Until Johnny Knoxville and his inane Jackass shenanigans knocked it out of the number one spot earlier this week, Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron's acclaimed drama about astronauts lost in space, reigned supreme at the box office. For three weeks straight, Gravity took in more money than any other film out in theaters, amassing nearly $200 million domestically and earning a spot on the list of highest-grossing movies of the year. Seeing as Gravity is a thriller with elements of sci-fi and suspense, i.e. genres known for their box office prowess, it might not seem so surprising that it's found such success. That is, until you remember something that makes Gravity's staying power so remarkable; unlike most blockbusters, Gravity was made for adults.
Starring two adult-loved movie stars, one of whom is 49 (Sandra Bullock) and the other 52 (George Clooney), Gravity was never meant for the kids. Sure, the studio probably expected it'd do well financially, but the primary audiences of films starring actors of that age who aren't Liam Neeson is typically not made up of teenagers. No, Gravity was made for the grown ups, and the fact that it's doing so well financially is astonishing, because generally, movies for adults don't find box office success.
Sure, there are exceptions — 2009's It's Complicated, 2012's Hope Springs — but these movies are few and far between, and the ones that do end up doing well are usually comedies. The realistic adult drama, with its serious subject matters and middle-aged stars, is a dying genre. Or so it seemed, at least before 2013.
The success of Gravity, along with the box office triumphs of other recent grown up films such as Lee Daniels' The Butler and 42, has made 2013 a happy anomaly for the movies. This year, a movie about a white house butler did better than Pacific Rim; Tom Hanks' Captain Phillips, which still has weeks to earn millions in theaters, has already exceeded the profits of the fifth Die Hard movie. And the rest of the year looks even more promising, with the just-released 12 Years a Slave, along with the highly anticipated releases of Labor Day, Saving Mr. Banks, and August: Osage County — all adult dramas, and all expected to do well at the box office.
So what does this mean for Hollywood? Hopefully, that studio executives are finally realizing that audiences are tired of their condescension. There's nothing wrong with the occasional superhero epic or sci-fi thriller, but when seemingly every movie that's out there is marketed to teenage boys, something needs to change.
Adults deserve movies too, and when they get them, they respond; if half of the action movies released each year got the box office returns that a Meryl Streep comedy or a Tom Hanks drama almost always guarantees, the studios would be thrilled beyond belief. Yet despite the fact that grown up movies make money, studios are hesitant about producing them.
Thankfully, the tides seem to be turning. The roster of adult dramas slated for the coming months is exciting, and promising of a future where smart, realistic movies routinely find critical and commercial success. And with momentum building around the lasting success of Gravity, the Oscar chances of 12 Years a Slave, and events such as AARP's Movies for Grownups Film Festival, a four-day-long festival featuring some of the winter's most highly anticipated movies for adults, it looks like finally, the grown up drama is getting its chance to shine.