Why are there so few seniors in Hollywood movies? An insider view

Just over one year ago, in May 2012, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was released in theatres in North America. The movie, starring iconic older British actors such as Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Tom Wilkinson, featured a group of British seniors spending their retirement years at a resort hotel in the Indian city of Jaipur.

And although the movie was both a critical and box office  success, bringing in more than $130 million dollars (US), movies with a senior cast and catering predominantly to older people are rare sights in today’s entertainment industry, according to prolific Hollywood producer Adam Leipzig.

Film reelIn a conversation with RetirementHomes.com, Leipzig – producer of the American version of March of the Penguins and currently CEO of Entertainment Media Partners in Los Angeles – said that big-budget Hollywood movies tend to shy away from senior-focused movies, partly because many executives don’t believe they are as profitable.

“Studios do not make movies for this demographic, because the majority of execs are 20 years younger, and they just don’t think it’s cool,” Leipzig said. “They also think seniors don’t do as well when it comes to word of mouth.”

And although social media – one of the most widespread ways word of mouth is spread today – is used less among seniors than their younger counterparts, Leipzig said seniors have proven themselves to be very effective at sharing their positive views of movies to friends and family.

“Even though it’s not on social media, seniors spread the word the way word of mouth had always been spread until technology started changing it 20 years ago,” Leipzig said.

Joe Boyd, an Ohio-based movie director, created one upcoming drama comedy film, 'A Strange Brand of Happy,' scheduled for release in September, that prominently features a group of seniors, one of them acted by Oscar winner Shirley Jones, and he concurred with Leipzig that the biggest obstacle to senior-targeted Hollywood movies is a matter of economics.

“Every day is a box office gamble, but the best and most experienced actors we have are the ones who have been doing it for a while,” Boyd said. “But for things to change, the studios are going to need to see that it’s marketable to have seniors play leading roles,” he said.

And while Boyd agreed with Leipzig that seniors’ under-representation on social media is, in the eyes of movie studios, a limiting factor to their social reach, Boyd said he is convinced that as North America’s population grows older and more tech-savvy, and as social media becomes more ubiquitous , moviegoers in Canada and the United States may expect to see more seniors in Hollywood productions in the near future.