Nostalgia is a powerful force. It can cause people to pay exorbant amounts of money on toys from their childhood and burst out into song when one of their childhood pop songs starts on the radio. However, more and more nostalgia has played a much more vital role within Hollywood. This has mainly occurred in three different ways, reboots, references, and long-term sequels (I tried really hard to find a third R word).
To start off, we have reboots. I am sure you have seen a reboot, whether it be a reimaginning (Dracula Untold) or the adaptation of a childhood favorite (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers). Anything that is directly based off of a previous intellectual property (IP) could be considered a reboot. The most current example is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. What is important about this particular IP is that these totally tubular turtles made their first appearance in 1984 in the first issue of their self-titled comic. From there, countless versions have spawned often with a much more kid friendly vibe each and every time. This means that adults who are now 30 grew up with these turtles from the beginning and who are now at an age where they are self-sufficient and are even raising their own families. For Hollywood, this is the perfect combination for a target audience. An audience with their own income as well as the power to bring others to the film which will of course translate to more ticket sales. This whole 80’s reboot we have been seeing with popular IP’s is no mistake. This is partly because of the audience and also because of the directors today grew up with these IP’s and now have the pull to bring them to the big screen. All of this creates the perfect nostalgia storm. People who want to make these and people who want to see them. This is also why we get movies such as Transformers 4, movies that are truly awful but still make all of the money. Now, there is the whole global box office factor that helps move these films along since films can be a flop in America but be hits across the globe. Since we are talking about nostalgia though we aren’t going to go into that too much. Think of it this way nostalgia gets things going while the global box office keeps the ball rolling. Nostalgia helps to bring people into the theaters regardless of the quality of the film. Depending on how much you like the IP, you won’t mind the quality as much.
Now references are whole other animal. Instead of recreating or bringing old IP’s to life, sometimes well placed references can be enough to heighten the quality of the film. I of course would like to point you to the most recent Marvel film Guardians of the Galaxy. If you haven’t seen the film yet, do yourself a favor and please go see it. You can read my review to get an idea of what you have been missing. Now, being as spoiler free as possible, what played a large part in GOTG’s success is its love of the 80’s. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is taken into space in the late 1980’s when he is still a child. This leaves him with a pop culture knowledge that ends in the 80’s. Fast forward and you have a film that makes incredibly entertaining and well timed references that make no sense to anybody but Peter Quill and the audience. These references encourage this nostalgic feeling in the audience and immediately bonds them to the film and these characters. This is a hard idea to describe without seeing the film while not spoiling some of the greatest moments in the film. Another great example is A Knight’s Tale which plays the nostalgia card through it’s music, which is something GOTG does very well also. Hopefully that gives you an idea of what references can do in a film. By bringing pop culture references in some form into a genre that would normally not have them, it allows for film to cross genres and appeal to a much wider audience. It can be done improperly especially if that is the only thing that it relies on.
The last form of nostalgia is the idea of long-term sequels. I find the studio that does this the best is Pixar. What I mean by this is that they create their own nostalgia and seemingly timed future sequels. For instance, Toy Story was released in 1995. Of course being a movie about toys coming to life I, like many others close to my age, instantly loved this movie and grew up with it. Now, fast forward to Toy Story 3 which was released in 2010, the year I and many others my age were beginning the college part of their lives. I mean, either some one at Pixar should be given a very substantial raise or this was an incredible coincidence. By placing the stories focus on a young college bound student giving up his child hood toys and essentially growing makes the film incredibly poignant for the audience. This is especially so since those my age were going through this very experience and could relate to it even more. Seriously, the whole metaphor of them almost dying in the fire pit in the dump as a comparison of the death of one’s child hood was really a low blow by Pixar. Regardless, you can start to see the potential that long-term sequels of films can have. The same thing occurred with Monsters Inc. and Monsters University if you were born a little before 2001. It seems Pixar likes to space their sequels out just enough to allow their audience to grow up a little and then target their story towards where they would be in their life. I doubt Pixar is this diabolical especially since they place story over everything else in a film. We will see if this trend continues with Finding Dory, which from the sound of it seems to be primed to carry a message of finding yourself and figuring out who you are.
Nostalgia in film is not a bad thing. It is simply another tool film makers can use to increase the emotional investment in their projects. From a marketing standpoint, it is one of the more powerful tools that can be used.