|Photo by Patrick Feller.|
Growing up at the tail end of the Baby Boom, I have spent decades watching my slightly older peers influence culture in a big way. Most recently, I watch them making great strides in redefining aging. I see older adults challenging stereotypes in the workplace, in civic organizations, in social media and in popular media. For example, more and more films are depicting older adults in multidimensional ways.
Sure, there are some films that exploit stereotypes of aging, particularly flat characters in comedy roles such as the dirty old man or the feeble old lady. However, more films depict older adults as complex, dynamic people with similar concerns as young adults: pursuing intimacy, wielding power, and shaping identity. More films observe how people are achieving, creating, and exploring throughout the entire lifespan.
Too often news outlets decry the Silver Tsunami as a problem for healthcare budgets. But the graying of American also drives other markets, including entertainment. Fortunately, a growing number of journalists and bloggers are taking notice of the increasing number of films that appeal to older adults:
- Barnes & Ceiply "Graying Audiences Return to Movies" 2/35/11 from The New York Times
- Brooks Barnes "Older Faces on Screens Draw an Overlooked Crowd" 5/23/12 from The New York Times
- Cameron Mount "Film Trends Will Change with Aging Baby Boomers, Professor Says" 10/29/12 from The Daily Nebraskan
- Linda Barnard "For Hollywood, Gray Is the New Gold" 12/24/12 from TheStar.com
- Stephen Whitty "Why Hollywood Needs to Grow Up about Growing Old" 1/13/13 from The Star Ledger
- Ina Jaffe "Baby Boomers Return to the Multiplexes, and Hollywood Notices" 2/21/13 from NPR
- Daniel Miller "Grownups to Movie Studios: If It's Worth It, We Will Come" 3/3/13 from Portland Press
- Laurie Edwards-Tate "Ageism and the Oscars: Transforming Our Perceptions" 2/26/13 from The Washington Times
- Gina Hall "Indie Film Makers Should Consider Writing for Older Actors" 4/05/13 from The Huffington Post
- Susan Wloszczyna. "Hollywood's Hot New Target Demo: Aging Boomers." 4/22/13 from USA Today.
While movies aimed at older adults might not command numbers parallel to movies aimed teens and young adults, older viewers still comprise a steady audience. Their interests trend away from sensational blockbusters. Instead, mature viewers prefer thoughtful and substantial films such as independents.
Emmanuel Levy notes this in an analysis of indie films. "Efforts to attract older viewers include an increased output of niche pictures aimed at specific demographics." Levy cites a studio executive's view of older adults' tastes in films: "The aging and graying of America has affected the kinds of movies made. 'Adults are quality-driven, review driven, subject-matter driven,' said Thomas Pollock while heading Universal."
While the numbers may not be astronomical, they are respectful. Consider the box office totals for following recent releases:
- $46.6 million The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (opened May 4, 2012)
- $63.5 million Hope Springs (opened August 8, 2012)
- $5.9 million Amour (opened December 19, 2012)
- $11.2 million Quartet (opened January 11, 2013)
These niche films take in less at the box office, but they are often less expensive to produce.
For a rich discussion of films that appeal to older adults, check out AARP's section called Movies for Grownups, which includes annual awards.
Here is a video of their winners for films released in 2012: