The old adage says to respect your elders, but if Hollywood is any indication, this doesn’t always happen. Blockbuster films are typically directed at younger audiences with the aging population rarely put in focus. Yet as the baby boomer generation ages, will this trend change?
This year, “Hope Springs” starred Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep as an older couple looking to reignite their spark. The film was a box office hit. The British “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which follows a group of retirees relocating to India, raked in quadruple its budget in the United States alone.
Christopher Kelly, associate professor of Gerontology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, has focused on aging policy, health care and long-term care in his research, and predicts new film depictions as demographics change.
“Baby boomers, like all generations, want to see themselves on screen,” Kelly said. “They want to see actors and actresses of their generation dealing with the issues they’re dealing with.”
Kelly cited “Away From Her” and “The Savages” as recent cinematic successes which tackle difficult topics like Alzheimer’s and dementia. These are exceptions, he says, pointing out that since the baby boom started in 1946, the oldest baby boomers are still only 66.
“These are still, for the most part, people who are still active in their careers and in their families,” he said. “It will really be in the next twenty years that they’ll begin to become identified as retirees and as older adults, and will begin to show more of these conditions, as well.”
Kelly said topics like dementia will likely be represented more, as those realities shift from the context of care-giving to self as diagnoses increase. For now, issues like age discrimination and romance have the greater focus, and Kelly explained the popularity of films like “Hope Springs” makes sense.
“There are 70 million or more baby boomers in the country,” Kelly said. “While they may have been younger 10 years ago and would have liked to have seen Meryl Streep in a younger role, they’re willing to age with her.”
The way of consuming media, too, differs according to generation, influencing who Hollywood caters to.
“There’s still a large percentage of the audience that buys tickets to movies and especially buys DVDs and rents them,” Kelly said. “Hollywood doesn’t want to leave out this market because there are a lot of consumers of that age group that are still interested in the movies.”