Graham: Keanu survives Hollywood's age matrix

Keanu Reeves proves that in Hollywood, stars get better with age

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
Keanu Reeves in "John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum."

At 54, Keanu Reeves is hotter than ever. 

It's been 20 years since Keanu said "whoa" in "The Matrix," and 25 years since he, disappointingly, did not say "whoa" in "Speed." But no one is looking at Keanu as a nostalgia act. 

The third "John Wick" film, which opened in May, has so far collected $157 million at the North American box office, more than the first two "John Wick" movies combined. Keanu also lends his voice to the fourth "Toy Story" movie, the current No. 1 film in the country, and he has a scene-stealing cameo as a heightened version of himself in Netflix's rom-com "Always Be My Maybe." 

Keanu's current moment is proof that in Hollywood, stars are aging gracefully, and are being allowed to age more gracefully than they were in the past. It wasn't so long ago that a star of Keanu's age would be considered an old-timer. But as the star system has shifted — they're just not making them like they used to — and audiences are aging, starpower is continuing to shine for actors and other entertainers through their 50s, 60s and even 70s. 

It's not just Keanu. "Toy Story 4" is lead by the voices of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, ages 62 and 66, respectively. Will Smith, 50, stars in "Aladdin." Samuel L. Jackson, 70, and Bruce Willis, 64, starred in the January hit "Glass," and Jackson remains a staple of the "Avengers" films, including next week's "Spider-Man: Far From Home." And Sylvester Stallone, who turns 73 next week, is gearing up for the September release of "Rambo: Last Blood."

In music, the top two albums in the country come from 60-year-old Madonna and 69-year-old Bruce Springsteen. The last time Madonna and Springsteen held the No. 1 and 2 albums on the Billboard 200 was in February, 1985, when "Like a Virgin" and "Born in the U.S.A." topped the charts.

Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones kicked off their latest tour last week, just a few months after Mick Jagger, 75, underwent heart valve replacement surgery. The Rolling Stones have been old for so long they've outlasted jokes about them being old. Remember the "Steel Wheels" tour, which was dubbed "Steel Wheelchairs" because of the Stones' ages? Well that kicked off in 1989, when Jagger was 46. 46!

The same rules don't apply today; is anyone making jokes about Pearl Jam, fronted by 54-year-old Eddie Vedder, being too old to tour? Even Dead & Co., the reconstituted version of the Grateful Dead, is packing arenas and stadiums, and no one's asking Bob Weir, 71, to hang it up.

That the Stones were considered old in 1989 was understandable; the explosion of MTV and youth culture in the '80s made everyone over 40 seem ancient. In movies and on TV, 50 was retirement age; Wilford Brimley was 50 when "Cocoon" hit screens, and Rue McClanahan was 51 when "Golden Girls" premiered.

Today, as life expectancy stretches into the 80s — in some cases 10 years longer than it was 30 years ago — 80 seems to be an age where we officially become "old." Look at Robert Redford, who was 82 when he starred in "Old Man & the Gun." (Redford played the old man, and it's worth noting he looked marvelous.)

As stars age, audiences are aging with them. It's not that Madonna and Springsteen's new albums are reaching youthful new audiences, it's that their fans have remained loyal to them throughout their careers and continue to in their new endeavors. That is what has allowed acts to tour well into their 70s and why the Rolling Stones, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac remain touring draws. 

On the big screen, stars hang on longer today because stars are harder to come by today. In a box office driven by superheroes and reboots, the characters are the stars, not the actors playing them. Spider-Man is a star, but is Tom Holland? He's driving the new "Star Wars" films, but is John Boyega stopping traffic? He's a draw as Thor, but Chris Hemsworth just proved with "Men in Black: International" that his name alone isn't selling movie tickets. 

That's different from the era when stars could sell tickets as long as their name appeared above a movie's title. Stars aren't what they used to be, so neither are the star vehicles.  

That's why the entertainers that were minted in earlier eras continue to flourish. No one's telling them to stop, so why should they? If Stallone can continue making "Rambo" movies well into his 70s, Keanu might have another 20 years of "John Wick" movies ahead of him.

Whoa, indeed.