While some look forward to what the future has in store for them, others fear the unknown and hold on to the past. They shield themselves from the harsh reality of the present and the uncharted territory of the future by looking at the good ol’ days through their rose-coloured glasses. They would do anything to return to a time when the stars had yet to lose their lustre and the clouds had yet to dampen their hopes and dreams. Alas, time is linear and time travel does not exist (yet). You cannot just get into a car à la Back to the Future’ and wind up in the 1950s or step into a police box à la Doctor Who and embark on a journey to the past. But, perhaps we don’t need a time machine to satiate our nostalgia. And, we don’t have to rely on just our memories to invoke the euphoria of a bygone era.
The image of an actor can shove you back into the seat you occupied in the cinema on your first date with your significant other.
The voice of your favourite cartoon character can take you back to your childhood home with the smells of your mother’s cooking wafting out of the kitchen.
The opening bars of a certain song can transport you to the party where you first met your best friends and had the time of your life.
Hence, it is no surprise that Hollywood is capitalising on our penchant for nostalgia by incorporating nostalgic elements in newly released movies, TV shows, and music. So, if you have been struck by feelings of déjà vu every time you watch a movie in the cinema, stream a TV show on Netflix, or hear a song on the radio, you’re not alone!
Nostalgia in Pop Culture
There are two reasons why movies can evoke a feeling of nostalgia. First, it’s because the same actors or actresses that played in the movie years ago are casted again for the sequel. Second, the scenes or scenery of the movie sequel are similar to the original movie. The recent movie Top Gun: Maverick (2022), a sequel to Top Gun (1986), excellently displays these two reasons. Besides the well-planned out plot, both movies feature the same protagonists, Tom Cruise, playing LT Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. Besides Tom Cruise, other cast members from the 1986 movie also appeared in both movies such as Val Kilmer, playing LT Tom “Iceman” Kazansky. As for the scenery, there are some sceneries that are very similar to the 1986 movie, such as the bar, the Top Gun “school”, and the beach. Furthermore, the 2022 movie uses snippets from 1986, further evoking the feeling of nostalgia.
Another great example is the Jurassic Park (1993) and the Jurassic World trilogy (2015, 2018, and 2022). Some of the main cast of the 1993 Jurassic Park were Sam Neill, playing Alan Grant, Jeff Goldblum, playing Ian Malcolm, and Laura Dern as Ellie Sattler. These 3 characters reappeared in the latest movie, Jurassic World: Dominion (2022) despite not appearing in the past two rebooted movies. As for the scenery, Jurassic Park was set on an imaginary island called Isla Nublar, and years later, the first Jurassic World trilogy recreated the park at the same location, Isla Nublar. Generally, when we see the same people, scenes, or places years later, we tend to be reminded of what it was like years ago when we first saw all those things, and that is nostalgia.
2. TV Shows
You may have noticed a few familiar titles when scrolling through your favourite streaming service for the perfect TV show to binge. This is no coincidence, as many newly-released TV shows are produced to appeal to our growing love for nostalgia. For example, the extremely successful Gossip Girl (2007-2012), which is beloved by many for its iconic characters and era-defining fashion, was rebooted by HBO Max in 2021. The 2021 reboot of the same name revolves around the same premise as its predecessor; a group of privileged teenagers in New York whose debauchery is exposed to the public by the titular Gossip Girl. Although the reboot takes many inspirations from the original TV show and even has Kristen Bell reprise her role as the voice of Gossip Girl, it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to replicate a bygone era. Instead, the reboot manages to address several issues in the original by featuring a far more diverse cast and more socially conscious characters, making it relevant to the current era while still retaining the nostalgic feeling.
Besides that, the Nickelodeon TV show ICarly (2007-2012) was also rebooted by Paramount+ in 2021. The reboot saw many of the original actors reprise their roles, namely Miranda Cosgrove as Carly, Nathan Kress as Freddie, and Jerry Trainor as Spencer. ICarly, which featured the protagonist, Carly gaining fame overnight through her Internet show, was a staple of most of our childhoods. Hence, many were hesitant about watching the reboot as they feared that it would not be able to capture the magic of the original. However, the reboot managed to exceed expectations as it realistically depicted the characters dealing with adulthood while retaining the traits that made fans fall in love with them all those years ago. The show became the second most-watched TV show on the network, behind only Star Trek: Discovery, which too, happens to be an iteration of the nostalgic Star Trek series.
Meanwhile, Netflix has attempted to reimagine another Nickelodeon TV show, Winx Club (2004-2019), which depicted a group of fairies at a magical school who used their powers to fight against evil. Fate: The Winx Saga is a live-action adaptation of the cartoon which premiered its second season in September 2022. While the animated version was geared towards children and pre-teens, Netflix’s version takes on a darker tone and features more mature themes. Moreover, the show puts a spin on the original character designs and even gives the characters completely different personalities compared to the original. Although fans of the original were initially excited to see the characters they grew up with on the screen again, most were disappointed by the direction the show took.
