“You talkin’ to me?” Taxi Driver, 1976
No doubt everybody recognizes the famous phrase delivered by Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver. Today, we could borrow the line ourselves. In fact, anyone who’s checked out what’s playing at movie theatres this week or what’s coming out on DVD is probably asking the same question. Is anybody talking to us?
The answer: well, no, not really. Like the elephant in the room, when it comes to the movie industry, the 50-plus population is strangely overlooked. Funny that. We’re big in numbers (more than 78 million in U.S., and 9 million in Canada) and large in worth (we have more and spend more than any other age group), but apparently we’re not that obvious. Or is that conspicuous by our absence?
“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” Network, 1976
The entertainment industry is fixated on youth. Movie executives focus on the 18- to 49-year-old demographic. (Nice people, not us.)
Even though it’s the 50-plus who lead the Oscar nominations, films aimed at us are few on the ground. Among the more 500 films that will be released this year, there are barely any that stand out as being made for ‘mature’ audiences. One, a comedy/drama hitting theatres this August, stars Meryl Streep, 62, and Tommy Lee Jones, 65, as a long-married couple who embark on an intensive weekend counseling session, called Great Hope Springs. Appropriate title. We all have great hopes for Hollywood.
Another possible admission is Parental Guidance (coming in November). It stars Billy Crystal, 64, and Bette Midler, 66, as grandparents who take on the grandkids when their daughter travels for work. As much as everyone will applaud the fact that Crystal and Midler are back on the big screen, this film – according to Crystal himself, who wrote the script – is really a family film. Not exactly tailored for us, but that’s okay, we’ll take it. Hell, we’ll probably eat it up like candy (or rather crumbs of candy).
As it happens, over the coming year, you’ll see several of our Boomer contemporaries returning to the screen. Twenty-five years after the debut of Die Hard, Bruce Willis, 57, will return to his role for the fifth installment of the movie (coming early 2013). Post-gubernatorial Arnold Schwarzenegger, 64, is also in the midst of resurrecting his macho movie image. But don’t be fooled. The cold, hard truth is these films aren’t aimed at us either.
In a New York Times article featured a few weeks ago, Hollywood writer/director Jonathan Goldstein (who is co-writing and directing an updated version of National Lampoon’s 1983 film Vacation, and hopes to recast Chevy Chase in his original role) is quoted as saying, “The people who decide what movies get made are now, like me, in their early 40s, and they’re turning back to what they grew up with.” In other words, Hollywood’s sudden nostalgia or return to stars and films from the ‘80s is not about mature themes or even mature actors, but rather immature themes or the memories of someone else’s adolescence.
“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” Cool Hand Luke, 1967
Curiously, across the Atlantic things are different. Take England for example. Similar 50-plus population, anything but similar attitude. Aside from the fact that the Brits cast mature actors in films as if the appearance of older people on the planet is normal or natural, they also create movies based on grown-up storylines – from Shirley Valentine and Calendar Girls to Last Orders and The Girl in the Café and more.
To underscore the difference in attitude or perception, a recent review of the film Being Flynn, which appeared in the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail, noted that 68-year-old Robert De Niro ”still has his chops.”’ We can’t imagine any paper in the UK having the temerity to say the same of, say, 77-year-old Maggie Smith (who not only stars in the hit British TV drama Downton Abbey, but also appears in a few soon-to-be-released films).
Little wonder Dustin Hoffman, now 74, travelled to England to make his first film, Quartet (about a group of retired opera stars who gather each year to celebrate Verdi’s birthday, starring Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay and Billy Connolly, which will be released later this year). It could be that Hoffman just likes the English climate, or he feels more supported there, or maybe it was the only place on the planet he could find a group of English-speaking actors who actually look their age.
“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” Casablanca, 1942
The truth is, we are not just a big demographic, we are a great portion of the movie-going audience. Or rather, the largest potential movie-going audience.
Back in 2010, a report released by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) noted a decade-long decline in box-office sales in North America. According to then CEO of the organization, Bob Pisano, the challenge for the industry was to “reverse that and get more Americans and Canadians back to movie theatres.” The hurdle? Attracting Boomers – the demographic he says has always been the driving force of ticket sales: “That is an unfortunate situation since they constitute the largest demographic group moving through the population.” Last year, box office sales were down again by four percent. Even though the 50-plus population made up more than 33 percent of the North American population, Hollywood still only managed to entice us to make up slightly more than 20 percent of its annual ticket sales in 2011.
Interesting, isn’t it? You might even call it dramatic. And we’ll be watching to see if they follow the plot.
Exit line: If you haven’t seen anything on screen lately that speaks to you directly, at the very least you might enjoy this trailer. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by director John Madden, coming to theatres May 4, features Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson as a group of Britons who decide to outsource their retirement to India.
Pulse postscript: We wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the career if not the immense contribution of Mike Wallace, who passed away last weekend at the age of 93. He was a man who not only pioneered the term ‘investigative journalist,’ he pioneered the post-50 path. In 2006, at 88, he officially retired from 60 Minutes after a 38-year run. But a few months later, he returned to the program in an exclusive interview with the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – for which he earned his 21st Emmy Award. And he wasn’t done yet – for two more years he appeared on the program. 60 Minutes will be honouring his career and his contribution this Sunday.
Tomorrow, Saturday, April 14, the Toronto Star launches a new series by the legendary journalist Judy Steed. Called “Turning Point,” it will follow 10 people for the rest of the year as they reinvent themselves at midlife. Look for Julia Moulden and Pulse featured there.
In April, we’re launching our first 12-week course! If you haven’t already ordered your copy of RIPE: Rich, Rewarding Work After 50, there’s still time. We’d love you to be part of this virtual Ripe Circle.
Keep your finger on the pulse. There’s a sign-up option in the right-hand column of this page. (Or visit juliamoulden.com and send us an email.)
Julia Moulden and Trisse Loxley have been writing and editing for the media and corporate sectors for a combined 50 years. Today, they’re reconnecting with their generation and helping their clients engage with Boomers, too.