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Hey, Hollywood! Older people go to movies, too

From the Aug. 14, 2009, Deseret News

A decade ago, when I turned 50, I wrote a column about how it felt to fall out of the Hollywood demographic. According to conventional show-biz wisdom I was now officially too old to care about movies, much less other forms of entertainment.

Hollywoodthink suggests that people in their 50s don't go to movies or watch TV or listen to music, so everything is aimed at teens, 20-somethings and 30-somethings. Over 40 is iffy. Over 50 is nonexistent.

So it follows that advertisers don't care about anyone over 50, since older folks never buy a car or a TV or a computer or toothpaste. Which can only mean there are a lot of homebound, bored, out-of-touch, toothless retirees out there.

It is true that most TV ads seem to be for electronics and are directly aimed at the youth market. Which I guess means I should give back my iPod and stop shopping online and quit watching Jon Stewart on Hulu.

On the other hand, TV advertisers seem to aim an awful lot of ads for prescription drugs at the older demographic — all those commercials with older folks lounging by a lake or dancing in a nightclub or running through the grass. Talk about profiling!

Anyway, here it is a decade later. I'm 60 now. So if I was out of the demographic 10 years ago, I'm really out of it now. And it's true that when my wife and I go to the movies — which is almost every week — we are often the oldest people in the theater.

But I don't think that's because people in their 50s and 60s don't want to go to the movies. I think it's because Hollywood isn't making movies for us. Like everything else, most major movies are made for the young.

And I'll confess that I haven't seen nor will I see the new "Transformers" movie or "G.I. Joe" or "The Ugly Truth" or "Funny People" or "The Hangover" or "The Collector." I have zero interest in such films.

But I happily went to "The Proposal" and "Public Enemies" and "The Hurt Locker" and "(500) Days of Summer" and "A Perfect Getaway." Of my own free will and wallet.

And last weekend my wife and I saw "Julie & Julia" — and the strangest thing happened. In the multiplex we attended, the film was shown in one of the smaller auditoriums — and it was sold out. They were turning people away at the box office.

And we weren't the oldest people in the theater. In fact, we might have been among the youngest!

Does that mean if a movie is about something other than explosions or dirty jokes or gory violence, people in my age range — the oldsters who never leave the house or buy a car or go to the movies — will crawl out of the rocker, get off the porch, borrow a car and go to a theater?

Guess so.

Back in the day, Hollywood used to make movies for everyone. Local theaters would rotate comedies, dramas, horror, musicals, Westerns, thrillers, historical pictures — you name it.

If this week's films didn't appeal to you, perhaps next week's would.

And I'm not talking just about the pre-television studio system during the war years. I'm talking about the '50s, '60s and '70s. There was so much more variety on the screen.

When did movies become elitist packages for the young?

"Julie & Julia" didn't open huge, of course. The first week's box-office receipts were well below "G.I. Joe."

But "Julie & Julia" did open at No. 2, and word of mouth should help sustain it in the coming weeks.

Word of mouth from people who are well out of the Hollywood demographic.