Sixty Shades Of Silver: Baby Boomers Increasingly Rule The Box Office
Are you a fan of the Rocky film series? If so, you probably went to see Creed, the latest installment of this critically acclaimed boxing saga.
Rocky (1976) and Creed (2015) share at least three things in common: film structure, gray training sweat suit, and Sylvester Stallone. Stallone created and played the title character of Rocky Balboa, a retired boxing champion, in all sevenRocky films. What’s remarkable is not only the longevity of the Rocky franchise but also of its film star. At 69, Stallone continues to flex his acting muscles, often playing an action hero (or antihero) in such successful film series as Rambo andThe Expendables.
In Creed, Stallone shared the screen with the young, talented, magnetic Michael B. Jordan– the Rocky for Millennials. By making Creed, Hollywood suits got it right by not just appealing to younger audiences but also to mature audiences, which the film industry has long regarded as “the once-a-year audience.”
But all that’s changing at warp speed, as the composition of the moviegoing public is taking a dramatic reversal. Let’s go to the movies and view these changes for ourselves.
Move Over, Millennials
People 65 and older are now the fastest-growing age group in the western world, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s no wonder, then, that the silver screen is rapidly growing a deeper shade of silver. “Hollywood, slower than almost any other industry to market to baby boomers, may be getting a glimpse of its graying future,” according to a New York Times‘ article entitled “Graying Audience Returns to Movies.”
Based on a Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. (MPAA) survey, in 2014, the number of frequent moviegoers in the U.S./Canada significantly rose among people aged 60 and over, from 3.8 million to 5.3 million, representing a 39.5 percent increase over the previous year. For the same period, that figure remained unchanged or declined among 18- to 24-year-olds and 25- to 39-year-olds, the largest frequent cinema-going age groups.
“Movies for Grownups”
The movie industry has typically made smaller, more serious films aimed at mature audiences. For example, Oscar-winning films like The Imitation Game (2014), Birdman (2014), Boyhood (2014), and The Theory of Everything (2014) did well with older audiences.
But it’s not just drama, art, or period films that appeal to the 50-plus crowd. They enjoy popcorn movies too, many of which feature actors who represent this demographic. Some examples are Liam Neeson, 63, in the action thriller series Taken (2008), Harrison Ford, 73, in the 2015 reboot of Star Wars, and Bruce Willis, 60, in the action comedy series Red (2010).
Then there are nostalgia-craving boomers who grew up with Marvel Comics’ and DC Comics’ superheroes, such as Batman, Superman, Captain America, Spider-Man, and Wonder Woman. Over the years, these legacy characters have been featured in popular television series and films, with Wonder Woman making her film debut in 2017.
Next, consider Marvel’s Iron Man (2008). Robert Downey Jr., 50, was cast as the billionaire bad boy Tony Stark/Iron Man. In explaining the appeal of Iron Man with boomers, EW columnist Mark Harris observed:
“One reason that Iron Man works so well is that the always wonderful Downey gets to play reasonably close to his age. Unlike many comic-book movies, this one isn’t about a young person coming into his powers and realizing he is destined for greatness; it’s about a rusted-out partyer who undergoes some very unusual heart surgery.”
Fast Forward to the Future
January 1, 2011 marked the day that the oldest members of the baby boom generation hit age 65. From that day forward and for the next 19 years, about 10,000 baby boomers will be celebrating their 65th birthday, many of whom will be retiring. This big demographic hiccup could have a dramatic impact on the film industry, as more seniors will have more leisure time to fill doing things like going to the movies.
Luring baby boomers away from their home theaters– where they can conveniently watch movies on their big-screen televisions, stream movies on their laptops, or order movies through a video-on-demand service–could take some convincing. Frankly, most boomers have little patience with routine annoyances at multiplexes, such as rude texters and talkers.
To address boomers’ discerning tastes and preferences, some exhibitors are trying out different concepts. Take, for example, AMC Theaters’ MacGuffins Bar & Lounge, where you can order a beer, wine, or a cocktail and take it with you to watch your movie. You can also order food from a bartender for seat-side delivery. Other exhibitors offer reserved seating, onsite wine bars, and chef-inspired cuisine at concessions, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
What Boomers Want
Boomers want high-quality films that entertain, enlighten, and enthrall– well-told stories with well-drawn characters. The Martian (2015), Bridge of Spies (2015), Love & Mercy (2014), and The Lego Movie (2014), named by AARP as the “Best Movie for Grownups Who Refuse to Grow Up,” are current examples of films that tend to resonate with boomers.
Films that feature caricatures of seniors behaving badly in unbelievable or contrived situations (think Dirty Grandpa) will probably underwhelm older audiences. Even a good wacky film should be relatable to older audiences to make it worth their while to sit in the dark for 130 minutes to view it with 300 other people.
Famed filmmaker Frank Capra once said: “There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.” With regard to Capra, perhaps it’s time for a remake or reboot of It Happened One Night (1934), a delightful screwball comedy starring Clark Gable playing opposite Claudette Colbert. Now which popular actors would you cast in these starring roles?
Source: Martha T.S. Laham