Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Are things looking up for older female actors in Hollywood?

Nine of the top 10 female actors in 2012 were 37 or over.

Tue, Jun 11, 2013, 22:32


Just a little. If we know anything about Hollywood we know that the studios fling female actors in the dustbin when they reach the age of 40. Heck, that might be generous. Actresses can afford to get a little nervy when 30 approaches. The patriarchal moguls that still run the industry decided some time ago that, after a certain age, women are only useful as grotesques or grandmothers. Lovely craggy old men are allowed to play the romantic lead when they’re carrying a colostomy bag around and breathing via a wheeled oxygen cylinder. But the moment a crack breaks out beside a female actor’s lip she is trundled towards the home for the bewildered.

Or that’s how it used to be. A cover story in The Hollywood Reporter discusses the “revenge of the over-40 actress”. Something does appear to be going on. Forty-something Sandra Bullock, thirty-something Angelina Jolie and sixty-something Meryl Streep are all doing quite nicely for themselves. At 42, Melissa McCarthy is among the hottest comedy stars around. Indeed, as the Reporter points out, nine of the top-10 female actors in 2012 were 37 or over.

If we can be permitted the tiniest degree of optimism, I think this intelligence does demonstrate some welcome changes in strategic thinking. There is an audience for films about (and aimed at) people who can remember an era before stupid Twitter. Helen Mirren is probably now more bankable than Jessica Alba. Judi Dench can sell more tickets than Jessica Simpson. And we’re only dissing Jessicas here! The Hollywood Reporter also points us towards actors such as the brilliant Viola Davis and the charming Octavia Spencer.

Here’s my word of warning. The change may just demonstrate a general decline in star power. With competition less fierce, the old reliables find it easier to hold their position. Have a look at the top films for 2012. You would have great trouble arguing that more than one of them was sold on its female lead. Not many went to The Avengers to see Scarlett Johansson. I guess a few people might have been drawn to The Dark Knight by Anne Hathaway. No? But the only film in the top 10 that really hung around a female actor was The Hunger Games. And Jennifer Lawrence is just 22.

I think we should pause before celebrating a return to the era of late Bette Davis and more-mature Katharine Hepburn. Mind you, the second biggest film of the year was Skyfall. Who was the female lead there? Not Bérénice Marlohe I think. Go, Dame Judi. You continue to rule.