What’s common between Bill Murray, Will Smith, and Jackie Chan? Seems like an odd collective, but besides the fact that they’re worldwide celebrities, have had amazingly successful careers, and are funny and interesting men, they also have something that’s unwittingly common between them: all three of them have headlined blockbuster movies that are being “rebooted” in 2016, either as movies or as TV shows. Murray got slimed on and caught ghosts in Ghostbusters (1984) which is now being rebooted in the devilishly delicious form of an all-female ghostbusting trio, Smith starred in the career-defining Independence Day (1996) which saw a resurgence just last month, and Chan redefined buddy-cop movies in the late nineties with Rush Hour (1998) and its sequels to such an extent that CBS developed a short-lived rebooted Rush Hour TV series earlier this year. Good or bad, nostalgic reboots are all the rage. Whether you belong to the fan community that serves up severe backlash for the reboots or you’re first in line to watch them at the theaters and Netflix them for TV, nostalgia is a thing now. It’s a nostalgia-fueled world, and we’re just living in it!
Just ask Winona Ryder. The ultimate It-girl for the late 80s and 90s and an icon for the “strange and unusual”, Ryder’s much-touted mainstream comeback for the Netflix original Stranger Things (releasing 15 July) is the ultimate nostalgia trip to the 80s (set in 1983 and starring an icon of the times in the lead for a series that’s literally a “love letter to the era” and to Steven Spielberg’s films from the time, such as The Goonies). We’re only through the first half of 2016 and we’ve already had half a dozen high profile reboots already: Rush Hour, X Files, Full House, Independence Day, Tarzan, and The Jungle Book. With the movie reboot of Ghostbusters two weeks away, and Jumanji, Power Rangers, Beauty and the Beast (all movies), Cruel Intentions and Lethal Weapon (both TV shows) slated for release later this year or early 2017, reboot-mania has been all over Hollywood. While the list is endless, and includes movies and TV shows going back to 1933 (The Invisible Man), it’s interesting to note that a large number of these reboots are 80s and 90s originals. Why is this such a trend? Why those decades specifically? Why are we, as the audience, so infatuated by movies and TV shows from that time, that even the actors themselves are feeding into our frenzy by having nostalgia-stoked cast reunions?
Nostalgia, especially for the 80s and 90s, has shrouded not just the film and television industry, but even the world of fashion in its midst. Which is great news for millennials. We’re a generation that, through YouTube, Netflix and other social media, has easy access to the movies, TV shows and memories of our childhood. Sociologists are looking at our obsessively rebooting classics from the 80s and 90s as a way to remain eternally adolescent, of shirking “adulthood”, and living up to our label as the Peter Pan generation. The case has already been made for the 90s being the last best decade; the rebooting phenomenon could be viewed as millennials (who were children then) simply yearning for a time when the world was still basking in the afterglow of the fall of the Soviet Union, when relative peace was achieved in the Middle East, and Nirvana and Britpop were leading a post-punk musical resurgence.
But surely, there’s more to these reboots than pure nostalgia. While wistful affection for the past does tint memories in a warm hazy light, too many big-studio investments have been made in the last few years to bring back 80s and 90s classics to our screens (the Dark Knight series, Mad Max: Fury Road, and the upcoming Power Rangers are prime examples). Of course, many who make these investment decisions are millennials themselves, and possibly have kids who they want to share their own childhood with. It’s like the rite of passage dads all over the world experienced again, watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens with their kids last year.
But surely, there’s more to these reboots than pure nostalgia and the joy of sharing your beloved childhood treasures with a new generation. Are these reboots really good? Many of them have gone on to set records, at the box office (The Dark Knight Rises made over $1 billion worldwide) or online streaming viewership (at 8.79 million, Fuller House was Netflix’s most watched show). But were they any better than the originals? The answer is predictable: some were and some weren’t. The fact is that a reboot pretty much depends on the same factors that any movie or TV show or a sequel/prequel depends on: a good story, direction, acting, and a laundry list of prerequisites needed to make a successful movie/TV show. Some of them turn out even better than the original because they have the same visionary director at the helm, some not so much because they were put together solely to quench a nostalgia-driven generation’s thirst.
In the end, the artistic value of reboots will always vary. It’s the emotional value they provide to the audience that matters more: reminiscing about the time you watched the original and how you felt then; how you were then, how you are now, and what has changed. Watching Fuller House (even without Michelle) is always going to garner a throwback to school, riding the bicycle home, completing homework, and then sitting in front of the TV, and as the first images come up on screen, singing along, “Whatever happened to predictability?” It’s that predictability, or rather familiarity, that’s driving us to reboot more of the 80s and 90s originals. And let’s face it, as far as decades go, we did pretty great!