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Demographics and moviegoing

By Rich Heldenfels Published: August 11, 2014

The big winner at the box office over the weekend was the latest "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie. I have some history with the Turtles, but as a parent, as I mentioned in my DVD column this week. (Second item, about a revealing Turtles documentary.) But I don't have the connection that others have. So, when we wanted a break, the bride and I went to see "The Hundred-Foot Journey.

The crowd was a bit different from what we would have encountered at "Ninja Turtles." Grey hair and white hair. Two people with walkers. We are not young, but I don't think we were the oldest people at the movie.

But the movie was not aimed at youngsters. The ads heavily promote Helen Mirren, who is 69 years old, and the film itself was clearly marketed to fans of the older-cast "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." Among the trailers, in fact, was one for that film's sequel.

It wasn't a great film. It was a pleasant enough one, a simple and direct dramatic tale with an amiable cast -- again, the kind of thing that would appeal to an audience that is not interested in big loud movies derived from comic books, toys or young-adult novels.

That's not to say that being over, say, 35 means that you will never watch a movie from those forms. I did not love "Divergent," and I have seen enough "Transformers" to last a lifetime -- but I am a fan of the "Hunger Games" movies and a good bit of comic-book-inspired fare.

But in a recent conversation, someone expressed surprise that I was even mildly interested in "The Giver," which as a book leans more toward the young in YA. (And my interest, such as it is, was based on having read the book for a course on teaching literature to middle-school students.)  And I am not so interested in that this week as I am in "The Expendables 3." I know it will likely be ridiculous, but like its predecessors it promises a big, loud spectacle featuring action stars from my younger moviegoing. They may be older than I am, but they still kick.

Of course, "Expendables 3" is also an example of another demographic element of movies: the power of the international box office. Action movies especially do as well or better overseas than they do in the U.S. "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," coming out on DVD and Blu-ray soon, took in an estimated $202 million in this country, and more than $500 million in other countries. Three fourths of the $1 billion made by the latest "Transformers" came from outside the U.S. When you look at worldwide numbers, the "Expendables" franchise is very successful -- the second film's modest $85 million U.S. take became more than $300 million when you total the worldwide numbers.

Of course, this is a problem for some moviegoers because these films are made with the rest of the world in mind -- so more emphasis on what the characters do (mostly fighting and blowing up things) and far less on sharp dialogue, which may not translate easily.

Only movies have to be marketed here, too. So "Hundred-Foot Journey" ads have made a far bigger deal of Mirren than of Mannish Dayal, the central character but not one who would be well known to American audiences, or Om Puri, who plays Dayal's father and is the most direct counterpart to Mirren.

Let's just try to be sure that all audiences have something they want to see.

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