Films That Centre Characters Over 40

Are you weary of films about people younger than yourself? You may be over 40. Here are some suggestions.

Most films about people over forty are men, so the list below is woman heavy.

Some of these stories are really about young people, but told with the framing story of an older person looking back, so I’m not sure they really count as stories about older people.

These are in no order, except I will list my own favourites first. In my experience, if seeking out stories about characters over forty, your best bet on screen is TV rather than film. Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Big Love, Greenleaf, Succession and Chernobyl are all prestige shows starring people over forty. Older British TV series also sometimes feature characters in their mid-years and beyond: Fawlty Towers, To The Manor Born and House of Cards.

Then there are TV shows like Six Feet Under and Friday Night Lights which give their older characters developed stories of their own. Nashville is specifically about a younger star rising up to replace the established middle age country music veteran. There’s an increasing number of TV detectives who are over the age of 40. One recent example is Mare of Easttown. These detectives balance their work lives with complicated family situations.

The idea that the glut of bad blockbusters is the result of “audience preference” is neoliberal nonsense. One of the main mechanisms of capitalism is eliminating competition and then figuring out exactly how crappy you can make something before people stop buying it.

@mechanicalkurt, 7:46am · 26 Jul 2021

MY OWN FAVOURITES

Olive Kitteridge (2014)

Olive Kittridge isn’t a movie. It’s a four part miniseries based on the best-selling novels by Elizabeth Strout. However, if you binge watch it all at once, it works like a super long movie. Olive Kitteridge is a bristly character but highly relatable if you’ve hit middle age and find you have less patience for bullshit and pointless ceremony these days. Frances McDormand is perfectly cast, as is everyone else. Olive Kitteridge follows Olive into her old age, where she must face the particular challenges that come with looking your own mortality down the barrel of a gun.

Lonesome Dove (1989)

I’m a big fan of the novel series. Although Larry McMurtry’s 1985 novel Lonesome Dove was adapted for screen in the late 1980s, it’s still great. The old cowboys have come to their end of their lives and are craving another adventure, this time driving cattle from Texas up to Montana, where they believe they will make a fortune and live out the rest of their lives in comfort.

Terms of Endearment (1983)

Terms of Endearment is also based on a Larry McMurtry novel, this one from his Houston series. This story is definitely the best of that series, and focuses as much on the mother as her adult daughter.

The World’s Fastest Indian (2005)

Starring Anthony Hopkins. I have a soft spot for this film, being a Kiwi myself. Anthony Hopkins gets the accent absolutely right. Few New Zealanders themselves could manage an authentic Southland accent.

This is a 2005 New Zealand biographical sports drama based on the Invercargill, New Zealand, speed bike racer Burt Munro.

Munro rode a highly modified 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle. Munro set numerous land speed records for motorcycles with engines less than 1,000 cc at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in the late 1950s and into the 1960s. This film follows his trip to America, where he is a fish out of water.

Away From Her (2006)

Based on “The Bear Came Over The Mountain” by Alice Munro. The snowy landscape really sticks in my mind after watching this. Few films show what it’s really like to live with snow that settles. (That isn’t even what the film is about.)

Because it comes from Alice Munro, you can trust the story will be expansive and nuanced.

August: Osage County (2013)

There is nothing cheerful about this story, nor cosy. The setting is somewhat similar to that in Terms of Endearment, but this is a harrowing story about a family. The plot will sound familiar to everyone: Adults who’ve made their own lives in the cities return to their small hometown to deal with a family crisis.

The masterful thing about this story, clearly originally written for stage, is how the reveals are done. The first reveal is only a reveal for the characters because the audience has been let in on it first. The second reveal will surprise the audience. Then, when you think there can be no more reveals, there’s one more right at the end.

Doubt (2008)

This is my favourite film starring Meryl Streep. The audience is right there alongside Meryl Streep’s nun as she deals with a terrible moral dilemma: Does she trust her gut instinct about the new priest, even though she has no firm evidence against him?

All Is Lost (2013)

Robert Redford. out on a sinking yacht/lifeboat by himself in the middle of the ocean, next to zero dialogue. I’ve seen a few ‘man stuck alone on a sinking boat’ films and this one has the pacing and tension just right. However, you won’t get me on a boat.

Secrets and Lies (1996)

I’m a fan of Mike Leigh, and more so the older I get. I did enjoy Secrets and Lies when it was fairly new (I was in my late teens) and it’s still good. It felt new to watch a film about working class people. I’d previously only really seen working class people in soaps such as Coronation Street, which is not realistic.

All Or Nothing (2002)

Another by Mike Leigh. The story of a marriage, again starring working class middle-aged people.

