Shutter Island from 67-year-old director Martin Scorsese, reigned atop US box offices for the end of February. It dethroned former champ Valentine’s Day from 75-year-old Garry Marshall, while 76-year-old Roman Polanski’s Ghost Whisperer is performing well in art houses.
Some quick math on directors nominated for the 2010 Oscars shows an average age of 48, lowered only by the nomination of the youngish Jason Reitman (Up In the Air) at age 32.
It seems that if a director makes shrewd casting choices, works in a proven genre, stakes out a sure-fire release date or simply stays in the game long enough, they, like fine wine, get better with age.
“If you’re making works that are relevant to today’s audience, there is no ageism” in Hollywood, said Paul Dergarabedian, who tracks ticket sales for Hollywood.com.
Ageism has become a dirty word in entertainment in recent years because it seems today’s big stars are teens and young adults like Miley Cyrus, 17, Zac Efron, 22 and the Twilight actors. Brad Pitt, 46 and Tom Cruise, 47 are just old men.
Late last month, TV writers, talent agents, studios and broadcasters announced a settlement in an age discrimination suit that called for businesses to pay US$70 million to writers who believed they were denied jobs and promotions because they were telling stories too old to reach today’s audiences.
Yet in a town seemingly always focused on new talent or the next young visionary, filmmakers old enough to be grandfathers are the ones tapping into what today’s moviegoers want to see.
Thriller Shutter Island, which teamed Leonardo DiCaprio and Scorsese, has earned US$75 million in two weeks and Valentine’s Day is at US$100 million in three weeks.
Beyond box office, pairing with a veteran can lead to Oscars. Think Hilary Swank in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, Adrian Brody in Polanski’s The Pianist, Cate Blanchett in Scorsese’s The Aviator and Penelope Cruz for Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
This year Jeremy Renner has director Kathryn Bigelow, 58, among others, to thank for his nomination playing an Army bomb defusing specialist in The Hurt Locker, and little known Australian actor Sam Worthington has seen a huge career boost from 55-year-old James Cameron’s Oscar-nominated Avatar.
“I think there’s the cachet of working with a Scorsese or a Polanski that cannot be matched with working with a younger filmmaker, no matter how hot that person might be,” said Dave Karger, movie writer for Entertainment Weekly magazine.
Filmmakers, in turn, can find their careers flickering long past typical Hollywood expiration dates by pairing with some of today’s top actors and pop culture celebrities.
Marshall, for example, couldn’t be more hip right now for casting country sensation Taylor Swift, 20, and Twilight heartthrob Taylor Lautner, 18, in Valentine’s Day.
The idea is nothing new. Julia Roberts was 24 years-old when Marshall’s smash hit Pretty Woman, starring Roberts, hit theaters, and Anne Hathaway was 19 years-old when she found fame in his The Princess Diaries.
To be sure, other factors are at play when it comes to the success of these films, the experts caution.
Shrewd marketing positioned Shutter Island as a popular horror thriller, and interest about Ghost Writer has been fuelled by Polanski’s recent arrest on an old child sex charge.
“There is no question the notoriety pegged to his legal case helped put him in the limelight and right in the mix of the box-office charts,” said Dergerabedian.
And it doesn’t look like any of older filmmakers have plans to stop. Eastwood’s next film is thriller Hereafter starring Matt Damon, and Woody Allen is editing You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger with Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin, among others.
“All these filmmakers could easily retire to Palm Beach,” said Karger. “But they are choosing to stay busy. In a town like Hollywood that’s generally tough on older people, its all the more impressive what these (people) are doing.”