Nostalgia is in. It’s in the ’80s filled nostalgia of Stranger Things, the return of classics like IT, and Saturdays spent scouring thrift shops for vintage outfits. No matter where you go, this fad is unavoidable. But nowhere is this trend of nostalgia so rampant than in the flood of reboots and remakes entering movie theaters.
Remakes are coming out in droves, especially from media moguls such as Disney. These major media companies have hit a jackpot and have been capitalizing on the desire of audiences to return to the past. But this tendency isn’t simply a product of our times. For those majoring in Film and Visual Studies, this trend is nothing new.
In film circles, there’s a concept called the 30-year cycle, which originated with Marc Le Sueur’s 1977 article titled “Theory Number Five: Anatomy of Nostalgia Films.” The 30-year cycle explores the idea of nostalgia in art, arguing that there are two forms of nostalgia: restorative and reflective.
Restorative nostalgia is the attempt to bring back and recapture an idealistic past. Its counterpart, reflective nostalgia, is characterized by a longing for a past that will not return.
Christopher Humphreys, a graduate student of philosophy, remarked, “Looking specifically at movies, I get the sense that the nostalgia is more restorative than reflective. I feel like I see reflective nostalgia in other forms of media…I think of people reading texts from the ’70s and ’80s because the problems are still there in another form, and we have to consider them in a new light.”
What’s the point of understanding nostalgia in our media? It can help explain why remakes of already existing works are such an ingrained part of American culture. This approach to looking at nostalgia not only redefines how we see movies, but also how we, as a society, approach difficulties in our everyday lives.
There is nothing inherently wrong with remaking or recreating a classic. It can be comforting to see something from the past brought to light again, because it makes us all relive the memories attached with them.
Sophomore Tiara Ortega said, “I think it’s a lot of fun to see a lot of super old animation come to life with new technology. You can see the details of the animation compared to the older versions.”
But this isn’t the only way to view the prevalence of remakes. It may be tied to the current political and social turmoil that the world is facing. Today, we are constantly bombarded with problems that are virtually inescapable; the digital world is a hotbed of skepticism and fear.
Ortega stated, “Most of our history is about looking back. Especially now…At some point, it’s nice to have a glimpse into the past, but sometimes you need to know how to stop.”
In a world that is constantly evolving, it makes sense why many audiences would want to return to so-called “better times,” to an image of the past that seems better than the present. Media moguls are rehashing these old features back to back and have taken full advantage of this upswing in sentimentality.
It’s difficult to say whether these reboots are truly transformative when compared to their originals. Take Disney’s most recent live-action remake, The Lion King. According to Forbes, The Lion King grossed over $1.6 billion in 2019. It was the seventh highest global grossing film of all time, alongside other Disney reboots like Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Still, many fans weren’t too pleased.
First year Kaycee Feldman stated, “I don’t really like the whole trend with remaking…I think it’s one big money grab to take something that was an old classic and remake it again for newer audiences.”
Despite poor ratings, crowds still flood the box office.
“It’s kind of disappointing that Disney——which is based on new content, new stories, and new characters to love——are kind of straying away from that,” Feldman continued.
The new Beauty and the Beast, the new Spiderman, the new Star Wars movies are bringing back past memories that can’t be restored in any other way. Ultimately, that’s the beauty that these films present.
Film, like everything else, is subjective. And the ceaseless wave of remakes are the representation of American culture’s desire to hide during a time of perceived turmoil and political division.
The excitement that surrounds the announcement of a new reboot is a way for people to forget the present by looking back towards their past.
But there’s no point in looking towards the past for answers. It’s fashionable to bring back the ‘‘80s and ‘‘90s, but it’s easy to forget that those times were also filled with turmoil. In fact, the societal issues that we face now aren’t new——they existed then too.
There is also no point in telling moviegoers to stop watching movies that have been redone; the numbers show that this movie production process will continue as long as there is a demand for them.
Jon Favreau, the director of The Lion King remake, stated in an interview with Variety, “You don’t want to reinvent [the original film] completely. You want people to see it and be able to say, ‘I saw The Lion King.’’
His sentiment appears to be enough for moviegoers, but it isn’t the most constructive solution.
Still, Humphrey states, “I suspect that this franchise frenzy is not indefinite, and that it will end, and probably be recycled at some point later. But in 30 years from now, we can see if these same questions of nostalgia are addressed…[and] what it will be like for those trends to die down and come back.”