The entertainment industry has long favoured the young and beautiful, constantly searching for the next—and newest—big thing. This has often meant that as stars get older they find roles become limited, and actors with decades of experience and multiple awards are relegated to second billing behind people just starting out.
But over the past few years we’ve started to see a new approach, with a range of movies and television shows that not only feature older actors but also put them centre stage and even make ageing central to the story.
We’ve seen the action stars of the ’80s coming together in The Expendables, some of the great female leads of the past 50 years exploring life after retirement in Book Club, and two of the most famous boxers in the history of the silver screen dusting off the gloves in Grudge Match. Even in their 70s, De Niro and Stallone still pack a punch!
The current Golden Age of Television is also giving older actors plenty of opportunities to show what they can do in roles that don’t fit the usual stereotypes. Shows like Grace and Frankie that are built around the concept of ageing are key in this resurgence of using older actors.
We are also seeing a recognition that older actors are just as capable of carrying shows. Ted Danson is wowing audiences in The Good Place as much as he did three decades ago in Cheers. In Australia stars like Sigrid Thornton (Wentworth) and Rebecca Gibney (Wanted) just keep getting better every year.
There’s no mystery behind the entertainment industry’s increasing willingness to showcase older actors. It's a simple acknowledgement of changing demographics. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, around 15% of Australia’s population are aged 65 and over. It’s an audience that can’t—and shouldn’t—be ignored.
It would be naive to pretend that studios are acting out of altruism; the simple truth is that more viewers mean more money. But there is another, more important, benefit that can come out of this. Our society can often foster a mindset that people have a use-by date, and that once you reach a certain age you have little to offer—and not much to look forward to.
It’s an attitude at odds with the Bible. Abraham thought his best days were well behind him when God not only gave him a son but also used him to found a new religion. John the Baptist’s parents made it clear to an angel that they were “very old”—too old to have a child—yet their son was born and helped change history.
Hopefully, watching older actors smash the traditional limitations they have faced and proving age doesn’t define us will teach us and those around us that, as the Bible tells us, it’s never too late to find new life or adventure.