When most of us think about diversity and representation in film, we usually think about three things: race, gender, and disabilities. However, there is an often forgotten topic… age. When you truly think about it, most media is about young or middle-aged people and many films about elders are ignored or demonizing (such as using them in horror to be creepy). Statistically, the world population of people aged 65 or older is around 10% (around 788 million people), and the U.S. population of elders is around 19% (around 63 million people). Those numbers are projected to double or even triple by 2050. A study in 2016 found that out of all of the speaking or named characters (in American cinema), only 10% were above the age of 60. This number is lowering every year and it’s suggested that only 5 in 100 movies have an elder protagonist.
After leaving several million people out of the film industry, you would think that you hear about this more often. However, not many are talking about it. Even so, there are still quite a few films out there with elderly protagonists that more people need to be aware of. Here are just 12!
(P.S. Sadly, much of elderly cinema is focused on Alzheimer’s disease/physical difficulties of aging, so be aware that it may be harder to find films without it.)
Premise: Carl Fredricksen has spent his entire life dreaming of exploring the world, but at age 78, he feels that his time for adventure has passed. However, a twist of fate and a persistent 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer named Russell gives him a new lease on life.
Of course, we can’t forget the wildly popular animation from the industry giant Disney. Up is arguably a perfect movie as it depicts the hardships of age and loneliness, while still having child-like adventure and color. Both children and adults alike can enjoy the hilarity and sincerity of Carl and Russell’s relationship.
Premise: Ricky is a city kid who finds himself on the run with his irritable foster uncle in the New Zealand forests. A national manhunt ensues, and the two are forced to work together to survive.
With the powers of Taika Waititi’s direction and Sam Neill’s acting, Hunt for the Wilderpeople has become a must-see over the years. Somewhat like Up, this film charms with the heartwarming relationship of Ricky and Hec. While it’s quite different from some of his more famous works, Taika still manages a fun atmosphere.
Premise: Nina and Madeleine have hidden their love for each other for many decades. To everyone, including family, they are just two neighbors living on the same floor. Soon, their relationship is in danger as an unexpected event leads Madeleine’s daughter to slowly learn the truth.
This French film gives us a topic not often spoken about, an elderly lesbian couple. As you can imagine, this heartwrenching drama will make you emotional in every way possible (happy, sad, pensive, you name it) but it’s amazingly beautiful.
Premise: Georges and Anne are retired music teachers in their eighties. Their daughter, who is also a musician, lives abroad with her family. One day, Anne has a stroke, and the couple’s love is tested.
Another French flick takes us through the struggles of aging and how it can affect a long-term, loving marriage. Amour won Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars as well as many many others. At age 85, Emmanuelle Riva is the oldest person to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar and the oldest person to win a BAFTA. If this alone doesn’t make you want to watch it, I don’t know what will. You will truly believe in love after this movie.
Premise: During a year, a content elderly couple is visited by friends and family that are less happy with their lives.
In a rather different portrayal, the main characters are a wonderfully happy and realistic elderly couple, while everyone else’s lives are falling apart. From stable to chaotic, this movie shows all aspects of life, whether we want to see it or not.
Premise: An elderly couple, Shukishi and Tomi, journey from their small seaside village to visit their children in Tokyo. Their eldest son, Koichi, a doctor, and their daughter, Shige, a hairdresser, don’t have much time to spend with their parents. So it’s up to Noriko, the widow of their younger son who was killed in the war, to keep her in-laws company.
Tokyo Story is a wonderful film that shows the loneliness of growing old and the dynamics of Japanese families. The story portrays very mundane aspects of life in a very emotional and meaningful way. Be sure to clear your schedule for this one, because it’ll have you running straight to your parents and wanting to spend every moment with them.
Premise: In 1956, Frank Sheeran, an Irish war veteran who works as a truck driver, accidentally meets mobster Russell Bufalino. Once Frank becomes his trustee, Bufalino sends him to Chicago to help Jimmy Hoffa, a powerful union leader related to organized crime, with whom Frank will maintain a friendship for nearly twenty years.
Overflowing with a legendary cast and crew, The Irishman brings us to an unexpected side of growing older: the mafia. No, of course, that’s not a common aspect of growing old, but think about it, what would happen? Action, crime, and thrillers aren’t just for the youth and this film gives us a deep exploration into just that.
Premise: A self-help seminar inspires a 60-year-old woman to romantically pursue her younger co-worker.
The movie is a heartfelt character study following the antics of Doris and her significantly younger co-protagonist John. While it is exactly what you would expect from the plot summary, it’s an absolute joy to watch while showing loneliness and vulnerability well.
Premise: A retired, widowed farmer, Alvin Straight, learns that his distant brother Lyle has suffered a stroke and may not recover. Alvin is determined to make things right with Lyle while he still can, but his brother lives in Wisconsin, while Alvin is stuck in Iowa with no car and no driver’s license. He then embarks on a journey of a lifetime in his old lawnmower.
I know what you’re thinking, a movie about some guy on a tractor? Really? Yes. What actually ensues is a heartwarming humanistic journey about appreciating the little things while focusing on the now. A quote from the film that explains the atmosphere well is, “The worst part of being old is remembering when you was young.”
10. Nebraska (2013) | Amazon Prime, Roku, Paramount+
Premise: An elderly, alcoholic father takes a trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim what he believes to be a million-dollar prize.
This black and white film is a moving story between a father and son. The prize ultimately doesn’t matter because the journey was the prize. It’s a wonderful story of rediscovery and rebonding between a father-son duo who have quite cold personalities.
Premise: There is just one week until Kate Mercer’s 45th wedding anniversary, but then a letter arrives for her husband. The body of his first love has been discovered frozen in the glaciers of Switzerland. By the time the party is upon them, there may not be a marriage left to celebrate.
Romantic issues can come from all ages, even if you’ve been married for half a century. This film beautifully builds tension and shows the slow descent a relationship can have simply because of small, but mighty fissures.
Premise: After 39 years together, Ben and George finally get married. However, as a result, George loses his job and the couple must sell their New York apartment and live apart, relying on friends and family to make ends meet.
This film makes mundane everyday issues and tasks beautiful. It puts you in the lives of two men who are struggling but have found comfort in each other.