January 13, 2012

The Best Movies About Retirement: The Envelope, Please

Even though most contemporary movies seem to be marketed to those under 30, Boomers love motion pictures. Some of our fondest memories probably involve a date at the Saturday night show with popcorn and coke. Today, it is more likely to be a large screen TV in the living room, but the popcorn and soft drink remain. And so does our love of movies.

That got me to thinking about movies and a satisfying retirement. Are there any really good movies that use retirement as the central focus? Yes, there are. In fact, some of my favorites of all time fit into that category. Two years ago the Wall Street Journal published a list of their choices for the top retirement movies.  Here's is the WSJ list with some of my own comments added:

*About Schmidt (2002) Jack Nicholson plays a newly retired insurance man. Within the first few minutes of the film he becomes a widower. With nothing better to do he hits the road in the RV he and his wife had planned on using in their retirement. He heads toward his estranged daughter and son-in-law's house. Who can forget the hot tub scene with Jack and Kathy Bates? A great portrayal of a retired man searching for a reason to get up in the morning.

*Cocoon (1985) Retirement meets science fiction in Florida. Just going through the motions of living, Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley and Hume Cronyn are joined by some energetic aliens who revitalize the retirees. Mr. Ameche showed his dance moves and won the Oscar for best supporting actor.

*Going in Style (1979): George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg live together in an apartment in Queens, N.Y. With only Social Security checks to keep them going days are spent feeding the pigeons. To add spice to their boring lives, Mr. Burns' character suggests robbing a bank. While mainly a comedy, there are emotional moments when the pain of growing old while poor and without family overwhelm the laughs.

*Harry and Tonto (1974): Art Carney plays a retired teacher living in New York City. When his apartment building is torn down to make way for a parking garage he moves in with his son. After that proves problematic Carney's character and his best friend, a cat named Tonto, hit  the road. Their journey together is sweet and moving. Mr. Carney won an Oscar for best actor in this unassuming gem.

*High Noon (1952): Normally not thought of as a retirement movie, Gary Cooper is trying to stop working but a bad guy and his own conscience won't let him quit quite yet. Gary plays a small-town marshal whose new wife is played by a very beautiful Grace Kelly. He's one day away from handing in his badge when he learns a man he sent to prison is returning on the noon train looking for revenge. Cooper, playing Will Kane, stays and fights. Mr. Cooper got the Oscar for best actor.

*The Lion in Winter (1968): Peter O'Toole is an aging Henry II, hoping to choose a successor from among his three sons so he can stop all that kingly stuff. But the boys and their scheming mom, played by Katharine Hepburn, have their own ideas. Anthony Hopkins's makes his first screen appearance in this film. Ms. Hepburn won an Oscar as best actress.

*Lost in America (1985): One of my favorite comedian/actors, Albert Brooks, quits his job after he doesn't get the promotion he believes should be his. Ditching and selling everything, he and his wife, played by Julie Hagerty of Airplane fame, plan to spend the rest of their days exploring the country in their motor home. Unhappily, stopping in Las Vegas proves to be their downfall. Linda loses virtually all their money in a casino the very first night. The rest of this very funny movie has Albert Brooks' character, David, trying to get their money back and making sense of it all.

*On Golden Pond (1981): Henry Fonda, in his last picture, is a retired college professor. Nearing his 80th birthday his estranged daughter (Jane Fonda), son-in-law, and mouthy grandson arrive to help him celebrate. A missing boy and a near-death experience give Henry and his wife, played by Katharine Hepburn, a chance to grapple with mortality and the real meaning of love. Both Henry Fonda and Ms. Hepburn received Oscars.

*The Straight Story (1999): This is a real sleeper on the list, but one I have seen and thoroughly enjoyed. Actor Richard Farnsworth plays Alvin Straight, a 73-year-old retiree who lives in a small town in rural Iowa. Straight lives with his daughter ( Sissy Spacek) and neither is able to drive a car. Suddenly this becomes a huge problem when Straight learns that his brother, who lives 300 miles away in Wisconsin, has been felled by a stroke and is likely to die. Not being able to afford a bus ticket he drives a riding lawn mover, at 5 miles per hour, to Wisconsin to see his brother one last time. Ignore the fact that the gas would cost more than the bus ticket and enjoy a heartwarming tale based on a true story.

