A matinee idol is a movie star who is greatly admired by his fans. This term is used exclusively for male actors, and it prevailed from the 1930s to the 1960s. Many matinee idols continue to be admired, thanks to their classic good looks, and sometimes surprisingly good acting skills. While this term is not largely used anymore, some people have pushed for a revival of the classic term, arguing that it is a very apt description for some movie stars.
Matinees are, of course, afternoon performances, and they tend to be less expensive than evening shows. The term “matinee idol” carries some pejorative implications, as it suggests that the actor appeals to the less cultured afternoon crowd, along with teens, who may not be able to afford evening shows. When an actor is called a matinee idol, it means that he has been selected on the basis of sheer good looks, rather than skill, and the term is sometimes derisively applied to good looking actors without talent in the modern era. This is somewhat unfair, as some matinee idols were also very good actors.
Some famous examples of matinee idols include Clark Gable, Rock Hudson, Gary Cooper, Paul Newman, and Rudolph Valentino. All of these stars had huge followings during their acting days, commanding legions of fans who were sometimes quite manic. Many of these fans were teens, which may explain why the term “teen idol” has supplanted “matinee idol” to describe actors in this class. In any case, despite being associated with cheap productions, a matinee idol makes a great deal of money for his studio, thanks to fans who will insist on seeing every film he is featured in.
The frenzied adulation which accompanied appearances by some of history's more famous matinee idols is famous. Footage of film premiers with some of these stars depicts lines of screaming fans pushing to approach the theater and the subject of their adoration, and these fans bought up countless magazines, posters, and other promotional materials with their favorite stars on them.
This cinema slang term might seem a bit antiquated, especially since matinees are no longer discounted in many regions of the world. However, it is a fairly good way to describe people with careers which are based more on looks than talent, and you may hear it being applied in fields other than cinema. some musicians, for example, are dismissed as matinee idols, catering to the teen crowd in the hopes of selling numerous records.