Should Hollywood Quit Banking on Nostalgia?

Updated on April 14, 2018
RachaelLefler profile image

I have an intense passion for movies, and I believe that film critics help people think better about the media they consume.

We know Hollywood has been in the nostalgic recreation business for a while. Could this be a good thing? Or does it mean that movie-going audiences are stuck in a creativity-lacking rut? Are we forever to be suspended in the warm goo of familiarity, or is it time for us to leave the nest and learn to appreciate new, original films? Here are the biggest problems I see with the U.S. film industry's current reliance on nostalgia to sell tickets.

1. Lack of Creativity

One complaint you're likely to see over and over again is that reboots are not creative or original. They're not new. Sure, I'm familiar with franchises I like already, like Star Wars. But not every movie needs to be a Star Wars movie to get me to watch it. I like a variety of films, and I like to see new ideas and characters. There's a reason that no matter how much I loved Bring it On, I wasn't in love with the sequels. Simply branding a movie with a connection to a familiar movie I already like is not enough to sell me a movie ticket. (OK, I did kind of just shell out to see Riff Trax riffing on an old Dr. Who movie. Hush.)

I understand why, from a marketing perspective, nostalgia is a popular tactic. People feel all warm and fuzzy about their childhoods. They already have a personal connection to the brands and film series that existed back then. But I don't want to just see sloppy retellings of old movies, I want Hollywood to also give us authentic, cool, creative new stories. People do give new ideas a chance, or else those nostalgically popular franchises wouldn't have gotten a following in the first place.

2. Original Fans are Difficult to Please

And speaking of that following the original show/movie/book/whatever has? You risk seriously pissing those people off. There have been numerous nostalgic bombs.

To name a few train wrecks:

  • Ghostbusters
  • Transformers
  • Berserk (2016)
  • Star Wars Prequels
  • Star Trek: the JJ Abrams movies
  • Peter Jackson's annoyingly prolonged Hobbit trilogy (squeezed out of a book I read in two days in middle school)
  • Eragon's film adaptation
  • Suicide Squad for fans of Harley Quinn as a comic book character.

There is a side of me that wants to say, stop being entitled nerd-snobs about your original source material, but you can't just tell fans of original source material they have to like your reboot. It's hard to get the original fans on board. Change too much, and it sucks because it "bastardized" the original content, and risks making people feel like the new content creators missed the essence that made the original story good in the first place. Change too little, and you come under fire for not being original, kind of like how JJ Abrams was criticized for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It wasn't a terrible film, but it did kind of lean on old nostalgic Star Wars references, which got in the way of telling an original story.

So the original fans are unlikely to be happy no matter what you do. I hate how they think nostalgic reboots are going to be a cakewalk. Uh, no. If I had to write or direct a film tomorrow and I had a list of scripts to choose from, I would definitely choose an original story that's never been adapted to film before over something like another "old superhero gets a new origin story" movie. There's much less pressure on new scripts, because the characters and concepts and original source material doesn't have fans who will get pissed off about what you do and what you change from the version they're familiar with.

3. Push Diversity by Creating New Characters!

I'm not crying for ya, Marvel.
I'm not crying for ya, Marvel.

I can't be the only person who's sick of SJWs trying to get their grubby little hands on everything and change every white, male character into a nonwhite male or white female character. They do this deliberately to antagonize fans, to bait them into appearing "racist" or "sexist" if they don't like the changes, or because they think people will buy comics or movies out of fear of being called racist or sexist. It's not an effective tactic, all it does is push people to become more racist and more sexist because they've been taught by that move that not being racist or sexist means they have to get on board with turning Thor into a woman. It shouldn't mean that. They're pushing people away from their cause.

What they need to do instead of giving established characters a change in race or gender, is make stuff with a good story, that happens to have a lead character who is a minority, a woman, or whatever it is you want to represent. Massively overpaid Hollywood studios do not own the sole means of producing films. Your strong female character didn't have to be labeled "female Thor". She could have just been Cassandra the Warrior and we'd have been fine. Hell, Norse mythology has a rich array of good female characters you could pick; female frost giants, goddesses, and the Valkyries, who were famous mythological warrior maidens. Making "female Thor" is lazy and stupid.

If they would only stop pushing diversity by taking away existing white male characters, steamrolling over fans of those original characters to do it, and create unique, beautiful, and interesting new characters that were already diverse, I think that would be a lot better. But I'm not holding my breath that that will happen.

4. Even New Movies Are Sticking to Tired Formulas

I really liked Disney's Moana. It was an enjoyable family film. But as I started thinking about it with my no-nonsense-critic-glasses on, I started to realize, this is basically a textbook hero's journey, with the same coming of age and "be yourself" and other shit that's been said and done throughout the Disney Renaissance films I watched as a kid, like Lion King, Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Pocahontas, the latter of which the movie Moana kind of stole its entire plot from, minus the sex appeal, romance with a white guy, and violence, so uh, like Pocahontas but more boring. (Hey, at least I'm not the only one not kissing this movie's ass, by the way.)

But I feel like, the more recent CG Disney flicks are all basically telling the same story, whereas the stories of the Disney Renaissance films were more diverse. Nowadays, the safest bet is to have a rebellious, spirited young girl, destined for leadership, who has to break free of controlling parental figures and chart her own destiny. And she goes on a standard hero's journey to solve a problem, and prove that strong young girls can do the strong young girl thing and be all empowered and whatnot. But that's getting to be an old story, and if Disney keeps on having just one kind of heroine and telling just one kind of story, I am going to quit watching their movies. The problem is that now, familiarity is sought, and change and innovation is so feared, that even when a story is "new" or "original", it usually isn't really. It's careful and calculated. They're not making anything wild like Lilo and Stitch anymore, and that makes me sad.

5. Don't Rely Too Heavily on References

Easter eggs and references to other movies in a film used to be quaint surprises. Now, and I'm going to pick on Marvel, what they're doing is forcing references and making what used to be hidden surprise gems blatant, obvious, and obnoxious. It almost feels condescending to the audience. It's like hunting a bear that's chained to a tree. For example, you now expect that after the credits on every Marvel movie there's going to be a cute little scene that hints about the content of the next Marvel movie. And there will always be a Stan Lee cameo. But when the joke is obvious and the same one keeps getting repeated, it's less funny.

Equally obnoxious are stories that pile on geek culture references and use that as a quick substitute for actual content or humor. Big Bang Theory, which I loathe with the fury of a thousand suns, is one offender. I don't mind Ready Player One so much, because it makes references but also tries to show us why those references are important, what they mean to fans, why those things are special on an emotional level to certain people. But a lot of lazy writing these days just makes an assumption that making reference after reference is enough, which is what grated to me about Robot Chicken and Family Guy.

So when it comes to nostalgic reboots, stop this nonsense please. No, making a "cute" little reference to the original source material isn't going to make your movie better.

It just reminds me that I could have stayed home, pirated the original movie, and had a better experience, without even having to go outside or wear pants.

I agree with this so much...

So yeah, everyone is sick of this "reboot" binge Hollywood is on right now. Maybe it's because of new technology - they want to tell old stories with updated curtains. It could be to reflect how cultural values have changed. Maybe it's that because of internet piracy, the studios only want to bet on the surest horse possible. Maybe it's just that nostalgia sells, but they kind of went overboard on their banking on it always selling. Nostalgia is limited and best taken in moderation, like cake.

Mm... nostalgia... and cake? Portal reference!

There, I just won the article. My work here is done.

It's so delicious and moist.
It's so delicious and moist.


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