*Unforgiven (1992): Clint Eastwood plays William Munny, a retired gunman who now raises hogs with the help of a character played beautifully by Morgan Freeman. But when a young cowboy offers Munny a chance to avenge a cruel attack on a prostitute and earn some reward money he can't resist getting back in the game. Leaving the farming life behind he recaptures, at least for part of the film, his former glory. Oscars were won for for best director (Mr. Eastwood), best supporting actor (Mr. Hackman as a nasty sheriff) and best picture.

Here a few others that didn't make the Journal's top 10 but I like and are about retirement:

*Saving Grace: After her husband dies and leaves her deeply in debt, Grace grows massive amounts of marijuana to keep her home. Along the way she has to deal with drug dealers, a suspicious local constable, and a handyman with a girlfriend who is unhappy with the whole affair. Funny and well-acted.

*Calendar Girls: Older Bristish ladies help raise money for the local hospital by producing a calendar of themselves, in the nude. Funny and tastefully done, this proves you are never to old to take a risk. The movie is based on a true story.

*Secondhand Lions: Two retired brothers on a broken-down Texas ranch have nothing better to do than shoot at any salesman dumb enough to come on their property. That all changes with the arrival of their great-nephew who spends the summer with the men. In the process the boy and the men learn about life, adventure, the importance of memories, and family. Michale Caine is perfect in his role.

*Up (2009): This animated gem is all about living out a dream. An old, unhappy geezer is forced to sell his home, the home where he and his beloved wife lived for their entire married lifeand where he remains after her passing. An 8 year old boy, a bunch of balloons, a villian, and various animals end up taking the man on a journey of discovery that helps him understand some important facts about his life. Ed Asner, who voices the old man, is perfect as someone who finds a new reason to live and love. 

I thought of several more, but I'd like your input. What movies have you seen and liked (or disliked!) that deal with this journey we are on called retirement?  Did they accurately capture the ups and down of this phase of life. Were they Hollywood's version of retirement but not what you have experienced?

In closing, here are a few quotes from famous movies that fit our topic well:

Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic: "I figure life's a gift and I don't intend on wasting it. You don't know what hand you're gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you, to make each day count.”

Mel Gibson in Braveheart: "Every man dies, not every man really lives.”

Robert Duvall in Lonesome Dove: "The older the violin, the sweeter the music.”

Note: I  just found this list of retirement movies at Time Goes By under the heading Geezer Flicks...quite a list. 

OK, now is your chance to be Siskel and Ebert. Tell us about your choices for top retirement-themed movies.


  1. I'm going to have to revisit "Harry & Tonto". As I remember it was very funny. I remember it from the 70s but I wasn't focused on my retirement years back then. (ha). Time to enjoy it again. Thanks for the list Bob.

  2. RJ,

    At the time Art Carney was known as primarily a television actor so this role was quite important to his career. It is a quiet and moving film. You'll enjoy it all over again.

  3. Grumpy and Grumpier Old Men....hilarious! I am a new reader of your blog and am enjoying it very much.

  4. Betty,

    Good choices! Walter Matthau played sarcastic sad sacks better than anyone. The Old Couple, with Walter and Jack Lemmon, is another classic.

  5. Ha! I never thought about The Lion in Winter as a retirement movie, but you're right! That is one of my favorite movies. I have seen it many times. It also made me a big fan of Eleanor of Aquitaine. I have read several biographies and visited sites in France where she lived and died.

  6. Galen,

    Peter O'Toole isn't one of my favorite actors but he is remarkably consistent. Regardless of how old he is when he tackles a role he looks exactly the same...he doesn't seem to age. Kind of Dorian Grayish!

