What are your favorite aging movies? It can be tough to think of movies that portray the true and rich experiences of people aging. Popular culture tends to be youth-focused, but there are some quality aging movies we recommend.
Here’s our list of top five aging movies that show some of the beauty and complexity of getting older. We think they have some important lessons for aging wisely. We’ll also be sharing recommendations in the future for movies specifically about caregiving and dementia. So, make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter for updates or follow us on Facebook.
Our Top Five Aging Movies
1. The Straight Story
This 1999 biographical road drama film is based on the true story of Alvin Straight's 1994 journey across Iowa and Wisconsin on a lawn mower. Alvin (Richard Farnsworth) is an elderly World War II veteran who lives with his daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek), a kind woman with an intellectual disability. When he hears that his estranged brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton) has suffered a stroke, Alvin makes up his mind to visit him and hopefully make amends before he dies. Because Alvin's legs and eyes were too impaired for him to keep his driver’s license, he hitches a trailer to his lawn tractor. With a maximum speed of about 5 miles/hour, he sets off on the 240-mile journey from Laurens, Iowa to Mount Zion, Wisconsin.
The main character is at once stubborn (the scenes at the medical clinic and discussing his journey with his daughter are both funny and familiar to many of us with aging loved ones and clients) and purposeful. We start to learn he is also wise.
Along the slow and steady journey Alvin faces challenges. He meets various people and shares some of his life story and wisdom. There’s a touching moment with a young women who’s run away from home where he offers his analogy about the importance of family. He spends some time with a cycling group and answers two young men’s questions about the best and worst parts of getting old. When talking to another veteran, we learn more of his backstory and begin to understand why this journey to see his brother is so important to him. This movie shows beautiful quiet moments of the journey, while imparting wisdom about life and aging. It is not only a great aging movie, but a wonderful film about the journey of life.
2. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
This movie features seven older adults who, for various reasons, move from England to India to stay at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It not only features a rarely-seen large cast above age 55, but also portrays a holistic, complex view of aging. It explores the issues of aging in a society where youth is highly valued.
Some of the characters’ reasons for coming to India are personal, but their stories also point out some of society’s challenges for aging. It reflects a growing phenomenon of retirement migration (especially internationally) and the different factors playing into that. The movie shows the reality many retirees face, such as financial insecurity and medical costs.
While done with humor, the movie does not make a joke of aging. It shows that old age is just part of the life cycle. People come to it with diverse backgrounds, personalities, problems, and triumphs.
This 2012 British comedy-drama takes place in Beecham House, a retirement home for former professional musicians. All the guests in the retirement home suffer in various degrees from aging-related ailments. However, they continue to be engaged in their former professions in one way or another, including lecturing and introducing young people to music. Dustin Hoffman made his directorial debut at age 75 with this film.
Finances threaten the closure of Beecham House, but they’re holding out hope for proceeds from a yearly gala concert on Verdi's birthday. Through various twists and turns, we learn about the characters, their pasts, and their struggles. We see their humanity. The project brings new energy to the residents and teaches the often-overlooked lesson of just how much we all need purpose throughout our lives.
The movie clearly shows three things: how varied the residents are; an idyllic retirement home situation where residents remain engaged with their passions; and relationship dynamics when a group of people live and face their latter years together. Our experience has shown us these things in many real-life scenarios. For those of us who work with elders, we know that we will meet people with interesting and diverse stories, different personalities, struggles, and passions. This movie reinforces that aging can not only be dignified, but rewarding. And, that older adults can offer us/the world as much as we can offer them.
As we think about aging individually and as a society, Beecham House provides a lot of lessons we might want to consider.
4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a 2008 American fantasy romantic drama film, loosely based on the 1922 short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The film stars Brad Pitt as a man who ages in reverse and Cate Blanchett as his love interest.
The story explores the ways that age affects identity. It gives us a truly unique perspective on aging, by showing a life lived aging in reverse.
Screenplay writer Eric Roth shared his thoughts on the movie, which reflect a lot of what we love about it. “We’re living through the death of our parents and seeing our children get older and have their own lives and become adults. Yet I’m hoping that the movie will resonate with people who are younger, too, that it will speak somehow to a younger generation and let them see what aging is about, even though it may not be foremost on their minds.”
We couldn’t leave out this classic, shot right here in St. Pete, Florida. It shows some of our favorite locations in the area, including the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club, Suncoast Manor Retirement Community, The Coliseum, and Snell Arcade buildings.
A star-studded cast of older adults prompts an honest look at aging. It’s a “sci-fi” fountain of youth story from the elders’ perspective. These gifted actors bring their characters to life. They’re not cardboard cutouts or shriveled-up figures, sitting in the shadows of nursing homes. The movie shows beautiful relationships and the importance of friendship and love throughout life.
It also brings up the age-old concept and question of a fountain of youth. What would we give up to stay young? What is the meaning of life and mortality?