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'Bad Grandpa:' How old is it skewing?

When “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” won the box office title this weekend, it did so by capturing a surprising demographic: men more than a little bit removed from their teenage years.

Nearly two-thirds of the audience for the Johnny Knoxville film was over the age of 25, Paramount Pictures said. While the studio didn’t offer the exact breakdown — did it lean closer to 30 or 50? — it’s nonetheless a notable departure. This is a franchise that, thanks to its skateboard-off-the-garage shenanigans, has typically skewed young. In fact, the previous “Jackass” film, in 2010, actually had the reverse percentages: two-thirds of its opening weekend audience was under the age of 25.

Paramount executives attributed the shift to a) the core demo for “Jackass” now aging up and b) “Bad Grandpa”  featuring an older character, the movie’s fictional octogenarian Irving Zisman (played of course by Knoxville in old-man makeup), in turn drawing an older audience.

That's a tidy enough explanation. But it’s not exactly empirically true. 

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Three years is of course not enough time for most moviegoers to age out of a demographic. More important, an old-man hero isn’t any guarantee that a film will play primarily to an older audience. Pixar's “Up,” also with an elderly character at its center, turned into the quintessential all-ages film. “Cocoon” played to audiences young and old. Even “Grumpy Old Men,” a movie that 20 years ago consciously went to geriatric places (right down to its stars-of-yesteryear cast of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau), became a broad hit, thanks largely to its timeless rivalries and practical jokes.

The truth is young people will see a movie about older people, especially if said movie doesn’t wear its aging themes too heavily (and really especially if it pairs an older character with a younger one, as both "Bad Grandpa" and “Up” do).

Growing up in the 1980s, I can remember my parents asking my junior-high school friends and me why we watched “The Golden Girls.” Aren’t the problems of arthritis and menopause, hashed out and solved with little more than zingers and a good piece of cheesecake, a little afield from your experience? And of course it was. But there was something comforting about it to us; we had fondness for our own grandmothers, so why not spend some time with some TV surrogates, or even getting a little more insight into what they were like when we weren’t around? 

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I’d hesitate to say that “Bad Grandpa” drew young people because they wanted to understand more about their elders — unless Irving Zisman reminds you of your grandpa, in which case there may be larger questions for you to deal with.

And I’d be reluctant to say that demographic distinctions are completely meaningless when it comes to our moviegoing choices. “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” isn’t going to be packing in the college kids, and senior citizens are by and large not running out to Selena Gomez movies. Still, amid all the talk about the graying of the boomer generation and Hollywood making movies about older people, it's probably good to acknowledge that plenty of young people want in on the senior-citizen characters too.

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Follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT 

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