Hollywood ages gracefully

June 05, 2008|By Julie Hinds | Julie Hinds,McClatchy-Tribune

Look closely at the top summer movies and notice the special effects they're having on the perception of age.

At 65, Harrison Ford is saving the world again in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and, yes, that's gray hair underneath his beat-up fedora.

In Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. flies across the ocean in a metal suit and, just as incredibly, demonstrates a superhero can be a 43-year-old guy with crow's feet.

All the fun stuff in Sex and the City - the high heels, designer handbags, fancy cocktails and steamy passions - is reserved for actresses of a certain age and income level.

Three of them are in their fabulous 40s (Sarah Jessica Parker, 43; Cynthia Nixon, 42, and Kristin Davis, 43) and Kim Cattrall is fit and foxy at 51.

As summer trends go, gray is definitely the new black. Or put another way, older is the new hip.

Maturity is a lucrative commodity, according to the latest box-office numbers. Sex and the City earned $55.7 million last weekend, the biggest debut ever for a romantic comedy. Indiana Jones and Iron Man are the first two films to make more than $200 million this year.

Normally, life isn't a party for either performers or audiences who've grown out of the 18-to-34 demographic. Once you turn 40, you're no longer the ideal consumer for movie moguls or TV executives. Instead, you're someone who's invisible to, or, at the very least, underserved by the entertainment industry.

But as is their habit, the baby boomers are changing those rules. Back in their youth, they fueled the emphasis on youth culture. Now, at 78 million strong, the generation born between 1946 and 1964 is showing its economic clout once again by redefining what's sexy and sellable in Hollywood.

"The three kinds of folks that the media and advertisers like are the young, the young and the young," says University of Detroit Mercy marketing professor Michael Bernacchi. "OK, wait a minute, what do we do with these 78 million folks? The answer is, at some point in time, the numbers don't lie - their awesome spending, their awesome ability to change markets by spending. Because they're gray-haired now, do we tell them you don't count? If we tell them you don't count, guess what? The market doesn't count."

Across the pop-culture spectrum, older celebrities are having a noteworthy summer. In the music arena, Neil Diamond recently scored his first No. 1 album after appearing as a mentor on American Idol. Madonna, who turns 50 in August, is still showing club kids how it's done with her latest release, Hard Candy. Tina Turner, 68, is getting ready for the launch of her first tour in several years this October.

In publishing, Barbara Walters has a best-seller with Audition: A Memoir, where she describes her life in broadcast journalism (and drops bombshells like her secret affair with former Sen. Edward Brooke that would earn her a seat at the Sex and the City table).

On television, the king of all hosting, Regis Philbin, is back in prime time with Million Dollar Password, which debuted Sunday on CBS. Another game show, Celebrity Family Feud, helmed by cuddly boomer favorite Al Roker, kicks off July 1 on NBC.

This season also marks the return of several dramas led by 40-plus actresses, including Kyra Sedgwick's The Closer and Holly Hunter's Saving Grace (both July 14 on TNT). There's also a mini-wave of series set in eras that boomers love, like Mad Men, the acclaimed AMC series about an ad agency in the 1960s, which returns July 27, and Swingtown, a drama about suburban sexcapades in the 1970s that starts Thursday on CBS.

In the realm of reality TV, boomers are the target audience for She's Got the Look, a supermodel search for women 35 and older that began Wednesday on TV Land. It's one of many original programs the network is running in an effort to court viewers in their 40s and 50s.

After a summer like this, Hollywood risk-takers may be more willing to cast older actors and make more movies for mature audiences, says Maddy Dychtwald, co-founder of Age Wave, a consulting firm.

"We're seeing a transformation," says Dychtwald. We're beginning to see, oh, yeah, there is life after 40 or 50 or 60."

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