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Who’s Deciding the Hit Movies this Summer? Grownups Are!

Despite COVID, viewers over 50 are returning to theaters and minting gold for films like 'Elvis' and 'Top Gun: Maverick'

(Left to right) Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker and Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in "Elvis"; Tom Cruise as Capt. Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell in "Top Gun: Maverick."
(Left to right) Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker and Austin Butler as Elvis Presley in "Elvis"; Tom Cruise as Capt. Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell in "Top Gun: Maverick."
Hugh Stewart/Warner Bros. Pictures; Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures

Viewers over 50 gave Hollywood its first great news since COVID: two back-to-back No. 1 films, Top Gun: Maverick, the first billion-dollar hit for Tom Cruise (who turns 60 July 3), and surprise smash Elvis, with Tom Hanks (who turns 66 July 9) as manager Tom Parker.

“Elvis has older moviegoers to thank,” exclaimed The Hollywood Reporter. “56 percent of the audience so far is over the age of 35, including a whopping 29 percent over 55.”

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​About two-fifths of Cruise’s viewers were over 45, one-fifth over 55. Showbiz411 pundit Roger Friedman calls it “a bellwether maybe for older movie patrons returning to theaters.” Their word of mouth helped incite stampedes of younger crowds.

Don’t miss this: Your Ultimate Guide to This Summer’s Best Movies

​People who say they’re “very or somewhat comfortable” going to the movies just hit an all-time high, says Variety: A year ago, 59 percent were movie-comfy. Now 88 percent are ravenous for multiplex popcorn.

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And they value quality films, not just superhero franchises

​Over-50 cinephiles make such non-superhero, non-blockbuster art house movies possible — AARP’s pre-COVID 2017 study found that 75 percent of their audiences were grownups. Says Brueggemann, “The next test will be Sony’s release of Where the Crawdads Sing” July 13; the novel, a murder mystery, sold 12 million copies and features a lawyer inspired by Atticus Finch who is played in the film version by David Straithairn, 73.

​“What year is it?” wonders Friedman. “Everything old is new again as McCartney rocks Glastonbury, Stones take Hyde Park, Elvis [is] king of box office and so is Top Gun!”

​He adds, “Let’s not forget that the No. 1 song, ‘Running Up that Hill,’ is Kate Bush’s hit from 1985.” He notes it’s from TV’s hit Stranger Things, an homage to ’80s movies that relaunched Winona Ryder, 50. 

​Long homebound, grownups seem to be having their moment in pop culture. “The floodgates appear to be opening,” Dergarabedian says.

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