It began a little more than a year ago, when I’ll See You in My Dreams, a tiny independent drama from a fledgling company starring the then-72-year-old Blythe Danner, a well-liked actress with no box-office track record whatsoever, grossed an unexpectedly strong $7.4 million in theaters. Last September, another indie,Grandma, with Lily Tomlin (76), took in $7 million as well. And the beginning of 2016 brought Maggie Smith (81) in the British import The Lady in the Van ($10 million), Helen Mirren (70) in the drone thriller Eye in the Sky ($18.7 million), and Sally Field (69) in the comedy-drama Hello, My Name Is Doris ($14.4 million).
These aren’t blockbuster numbers, to be sure — the total U.S. grosses of those five films combined don’t add up to what even a mid-level franchise movie like Star Trek Beyond made in its first weekend. On the other hand, profit is profit, and I very much doubt any of these distributors is complaining. Indie grosses are measured on a different scale, and on that scale, the numbers for movies driven by older women aren’t good — they’re great.