Top Film Industry Stories of 2015:
#6 Nostalgia Rules

By Kim Hollis

January 20, 2016

2016's best movie couple?

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Straight Outta Compton was one of the bigger financial surprises of 2015, and once again we can look to people who grew up with NWA during their heyday in the 1980s as key supporters and advocates for the project. The film rode its wave of musical reminiscence to a shocking $60.2 million debut and an eventual $161.2 million at the domestic box office. Here, too, is a film that received an Academy Award nomination - this time for Best Original Screenplay. It seems that Academy voters are sentimental, too.

Of course, any discussion of ‘80s nostalgia would be incomplete without addressing Back to the Future’s 30th anniversary. Considering the support people were willing to give their beloved icons from the past, it seems all but certain that a new film in the series would have been a hugely anticipated hit. Even without a new film, fans still attended Back to the Future Day in theaters and watched marathons of the three movies on TV. The anniversary blanketed social media, and retrospectives proliferated. In a year where memories of the past drove consumer behavior, the furor around Back to the Future’s original release added more fuel to an already strongly blazing fire.

The Blockbusters

The year’s two biggest films (and two of the biggest of all-time) owe much of their success to the nostalgia factor as well. We’ll be talking about both of these movies in the coming days, but Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens both saw audiences crowd into theaters to recapture feelings that they first experienced years ago.

For Jurassic World, it would have been easy for it to be just another middling sequel. After all, neither The Lost World or Jurassic Park III were particularly well-remembered by audiences. And yet somehow, there was an atmosphere surrounding the film that felt significantly closer to that of the original, released in 1993. Some of that comes down to the fact that the effects were clearly handled with the same kind of care and attention they received in the first film. Additionally, it had the feeling of an adventure - with an emphasis on the dinosaurs eating people aspect that was so appealing when the concept originated.

Another important factor was that the velociraptors were once again a primary focus of the film - even though the role they play in Jurassic World is decidedly different than what we saw in Jurassic Park. In this case, these alpha predators are key in bringing down a genetically engineered mega dinosaur - and giving audiences a callback while expanding the concept was a big draw.


I probably don’t even have to explain the nostalgia factor of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Many argue that the film is a loving remake of A New Hope, or alternately, a movie that presents Star Wars’ Greatest Hits. Whereas the prequels went backwards in time in an effort to build a story (about characters people perhaps didn’t care about), The Force Awakens brought back such beloved characters as Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, R2-D2, C-3PO and Luke Skywalker. People cared about what happened to them 30 years down the line, and the film might very well have been sold by one single Han Solo line in the previews: “Chewie, we’re home.”

You know the rest of the story. In June, Jurassic World became the biggest opener of all time with $208.8 million and would eventually earn $652.3 million domestically. Then, of course, its record was demolished by The Force Awakens in December when it debuted with $248 million, and the latest installment of Star Wars went on to become the biggest grossing film ever in North American history.

The Misses

The formula wasn’t foolproof, though. A few films tried to cash in on the nostalgia trend without success. Most notable amongst these was Jem and the Holograms, a film adaptation of a 1980s animated series. Although people were embracing the ‘80s as a decade, moviegoers could sense the cynicism dripping from this project. It was obvious that the movie was greenlighted because it had a fan base, but then no care whatsoever was given to the actual production. It would finish with a lifetime gross of $2.2 million.

Other films that failed to cash in were Vacation (which took a beloved concept and obviously turned it into garbage) and Terminator: Genisys, which brought back Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator role, but had to replace Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn as Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. Both films were able to trick some unsuspecting viewers on the strength of their name, but audiences could sense that the projects were bungled terribly.

Even with those (and perhaps a couple of other) missed opportunities, movie audiences flocked to theaters to celebrate nostalgia in 2015. It’s a trend that we may see continue in 2016, depending on how such projects as My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Zoolander 2, Independence Day: Resurgence, Ghostbusters and even Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them are handled.

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