Hollywood learns to grow up

As young crowds drift away from cinemas, producers are targeting the 'Back To The Future' generation

The moment of truth came midway through this summer's popcorn movie The Expendables when Sylvester Stallone made the dash for the plane that was going to whisk him away for safety.

For a few moments, Stallone looked more like an elderly man running after a No 22 bus than he did an action star. When the lights came on at the end of the screening, the packed preview audience which had been lapping-up his stunts looked around and realised they were almost as old as he was.

"Will you still need me, will you still feed me when I am 64," the Beatles ask in their famous song. The answer, as far as Hollywood action pics and their fans are concerned, is an emphatic yes. Stallone is indeed 64. Age hasn't withered him at all as far as international box-office is concerned. Research cited by a Los Angeles-based film trade magazine this week revealed that in the US in 2009, "the 40-and-up demo comprised 37 per cent of the US moviegoing public, while purchasing 32 per cent of the tickets."

Exhibitors often talk about the "ageing baby-boom audience" in the UK, too, as the one part of the cinemagoing market still ripe for expansion. In Britain, between 1997 and 2007, the number of cinema tickets sold to over-45s doubled, from 19 million to around 38 million. In other words, filmgoing is increasingly a pastime of choice for the middle-aged and elderly.

Hollywood has always had at least half an eye on older audience members. That's why, over the years, we've been treated to films such as Driving Miss Daisy and On Golden Pond which showcase venerable stars. A few years ago, when Stephen Frears' The Queen was released in British cinemas, audience research showed that 60 per cent of those who went to see the film were 55 or over."

The difference now is that the films aimed at the older cinemagoers are no longer genteel, sedate costume dramas. We're the Back To The Future Generation. There is a new tribe of cinemagoers in their 40s and beyond who love to go and see exactly the same kind of movies they watched when they were teenagers. The same stars who appeared in those movies are still headlining the films today. That's why we've been watching Dame Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman kick ass in Red (which has made around $150m worldwide £96m), Dolph and Sly still causing mayhem after all these years in The Expendables (worldwide gross $266m) and Clint Eastwood rehashing his vigilante persona in Gran Torino (worldwide gross $269m).

Alongside the action flicks which whisk the 40-something spectators back to their testosterone-filled adolescences, there are also now plenty of very soppy romantic dramas which invoke memories of all those Molly Ringwald movies that teenagers liked to watch in the 80s as well. The vast outpouring of grief in the media when John Hughes died in August 2009 revealed just how obsessed the Back to the Future generation still is with the era of Pretty In Pink and The Breakfast Club.

Cultural commentators and film critics queued up to pay tribute to Hughes. The encomiums were entirely out of proportion with his actual achievements as a film-maker, which were relatively modest. (We may all have liked Ferris Bueller's Day Off but doesn't mean its director was the new Orson Welles.)

John Hughes is gone but his spirit lives on in the films currently being targeted at the Back To The Future generation. Julia Roberts' new vehicle Eat Pray Love is Hughes-style fodder for the middle-aged. (Hollywood myth has it Molly Ringwald turned down the role in Pretty Woman that made Roberts a major star in the first place.) Todd Phillips' recent road movie Due Date, starring Robert Downey Jnr and Zach Galifianakis, has been excoriated by critics for blatantly ripping off John Hughes' Planes, Trains And Automobiles (1987). That, though, was presumably the point. The hope must have been that all those younger cinemagoers who went to see the Hughes film in the 80s would be lured out again to see Phillips' affectionate pastiche.

There are obvious reasons why the Hollywood studios are training so much attention on the Back To The Future generation. Younger potential cinemagoers are an altogether more slippery group. They're busy playing videogames. They're liable to stream movies online rather than to pay at the box-office to watch them. They're too obsessed with the latest apps on their phones or the newest posts on their social networking sites to pay attention to which films are screening at their local cinemas. Maybe they don't have the money either. Cinemagoing is becoming an increasingly expensive pastime. Exhibitors slap on a 40 per cent surcharge for films screened on 3D.

Of course, it would be a vast over-exaggeration to suggest that Hollywood is ignoring the younger demographic. The teen audience remains the most lucrative part of the market. "Audiences have aged dramatically and movies generally haven't, Producer Bill Mechanic, head of Pandemonium Films ( and a former Chairman of Fox), recently told Variety.

"The target audience for most of the studios is still 15 to 25, but that audience has dropped off a bit."

Marketing jargon is changing in Hollywood. The cliché of choice among studio marketeers is now "the four-quadrant movie". A "four-quadrant" movie may sound like an exercise in geometry but it is a film aimed at everyone – young, old, males, females. The problem with "four quadrant" films is that they tend to be very expensive indeed to produce: $100m or more. So there are fewer of them. This has left a gap in the market for the independents making marginally less expensive "two- or three-quadrant" films. An indie effort such as The Expendables, budgeted at around $70m, much of it raised in foreign pre-sales, is a case in point. There are both cultural and economic reasons why so many movies are now being aimed at the Back To The Future generation. The film-makers producing them will probably have grown up in the 80s. That's when their creative sensibilities were formed. It's easier to use an 80's stars (a Stallone or a Willis) than to try to create one from scratch. The 80s stars have weathered remarkably well and their asking price has come down.

Middle-aged and elderly cinemagoers, meanwhile, are facing a time of extreme economic turbulence. Maybe that's the main reason the Back to The Future generation is so keen to escape into movies that remind them of their teenage years, before they had to bear the deadening weight of adult responsibility.

True Grit

A chance for Jeff Bridges to step into John Wayne's stirrups as one-eyed US Marshal Rooster Cogburn. Older cinemagoers will relish the experience of a rough and tumble shoot-em-up western of a kind that is rarely made these days. Directed by the Coen Brothers. Out 14 January.

The Dilemma

Fortysomething filmgoers remember Winona Ryder with huge affection from her Heathers heyday and will be delighted that she is making a comeback. She takes a starring role in this comedy about infidelity, directed by Ron Howard. Out 21 January.

Morning Glory

Roger Michell's media satire about a morning television show provides plum roles for Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton. Out 21 January.

The Beaver

Back in the 1980s, Mel Gibson was an Aussie action star feted for his performances in Mad Max and Lethal Weapon. He has earned considerable notoriety since then but Jodie Foster's comedy, in which she also stars, may help his rehabilitation. Out 11 February.

Fair Game

Doug Liman's thriller, based on the memoirs of the CIA agent Valerie Plame, will invoke memories of all those politically themed dramas and thrillers made in Hollywood in the 1970s and '80s. Starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts. Out 4 March.

Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss