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Rise of the silver-haired screen: Older people take largest share of cinema audiences

Likes of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel helped to drive the over-45s to the cinema

In the opening scenes of the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a pushy estate agent reveals his goal of attracting the lucrative “grey pound” of his ageing clients.

He succeeds only in alienating  potential housebuyers, but the film certainly brought a cascade of those grey pounds into cinemas last year. It also helped to make the oldest  demographic group of film-goers the largest section of the audience.

Along with the likes of Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel helped to drive the over-45s – the eldest of the four age groups in statistics compiled by the British Film Institute (BFI) – to 36 per cent of the UK’s total cinema audience in 2012, making  it the biggest section of the market for the first time.

The BFI revealed the shift in audiences in its Statistical Yearbook, saying more films were being made for and marketed to older people. Previously, the biggest year for the over-45 age group was its 30 per cent share of the audience in 2008, thanks in part to the popularity of the Abba musical Mamma Mia! The last set of figures, for 2011, showed a figure of 28 per cent.

Sean Perkins, the BFI’s head of research and statistics, said: “That audience seems to be reconnecting with the cinema. They have more disposable income and time. Some are coming with grandchildren, which is [showing] in the statistics. And obviously there is the underlying UK trend in the population.” Film companies have increasingly been aiming releases at older audiences, including such recent hits as The King’s Speech, Quartet, A Song For Marion, A Late Quartet and The Iron Lady, starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, below.

Tim Cagney, the deputy chief executive of the BFI, said: “The studios are very aware of who their audiences are. They see the demographic is changing and it will see a response in the movies that are released.”

Cinema operators also see the over-60s as a lucrative market. The Picturehouse chain runs a Silver Screen Club, which offers discounted tickets and free tea and coffee  at matinée screenings. A spokesman said it had long targeted older  viewers, adding: “They are a great audience and also they are a daytime audience. Finding that weekday daytime viewer is the holy grail for cinemas. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel shows there is a substantial box-office gain for films aimed at older people. They also tend to be less expensive than blockbusters.”

Picturehouse said many older customers had begun frequenting its cinemas more often after they saw its live broadcasts of stage plays by the National Theatre and productions at the New York Metropolitan Opera.

“A lot of older audiences who had become disillusioned with the cinema have rediscovered their love for it,” the spokesman added.

However, while the size of older audiences is growing, there has been a sharp fall in numbers of younger people going to the movies, despite the release last year of such blockbusters as The Dark Knight Rises and Marvel Avengers Assemble.

The BFI said cinema-goers aged 15 to 24 made up only 25 per cent of the audience in 2012, compared with a 31 per cent share in 2011. The institute said it needed more data to “better understand shifting patterns of film consumption”.

The BFI’s yearbook revealed that UK films took a total of $5.3bn (£3.5bn)  in 2012 – a 15 per cent share of the global market and the highest on record. Among the big international successes were the James Bond adventure Skyfall, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Woman In Black.

At home, it also proved to be a record-breaking year, with cinemas taking £1.1bn despite stiff competition from the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Diamond Jubilee  celebrations and the Euro 2012 football championship.

Old favourites: Films popular with people over 55

Film: Salmon Fishing In The Yemen

Starring: Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Amr Waked

Plot: A consultant attempts to realise a sheikh’s dream of bringing fly-fishing to the desert

Over-55 age group share of audience: 58 per cent

Film: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Starring: Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson

Plot: Seven British retirees travel to India to settle in what they believe is a luxury hotel, but find the reality is different

Over-55 age group share of audience: 53 per cent

Film: Anna Karenina

Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law

Plot: A Tom Stoppard adaptation of the Leo Tolstoy novel about a married Russian aristocrat’s tragic love affair

Over-55 age group share of audience: 52 per cent