Hollywood Mid Life Crisis

"The best years of my life are gone. ...And they sucked."
C.C. Babcock, The Nanny

The term mid-life crisis was first coined by psychoanalyst Elliott Jacques in 1965 to describe a period of major self-doubt felt by some individuals of middle age as the result of the passing of their youth. Symptoms may include depression, feelings of remorse and searching for some undefined dream or goal. It can affect both sexes, although not all psychologists accept it even exists and it doesn't seem to be present in all cultures. And, even in cultures where such a thing does tend to exist, it usually only affects about 10% of middle aged adults. It has also been theorized that a mid-life crisis may actually be triggered by a man's wife approaching menopause age, as the mid-life crisis does not happen with men who are married to women significantly younger than themselves.

In fiction, by contrast, a mid-life crisis tends to consist of several pieces of behavior carried out by middle-aged men in a rash attempt to recapture lost youth (it being limited to men is probably because Most Writers Are Male):

  • The purchase of a Mid Life Crisis Car - souped-up, expensive and flashy.
  • The romantic pursuit of a much younger lover. Depending on the nature of the work, either hilarity or drama will ensue, and it's notable that the "younger women" (or men) in the fictional version have often been played by performers famed for their beauty.
  • Adopting inappropriately youthful hairstyle or clothes. If he has children, this is guaranteed to embarrass them (though they may well approve of the Cool Car).
  • Adopt new religious or spiritual beliefs. Ooooom... ooooom.... *clanging chimes*

As can be seen from the examples, some works have a mid-life crisis as the main engine of their plot; in others, such as soap operas, Status Quo Is God, and so after an episode or two of his crisis, the man will basically go back to normal and behave as if nothing ever happened.


  • American Beauty is one of the most famous movie examples. A stressed-out drone with an unhappy marriage quits his job (with large pay-off), buys an expensive car and lusts after a teenage girl.
  • You have to feel sorry for Richard Sherman in The Seven Year Itch. His wife's away. He's stuck at home editing a book about the mid-life crisis and marital dissatisfaction at the seven year mark. And Marilyn Monroe has moved in upstairs...
  • Lost in Translation. An ageing actor at a loose end in Tokyo gets involved with a much younger woman, including an attempt to dress to fit in with her friends. Upon meeting him, she even asks if he's bought a Porsche yet. He replies that he's considering it.
  • After hearing that he's about to become a grandfather in the second Father Of The Bride film, George Banks buys a fancy car and dyes his gray hair dark.
  • City Slickers is about three friends who are each going through their own respective mid-life crisis. Mitch is bored with his job and frightened by how quickly the years seem to be flying by. Phil's Sexless Marriage prompts him to have an affair with a younger coworker, resulting in him losing his job and his wife leaving him. Ed is a successful businessman and womanizer who is frightened by the prospect of settling down and starting a family. The three friends go on a cattle drive vacation, during which they all begin to figure out their lives.
  • Part of the reason for the hero's odd behavior in The Incredibles, but his story is also a Civilian Life Crisis, because his day-to-day life is now so drab and boring compared to the glamorous and exciting life he had as a superhero.
  • Santa Claus goes through one in Santa Baby 2. He even joins a touring band!
  • James T. Kirk in most of the Star Trek movies suffers from a bad case. Starting with Star Trek The Motion Picture, in which he struggles with the question of whether he is too young to be an Admiral or too old to be a Captain. This leads him to take back command of the Enterprise as soon as a major threat to Earth is spotted, shamelessly ousting its current (younger) Captain. Subsequent films would have him agonizing, sometimes to the point of Wangst over his age, career, life in general and missed opportunities. Notably, he is the only character who seems to suffer from this.

  • In Rabbit Is Rich, a novel in John Updike's Rabbit series, Rabbit Angstrom has become rich, middle-aged and dissatisfied, which includes him becoming enamoured of a friend's younger wife.
  • Erast Fandorin goes through this before and during All World's a Stage (when he is 55). He tries to take the thoughtful approach (resolving to learn a new form of art or a new language every year), but he also ends up falling in love with a much younger woman.
  • In the Jeeves and Wooster story "Indian Summer of an Uncle", Bertie's Uncle George tries to initiate a May-December Romance. Jeeves diagnoses the problem as an "Indian summer" and notes that it's common for elderly, wealthy Americans to run off with chorus-girls.

Live Action TV
  • Hank Moody in Californication is pretty much the poster boy for this trope. He has been a talented and acclaimed writer since his early life, but he often suffers from Writer's Block and his happy family life went to toilet. He sleeps around a lot and tries to reconnect with the love of his life and his daughter.
  • Tony DiNozzo from NCIS has been seen going through one.
  • Martha's father on Doctor Who was going through one, having traded both his car and his wife in for younger models when we first met him.
  • That '70s Show had Red buy a midlife crisis motorcycle.
  • Girls has Jeff, the father of the children Jessa babysits. He dates the young and "free-spirited" Jessa with the hopes that he'll regain lost youth with her.
  • Pretty much the entire premise of the Brit Com Manchild.
  • In the episode of Friends when all the characters are shown turning thirty, all six consider it a major issue and turning point. Ross bought a red sports car, but his fun is spoilt (the car got stuck in a parking place and once it's freed, he sees a much older balding guy in the same car).
  • Word of God has called Walter White's life of crime in Breaking Bad "the world's worst midlife crisis". There's obviously a lot more to it, first and foremost being his cancer diagnosis, but he does buy a fancy new car more than once, and at one point makes a laughably ineffectual pass at a younger woman.
  • Kel Knight has one in Kathand Kim. On his 50th birthday, Kel gets a sports car, starts listening to music that's clearly aimed at teenage girls and dresses in whatever was considered trendy at any given point in time.

Newspaper Comics
  • In one Calvin and Hobbes Sunday comic, Calvin's dad thinks long and hard about how short life is, and how much time he spends working at a job that he doesn't like at all. He tells his wife that he's thinking of quitting his job and biking full-time. She replies by sarcastically asking if she should ask the bike shop if they'd be interested in sponsoring his mid-life crisis.

Web Comics

Western Animation
  • Papa Smurf in The Smurfs episode "Papa's Wedding Day" goes through his version of this when he keeps being reminded of how old he is by his little Smurfs. Sometime after he meets the young and beautiful Flowerbell the woodnymph, finding himself falling love with her, he dyes his beard a youthful shade of brown and has a dating relationship with Flowerbell that would have resulted in a marriage had not the Smurfs figured out that she was an infiltrator sent by the evil sorcerer Balthazar to capture the wisest Smurf of all. After the relationship had ended, Papa Smurf's beard goes back to being white, but he gains wisdom in knowing from the song that he sings to Flowerbell that "you're only as old as you think you are".
  • Most fathers in animated sitcoms fulfill a lot of these requirements. Examples include Homer Simpson, Randy Marsh and Peter Griffin. All three are depicted as immature, overactive and more wild than their kids.