Back to the Future Past

Calvin Roy explores the rise of the ‘80s in popular culture.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, Mad Max Fury Road, It, Ghostbusters, Blade Runner 2049, Prometheus, Terminator Genesys… What year is this?!

The 80s appears to be as popular as it was 35 years ago. Remakes and reboots of movies originally popular in the 80s are big business. Let’s focus on this “retromania” as a whole: why are American moviemakerss so nostalgic for the 80s and 90s?

This trend will most likely continue to spread in cinemas. Coming up in the next few years we can expect new Star Wars movies, Gremlins 3, Terminator 6, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Top Gun: Maverick, and Lethal Weapon 5 to mention just a few. It looks endless. Why is that? One could argue that it is laziness pure and simple, and I partially agree. But this is also a sociological and a cultural issue.

Credit: Squarespace

The producers, directors and screenwriters of those films play on the sensitive strings of nostalgia. They manage to attract an audience of young parents who grew up watching cult American films. They are familiar with this culture and those universes. They are obviously curious to know what happened to their favourite characters and to see how they grow old (seeing an elderly Harrison Ford as Han Solo struggling to run inside his Millennium Falcon mirrors the audience’s own ageing). Besides, parents are eager to bring their own children to see those films and share their childhood with the new generation. Jackpot!

Why now? Well, remakes and reboots have always existed (even Thomas Edison and the Lumière Brothers at the end of the 19th century did some!) Back in the 80s itself, some movies were remade too: Scarface (1932/1983), The Thing (1951/1982 & 2011), The Fly (1958/1986). Every 30 years or so, it looks like spectators and producers become nostalgic. This trend has obviously intensified this past decade. In addition, let’s not forget those TV programmes Hollywood nostalgia has dug up: Twin Peaks came back last summer after a 26-year break, alongside MacGyver.

Credit: Netflix

Stranger Things Season 2 is probably the most highly-anticipated show of the second half of 2017. Guess what? It is set in 1984. In the first episode, a character is nicknamed “Mad Max”; the local cinema in Hawkins is screening Terminator; the characters play the arcade game Dragon’s Lair  – and this all within the first ten minutes! Want more? Sean Astin has now been cast: we know him as Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings and Mickey in The Goonies.

Nostalgia took over films and TV series, but also music. Vinyl is enjoying a revival, with contemporary artists including Lady Gaga, Daft Punk, and Lana Del Rey releasing their albums both digitally and on vinyl. Even audio cassettes sales are rising! The soundtrack of some popular films is also heavily inspired by the past: think Guardians of the Galaxy and Baby Driver. 2009 appears to be a turning point: ‘King of Pop’ Michael Jackson died and left a great void. No wonder pop culture as a whole strongly turned back to the past. It is very likely that people simply did not want to bury their childhood alongside Jackson.

They want to preserve his memory by taking refuge in a decade when things were seemingly easier and comforting; when American teens could play Super Mario Bros on SNES during the morning while listening to David Bowie on vinyl, go see Back to the Future at 3 in the afternoon and go to a Michael Jackson’s gig at 9 in the evening. What a time to be alive!

Credit: Wikimedia

Retro culture is everywhere these past few years, and I didn’t even mention vintage design in clothing and furniture! There are a lot of key factors which explain this return to the past: like I said, it is a sociological and economical “issue”. But don’t get me wrong, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. In terms of movies, let’s be honest: some of the new sequels/prequels/reboots are actually pretty good. As students in our twenties, let’s not become serious adults too soon. A bit of nostalgia has never hurt anyone. Let’s enjoy simple things and let’s not forget the heroes who brightened our childhood.