Most adults these days were brought up going to theaters or watching films on home televisions. It’s no surprise that movies are starting to look more at parenting and family themes. Writers have more parenting experience to write about and audiences who are avid filmgoers can now sympathize more with parenting and family themes. These aren’t just romantic comedy movies with families in the middle; these are horror, comedies, and action/adventure films with parents as the main characters.
Life of the Party, a film in theaters now, follows a single mother returning to college for self-discovery and life renewal. The mother-daughter relationship has the potential to bring in both the 18 to 24-year-old college students and the less frequent attending demographic of 25 to 50-year-olds (according to 2016 Theater Marketing Statistics). There’s also Blockers out which also centers around over-protective parents and their high school daughters. While it may be more adult humor (rated R) and not so much a family movie like Life of the Party, it is a movie that would appeal to both parents and college-age students who are nostalgic for their high school days and are more accustomed to crude humor. Comedy is a genre for all ages, although it varies in appropriateness for younger audiences, which makes it an easy genre to sell parenting-focused films to.
Comedy isn’t the only genre able to pull this off. A Quiet Place and Breaking In, both still in some theaters, are horror films that center around parenting and that bond between parents and their children. This isn’t uncommon territory in film since the family aspect has always been a great way to create immediate emotional bonds between characters to raise the stakes, but usually, the kids take the forefront in horror films. Focusing on parenting and can encourage more attendance from the current 60% of horror moviegoers who are between 18-30 (according to a 2017 BoxOffice Pro article). While the younger audiences may be deterred by age limits and ratings placed on more intense and gory horror films, older audiences know that being afraid is only half the experience. If there are character flaws or bad writing, no matter what the danger, they won’t believe it. By including parents and older characters as the main characters, these demographics will be able to be immersed more into the story and enjoy it more.
When you think action/adventure films, you think of young adult spies or superheroes or assassins… but parents? I guess Jurassic World had kids, but their parents weren’t really present and Die Hard had kids involved, but there was never really that resounding theme of parenting – more of a masculine protection theme. There was a glimpse of parenting in action genres with San Andreas in 2015, but we’re seeing more with Incredibles 2, that recently opened, and Ant-Man and the Wasp, releasing in July. Last year, the Fast and the Furious series, while having small parenting themes and mostly themes of community, recently placed the main character, Dominic, into the role of a father. This can only mean the anticipated ninth installment might include more parenting themes.
One style of film that’s always had their fingers on the pulse of parenting themes is animation. The first Incredibles had parenting themes and so did other animated films focused toward children: Hotel Transylvania, Despicable Me, Finding Nemo, The Croods, Shrek 3, and more, including a lot of sequels from those listed. These follow parenting and family through the eyes of the parents. Geared toward children, they inspire sympathy with them toward their parents and create a better familial bond. Not to mention, most parents would watch these with their children and so would also like watching it. This wouldn’t be the parents lamenting seeing Frozen for the fifth time, but parents actually enjoying the movie so much they’d be more inclined to purchase it too, because it means something to them.
Why does this trend matter? Parents are busy and feel left out when there are little movies that interest them in films. I remember seeing Brave with my mother, it being one of the only films she had seen with us in a long time in theaters. This increase in parenting themes can help bridge demographic gaps since there’s a huge drop-off of audience members after 24. While waiting for movies to come out on DVD or stream online isn’t a bad move to save money or time, it doesn’t always come with that community experience of being in a theater. With many avid fans of movies from a young age now experiencing the ups and downs of parenting, it would be interesting to see whether the same movie fans who are screenwriters now will match the demand. It’s too soon to say whether an increase in films with parents as the main characters will increase the older demographic attendance, but that doesn’t mean for lack of trying.
Of course, these are just trends I’ve seen in current movies and aren’t statistically verified. If you think I’ve missed something or have some thoughts about this topic, please comment and join the conversation!
Beverly Peders is a Screenwriting student at Drexel University. While focusing on writing for the screen, she has also dabbled in playwriting, writing comic books, and video games. World building is her favorite and she constantly obsesses over anthropology and linguistics. In her non-existent spare time, you may find her begging her plants to stay alive or trying to convince nonbelievers that dragons are real. She is also a percussionist in several ensembles with a love of music that outweighs her skill.