Vera Drake (2004)

Also by Mike Leigh. A shocking reminder of what society looks like when abortion is illegal. The cheerful disposition of the main character juxtaposes terribly against the setting, and the predicament she ends up in.

The Wife (2017)

Starring Glenn Close, based on the novel by Meg Wolitzer. The less you know about this story going in, the better.

The Wrestler (2008)

Starring Mickey Rourke, this is one of the few films which Australia’s Margaret and David both gave five out of five stars to.

Anyone who is getting old enough to find their body isn’t working as well as it used to will relate to this film, though it is very sad.

Can you imagine a universe where one flew over the cuckoo’s nest was the second highest grossing film of the year?? I Have to Believe we can go back as a culture to people making and watching Grown Up Media on that scale.

@xtinatucker, 12:12am · 26 Jul 2021

RECOMMENDATIONS FROM OTHERS

The Straight Story

A 1999 biographical road drama directed by David Lynch, edited and produced by Mary Sweeney, Lynch’s long-time partner and collaborator. She also co-wrote the script with John E. Roach. The film is based on the true story of Alvin Straight’s 1994 journey across Iowa and Wisconsin on a lawn mower. 

I find this one a bit slow, but if slow and immersive is exactly what you’re after, this is your ticket.

Last Weekend (2014)

Starring Patricia Clarkson

When an affluent matriarch gathers her dysfunctional family for a holiday at their Northern California lake house, her carefully constructed weekend begins to come apart at the seams, leading her to question her own role in the family.

Fear Eats the Soul (1974)

A lonely widow meets a much younger Arab worker in a bar during a rainstorm. They fall in love, to their own surprise and to the outright shock of their families, colleagues, and drinking buddies.

Grandma (2015)

Starring Lily Tomlin and Laverne Cox

Following the story of an 18-year-old girl named Sage (Garner) — who, needing money to get an abortion following an accidental pregnancy, seeks her grandmother Elle (Tomlin) out for help — the film manages to include a diverse set of characters with differing gender identities, sexual orientations, and backgrounds so effortlessly, it sort of makes you wonder how it’s possible other films fail to do this when Grandma managed it with no problem. It’s projects like these that, as Grandma star Laverne Cox told Bustle, gives her hope for the future of Hollywood.

Laverne Cox Explains Why ‘Grandma’ Is So Feminist

The Forty-Year Old Version (2020)

Radha is a down-on-her-luck NY playwright, who is desperate for a breakthrough before 40. Reinventing herself as rapper RadhaMUSPrime, she vacillates between the worlds of Hip Hop and theatre in order to find her true voice.

Second Hand Lions (2003)

A coming-of-age story about a shy, young boy sent by his irresponsible mother to spend the summer with his wealthy, eccentric uncles in Texas.

20th Century Women (2016)

The story of a teenage boy, his mother, and two other women who help raise him among the love and freedom of Southern California of 1979.

Chef (2014)

A head chef quits his restaurant job and buys a food truck in an effort to reclaim his creative promise, while piecing back together his estranged family.

The Lady In The Van (2015)

Based on a real life situation experienced by writer Alan Bennett. Stars Dame Maggie Smith.

A man forms an unexpected bond with a transient woman living in her van that’s parked in his driveway.

Deux/Two of Us (2019)

Starring Barbara Sukowa

Pensioners Nina and Madeleine have hidden their deep and passionate love for many decades, but their bond is put to the test when they are suddenly unable to move freely between each other’s apartments.

An a.k.a Sweet Bean (2015)

By Japanese director Naomi Kawase

Burdened with a heavy and ever-increasing debt, a dorayaki baker hires a kind ageing woman, after tasting her delicious surprise. Little by little, she unravels her beautiful inner world. Could she be holding the secret to his success?

La vita davanti a sé a.k.a. The Life Ahead (2020)

Starring Sophia Loren

In seaside Italy, a Holocaust survivor with a daycare business takes in a 12-year-old street kid who recently robbed her.

Spoor (2017)

Based on a Polish novel which translates into English as Drive your plow over the bones of the dead.

The novel is by Olga Tokarczuk with a formidable old woman protagonist.

in a remote mountainous region of the Kłodzko Valley an eccentric elderly woman lives with her two dogs. Her dogs disappear one day while she is giving a local woman, Dobra Nowina, a ride to the store. She confronts her neighbour who she calls “Big Foot” who is also a local hunter. 

Juanita (2019)

with Alfie Woodward

Strangers In Good Company (1990)

A group of women in their 70s and 80s get stranded in the Canadian wilderness.

The Piano Teacher (2001)

starring Isabelle Huppert

A young man romantically pursues his masochistic piano teacher.

