How To Read Your Date’s Taste In Films

Are action aficionados compatible with film noir fanatics? Learn what a favorite movie reveals about your date’s personality — and if this person’s ready for a romantic co-starring role with you.

By Jane Ganahl

e’ve all been there: the coffee date or trip to the wine bar has gone well, and you and your new potential love interest are eagerly talking about the next time to get together. “Why don’t you come over Saturday night?” he/she says coyly. “I’ll cook for you, I’ll light a fire, and
Film choices speak volumes about a person’s values, fears, and most fervently wished-for dreams.
then maybe we can watch Saw, which is my favorite movie of all time.”

The next sound you hear is that a buzz saw splintering your enthusiasm apart (unless, of course, you’re OK with “date movies” where saws are actually used on human bodies). You head for the door somewhat sadly, telling yourself there are plenty more fish in the sea — maybe even a few who love historical fiction movies as much as you do.

Using movie preferences a “cultural Rorschach test” on dates
You don’t have to be a film fanatic to know that you can tell a lot about a potential mate based on the movies he or she holds nearest and dearest. Call it a cultural Rorschach test if you like, but many of us show up for those all-important early dates — which is when we’re in the biggest hurry to learn a lot about someone in a short amount of time — with the “favorite movie question” loaded into your arsenal.

Film choices speak volumes about a person’s values, fears, and most fervently wished-for dreams. As someone who loves to campaign for a good cause, I’ve always been a sucker for activist men, so it’s never been a surprise to hear my dates list favorite movie titles like Schindler’s List, The Help and Mississippi Burning. Would it be a turn-off to hear a potential love interest say his favorite movie was Rambo? (I have to admit that it would be akin to dumping the proverbial bucket of cold water on my ardor, actually.) So, to find out what the consensus was, we conducted an informal poll of singles aged early 30s to late 60s to find out which movies would be deal-breakers for each gender.

Top seven deal-breaking movies for midlife ladies:
1. Top Gun
2. Walking Tall
3. Jaws: The Revenge
4. Dumb and Dumber
5. Hellcats of the Navy
6. Weekend at Bernie’s
7. American Pie

Clearly, these women get enough macho behaviors on a daily basis in real life, so sophomoric humor and peacock-strutting male leads at the cinema are hardly their idea of an evening’s entertainment.

Eight films that men over 50 say major are turn-offs:
1. Titanic
2. Dominick and Eugene
3. Twilight
4. Repulsion
5. The Passion of the Christ
6. Anything by George Lucas
7. Battlefield Earth
8. Gigli

This list is a little harder to parse; clearly, mega-romantic blockbusters (Titanic, Twilight) give some men hives, as do emotionally triggering indie films (Dominick and Eugene, Repulsion), religious spectacles
“If she says she loves Barbarella, I’m instantly in love.”
(Passion of the Christ), cheesy sci-fi sagas (Star Wars, Battlefield Earth) and vapid romantic comedies (Gigli). Frankly, it’s hard to argue with those discerning taste levels. Says one younger friend, Eric: “If someone you’re interested in lists Twilight as a favorite movie, it’s a pretty clear indicator that this person’s expectations of romance are… um, a bit too unrealistic, maybe? I don’t need for you to share my love of high-end science fiction, but neither do I want to grow fangs and kill for you in order to earn your love.”

When sharing similar movie rankings really pays off
The positive spin on the movie-as-Rorschach-test question is that it can give you pause (in a good way) if the response especially pleases you. My friend Gayle said that she was ready to write off a potential love interest until he proclaimed that To Kill a Mockingbird was his favorite film of all time. “Suddenly, I looked at him in a whole new way,” Gayle admitted, adding: “It’s also my favorite movie.” And for some (like my friend Alison), it’s more about hoping a date shares their same level of enthusiasm for specific movies or directors. “Any top 10 list that doesn’t include The Big Lebowski and at least one Woody Allen movie is a problem,” says Alison. Another friend, John, notes that hearing a woman deliver the right answer to the film question can really get his engine revved up: “If she says she loves Barbarella, I’m instantly in love,” he enthuses.

Always be on the lookout for less-than-true reviews
One note of caution to those using the “favorite movie” ranking system in their evaluation of potential love interests: Sometimes, people will say whatever it is they think you want to hear just to win you over. This has happened to me more than once; one date swore that he loved foreign movies and “art films” like Amelie or Chocolat (two of my favorites), only to disclose later that, in truth, he was far more interested in watching Die Hard or Saw for a Saturday evening’s entertainment. My amateur psychologist’s take on this would be that he is A) too invested in macho behavior to be interesting as a mate, and B) he’s a fibber — which is also a very unattractive quality in someone I’m dating. (Maybe the movie preference question for me is like the hair or weight questions for others: answer them honestly right off the bat, and then there’s no need to explain anything later on.)

Nine additional personality insights from film critic Wesley Morris
For additional psychological profiling, I sought input from an old friend: Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Wesley Morris, formerly of the Boston Globe (he’s now writing for the ESPN website, We asked him to share his thoughts about the nine films mentioned by the sources we interviewed for this piece, and here’s what he told us:

Q: What would you say about someone whose favorite movie is…American Pie?
A: Not only does this person think that sex is funny — he/she thinks it’s terrifying.

Q: …Atlas Shrugged?
A: That Atlas Shrugged is the only movie your date’s ever seen.

Q: …Titanic?
A: That the only to reason this person’s stayed with you long enough to watch the whole movie is because your date’s a disaster junkie who longs to have the evening end with the two of you bobbing alone in the ocean together.

Q: …Repulsion?
A: Get ready for some of the best, most dangerous sex you’ve ever had!

Q: …Walking Tall?
A: That he carries a big stick.

Q: …Twilight?
A: That no matter how old a woman says that she is, she really wants to be 20 forever — and for her partner to look 20 even when he’s actually 130.

Q: …Saw?
A: That his or her sex toys will give you tetanus.

Q: …Dumb and Dumber?
A: That the dumbest person of all might be you.

Q: …Pride and Prejudice?
A: That no matter amazing a man is in real life, he will never, ever — ever — be Mr. Darcy.

Jane Ganahl is author of Naked on the Page: The Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife, editor of the anthology Single Woman of a Certain Age, journalist of two decades, and codirector of San Francisco’s Litquake literary festival.
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