Consider Keanu Reeves, far from the oldest actor at 57. He has been a key part of the cultural conversation for more than three decades, ever since “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “Parenthood” debuted in 1989. He’s been a legit action star for more than a quarter century, with hits such as “Speed,” “The Matrix” and its sequels, and “John Wick” and its sequels hitting multiplexes at a regular clip.
Tom Cruise just turned 60 and also just had the biggest box office success of his 40-plus-year career with “Top Gun: Maverick,” even adjusting for inflation. At 67, Denzel Washington is playing a possibly age-inappropriate Macbeth as he prepares for his third outing on “The Equalizer.” Clint Eastwood, 92, tried to convince us he was still smart enough to catch a rogue chicken in last year’s “Cry Macho.”
Even the Chrises – Pratt, Evans, Pine and Hemsworth – have been the hottest youngsters for a decade or more now, and all but Hemsworth are over 40. (The Aussie and the God of Thunder turn 39 next month.) And it’s not just about the boys: The year’s two best female films, “The Lost City” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” feature a 57-year-old woman (Sandra Bullock) and a 59-year-old woman. -years (Michelle Yeoh), respectively.
Writing in the Ringer, Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur quantified this in a series of charts, all showing a dramatic increase in the average age of lead actors since around 2000.
“While the star, or the top two or three stars, of the typical movie or television series released in the last decades of the 20th century was usually in their late thirties – several years older than the median age of the population of the United States at the time – the average age of today’s actors has reached the mid-40s and is steadily climbing towards 50,” they wrote.
Politics has followed a similar trajectory. At 78, Joe Biden was the oldest person to be sworn in as president. The second oldest? Donald Trump, at 70. The two very first favorites for the nomination of their party in 2024? That’s right: Biden, who would be 82 at an inauguration in 2025, and Trump, who would be 78.
And they are not alone. “Today it seems like you’re nobody in Washington unless you’re 80,” Zachary B. Wolf quipped on CNN’s website.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is the first House Democrat in nearly 20 years, is 82. His deputy, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, is 83. The No. 3 Democrat, South Carolina Rep. James E. Clyburn, is 81. Leaders on the Republican side of the aisle are the same age: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell turned 80 this year, while Senator Charles E. Grassley is 88 and plans to run again. Like a single account gimmick noted on twitter“Four U.S. Senators [Grassley, Dianne Feinstein, Richard C. Shelby, and James M. Inhofe] are literally older than chocolate chip cookies.
It’s fair to wonder if people born before the advent of cable television and nuclear power – in addition to delicious desserts – are best suited to represent a nation plagued by problems that would have been unimaginable in the start of their career. This is especially true when these leaders rely on assumptions about how politics works that no longer apply.
Stars and politicians age for a similar reason: In a world where it costs a ton of money to simply market a product, nothing is as valuable as a household name. In politics, this manifests itself in a remarkably powerful incumbent effect. In 2016, 98% of the members of the Chamber were re-elected. The tenure was worth an additional 3.2% at the polls.
Likewise, there’s probably a reason why the stars of the movies started aging around the same time that Hollywood started to rely more heavily on intellectual property derived from comic books and elsewhere. Getting brand awareness, whether for a property or an actor, was getting more and more expensive. Rather than trying to hit new stars, it was safer for a studio head to greenlight an image with a known property as the brand name on the poster. No one will hold a leader responsible for leaning on a fading star rather than going with their guts to create a new one.
Both gerontocracies invite repetition at best and stagnation at worst. And while I eagerly await “John Wick: Chapter 4” even as I hope the next generation of John Wicks will emerge, another sequel on the horizon fills me with near paralyzing dread. “Biden-Trump Redux” is a repetition the country cannot afford.