Are Older Adults the Most Powerful Movie Audience?

While marketers chase the under-35 crowd, the 50+ set is actually going to theaters

What do the movies Hello, My Name Is Doris, Brooklyn, A Walk in the Woods and Grandma have in common? Other than being art-house flicks, these indie movies are attracting big buzz and big audiences by catering not to the under 35 crowd that marketers salivate over, but to an increasingly influential audience of people over 50 who like seeing themselves reflected on the big screen.

In a story for Flavorwire titled How Senior Citizens Became Independent Film’s Most Powerful Audience, film writer Jason Bailey pointed out that the biggest indie films aren’t the ones favored by young hipsters, but those favored by older audiences.

Bailey cited 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' as a turning point for the movie industry.

“Last year’s highest-grossing indie movies also included the Helen Mirren vehicle Woman in Gold (which did $33 million of steady business last spring), The Second-Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (same gross, in the same timeframe) and Mr. Holmes ($17 million as summer counterprogramming),” he noted. “In 2014 — the most recent year when statistics were available — the MPAA found ‘the share of tickets sold to 40 to 49 and 50- to 59-year-olds were at all-time highs, while the share of tickets sold to 60+ year-olds (13 percent) was at its highest level since 2011.’ And during that same period, fewer tickets were sold to 18- to 24-year-olds and 25- to 39-year-olds.” (MPAA is the Motion Picture Association of America.)

Bailey cited The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel as a turning point for the movie industry. “That ensemble comedy/drama looked like a sacrificial lamb to many observers (including this one) when it opened against The Avengers back in May of 2012,” Bailey stated. “Instead, Fox Searchlight’s bold bit of counterprogramming resulted in a $136 million worldwide haul — and the realization that there was an audience for movies about senior citizens.”

That realization, Bailey pointed out, has led to many more movies aimed at older adults and starring older actors, such as Blythe Danner who had her first leading role at 72 in I’ll See You in My Dreams and Lily Tomlin star turn in Grandma was her first time in a lead role since Big Business in 1988.

It’s nice to know someone is taking notice of the generation that grew up going to the movies.

By Heidi Raschke
Heidi Raschke is a longtime journalist and editor who previously was the Executive Editor of Mpls-St. Paul Magazine and Living and Learning Editor at Next Avenue. Currently, she runs her own content strategy and development consultancy.@heidiraschke

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