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article imageAging Hollywood Stars Still Raking In Box Office Gold

By Johnny Simpson     May 27, 2008 in Entertainment
The new Indiana Jones flick starring Harrison Ford, 65, has made over $311M worldwide. Sylvester Stallone, 62 this July, is still cashing in on action flicks like Spy Kids, Rambo and Rocky Balboa. And it's not just the men pulling it off.
Trailer for 'Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull' Featuring Harrison Ford
In 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane' starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Ms. Davis plays Baby Jane Hudson, a former child star now middle-aged caught in a midlife crisis, trying to recapture her storied youth in the most absurd and pathetic ways.
Though not a realistic portrayal, it hints at an essential truth: Hollywood has always been about the young, for the young.
Hollywood is youth-driven. The enormous success stories of Disney and Pixar studios are living proof of that, and most tent pole releases like Harry Potter, Dark Knight, Iron Man, and the Incredible Hulk feature mostly youthful stars, and are geared for child and teenage audiences which represent the source of most box office revenue.
Some perfect examples of this truism are the Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia films, as well as the recent Star Wars and Lord of the Rings trilogies, all of which featured mostly youthful main characters and ensemble casts.
Sure, there have been great actors like John Wayne, Lawrence Olivier, Jack Lemmon and Humphrey Bogart who starred in commanding and riveting lead roles right up to their deathbeds.
What is a unique phenomenon in our time is that aging Hollywood stars like Harrison Ford and Sylvester Stallone are still in the thick of it in leading roles and action-adventure films like Rambo, Spy Kids and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.
Stallone and Ford still do all their own stunts, which is even more impressive all things considered.
There had even been rumors Clint Eastwood, 78, would be doing a new Dirty Harry flick titled Gran Turino. Those rumors have since been dispelled, but the fact the rumors carried so much weight for awhile attests to the popularity of Eastwood's Dirty Harry character, the fact that anything is possible in Hollywood today, and that age is becoming far less of a factor than it used to be vis-a-vis leading roles and action flicks.
There are a lot of other great older actors still pulling their weight at the box office like Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman, Rutger Hauer, Gene Hackman, Sir Ian McKellan and Jon Voight, who was recently seen swinging from frayed ropes over a bottomless abyss in National Treasure: Book of Secrets.
And oh yeah. Ahnold, 60, may be making a cameo apperance in the new Terminator film.
The independent.ie also has an interesting writeup on this subject.
And it's not just men pulling it off.
To preface, the shelf life for women in Hollywood has always been much shorter than men's, and may still be to a degree today.
Here is a great USA Today article from 2005 on the problems famous actresses face approaching the dreaded Big 4-0 and all that entails vis-a-vis starring and leading roles in Hollywood.
In that article, Clint Eastwood had the following to say on the subject:
"The roles thin out when (actresses) get to a certain age," acknowledges Oscar-nominated director and actor Clint Eastwood, who at 74 is still considered leading-man material. "It's a crime."
Yet Helen Mirren shared that dangerous rope ride with Jon Voight in National Treasure 2 and has been going great guns in film for some time now, earning a Best Actress Oscar in 2006 for her lead role as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen.
Meryl Streep still enjoys great popularity, and is keeping busy with three new projects in development.
Dame Judy Dench continues to hold her own in the Bond series (last seen opposite Daniel Craig in Casino Royale) and other action films like The Chronicles of Riddick, and was voted Best British Actress of All Time in a 2005 Sky TV poll.
And Karen Allen has just reprised her role as Marion Ravenwood in Indiana Jones 4. I haven't seen it yet, but I'm sure Ms. Allen saw her share of physically demanding action.
You'll notice that for the sake of gentlemanly courtesy, women's ages were not mentioned.
So how does this all happen in an industry as youth-obsessed as Hollywood?
As it always starts in Hollywood: with the script.
Since 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had looked over at least five scripts by some of Hollywood's most talented writers before settling on David Koepp's.
So what if Ford is 65?
So what if it's been 19 years since the last Indiana Jones?
Moviegoers seem to agree.
Box office doesn't lie.
Personally, I'm glad to see it.
Acting talent doesn't end at forty, and our best actors and actresses have done some of their finest work later in life.
Bette Davis as Baby Jane Hudson, for example.
Lawrence Olivier's role at age 69 as Dr. Christian Szell, the menacing former Nazi doctor in Marathon Man, was bone-chilling in the extreme and earned the Maestro of screen and stage yet another Oscar nomination.
British actor David Suchet, 62, famed for his role as Hercule Poirot and for playing menacing heavies in such films as Falcon and the Snowman and Executive Decision, outdid himself as the epitome of slime, corruption and evil in the role of murderous SoHo porn king Lew Vogel in last year's The Bank Job, featuring Jason Statham.
Max von Sydow, 79, the Swedish-born internationally acclaimed actor perhaps best known to American audiences as Father Merrin in The Exorcist, is filming one project as we speak and has recently wrapped on three others.
Mr. von Sydow has been featured in a number of prominent roles in major films since turning 60 way back in 1989, including Minority Report, Judge Dredd, Rush Hour 3, Snow Falling on Cedars and What Dreams May Come.
His turn as the gleefully demonic Leland Gaunt in the 1993 film adaptation of Steven King's Needful Things was a masterpiece in happy-go-lucky malevolence.
Fellow Needful Things star Ed Harris, who turns 58 this year, is also doing quite well for himself these days.
And who wouldn't keep watching Anthony Hopkins, 71, in the role of Hannibal Lechter should any more be made?
Could Hannibal Lechter ever get so old he'd lose his evil edge?
That's not likely to happen, but I'm not counting it out either.
Sir Anthony, however, is currently shooting in the role of Sir John Talbott in The Wolf Man, due for release next year.
I guess the whole point of my dissertation is this: if great movies are written and made with outstanding parts for some of our finest acting talent regardless of age, why not?
Although I must say I would have reservations about a new Eastwood-as-Dirty Harry flick, Harrison Ford reprising Indiana Jones in fifteen years, or Sylvester Stallone doing another Rocky at age 70.
Outside of that, it's all fair game.
You make a great movie with some older Hollywood talent, I'll show up for it.
Like tens of millions around the world already have for Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.
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