The 10 Most Inspiring Filmmakers Over 50
These big-time actors, actresses and directors just keep getting better and better
Momodu Mansaray/WireImage; P. Lehman/Future Publishing via Getty Images; Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images
In recent weeks during interviews to promote new projects Bullet Train and the six-part HBO Max docuseries The Last Movie Stars, Brad Pitt, 58, and Ethan Hawke, 51, have both expressed feelings of being in the twilight of their acting careers, or at least the third act. “I consider myself on my last leg” Pitt told GQ; while Hawke opined to IndieWire that he’s at “the beginning of my last act” as an actor.
Hawke and Pitt don’t have to look far to find actors and filmmakers who’ve seen their careers flourish, and even go in new directions, after 50. As director Ridley Scott, 84, once told me for Variety, “Experience does frequently work. I was always amused that people retire at 60. At 60 you know everything. I’m way past my 60s and I’m chugging along doing the best work I’ve done in my life. That’s why I look at Clint Eastwood as the way to go.”
No offense to recent AARP-age members Pitt and Hawke, but here are 10 big talents who continue to inspire well into their membership years. Don’t quit your day jobs, fellas.
Viola Davis, 56
With a mantel full of Oscar, Emmy and BAFTA trophies, Davis has dominated movies and easily transitioned to leading high-profile TV shows, like How to Get Away With Murder, as opportunities have opened up for women of color. The prestigious Toronto International Film Festival announced this month that Davis will get an Oscar-boosting opening-night premiere for The Woman King, the historical epic that had her learning martial arts and tapping into her physical bravery.
Dale Dickey, 60
For years, Dickey has played indelible supporting roles, starting with The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love (1995), and showing her penchant for playing tough dames who can spit out a zinger opposite Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone (2010). Switch-hitting from film to TV, she’ll be seen in the upcoming movie-based series A League of Their Own. While she’s spent her prolific career largely under the radar, for the very first time Dickey plays the lead who carries the romantic arc in the Sundance hit A Love Song opposite Wes Studi, 74.
Nicole Kidman, 55
Sure, the Australian actress boosted her American leading lady status on the arm of then-husband Tom Cruise, 60, in Far and Away (1992). But now, after a stellar run in movies, including one Oscar win for The Hours, and a turn as Lucille Ball in last year’s Being the Ricardos, she’s wisely gone the producing route. That choice, to take responsibility for her talents and her roles, has led to a string of cable successes like Big Little Lies, The Undoing and Nine Perfect Strangers.
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Helen Mirren, 77
Mirren, always stunning, has become a global beauty icon in her 70s. While she had her first major role in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream as Hermia opposite the late Diana Rigg’s Helena in 1968 (worth a rewatch), and scooped up her first best actress Oscar nearly 40 years later for The Queen in 2007, she also was ahead of the pack of actresses migrating from big screen to small with the BBC series Prime Suspect. Recently, she’s added action star to her résumé and only this month hit the gossip columns for celebrating the 55th birthday of her Fast X costar Vin Diesel in Rome. What a dame!
Ridley Scott, 84
Wouldn’t it be enough to have directed Gladiator, Alien, The Martian, Blade Runner and Thelma & Louise? Four-time Academy Award nominee Scott in 2021 had not one but two Oscar contenders in the race: period piece House of Gucci and medieval actioner The Last Duel. Not busy enough? Scott’s currently wrapping up the biopic Napoleon starring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role.
Maggie Smith, 87
Smith has long been a major actress of stage and screen, scoring the first of two Oscars for her title role in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie more than a half century ago, in 1969. But who could have predicted her television superstardom in the past decade as the dowager countess of Grantham, matriarch of the Crawleys, snagging three Emmys since 2011 for the PBS monster hit Downton Abbey?
Steven Spielberg, 75
In the past quarter of a century, Spielberg has been prolific. And while there were times he resisted change — the transition from film to digital, for example — he’s still experimenting. Recently he shot his first music video — of Marcus Mumford — on an iPhone. To quote a tweet from Mumford, “On Sunday 3rd July in a high school gym in New York, Steven Spielberg directed his first music video, in one shot, on his phone. Kate Capshaw, 68, was the almighty dolly grip.” And his personal family portrait The Fabelmans will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, the first time a Spielberg film will have its world premiere at the Canadian fest.
Quentin Tarantino, 59
The writer-director may claim that his next film will be his last. But the past few years have seen major lifestyle changes for the Oscar winner. He wed Israeli singer Daniella Pick in 2018 and moved to Tel Aviv, where the couple recently welcomed their second child.
Making The Hateful Eight, From Dusk to Dawn: The Series, and the reflectively elegiac Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood after turning 50 proved him more than an enfant terrible.
Denzel Washington, 67
Washington landed on the TV star track with the popular ’80s medical show St. Elsewhere and soon crossed over into movie stardom, particularly in a series of movies directed by Spike Lee, 65. The double Oscar winner continues to be a towering presence, headlining The Tragedy of Macbeth last year, leading popcorn franchises like The Equalizer 3, and commanding Broadway most recently in The Iceman Cometh.
Michelle Yeoh, 59
I first saw Yeoh kicking butt in the 1993 Hong Kong action classic The Heroic Trio. She continued to make her international reputation in the 2001 best foreign language Oscar winner Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In English-language films she’s largely had supporting roles in such movies as Crazy Rich Asians, but she graciously takes the lead in this year’s English language breakout hit Everything Everywhere All at Once, which could score a best actress Oscar nom for the Malaysian native.
Thelma M. Adams, the former film critic for Us Weekly and the New York Post, is a novelist who writes on film for AARP, The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.