The Dressmaker (2015)

A glamorous woman returns to her small town in rural Australia. With her sewing machine and haute couture style, she transforms the women and exacts sweet revenge on those who did her wrong.

Widows (2018)

Four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities take fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.

The Hunt (2012)

starring Mads Mikelsen

A teacher lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son’s custody. His life slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by an innocent little lie.

Madam Rosa (1977)

Madame Rosa lives in a sixth-floor walkup in the Pigalle. She’s a retired prostitute, Jewish and an Auschwitz survivor, a foster mom to children of other prostitutes. Momo is the oldest and her favorite, an Algerian lad whom she raises as a Muslim.

As she ages and takes fewer children, Momo must do more for her; as money is tight, he tries to earn pennies on the street with a puppet. He’s a beautiful man-child, and Madame Rosa makes him promise never to sell himself or become a pimp.

Nadine befriends him, and his father appears as well. Madame Rosa reaches her last days in fear of hospitals, and Momo must act.

The Life Ahead (2020)

In seaside Italy, a Holocaust survivor with a daycare business takes in a 12-year-old street kid who recently robbed her.

Gloria (2013)

Gloria is a 2013 Chilean-Spanish drama film directed by Sebastián Lelio.

In Santiago, Chile, 10 years after her divorce and with her children grown up, 58 year-old Gloria decides she does not want to spend her days alone. She starts going to singles discos. She meets and immediately forms a relationship with Rodolfo, who operates an amusement park on the outskirts of the city.

Solitaire (2016)

Therese, the mayor’s wife in a Lebanese village, joyfully prepares for an overnight visit of her daughter’s suitor and his parents. She excitedly shares the happy news of the engagement with pictures of her beloved brother who was killed by a Syrian bomb 20 years ago and is still bizarrely present in every corner of her house. Only when the long-awaited guests are at her doorstep, she discovers they are Syrian; this engagement will only happen over Therese’s dead body!

What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984)

The vicissitudes of Gloria, a neurotic housewife, and her family’s peculiar characters.

Her (2013)

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, who is in his 40s.

In a near future, a lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with an operating system designed to meet his every need.

Ladies in Lavender (2004)

Two sisters befriend a mysterious foreigner who washes up on the beach of their 1930s Cornish seaside village.

Tea With Mussolini (1999)

An orphaned Italian boy is raised amongst a circle of British and American women living in Mussolini’s Italy before and during World War II.

Pride (2014)

Watch it for the Welsh women, the “Bread And Roses”.

U.K. gay activists work to help miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984.

Dolores Claiborne (1995)

Based on a Stephen King novel, who is not known for his representation of women, especially older women, with a few standout exceptions. This is one of them.

A big city reporter travels to a small town where her mother has been arrested for the murder of an elderly woman for whom she worked as a housekeeper.

Still Alice (2014)

A linguistics professor and her family find their bonds tested when she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Shall We Dance (2004)

Starring Susan Sarandon, Jennifer Lopez, and Richard Gere. (The story centres Gere’s character.)

A romantic comedy where a bored, overworked Estate Lawyer, upon first sight of a beautiful instructor, signs up for ballroom dancing lessons.

Finding Your Feet (2017)

a feelgood film

On the eve of retirement a middle class, judgmental snob discovers her husband has been having an affair with her best friend and is forced into exile with her bohemian sister who lives on an impoverished inner-city council estate.

Jackie Brown (1997)

A bit of an exception out of Quentin Tarantino.

A middle-aged woman finds herself in the middle of a huge conflict that will either make her a profit or cost her life.

Let Him Go (2020)

Centres around Diane Lane’s character who, along with her supportive but reluctant husband, goes to save their daughter in-law and grandson from an abusive family after their son’s death.

A retired sheriff and his wife, grieving over the death of their son, set out to find their only grandson.

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window and Disappeared (2013)

comedy, based on a novel

After living a long and colourful life, Allan Karlsson finds himself stuck in a nursing home. On his 100th birthday, he leaps out a window and begins an unexpected journey.

Shirley Valentine (1989)

Middle aged working class English woman stuck in a rut with miserable husband goes to Greece and cuts loose. (Shirley is meant to be 42 in the story, but the actress was 48 at time of filming.)

Last Chance Harvey (2008)

In London for his daughter’s wedding, a rumpled man finds his romantic spirits lifted by a new woman in his life.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day (2008)

Guinevere Pettigrew, a middle-aged London governess, finds herself unfairly dismissed from her job. An attempt to gain new employment catapults her into the glamorous world and dizzying social whirl of an American actress and singer, Delysia Lafosse.

