Silver-haired heroes: The top 5 films about retirement and aging

The movie industry has never done a great job of representing older people. Characters over the age of 60 are usually left to provide the creaky subplot while youth hogs the spotlight. And with Hollywood now desperate to lure teenagers away from their phones and games consoles, it seems that every new release is a franchised reboot featuring superheros, spaceships or rampaging robots. Either way the story is always the same: the fate of the universe hangs in the balance, and it’s down to someone with all their own teeth and enviable amounts of physical energy to save it. Well, here at Homewise we decided it’s time to turn the tables. We’ve selected our top five films that put age and experience centre stage and relegate youth to a supporting role. So grab your popcorn, pull up your favourite armchair and let’s hear it for the pensioner protagonists.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

Boasting an all-star cast of English acting royalty including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy, this sleeper hit comedy-drama centres on a group of retirees who book into a crumbling Indian hotel on the mistaken belief that it’s a luxury retirement home. Beautifully directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) with a whip-smart script adapted from the Deborah Moggach novel of the same name, the film is a reminder that age is no barrier to living, loving and learning. The performances are all excellent as you’d expect from the A-list cast. The real star though is the Indian state of Rajasthan, which lends the film its vibrant mix of colour, chaos and charm.

Gran Torino (2008)

Nobody does ‘pensioner with attitude’ better than Clint Eastwood, who directed himself in this story of an embittered Korean war veteran battling, and eventually bonding, with his Lao Hmong refugee neighbours in gangland Detroit. Eastwood plays the recently widowed Walt Kowalski, whose only love is his prized 1972 Ford Gran Torino. When a local Latino gang bullies a Hmong boy into stealing it, Walt finds himself embroiled in a three-way neighbourhood feud. Issues of race, identity, loneliness, community and nationhood are subtly and intelligently explored, while Clint demonstrates that even at the age of 78 he can still steal a scene with a squint.

Away From Her (2006)

Have a box of tissues handy if you watch this debut from Canadian director Sarah Polley, as it’s likely to have you blubbing like a baby by the time the credits roll. Julie Christie was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, with the equally excellent Gordon Pinsent as her doting husband who reluctantly moves her into a nursing home. The marriage is further tested when Christie’s character forms a close relationship with another resident of the nursing home, forcing her husband to choose between her happiness and his own. A remarkably mature work given that Polley was only 28 when she made it, the film scooped seven Genie Awards including Best Motion Picture.

Up (2009)

Even the most hardened cynic will struggle not to enjoy this computer-animated flight of fancy from the peerless Pixar Studios. With property developers intent on flattening his house, curmudgeonly balloon salesman Carl Fredricksen hatches a helium-fueled escape plan. Unbeknownst to him a young stowaway hitches a ride, and so ensues an odd-couple adventure complete with flying buildings, evil explorers, talking dogs and a giant flightless bird named Kevin. As always Pixar balances the humour perfectly to keep viewers of all ages amused, so don’t let the grandchildren hog the sofa when this is on. Up reminds us that age differences are really all in the mind, and that it’s never too late to embark on the biggest adventure of your life.

Tokyo Story (1953)

1950s Japanese arthouse might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the critics and directors who regularly vote Yasujirō Ozu’s minimalist masterpiece the best film of all time can’t all be wrong. This subtle and deeply moving family drama follows elderly husband and wife Shūkichi and Tomi as they journey from their remote village to visit their adult children in Tokyo. The film explores the inevitability of children growing apart from their parents, while still managing to pay homage to the human ties of relationship and family. With its slow pacing and lo-fi camera work, Tokyo Story is essential viewing for anyone who finds the bluster and bling of modern movies all a bit of a headache.