Oldsters are hip in Hollywood

Older actors are triumphing during awards season and at the box office, and they don't seem to be leaving pop culture anytime soon.

Fox Searchlight Films/AP
‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’

It sounds like a fairly rote story for a Hollywood crime drama – after a mobster gets out of jail, he and his old buddies team up for a wild night on the town.

What sets "Stand Up Guys" apart? The leads, Christopher Walken, Al Pacino, and Alan Arkin, shuffle instead of leap into a stolen getaway car.

Yet "Stand Up Guys," with its not-so-young stars, isn't an oddity in entertainment anymore. Think of comedian Betty White's recent resurgence. Or Taco Bell's lauded Super Bowl commercial of oldsters gyrating on the dance floor. It seems Grandma and Grandpa not acting their age has become a lucrative story line.

As for full-length features with a cast of seasoned actors, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (2012) is helping to prove that youth-obsessed pop culture is growing up. The story of a group of retired British tourists living in a ramshackle hotel in India, portrayed by legends Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and Tom Wilkinson, grossed more than $46 million in the United States.

In addition, Dustin Hoffman's directing debut, "Quartet," starring Ms. Smith as a former opera star settling into a group home, was released late last year to positive reviews. And "Last Vegas," to be released in December, follows the escapades of a group of retirement-age men who decide to hit Sin City one last time.

But it's not all fast cars and funny lines for the film industry's mature performers. "Amour" a French film focusing on poignant end-of-life issues, received love from America when awards season arrived. It's a Best Picture nominee for the 2013 Oscar season and its female lead, Emmanuelle Riva, earned a Best Actress nod, making her the oldest nominee in Oscar history.

Richard Walter, screenwriting chairman and professor at the School of Theater, Film, and Television at the University of California at Los Angeles, says the close release dates of all these films is probably a coincidence. But the fact that baby boomers are entering their retirement years means these kinds of films are likely to continue to appear. "I think there will be more films for older audiences because there are more older audiences," Mr. Walter says.

And while mature moviegoers may enjoy watching films featuring life experiences similar to their own, Walter says the appeal of "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" also lies in the fact that it was simply an enjoyable film.

"It's a good story," he says. "That's all audiences want."

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