Calendar Girls (2003)

A Women’s Institute chapter’s fundraising effort for a local hospital by posing nude for a calendar becomes a media sensation.

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

British retirees travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel. Less luxurious than advertised, the Marigold Hotel nevertheless slowly begins to charm in unexpected ways.

Fences (2016)

A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)

Tensions rise when trailblazing blues singer Ma Rainey and her band gather at a recording studio in Chicago in 1927.

Nebraska (2013)

An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.

Seraphíne (2008)

Based on the life of French painter Séraphine de Senlis.

Maudie (2016)

An arthritic Nova Scotia woman works as a housekeeper while she hones her skills as an artist and eventually becomes a beloved figure in the community. Based on the live of Maud Lewis. (I show some of her artwork in my post on naïve illustration.)

Carrington (1995)

Prepare yourself emotionally for this one. I knew nothing about it going in. I didn’t even know it was based on the life of a real person.

The platonic relationship between artist Dora Carrington (Dame Emma Thompson) and writer Lytton Strachey (Jonathan Pryce) in the early twentieth century. (Was it platonic, or queer platonic? We didn’t have the words for different types of relationships in 1995.)

Labor Day (2013)

Depressed single mom Adele and her son Henry offer a wounded, fearsome man a ride. As police search town for the escaped convict, the mother and son gradually learn his true story as their options become increasingly limited.

Little Children (2006)

The lives of two lovelorn spouses from separate marriages, a registered sex offender, and a disgraced ex-police officer intersect as they struggle to resist their vulnerabilities and temptations in suburban Massachusetts.

Private Life (2018)

An author is undergoing multiple fertility therapies to get pregnant, putting her relationship with her husband on edge.

Wine Country (2019)

During a vacation to Napa Valley, a group of long time friends reunite and revisit past choices in this hilarious and heartfelt comedy from director Amy Poehler.

Educating Rita (1983)

Starring Julie Walters.

An alcoholic professor has been hired by a working-class girl for higher education.

Bombshell (2019)

A group of women take on Fox News head Roger Ailes and the toxic atmosphere he presided over at the network. Needs a content warning for sexual harassment in the workplace.

Wide-eyed and Legless (U.S. Title: The Wedding Gift) 1993

with Julie Waters and Jim Broadbent

Deric and Diana Longden are a happily married couple coping with Diana’s inexplicable degenerative disease which causes occasional paralysis of her extremities and periodic blackouts. One day, while attending a literary luncheon, Deric meets Aileen Armitage, a woman novelist with whom he strikes up a close friendship. Diana soon discover their relationship and calls Aileen, asking to meet her.

I’ll See You in my Dreams (2015)

Blythe Danner & Sam Elliott.

A widow and former songstress discovers that life can begin anew at any age.

Notes On A Scandal (2006)

The friendship between two life-long girlfriends is put to the test when one starts a family and the other falls ill.

I’d check out the novel, which does a much better job of the interiority. (Like most novel to screen adaptations, sure, and some more than others.)

Miss You Already (2015)

The friendship between two life-long girlfriends is put to the test when one starts a family and the other falls ill.

Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

An old Jewish woman and her African-American chauffeur in the American South have a relationship that grows and improves over the years.

45 Years (2015)

A married couple preparing to celebrate their wedding anniversary receives shattering news that promises to forever change the course of their lives.

The Lunchbox (2013)

A mistaken delivery in Mumbai’s famously efficient lunchbox delivery system connects a young housewife to an older man in the dusk of his life as they build a fantasy world together through notes in the lunchbox.

Woman at War (2018)

Halla becomes a determined environmental activist, but this threatens a long-held hope of hers.

Soul (2020)

Co-directed by Kemp Powers (interview with Kemp Powers).

Soul is a 2020 American computer-animated fantasy comedy-drama film produced by Pixar. Joe Gardner, a pianist and middle school music teacher living in New York City, dreams of playing jazz professionally. His mother Libba insists that he make his teaching job full time, fearing for his financial security. One day, Joe learns of an opening in the band of jazz legend Dorothea Williams and auditions at a music club. Impressed with Joe’s piano playing, Dorothea hires him for that night’s show. As Joe heads off, his excitement distracts him, and he falls down a manhole.

Otherhood (2019)

A grounded, soulful, celebratory comedy about three mothers and their adult sons. The film explores the stage after motherhood, Otherhood, when you have to redefine your relationship with your children, friends, spouse, and most importantly, yourself.

with Patricia Arquette and Felicity Huffman (if you’re up for more of her).

Enough Said (2013)

A divorced woman who decides to pursue the man she’s interested in learns he’s her new friend’s ex-husband.

