Seniors make up 20 percent of movie audiences

January 14, 2000|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Did you know that 20 percent of movie tickets sold last year in the United States were bought by people 50 and older, including 9 percent who were 60 and older?

Today one in five moviegoers is either nearing or has reached traditional retirement age -- hardly the hot young demographic sought by most producers.

So why are more older folks going to the movies? What do they want to see? And is Tinseltown giving it to them?

Jack Poessiger, host and producer of the radio magazine "Jack Goes to the Movies" on KYYS-FM in Kansas City, Mo., says the growth of movie channels and pay-per-view movies on TV has increased interest among seniors in seeing movies. And there's certainly no shortage of screens -- 34,168 in 1998 compared to 23,129 a decade earlier.

Above all, Poessiger says, the perception of a movie's quality rather than its trendiness or popularity is what puts the older crowd in theater seats.

"They want proof that it's going to be worth the money and the time," he said. "They want to see what the critics have to say. That's why they don't rush out the first weekend like the kids do for the teen-oriented stuff."

Bette Levin, acting director of public affairs for the American Association of Retired Persons in Washington, believes films that offer a realistic mix of young and old characters are a gateway to the mature movie audience.

If so, they might have trouble finding such a mix, said Marilyn Hennessy, president of the Retirement Research Foundation in Chicago.

For every movie featuring strong older characters -- such as Cher in "Tea With Mussolini," Anthony Hopkins in "Meet Joe Black," Paul Newman in "Message in a Bottle," Richard Farnsworth in "The Straight Story" or Susan Sarandon in "Anywhere But Here" -- many more do not.

"Movie producers tend to feel that older people are not photogenic," Hennessy said. "They'd prefer younger people who are wrinkle-free."

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