For moviegoers of a certain age, is there anything more dispiriting than a preview that begins with yet another harbinger of a dystopian nightmare to come? “Elder’s Game,” opening Nov. 1, is only the latest. “When the aliens first invaded, they nearly destroyed us, is the trailer’s opening dialogue. Even growled by Harrison Ford, that line is an immediate dealbreaker.
The fall movie season could not come fast enough for moviegoers with, shall we say, more mature tastes. It was a long, loud summer at the multiplex. Of the year’s 10 biggest box office hits thus far, six are sequels, reboots, or based on a comic book or graphic novel. Only one, “the Great Gatsby,” could be considered adult fare, but even this was a jazzed-up adaptation with an anachronistic contemporary soundtrack to lure Hollywood’s most desired young demographic, the 18-25 year-olds.
But it’s fall, and now it’s our turn. Baby Boomers, TheWrap website reports, are driving box office, flocking back to theatres to enjoy films that appeal to adults’ more discriminating tastes. The fall movie season is typically a time of more sophisticated and challenging fare, the type that invariably find themselves in awards contention.
The two biggest box office hits at present are the space drama, “Gravity” starring Sandra Bullock, 49,and “Captain Phillips” starring Tom Hanks, 57. Not even “Carrie,” a high-school horror film based on the classic Stephen King novel and released two weeks before Halloween, could bring these films back to Earth.
It’s all about quality. Many Baby Boomers’ formative moviegoing years coincided with the rise (and fall) of New Hollywood in the 1970s, which effectively ended with the monumental successes of such summer blockbusters as “Jaws” and “Star Wars” and the epic flop, “Heaven’s Gate.” Any film that recaptures that bygone era of creative freedom will no doubt find Baby Boomers among its staunchest champions.
“Gravity” and “Captain Phillips” have both received overwhelmingly positive reviews and its stars, among Hollywood’s most enduringly popular, are being touted as sure Oscar nominees. Initially, TheWrap reports, 82 percent of “Gravity’s” audience was over 25 and 60 percent over 35. But the word is out and young people are buying their tickets.
Which brings up another matter: “Gravity” belies Hollywood’s S.O.P of catering and test marketing to teenagers. Perhaps comedian Colin Quinn said it best. In a keynote address delivered at this year’s Just for Laughs” comedy festival, he addressed network executives: “Stop test-marketing to…14-year-olds, OK? Here's the way it's supposed to work. You're doing it backwards. Adults influence kids. That's the way it's supposed to be. Not the…other way around.”
TheWrap pointedly asks, “Can older audiences keep this up?” As a member of that audience, the answer is simple: “Of course.” Audiences of any age respond to quality films that generate positive word of mouth. The past two years have offered several shining examples of sleeper hits that confounded studio expectations and, thanks to Baby Boomers and seniors, became hits. In 2011, older moviegoers supported “True Grit” and “The King’s Speech,” which went on to win Best Picture and Best Actor honors. Last year, it was, most prominently, “:The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”
The coming weeks bring a particularly distinguished slate of films that skew to older audiences. Time will tell if the hype and buzz generated at early film festival screenings will translate into ticket sales. Among them: the harrowing “12 Years a Slave;” already in theatres; the survival drama “All is Lost” starring Robert Redford, 77, in what some are calling the performance of his career; “Blue is the Warmest Color,” a controversial three-hour French lesbian coming-of-age drama; and the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” set in Greenwich Village’s folk music scene in the early 60s, and “Nebraska” starring Bruce Dern, 77.. On the lighter side is “Last Vegas,” starring Morgan Freeman, 76, Michael Douglas, 69, Robert DeNiro, 70,and Kevin Kline, 65.
Domestic box office has already surpassed last year, according to Box Office Mojo with the ever-important winter holiday movie season to come. Here will see the return of more family-friendly fare. But Hollywood take note: Don’t ignore Baby Boomers and senior moviegoers. In them you have the opportunity to achieve that happiest of endings when art and commerce are happily joined.