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16 Movies That Celebrate Lives Well Lived

by Jarrod Thalheimer

Everyone knows the routine: Hollywood worships at the altar of youth. They prize unlined faces and hard bodies above all else in the belief that they will be rewarded millions upon millions of dollars many times over. Still, every now and again, someone, somewhere screws up the formula and Hollywood actually makes a movie that older folks (otherwise known as “adults”) find they have a rooting interest in.

So, whether the big shots believe it or not, most folks know life doesn't truly begin until you've lived a fair chunk of it. And when it comes to movies with a little more spring in their step than the rest, you can't go wrong by choosing one that incorporates a few gray hairs and well-earned experience. Here are some of the best.

Grey & Gettin' Some

The Bridges of Madison County

Watching a creaky Clint Eastwood unintentionally seduce a tired but quietly radiant Meryl Streep is cinematic gold. The raw emotion on display in this film is something to behold and proof positive that real heat is still generated long after the body stops being camera-ready.

The Notebook

James Garner's character Duke positively exemplifies enduring love as he patiently reads to his wife Allie, even as she twists in the winds of Alzheimer's disease. While the youthful Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams drive the story, it is the deep affection Duke has for Allie that reminds everyone that young love eventually ages, and does so extremely well.

Something's Gotta Give

Arrested adolescence is on the hook in this flick, which stars an ever-smiling Jack Nicholson and the forever goofy Diane Keaton. Watching a man who ought to know better finally figure things out is fun, but adding in a troupe of “Dancing Henrys” is sheer genius. Let's see Zac Efron pull that off.

Mamma Mia

Long-lost loves from years past return to frustrate a somewhat ditzy Meryl Streep as she sings and dances her way through the ABBA-infused exploration of love choices made and the lives left behind. While Pierce Brosnan's singing is particularly cringe-inducing, the joie de vivre on display throughout is infectious all the same.

Alive and Kickin'


This movie is one long cautionary tale about what happens when you don't listen to your Pops. To see Liam Neeson pushing 60 and still kicking butt so effortlessly makes this film required watching for any daughter (or wife) who thinks she knows the big bad world better than dear old dad does. Believe it or not, sometimes father really does know best.


Everyone remembers the taut young hunk from back in the ‘80s, but when Rambo of the 21st century shows up, it's easy to see something has changed. Huge, lumbering, and shaped like a block of granite, Sylvester Stallone cruises for 60 with a Rambo so initially non-threatening that he is mocked relentlessly by a boat of mercenaries right up until he saves everyone's bacon by taking out an entire Burmese army. Plausible? Who cares - it's John Rambo! And whether the dude is pushing 60 or not is totally beside the point. He may have fallen, but this senior citizen can most definitely get up.

Secondhand Lions

Watching Robert Duvall give a bar-front smack-down to a bunch of mouthy punks is reason enough to watch this film. But the movie's ambition to explore the issue of lives lived and what really matters counts for far more. Whether Hub and Garth are truly rich or not is beside the point because their real worth lies in their ability to teach their great-nephew how to become a man.

Death Wish

Once upon a time, Charles Bronson played a middle-aged everyman who was finally pushed to his breaking point by a city that had become lawless and a justice system that simply didn't care. He takes the law (and a gun) into his own hands and becomes one of the most famous film vigilantes ever. And he accomplishes that without removing his shirt even once.

Old, But Not Forgotten

Space Cowboys

When times got tough, NASA had no one to call but the men who had done it all before - and who better than Clint Eastwood, James Garner, Donald Sutherland, and Tommy Lee Jones? Is there anyone more capable of cleaning up a mess made by a bunch of know-it-all young guys? Not on this planet.

Bad News Bears

Take a boozing loser desperate for extra cash and have him coach a little league team so full of problem misfits they make even him seem like an over-achiever. Walter Matthau's aging, grumpy, and messy bachelor isn't exactly a role model for today's kids - but when you see what's going on out there these days, maybe he should be.


Only Sean Connery could play a master thief pulling off impossible art heists at the age of 69. When you add in how oddly acceptable it is for lasses the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones to be panting after him, you see just how much every male senior citizen wishes he had a Scottish accent - and a license to kill.

World's Fastest Indian

Anthony Hopkins plays real-life racer Burt Monroe who hand-built a 1920 Indian motorcycle and then rode it to the world land speed record in 1967 at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats. As men less than a third his age stood by, Hopkins' Monroe raced to glory with a grit and determination that can only come from having more than a few years under his belt. Think you're too old to go fast? Age only slows you down if you let it.

Crazy? Maybe, But Not Senile

Grumpy Old Men

With Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau playing a pair of cranky curmudgeons who live next to each other and just happen to be bitter enemies, you know it's a film worth watching. Add in Miss Ann Margaret to stir the pot and it's all-out war. The title says it all. Being old can make you grumpy, but grumpiness need only be a state of mind.


Ron Howard's mystical tale of recovered youth centers on a group of seniors, their retirement home, and some fortuitous trespassing. As their inner youth is ignited, the movie makes it crystal clear that, young or old, life is worth living right down to the very end. Plus they've got aliens. Who doesn't love aliens?

The Bucket List

Determined not to die with certain goals unfinished, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman form an unlikely bond to tackle their to-do list. The adventures they enjoy and the realizations they have bring about a peace neither man had ever known. That it took the specter of death to truly make the pair live is the saving grace of illness and the reality of the ever-ticking clock.

Going in Style

When George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg played a trio of dying seniors, it only took one of them to decide they needed some excitement before it was too late. That they agreed to rob the bank down the street to get this rush is what makes the movie fun. Next time take a second look at that little old guy on line for the teller. You never know what he might be up to.

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