There’s a point in any aging actor’s life when he or she realizes that their instrument just ain’t what it used to be. That doesn’t mean they have to stop performing—in fact, we’re all about the elderly stepping up and out-doing their youthful successors. Just because you pop out your teeth and drop them in a glass at night doesn’t mean you can’t nab an Oscar nomination. It just means it might be more of a…subtle performance.
Unfortunately, not every actor has the same mentality. After decades of working in showbiz, some people have found an easier path than shaping innovative, nuanced performances with every new film. The tactic? Playing the cranky old person. Standing in one place, a gruff look smeared across your face and bitching in a grumbly voice that’s barely discernible—from the actor’s perspective, it doesn’t get much better.
Taking a nod from Harrison Ford’s latest Cowboys & Aliens, we looked back at some of the grumpiest, gruntiest, aged-actor performances in movie history:
Harrison Ford in Morning Glory
Speaking of Harrison Ford, the 69-year-old actor has had a career resurgence in the last few years, popping back up after a lull of financial duds with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Morning Glory. Whereas the fourth Indiana Jones gave people a sour taste seeing the beloved hero reduced to a cranky shell of his former self, the light, fluffy rom-com embraces Ford’s huffing and puffing. New addition to The Joy of Cooking: grumpiness goes great with frittata.
Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino
Clint Eastwood as taken a position behind the camera for most of the last decade, directing thoughtful dramas and sending his fellow actors towards Oscar gold, so when he decided to step back on the big screen for Gran Torino, people paid attention. When it was first announced, fans were giddy of a possible Dirty Harry revival. What they got was a get-off-my-lawn parable starring Eastwood as a mushmouth racist. That works too…
Burgess Meredith in Rocky
proves the important rule here: just because you’re grunting, yelling and badgering other people the whole way through a movie, doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. As the ready-to-bicker trainer Mickey Goldmill, Meredith whips Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky into shape and teaches him what it really means to sound like you have 34 marbles in your mouth.
Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in Grumpy Old Men
At least there were no surprises when Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, arguably two of the finest actors of the from the ’50s all the way to the ’90s, decided to channel their inner-grump for a movie about…well, two grumps. Which elderly gent out-kvetched the other in Grumpy Old Men? Tough call, but note that Burgess Meredith also co-starred in this film, so it was a close race.
Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon franchise
was only 41 when he first uttered, “I’m too old for this shit”—but he sealed his own fate. By Lethal Weapon 4, he was too old for that shit, retroactively becoming too old for that shit back in 1987’s Lethal Weapon. The silver lining: if it wasn’t for that catchphrase, Murtaugh may have evolved into full-on old man grunting. No way to end a series.
Ed Asner in Up
Ed Asner’s kept quite chipper in his last few years of live-action appearances, but in 2009 he unleashed his crankiness in full force for Pixar’s old man adventure film Up. To be fair to Asner, the movie aims to take an emotional look at growing old and purposefully set up its main character, Carl Fredricksen, to be the grumpiest of the grumps—making it the perfect movie to spoof with Gran Torino.