You will be redirected back to your article in seconds
Back to IndieWire

Moviegoers Follow Females of a Certain Age: Dench and Smith Make Unlikely Marquee Stars

Moviegoers Follow Females of a Certain Age: Dench and Smith Make Unlikely Marquee Stars

In “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” Judi Dench and Maggie Smith take second place to no male actors and can certainly claim much of the credit for that quirky independent comedy’s $115, 745,000 worldwide box office gross (as of June 15.) In the movie and television world that thrives far beneath the tent poles of “Avengers” and “Transformers,” these two English actresses have become marquee names.

France has always embraced Females of a Certain Age, but Hollywood has put them out to pasture long before they were eligible for Medicare.  Elderly male movie stars have thrived, from Edward G. Robinson, who co-starred as the detective partner of Charlton Heston in the sci-fi mystery thriller “Soylent Green” the year he died at the age of 79, to Jack Nicholson (75), Dustin Hoffman (74), Anthony Hopkins (74) who is in pre-production on four movies; and Harrison Ford (69), who is currently filming “Ender’s Game” and starring in “42” as Branch Rickey, the Dodger executive who broke Major League Baseball’s color line by hiring Jackie Robinson.

At the age of 77, Judi Dench has rarely been more in demand. And if James Bond would have taken his revenge in “Quantum of Solace” to a $586 million worldwide gross without Dench, casting that Oscar winner as the first female head of Her Majesty’s Secret Service in the Bond movies since “GoldenEye” in 1995 is “value added.”  That fact has not been lost on the maker of Bond video games, since Dench was recruited to play the voice of M, the code name for every chief of intelligence, even in the 2010 video game not based on a movie, “Blood Stone.”  And Acorn Media is trumpeting the release on DVD of her 1982 miniseries, “Love in a Cold Climate,” based on Nancy Mitford’s satiric novels about frivolous society girls whiling away the early 1930s at fancy dress balls and English country houses.

Maggie Smith, three weeks younger, has her own mini-series triumph in “Downton Abbey.”  The third season of that Masterpiece Theatre blockbuster starts next January with Shirley MacLaine, who just turned 78 and has five movies in production or pre-production, joining the cast as a foil to Smith’s Dowager Duchess of Grantham. (Smith has her own voiceover resume, including 2011’s “Gnomeo and Juliet.”) Smith will next star as the new resident in a home for retired opera singers, a diva who disturbs the quiet rhythm of the house in the comedy/drama “Quartet,” which is now in post production and was directed by Dustin Hoffman.

Dench’s next Bond movie, “Skyfall,” is also in post-production, and she is currently filming “Better Living Through Chemistry,” in which a rather dull pharmacist gets pulled into a whirl of sex, drugs, and, possibly, murder.  And she has just joined Jude Law and Daniel Radcliffe in a new London theatre company which aims to attract new young theatergoers by offering low priced tickets to a five-play season.  Dench will star as Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the woman who was the real Alice in Wonderland in “Peter and Alice,” a new play by John Logan, the Tony-winning writer of “Red.”

The movies have now discovered that women in the same age range can mean serious box office.  No one could ever claim that the $7.7 billion earned by the Harry Potter movies are due to Smith’s fierce defender of Harry, Hogwarts’ Professor McGonagall.  But no one can deny the “value added” by the two-time Oscar winner, especially as she survives in the chaotic battle of “Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows, Part 2.”

The value they add to the baby boomers who are now going to the movies in surprising numbers augers well for the hard-working major female movie stars coming up behind them –Helen Mirren, 67 (“The Queen,” “The Debt,” “Red”), Glenn Close, 65 (“Albert Nobbs”); Susan Sarandon, 65 (“Stepmom,” “Jeff, Who Lives at Home”); and Meryl Streep, who will be 63 on June 22 ( “The Iron Lady,” “Mamma Mia!,” and ‘The Devil Wears Prada”).

This Article is related to: Features



You mentioned that Judy Dench is scheduled to play Allce Liddell Hargreaves, the original "Wonderland" Alice in a new UK play this Fall. Did anyone ever see a rather strange but fascinating 1985 British film, "Dream Child,'' on this similar subject, written by Dennis Potter (The Singing Detective) and directed by Gavin Millar. Coral Browne played the aged Alice Hargreaves and Ian Holm was Dodgson (Lewis Carroll). Tomatoes 100% fresh. Incidentally, Coral Browne was another of those indomitable women actors.


"Age cannot wither nor custom stale……" But the British do seem to write better roles for their senior female actors, nor are those Brits constantly forced to play "younger" as are so many Hollywood stars (of both sexes). But yes, let's hope that our aging "boomer" population will demand films that reflect their generation and continue to employ these great women who have grown older with them.


This is great news, of course. Hopefully, with the fantastic critic’s and/or box office success of such films like Bridesmaids, The Help, Albert Nobbs, The Iron Lady and now The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel film producers and studios heads will finally realize that there is a strong market out there for film with female-centered casts.

Hollywood, unlike Europe (France in particular, where films stars like Jeanne Moreau and Catherine Deneuve never had any problems with being cast in leading film roles and are treated like national treasures) has never been kind to women over 50 not to mention 70, but great and legendary actresses like Angela Lansbury, Glenn Close, Susan Sarandon, Helen Mirren, Ruby Dee, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Judi Dench, Judy Devis, Cicely Tyson, Charlotte Rampling, Shirley MacLaine, and Eileen Atkins (just to name a few) deserve getting meaningful film roles in interesting projects since with age they are only getting better at their craft and moviegoers deserve to see them on the big screen doing something different than just playing someone's grandmothers or in Ms. Lansbury's case regrettably not see at all (but you can always find her on the Broadway stage performing 8 times per week in Gore Vidal's The Best Man).


it's partly because of the way the world is now and where we are going. the younger generation will never equal are 60+ crowd we have today. Internet and the difference in communication make us marvel at our elders who have lived to see it all, created what we know and love and have even adapted to today's standards, while we look forward to stagnant growth and easy living + anticipation of our earths resources dwindling because of our ever growing needy and selfish ways modern technology has created. There will never be another Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Shirley Maclaine, etc etc so we better enjoy them now, more so then generations of the past did with their older actresses. :)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *