roberts had an almost 20-year age gap. Image: Buena Vista Pictures. 


These movies were released with minimal outrage over the age gap — the reaction was quite the opposite with the likes of Nicholson, Ford and Gere becoming heartthrobs for their roles playing opposite much younger women throughout their careers. 

This harks back to the way older women have historically been categorised as a 'cougar' while older men are a 'silver fox'. One term has undertones of desperation while the other is the epitome of desire. 

The same can be said for other beauty double standards in culture, such as body size. A Forbes article recently sparked outrage online, with the headline: 'Bridgerton: Are We Still Not Ready For A Mixed-Weight Romance On Screen?'

There's a lot to unpack in this op-ed, but something that immediately stuck out was the writer's assertion that Penelope Featherington and Colin Bridgerton's union "defies romance plotline convention".

Body-positivity activist Alex Light expertly pointed out on Instagram why this line carries with it a subtext of sexism: we've seen plenty of mixed-weight couples in the history of TV and film, but most of them feature a larger man and smaller woman. 

Throughout the '90s and '00s, many joked there was the 'fat husband and skinny wife' dynamic becoming popularised.

From The King of Queens to The Sopranos and The Simpsons to basically every Jack Black movie, audiences have long embraced mixed-weight couples when the man is the one considered the heavier person.


We only talk about it when it's the woman is larger or older. 

But even in the case of Kidman and Hathaway's new age-gap films, there's an unsaid rule that must be acknowledged: the older women cast in these roles have to appear especially youthful.

Imagine not falling in love with Anne Hathaway. Image: Prime Video. 

After the release of The Idea of You, the memes poured out freaking out over how the 41-year-old Hathaway looked like she was still in her 20s in the film. The response to Kidman hasn't been as kind, which could be because she once denied doing Botox, but there's no denying that the 57-year-old looks incredible. 


These women might be dating younger men in their movies, but the age difference doesn't appear obvious due to how young these women come across, not to mention that they're both two of the most beautiful women in Hollywood. 

The equally deserving Emma Thompson movie from 2022, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, didn't receive the same amount of attention, which had 29-year-old actor Daryl McCormack doing sex scenes with then-62-year-old, Emma Thompson.

The age-gap in the film was played off as a punchline. 

Almost 70 years prior, no one muffled a giggle when a 55-year-old Humphrey Bogart was cast as a 25-year-old Audrey Hepburn's love interest in Sabrina, despite him being 30 years her senior. 

While more age-gap rom-coms are needed to set right a longstanding wrong in sexist double standards in pop culture, nothing will improve until Nicole Kidman can date a 36-year-old man, and it not be the most interesting thing about the movie. 

Or... until this is the way we describe age-gap movies when the man is older: 'Pretty Woman is about this older guy who starts dating this younger woman, but don’t worry he looks great for his age and she doesn’t care that he’s so old!!'

I won't hold my breath. 

Feature image: Prime Video/Netflix. 

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