Once upon a time, the average moviegoer heading to see an action film or a romantic comedy could expect the stars to be, above all, young. In cinematic stories about midnight dalliances in Paris or high-speed chases, the leading men and women were overwhelmingly fresh faces—or faces that hadn’t yet hit 50, or even 40. But if the last decade is any indication, Hollywood has become increasingly comfortable with making films about older characters with complex, interesting lives. They’re in every genre: action films like RED, serious dramas like Amour, and romantic comedies like Hope Springs. They play everyone from transgender septuagenarians (Transparent) to mercenaries (The Expendables 3).
This year in particular, examples abound: Lily Tomlin starred in Grandma as a lesbian poet bonding with her pregnant granddaughter, Liam Neeson reprised his role as a father out for revenge in Taken 3, Al Pacino played an aging rock star in Danny Collins, Meryl Streep played a similar role in Ricki and the Flash, and Robert De Niro outshone his younger counterparts in the new generation-gap comedy The Intern. On the one hand, the trend is a sign that Hollywood is responding seriously to the growing power of older audiences at box offices. But it also reflects a broader cultural shift: These new works are exploring the ways in which growing older has changed, while challenging stereotypes about aging that have been long perpetuated by an industry that loves youth and novelty.