If you’ve been to a movie theater lately and noticed something unusual about the patrons, it’s not your imagination.

A growing number of moviegoers are older people well into their sixties, seventies, and even their eighties.

A recent study by media research firm GfK MRI shows that the number of older moviegoers is exploding, up 65 percent since 1995.

There are lots of theories why this is happening, but it all boils down to the buying power of the baby boomers. The first wave known as the Silver Tsunami is hitting retirement age. These individuals have leisure time and they are the first generation to grow up with movies as their number one choice of entertainment. The core audience over age 50 is growing.

Meanwhile, the younger audience is shrinking. Younger moviegoers have many more choices in the way they see films. They can legally stream movies on laptops, order them at home from on-demand services right after their release, or sometimes even while they are still in theaters. It all makes them far less likely to buy a ticket. Younger moviegoers still see more movies than people over 50, but it is much harder to get them into theaters in big numbers. And their population is decreasing.

Hollywood will always follow the money. This older audience has gone from being under-served to being extremely desirable for its buying power. Suddenly there are films that have become big hits that aren’t all about 3D special effects. They have rich stories to tell. They’re witty. They’re smart. Films like “The King’s Speech,” “The Social Network,” and even “Black Swan” drew big audiences long before they won truckloads of Oscars.

There are even a few action heroes who have a little more experience than usual. Last year, 65-year-old Helen Mirren starred as a gun-toting former assassin in the movie “RED” (which stood for “retired and extremely dangerous”).

For several years, AARP has released an annual top ten list of “Movies for Grownups” and features a review column in its magazine and online by the same name. “The King’s Speech” and “RED” led the 2010 list, along with “Another Year,” “Casino Jack,” “City Island,” “The Company Men,” “Get Low,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “Letters to Juliet,” and “Secretariat.”

More movies are in the works for older audiences. Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, both age 76, star in the upcoming film “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” about British retirees who go to India. Fox Searchlight hasn’t announced a release date, but it should be in time to be Academy Award-eligible before the end of the year. “Red Lights” with Sigourney Weaver and Robert DeNiro is highly anticipated.

The upcoming film “Geezers” with J.K. Simmons (“Spider-Man” and “Juno”) and Mike O’Malley, Tim Allen, Kyra Sedgewick, will “shatter common stereotypes about the elderly,” claim its producers. Due in theatres this October, it’s being described as “’Cocoon’ meets ‘The Hangover’.: What a juxtaposition of genres!

Simmons, who played newspaper boss J. Jonah Jameson in all three of Tobey Maguire’s movies, will play a method actor who moves into a residential home to research a character in“Geezers.”

Kids, there will still be plenty of movies for you with special effects and superheroes. But you better not count on finding seats at some theaters, because your parents and grandparents got in line first.

Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!

NEXT WEEK:The Aging of the American Workplace

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