Documentary and narrative film have always had a weak distinction.
Hollywood likes to greenlight movies with youthful leading ladies and men, and movies with older protagonists are sadly few and far in between. Actors like Robert Duvall and Clint Eastwood and actresses like Judi Dench and Helen Mirren are changing that with some really incredible films and unforgettable characters. Read on for 19 movies with great older protagonists (by Hollywood standards at least).
Up – Carl Fredricksen takes a trip to South America and back while gaining three new friends, Wilderness Explorer scout Russell, a talking dog named Dug, and an exotic bird named Kevin.
Cocoon – Cocoon has a whole ensemble cast of older actors including Wilford Brimley, Maureen Stapleton, Jessica Tandy, and Don Ameche, all of whom get to recapture some of their youth thanks to some benevolent aliens.
The Straight Story – Richard Farnsworth in his final film role played Alvin, a World War II veteran who travels by John Deere 110 Lawn Tractor from Laurens, Iowa to Mount Zion, Wisconsin to see his estranged brother, played by Harry Dean Stanton. Farnsworth was nominated for numerous awards including the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Philomena – Philomena, based on the true story of Philomena Lee’s search for her son, was a critical success and earned numerous award nominations including an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for Judi Dench.
No Country for Old Men – Tommy Lee Jones headlined the Coen Brothers’ Oscar-winning film, and he was praised for his performance as the world-weary Texas sheriff Ed Tom Bell, a man fighting a losing battle against escalating violence in his corner of the world.
The Queen – Helen Mirren’s portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II dealing with the aftermath Princess Diana’s death earned Helen Mirren an Oscar for Best Actress as well as a Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA, Boston Society of Film Critics, Chicago Film Critics, and Broadcast Film Critics Association award.
Million Dollar Baby – Clint Eastwood not only starred in Million Dollar Baby as the hardened boxing coach Frankie Dunn but also directed, produced, and wrote the soundtrack for the film.
Driving Miss Daisy – This story of an unlikely friendship between an elderly Jewish woman and her African-American chauffeur was a huge success, winning four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actress for Jessica Tandy.
On Golden Pond – Based on the 1979 stage play, On Golden Pond is the story of an elderly couple and their final trip to their cottage on Golden Pond. The film was also the final film for star Henry Fonda, who won the Oscar for Best Actor for the role.
Sunset Boulevard – Technically, struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis is the protagonist of Sunset Boulevard, but aging silent actress Norma Desmond is the real star of the movie. Gloria Swanson’s performance is unforgettable and has one of cinema’s most memorable lines, “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”
Venus – Venus, the story of a last shot at romance between an aging actor and a much younger woman, earned Peter O’Toole his last Oscar nomination. In his career, he was nominated eight times and never won.
Unforgiven – Clint Eastwood makes the list again for directing and starring in Unforgiven. In this Western drama, Eastwood plays a reformed killer who comes back for one last job, hunting down two cowboys who disfigured a prostitute.
Mrs. Henderson Presents – Mrs. Henderson Presents, a World War II-era comedy, is based on the true story of Mrs. Laura Henderson and the Windmill Theatre. Henderson, a wealthy 70-year-old widow, purchased a theater and found a way to get around decency laws to feature nude female performers in her shows.
The Trip to Bountiful – Adapted from the popular stage play and live TV event, A Trip to Bountiful follows an elderly Texas woman who wants to travel to her hometown Bountiful, a town which dried up in the Great Depression. Her son and daughter-in-law try to protect her from the truth, but she takes matters into her own hands and buys a bus ticket to Bountiful, befriending a young girl along the way.
Get Low – Robert Duvall stars as Felix Bush, a man who hosts his own funeral so he can put his affairs in order and put the past to rest. Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek also star as the owner of the town’s funeral parlor and a widow who has a complicated past with Felix.
Millennium Actress – Satoshi Kon’s animated masterpiece has an aging actress recounting her career to a reporter, but her life and her films are intertwined in her retelling, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel boasts a large ensemble cast of older actors and actresses, including Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, and Penelope Wilton.
Amour – This tragic drama about a husband struggling with the physical deterioration of his beloved wife received rave reviews and award nominations, but watching the film is considered so emotionally draining that a person only needs to see it once.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Yes, Captain America is played by youthful Chris Evans, but his character is a World War II veteran kept young by super-soldier serum. A running joke of Winter Soldier is how he has to keep a notebook of important cultural events, films, and music albums to catch up with the young’uns around him.