The movies have a lot to offer a retiree. More than just as an enjoyable way to spend a few hours, film can teach us about life and history. Retirement is simply the end of a person’s career. Living in retirement can be a great time to slow down and appreciate everything that life has to offer outside of the grind of work.
For the late film critic Roger Ebert, writing and thinking about movies was a way of thinking about life, and it was the way he enjoyed both. Ebert once wrote that, “it’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.” Retirement as a subject in cinema often opens doors to ways of thinking and talking about important issues in an enjoyable way.
This list comprises a diverse selection of movies about retirement. There’s something to suit every taste, with romance, history, comedy, animation, and even a cop movie that leans heavily on the cliché about what can happen on the job mere days from retirement.
1. Grumpy Old Men and Grumpy Older Men (1993/1995)
Laughter is incredibly important for the health and mental acuity for aging people. Recognizing the futility of harbouring petty grievances is also useful. The plots of both the Grumpy Old Men movies approach a number of little discusses issues important to retirees from the financial difficulties of retirement to the realities of romance over 60s, with a lot of farcical bickering.
Longtime friends Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau had a late career renaissance reprising their Odd Couple pairing. Here, Lemmon and Matthau play Minnesota retirees who spend the retirement doing two things: ice fishing and getting caught up in a love triangle over the new widow who moved in next door (Ann-Margret). It all plays out like a roadrunner cartoon with heart.
2. The Straight Story (directed by David Lynch, 1999)
Based on an incredible true story that made national headlines and was even featured on 60 Minutes, The Straight Story is about a retiree (Richard Farnsworth) who learns that his brother is dying but having no means of getting around decides to travel to him on a riding lawnmower.
Nominated for an Academy Award for his performance, Farnsworth was terminally ill at the time and took his own life a year later. Directed by the man behind Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet, The Straight Story is a quiet and thoughtful film that focuses on the tenacity and determination of the human spirit. This is one of the best movies about retirement and the importance of family.
3. Up (Disney/Pixar, 2009)
Up offers up one of the most optimistic and touching visions of retirement on screen. This computer animated movie from industry giant Pixar tells the heartwarming fantasy about a childless widower named Carl (voiced by The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s Edward Asner) whose tiny home is threatened by hyperactive development of new skyscrapers in his city. He plots to relocate his home using helium balloons (it is a cartoon), only to learn at the last minute that a young “Wilderness Explorer” has tagged along for the ride.
In an emotional and incredibly moving sequence that won the film much acclaim when it was released, the first 10 minutes of the movie pass by without dialogue as the film tells the story of Carl’s life and love. This is a great movie to watch with grandkids or when feeling sentimental.
4. Wild Strawberries (directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
Following the Second World War, an international film culture took root in film festivals and art house cinemas around the world. These informal institutions came to celebrate film as a unique artform as filmmakers working outside of the dominant Hollywood film industry experimented with different ways of telling stories.
Wild Strawberries is one of the best movies about retirement, which was done by Swedish director Ingmar Berman and considered a classic in world cinema. It follows a Swedish doctor on a road trip with his pregnant daughter-in-law travelling to receive an honour from his old university.
The film is unique for its concern with the meaning of work and reaching the twilight of a long career, Wild Strawberries is the kind of moving film that leaves a deep impression on anyone who sees it and it has special relevance for anyone who has completed their working life.
5. Going in Style (directed by Martin Brest, 1979)
A bittersweet comic heist film about three retirees struggling to live off Social Security in the New York borough of Queens, played by George Burns, Art Carney and Actor’s Studio founder Lee Strasberg. Out of boredom as much as need, together they decide to rob a bank.
The film proceeds with an honest and realistic vision of the challenges of retirement. It was remade in 2017 with Sir Michael Caine, Alan Arkin and Morgan Freeman.
6. Lethal Weapon 3 (directed by Richard Donner, 1992)
The original Lethal Weapon (1987) had Danny Glover playing Roger Murtaugh cursing that he was “getting too old for this s***” on the eve of his 50th birthday. Murtaugh’s aging was a big part of the film and its success. By the third film in the franchise, Murtaugh is now mere days from retirement. He and his partner Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) stumble onto a crooked cop who moonlights as an arms dealer. In the movie, Riggs and Murtaugh are joined by Joe Pesci in a comic role and former model Rene Russo plays Riggs’ love interest.
The 1992 film was the most successful of the Lethal Weapon movies at the box office and it’s a great example of the popular cycle of Hollywood action movies at the end of the 20th century. Being “days from retirement” serves as a shortcut to ramp up the stakes and dramatic tension in this.
The image of a cop on the edge of retirement would recur throughout the 1990s. Even more serious films like Falling Down (1993) and Se7en (1997) would reprise this cliché. Retirees might enjoy seeing the subject treated lightly while reminding them of the pressures of the workplace that they have left behind.