    Isn't it interesting the effect a good movie can have on us. I can't count the number of times I have been prodded to read more about a person or event after seeing a particularly moving film. So far, though, I have yet to venture as far afield as France!

  7. Send Hand Lions is on my top ten of all movies- my husband's as well. We would like to "go out" in the same way as the uncles.
    It is a wonderful look at how retirement can be even more satisfying when you let someone else into your heart.
    I'll have to check some of the others out on Nexflix.

  8. Janette,

    I have seen Second Hand Lions half a dozen times and still laugh when Robert Duvall teaches the punks how to fight, or he and Michael Caine scare away salesmen. It just doesn't wear thin.

  9. Thanks for the list -- I appreciate it, and I can't believe I've only seen 3 on it! Here's one though for you to see if you haven't already: Gran Torino w/Clint Eastwood -- totally enjoyed that one and saw it twice.

  10. Sandy,

    Yes, I have seen Gran Torino and enjoyed it. Clint playing Clint...a good role for him. He directed it also, and was nominated for a Golden Globe.

    If you have only seen 3 from this list then you have a busy movie season coming up!

  11. Hi Bob, I have only seen a few on your list. I am going to try a few that I haven't seen and I'll let you know what I think. I agree with Betty though, the Grumpy movies are hilarious!

    1. I'll look forward to your feedback, Sue. I haven't seen "Going in Style" for awhile. In finding the clip for this post it reminded me I should put that in my Netflix queue. Unfortunately it isn't out as a DVD yet so I may have to hunt up a VHS copy somewhere!

  12. To all readers:

    Google has just added the ability to reply to a specific comment (see above). But, the box is a different color and looks a little jarring to me. What do you think?

    Hit the "reply" button and tell me whether I should leave it or go back to the other style where my response may not be directly under the original comment but has the same light gray background.

  13. Try lightening your background? It is very dark.

  14. Anonymous,

    Thanks for the suggestion. I tried a few different settings but I'm not wild about a white background just to accomodate Google's new look. I think I'll try this comment window approach for a time.

  15. On Golden Pond is one of my favorites -- think I will watch it again this week. Maybe even in the morning as a retiree I can do anything I want to do -- eat breakfast at night, watch a movie in the morning -- great to be retired -- great post -- barbara

  16. FW Notebook (aka Barbara),

    Who can forget Katharine Hepburn's "You old poop!" It remains a often-used expression in our household.

  17. I don't know what it says about me that MY favorite retirement movie is "Red." Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman (isn't he in a lot of these retirement movies?) and Helen Mirrin retire but still have time to kill a lot of bad guys and save the world.

  18. Grace,

    I enjoyed "Red" too, but more so at home on a DVD than in the theater. For some reason I saw things and caught lines I had missed the first time.

    You are right: Mr. Freeman is in several of the films on my list and in the comments. He is a very busy actor.

  19. Steve in Los AngelesSat Jan 14, 10:46:00 PM MST

    Hi Bob,
    One of my favorite movies is "Grumpy Old Men", with Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and Ann-Margret. It is wonderful that, in real life, Ann-Margret and her husband, Roger Williams, have been married for many years.

    Another one of my favorites is "Driving Miss Daisy" with Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy.

  20. Steve,

    Another good Morgan Freeman movie! Maybe I should do a post that just lists his movies...it would fill more than a page. No one has mentioned "The Bucket List" yet, another Morgan Freeman winner.

  21. "Space Cowboys", as mentioned for an alternative Satisfying Retirement in one of my posts, "Mars Colonization." Check it out here:


    What's too dark


  22. QwkDrw,

    Excellent movie choice. Watching them walk in their space suits is always good for a laugh. I think I'll go put that on my Netflix queue!

  23. Get Low is another great retirement movie with Robert Duvall. He plays an old hermit who wants to plan his own funeral...funny.

  24. Pat,

    Yes, we have seen it. Bill Murray plays the funeral director who sees the old man's request as a way to make money and keep his business going. Good addition to our list.

  25. Great list and great additions. Lots of movies to add to my queue!

    1. If you run across one you really like, please share!


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