Other notable mentions include How I Met Your Father which is a reimagining of How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014) and Fuller House (2016-2020) which featured the original characters of Full House (1987-1995) all grown up. The cast of Friends (1994-2004) also reunited in 2021 for an almost two-hour-long special that featured an exclusive interview where the cast reminisced on their time in the show, bringing tears to the eyes of fans around the globe.
Have you noticed that some music and entertainment (such as movies and tv shows) these days try to incorporate a “nostalgic touch” to its product by inserting old songs from the 20th century (1901 – 2000) as part of the entertainment itself or taking inspiration from the 20th-century music? It feels like every movie or TV show nowadays incorporates at least one song from the 20th century. For instance, there are at least two 20th-century pieces of music from the Stranger Things soundtrack, such as: Running up That Hill (1985) by Kate Bush and Pass the Dutchie (1982) by Musical Youth. Furthermore, a song titled Welcome to the Jungle (1987) by Guns N’ Roses has also been used in a couple of movies such as Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) and Thor: Love and Thunder (2022).
Moving on, music these days has evolved with the aim to replicate the nostalgic feeling of 20th-century music. For instance, Dua Lipa’s second album, Future Nostalgia took inspiration from the music of the 1970s to 2000s to create music that is nostalgic but felt new at the same time. Even the official music videos display the vibe of the 20th century. Another similar but different case, is with the song Betty (Get Money) (2022) by Yung Gravy. Upon listening to this song, it is quite clear that this song is heavily sampled from Never Gonna Give You Up (1987) by Rick Astley. These examples prove that modern entertainment tends to incorporate older pieces of work into its current work. This begs the question, why do movies, tv shows, and music nowadays take pieces of the past and incorporate them into the present?
The Reasons Behind the Nostalgia Fest in Pop Culture
“The interesting thing about remakes isn’t really that they exist or are significant in number, but rather that there are more of them at certain moments in history. And we’re certainly in one of those moments now,” – Dr. Matthew Jones, Film Studies Lecturer at De Montfort University
Nostalgia in pop culture isn’t a novel concept. Hollywood has been exploiting our soft spot for nostalgia for a long time. However, it seems to be more prevalent now based on the number of sequels, reboots, remakes, and reimaginings that Hollywood is churning out. This can be attributed to the fact that it is far easier to produce a movie or TV show if the characters, settings, and plotlines have already been established. This allows films and shows to be made in a fraction of the time and at the fraction of the cost it would take to create an original premise as many of the sets and costumes can be reused and there is no need to brainstorm new ideas. Moreover, movies and TV shows fueled by nostalgia tend to be more marketable as the studios can take advantage of the pre-existing fanbases. Hence, they are able to attract a larger audience with little publicity, which makes it easier to obtain approval from the studio and receive funding.
Although there is no guarantee that a movie or TV show will be a raging success, reboots and remakes are less likely to tank, which makes them a safe bet for risk-averse studios. However, some believe that Hollywood is taking the easy way out and that these reiterations of familiar media are suppressing innovative ideas. These remakes and reboots are also seen by some as soulless cash grabs that never manage to capture the charm of their source material, with some claiming that they ruin beloved characters. Nonetheless, many adore these films and TV shows as the feeling of nostalgia invoked allow them to take shelter from the hustle and bustle of modern life and find comfort in the familiar. To these people, the joy of seeing their favourite characters on screen again after all these years makes up for the lack of originality in the plot.
Meanwhile, many musicians choose to sample songs by their favourite artists to pay homage to their legacy. Nevertheless, some are of the opinion that interpolating other artists’ work in your own art is lazy songwriting undeserving of attention. Musicians who do so are even accused of theft and are subject to vitriol from fans of the original artist. This was the case for Olivia Rodrigo, who received cruel messages that undermined her artistic talent when fans of Taylor Swift and Paramore accused her of ripping off Swift’s Cruel Summer (2019) in her 2021 smash hit Deja Vu and Paramore’s Misery Business in Brutal. However, it cannot be denied that incorporating snippets from older songs or taking inspiration from beats of another time immortalises the work of the original artist. For example, newer generations are introduced to the upbeat tempo and catchy lyrics of Olivia Newton-John’s 80s hit Physical through the work of current artists such as Doja Cat and Dua Lipa. This allows them to appreciate the talents of past artists and could potentially inspire them to diversify their taste in music. What’s more, this could also bridge the gap between older and younger generations by providing them with mutually enjoyable music.
This trend of reusing something from the past and placing it in the present in the entertainment industry seems to have a bright future ahead. Nostalgia is something that cannot go away. As long as future movies, tv shows, or music is well-written, properly executed, and evokes nostalgic feelings in the audience, this trend will stay. Besides, taking ideas from the past and putting a taste of the present to that idea is easier than coming up with something completely new and original. Imagine, in 10 years time, when a new MCU movie mentions Thanos or one of the original Avengers. It’s certainly going to bring back memories of the days when the Avengers were at their peak.
Written By: Daniel and Priyanka
Edited by: Poorani