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Is 2015 the Year of the Older Actress?

Is 2015 the Year of the Older Actress?

We at Women and Hollywood have noticed a trend: 2015 seems to be the year of the older actress. We can’t recall a year in the past decade or so with more female-centric projects led by actresses with decades of experience under their belts. 

Of course, we couldn’t be happier about this development, and are hopeful that the number of older actresses headlining movies isn’t an anomaly but instead marks a shift towards acknowledging the presence, and spending power, of this substantial demographic who want to see themselves represented onscreen.

As we’ve previously observed, “It’s not exactly a controversial stance to claim that the movie business tends to privilege youth and conventional beauty, but contrary to what Hollywood shows us, women don’t stop existing, or cease to be interesting, after the age of 40. Put simply, older women have seen and lived more of life, and so we’re always heartened to see movies … that recognize this simple fact.” 

In the top 100 grossing films of 2014, women represented a total of only 30% of all speaking characters and 12% of protagonists onscreen. Actresses typically end up playing the girlfriends, wives and fuckbuddies of male leads, and it’s well-documented that while leading men age, their love interests don’t.

Females over 40 make up 30% of all female characters, whereas males over 40 make up 53% of all male characters — that’s a difference of 23%. We want to see more women over 40 in movies period, but especially in leading roles, which is exactly why our headline is a bit of a misnomer. We hope 2015 isn’t the year of the older actress so much as the start of something bigger — a future where movies about older women aren’t a rarity. 

Here are some of 2015’s most high-profile movies with older female protagonists. If you’re noticing the absence of SXSW hit “Hello, My Name is Doris,” please note that the film — featuring Sally Field in a universally acclaimed performance — is scheduled to be released next year. All plot summaries courtesy of press materials. 

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 

Now that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is full up with its long-term residents, co-managers Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) and Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) have a dream of expansion, and they’ve found just the place: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. With plans underway, Evelyn and Douglas (Judi Dench and Bill Nighy) venture into the Jaipur workforce, wondering where their regular breakfast dates will lead. Meanwhile, Norman and Carol (Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle) navigate the swirling waters of an exclusive relationship, as Madge (Celia Imrie) juggles two very eligible suitors, and recent arrival Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) finds a muse in Sonny’s mother, Mrs. Kapoor (Lillete Dubey) for his next novel. As his marriage to Sunaina (Tina Desai), the love of his life, quickly approaches, Sonny finds his plans for the new hotel making more claims on his time than he has available. Perhaps the only one who may know the answers is Muriel, the keeper of everyone’s secrets. As the big day nears, family and guests alike find themselves swept up in the irresistible intoxication of an Indian wedding.

Release date: March 6

Woman in Gold

“Woman in Gold” is the remarkable true story of one woman’s journey to reclaim her heritage and seek justice for what happened to her family. Sixty years after she fled Vienna during World War II, an elderly Jewish woman, Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), starts her journey to retrieve family possessions seized by the Nazis, among them Klimt’s famous painting ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I’. Together with her inexperienced but plucky young lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), she embarks upon a major battle which takes them all the way to the heart of the Austrian establishment and the U.S. Supreme Court, and forces her to confront difficult truths about the past along the way

Release date: April 1 

“I’ll See You in My Dreams” 

Carol (Blythe Danner) is a retired schoolteacher and a longtime widow in her 70s. She enjoys a tranquil routine playing cards with close friends, keeping up her garden, and relaxing with a glass of wine. When her beloved dog dies, there’s a mournful vacuum that draws new experiences and attachments into her world. She forges a friendship with her pool guy and allows a pal to drag her to a speed dating shindig. And then there’s the gravelly-voiced, exuberant gentleman, Bill, who comes out of nowhere.

Release date: May 15 

“Ricki and the Flash” – Written by Diablo Cody

Three-time Academy Award winner Meryl Streep goes electric and takes on a whole new gig – a hard-rocking singer/guitarist – for Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody in the uplifting comedy “Ricki and the Flash.” In a film loaded with music and live performance, Streep stars as Ricki, a guitar heroine who gave up everything for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom, but is now returning home to make things right with her family. Streep stars opposite her real-life daughter Mamie Gummer, who plays her fictional daughter; Rick Springfield, who takes on the role of a Flash member in love with Ricki; and Kevin Kline, who portrays Ricki’s long-suffering ex-husband.

Release date: August 7


Lily Tomlin is Elle Reid. Elle has just gotten through breaking up with her girlfriend when Elle’s granddaughter Sage unexpectedly shows up needing $600 bucks before sundown. Temporarily broke, Grandma Elle and Sage spend the day trying to get their hands on the cash as their unannounced visits to old friends and flames end up rattling skeletons and digging up secrets.

Release date: August 21

“The Lady in the Van” 

This film tells the true story of the relationship between Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) and the singular Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith), a woman of uncertain origins who ‘temporarily’ parked her van in Bennett’s London driveway and proceeded to live there for 15 years.

Release date: December 11 

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