Two for the Road (1967)

A couple in the south of France non-sequentially spin down the highways of infidelity in their troubled ten-year marriage.

Shoot the Moon (1982)

A mother of four is abandoned by her husband for a younger woman. Husband, wife and children struggle to survive the seemingly inevitable divorce.

A Special Day (1977)

Two neighbors, a persecuted journalist and a resigned housewife, meet during Hitler’s visit to Italy in May 1938.

Claudine (1974)

In the 1970s Harlem, garbage collector Roop feels intimidated by the idea of dating Claudine who is a single mother of six on welfare.

Saving Mr Banks (2013)

Author P.L. Travers reflects on her childhood after reluctantly meeting with Walt Disney, who seeks to adapt her Mary Poppins books for the big screen.

King of Thieves (2018)

A true crime movie about a crew of retired crooks who pull off a major heist in London’s jewelry district. What starts off as their last criminal hurrah, quickly turns into a brutal nightmare due to greed.

Gosford Park (2001)

Set in the 1930s, this movie brings a group of pretentious rich and famous together for a weekend of relaxation at a hunting resort. But when a murder occurs, each one of these interesting characters becomes a suspect.

Mother (2009)

by Bong Joon-Ho — Korean

A mother desperately searches for the killer who framed her son for a girl’s horrific murder.

Poetry (2010)

by Lee Chang-dong — Korean

A sixty-something woman, faced with the discovery of a heinous family crime and in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, finds strength and purpose when she enrolls in a poetry class.

The Intouchables (2011)

After he becomes a quadriplegic from a paragliding accident, an aristocrat hires a young man from the projects to be his caregiver.

Misery (1990)

with Kathy Bates, based on a Stephen King horror.

After a famous author is rescued from a car crash by a fan of his novels, he comes to realize that the care he is receiving is only the beginning of a nightmare of captivity and abuse.

Amour (2012)

Georges and Anne are an octogenarian couple. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, also a musician, lives in Britain with her family. One day, Anne has a stroke, and the couple’s bond of love is severely tested.

Antonia’s Line (1995)

A Dutch matron establishes and, for several generations, oversees a close-knit, matriarchal community where feminism and liberalism thrive.

Our Souls at Night (2017)

Jane Fonda and Robert Redford

Fonda and Redford star as Addie Moore and Louis Waters, a widow and widower who’ve lived next to each other for years. The pair have almost no relationship, but that all changes when Addie tries to make a connection with her neighbour.

As Good as it Gets (1997)

Jack Nicholson

A single mother and waitress, a misanthropic author, and a gay artist form an unlikely friendship after the artist is assaulted in a robbery.

Aquarius (2016)

starring Sônia Braga

Clara, 65, lives her life to the fullest with her family and friends. A construction company wants her Recife oceanfront condo, as they’ve already bought all the other in the 3 story building. Clara’s staying.

Saving Grace (2000)

with Brenda Blethyn

A small-town English widow, facing financial troubles after her husband’s suicide, turns to agriculture of an illegal kind.

The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

starring Meryl Streep. Better than the book.

Photographer Robert Kincaid wanders into the life of housewife Francesca Johnson for four days in the 1960s.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (2019)

A loving mom becomes compelled to reconnect with her creative passions after years of sacrificing herself for her family. Her leap of faith takes her on an epic adventure that jump-starts her life and leads to her triumphant rediscovery.

Still Crazy (1998)

with Bill Nighy and Billy Connolly

Fame, fortune and fornication drove the British rock band in the ’70s until a divine end. 20 years later, Strange Fruit reunites and goes on a tour with ups and downs on the continent.

The Waking of Ned Devine (1998)

When a lottery winner dies of shock, his fellow townsfolk attempt to claim the money.

Elevator to the Scaffold (1958)

Directed by Louis Malle, stars Jeanne Moreau

A self-assured businessman murders his employer, the husband of his mistress, which unintentionally provokes an ill-fated chain of events.

Pi (1998)

directed by Darren Aronofsky

A paranoid mathematician searches for a key number that will unlock the universal patterns found in nature.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

based on the well-known short story.

When both he and a colleague are about to lose their job, Walter takes action by embarking on an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined.

Philomena (2013)

Judy Dench

A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman’s search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.

The Natural (1984)

with Robert Redford

A middle-aged unknown comes seemingly out of nowhere to become a legendary baseball player with almost supernatural talent.

Iris (2001)

True story of the lifelong romance between novelist Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley, from their student days through her battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Enchanted April (1991)

Four English women, after World War I, who are unhappy with their lives, and their time away on vacation in a beautiful Italian villa. Set in 1920s Italy.