Why Do So Many Father-Daughter Movies = Feisty Kid + Bumbling Dad?


This past weekend, I took my four year-old daughter Heloise to see Epic, the latest animated feature from Blue Sky Studios, creators of Ice Age and Rio. At this early-afternoon showing, the theater was nearly full. There were few teens or young adults; rather, the auditorium was packed with children aged three to ten—and their fathers. I counted a couple of heterosexual couples with kids, and two unaccompanied moms with little ones. The overwhelming majority of adults were like me—dads with their kids, without their partners.

As a gender-studies professor, I reflexively notice sex disparities in public places. Usually the anecdotal data I collect gets filed away in whatever part of the brain archives trivia I'm unlikely to use again. Not so on Sunday, when I realized that the theme of the film we were watching seemed perfectly designed to match the demographics of the audience. Epic wasn't just aimed at parents and children—it was, like so many other recent animated films, squarely focused on celebrating and redeeming the father-daughter relationship.


When it comes to the make-up of movie audiences, my anecdotal observation jibes with the data. Across the United States, there really are more dads than moms on their own with their kids at the movies. A 2011 study by polling firm Ipsos found that dads are 50 percent more likely than moms to take young kids to the movies. (This holds true for films of all ratings, from G to R.) "Dads are more interested in finding content they can enjoy with their kids," said Ipsos senior vice president Donna Sabino. Moms may remain the key decision-makers about most household purchases, but fathers increasingly rule in one area: entertainment.


It's not news that advertisers design sales campaigns to appeal to their target demographic. What seems evident is that when it comes to animated features, film makers are making the same calculation as the marketers. A 1998 study found that girls are twice as likely as boys to cite animated films as their favorites. If preteen girls are twice as eager as boys to see animated features, and dads are 50 percent more likely to be the parent sitting next to them in the movie theater, then it makes sense to center that relationship in the plot of what they're watching together.