Where are all the older adults? Starring in movies

Led by octogenarians Sophia Loren, Anthony Hopkins and Bruce Dern, several new movies feature familiar older faces and tackle aging-related topics, from caregiving to living with dementia.

With COVID-19 keeping many older adults at hidden at home, a crop of new movies puts the focus on older adults and the issues they face.

Here are some recommendations from Caroline Cicero, professor at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and an expert in visual representations of older adults.

“With all the recent focus on the frailty of older people and the need to shutter them inside or distance ourselves from them, it’s wonderful to see these older actors representing stories from around the world, showing us not only that creative artists can contribute powerful work well into their 80s but also that the characters they portray have intensely important and meaningful intergenerational stories that educate, entertain, and elevate all of us,” says Cicero, who teaches a class on the life course and the arts.

  • The Life Ahead (streaming now): Almost 70 years after her first film appearance, 86-year-old Sophia Loren stars in this movie about a Holocaust survivor and former sex-worker and the bond she develops with an orphaned child.
  • The Father (February 26): Octogenarian actor Anthony Hopkins stars with Olivia Colman in a critically-acclaimed story about a father’s decline into dementia. The film shines a light on the challenges of caregiving, a difficult issue that has come to the fore during this pandemic.
  • Da Five Bloods (streaming now): Fifty years after their tours of duty, four Black veterans return to Vietnam to retrieve the remains of their fallen squad leader. Though the film is filled with flashbacks, director Spike Lee, makes no attempt to de-age his older actors. “Delroy Lindo’s performance stands out in this film about memory and generational trauma,” says Cicero. “Passage of time and subconscious wounds of war drive Lee’s story and overpower concern about whether an actor’s natural wrinkles have been digitally removed. Appearances by the late Chadwick Boseman reinforce the cruelty of time and lost opportunity.”
  • The Mole Agent (streaming now): This film follows Sergio Chamy as he moves into a Chilean assisted living community and keeps an eye on residents. It’s a surprising documentary and spy movie all in one.
  • The Artist’s Wife (streaming now): Lena Olin and Bruce Dern star as married artists facing the intense challenges brought on by an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis and the struggle to fulfill legacy making career expectations.
  • Minari (In some theaters now but streaming in February): This Sundance award winner from writer/director Lee Isaac Chung tells the engaging story of a Korean immigrant family struggling to build a life in rural Arkansas and how their routines are altered by the arrival of their spirited grandmother, played by Korean star Yuh-jung Youn.
  • Nomadland (streaming in February): Frances McDormand stars in this highly acclaimed film adapted for the screen and directed by Chloé Zhao, and based on journalist Jessica Bruder’s subculture study of people living on the road. Sixty-three-year-old McDormand’s absorbing performance as an unemployed, houseless “old woman” is catching the eye of critics and reveals unending beautiful landscapes across the American West.

“While we are missing the communal experience of watching these films in theaters, it’s beautiful that we can travel around the world and across the US with these actors, filmmakers, and cinematographers who bring travel and human connection to life for us,” says Cicero.

Top: Olivia Colman and Anthony Hopkins in “The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics)