2015: The Year of the Nostalgic Blockbuster

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Although many are proclaiming 2015 ‘The Year of the Blockbuster’, a more accurate title would be ‘The Year of the Nostalgic Blockbuster’. Granted, every passing year it feels like we get more and more films that feed on our longing for the good old days, but 2015 has gone into overdrive. Already this year, Jurassic World built upon the original park’s foundation on Isla Nublar, looking like an updated version of a beloved childhood playset. Whether you’re a diehard Star Wars fan or casual moviegoer, who didn’t feel like a kid again when watching the trailer for The Force Awakens? This upcoming Wednesday, another nostalgic blockbuster will hit theaters with Terminator Genisys. What has audiences particularly excited for this one is that the new Terminator isn’t just rehashing iconic lines, but Arnold Schwarzenegger himself is actually delivering them.

Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, no action star kicked more ass than Schwarzenegger. Although he’s older now and our current generation views him more as the Governator, nostalgic audiences will always remember him best for James Cameron’s first two Terminator pictures. Terminator Genisys will see Arnie’s triumphant return to his most famous role. Based on the trailer, it would appear Genisys is going to be a major throwback to the early Terminator films with immortal one-liners, fan favorite characters, and numerous other references. Interestingly, this is the complete opposite of what the previous entry in the series, Terminator Salvation, did. That film was more of a reinvention with new characters, a new setting, and new ideas. Arnie wasn’t even really in the picture, merely making a CGI reappearance.

Arnie in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Arnie in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

You could argue that Terminator Salvation took chances with this franchise and aspired to be its own thing. Those chances backfired, however, as nobody seemed to like the film. Even Schwarzenegger himself said that the movie “sucked” in a Good Morning America interview. The general consensus seemed to be that Salvation completely missed the point of what Terminator is all about. So what, did people just want a remake of its predecessors? No, audiences still wanted something different, but they also wanted something that evoked the thrilling sensation of seeing Terminator 2: Judgment Day for the first time.

Genisys will obviously revisit many of the beats of the first two classics. Some of the callbacks in the ads may be kind of corny, but they do get us in the nostalgic spirit and immediately hook us in. Watching the trailer, you almost feel like you’re experiencing Terminator 2 again for a brief couple of minutes. It doesn’t merely look like a cheap retread, though. In addition to having updated effects and a great ensemble cast featuring Emilia Clarke, the time-fractured storyline sounds like a truly intriguing, fresh take. James Cameron’s seal of approval is further encouraging. There’s still an extreme possibility Genisys will fail as both a nostalgic throwback and its own separate entity. If Genisys is nearly as good as it’s trailer, however, it could be the perfect blend of nostalgic fun and compelling new ideas we’ve been waiting for since 1991.

Speaking of sequels that finally delivered the goods, have you seen a little movie called Jurassic World yet? Of course you have! Although it’s been fourteen years since the last Jurassic Park movie and twenty-two years since the last good Jurassic Park movie, Jurassic World still had the biggest worldwide opening ever. It even took a bite out of the seemingly unbeatable Avengers: Age of Ultron, a sequel to a much more current franchise.

The film’s marketing campaign clearly tapped into our nostalgia, guaranteeing longtime fans would buy tickets and word-of-mouth about the movie spread rapidly. Regardless, the filmmakers went beyond simply cashing in on the franchise’s brand name. They managed to pay great homage to the original while also giving it a fresh coat of paint. They obviously love the first Jurassic Park and saw further possibilities for this cinematic universe.

The park is open!

The park is open!

Rather than just rehashing the plot like The Lost World or Jurassic Park III did, Jurassic World considered several new angles. What if the park did open to the public? How would the iPhone generation respond to dinosaurs? What if scientists genetically engineered a new dinosaur? Could raptors be trained like other vicious animals? The possibilities go on and on. The filmmakers realized the potential for this franchise and brought it into the 21st century. At the same time, they encompassed the heart, spirit, and sense of awe that made Jurassic Park more than a conventional monster movie back in 1993. The result was the Jurassic Park sequel audiences always wanted, occasionally coming close to topping the original.

As for sequels that actually did outdo the original, Mad Max: Fury Road has not only been hailed as the best Mad Max picture, but the best action movie in decades. Director George Miller maintained all the insane whimsy of his earlier trilogy, but went bigger and better than ever. The film took thirty years to get off the ground and the perfected final product really shows that. It didn’t even really matter who played the Road Warrior, be it Tom Hardy or Mel Gibson. As long as the film got the tone of its predecessors right and offered something new in the process, fans would be satisfied.

Return of the road warrior.

Return of the road warrior.

The same could be said about the best James Bond films subsequent to Sean Connery’s retirement. Connery had to move on in his old age, but since iconic characters never die, somebody had to assume 007’s mantle. That’s not an easy feat, but Daniel Craig demonstrated in Casino Royale that it can be done. It was Skyfall that perfected the new-aged James Bond back in 2012, though. The film was full of nods to Bond’s retro adventures, most notably an exploding pen joke courtesy of the hipster Q. At the same time, the action, dialogue, and Mr. Bond himself felt very modernized. The film knew exactly what to update and what to preserve, amounting to the best Bond movie in years. Now who can’t wait to see Spectre this November?

Mission: Impossible is yet another nostalgic franchise being revisited this year with the fifth entry in the film series, Rogue Nation. At their bare bones, the Mission: Impossible movies have always retained the quintessence of the TV series. Over the years, though, the films have become their own entity with contemporary action and political commentary. While they’ve found their footing between old school fun and current real world problems, the franchise doesn’t even need to rely on nostalgia to pack the theater. It’s constantly moving forward with each new entry, but never betrays what Mission: Impossible was all about to begin with.

Perhaps the most talked about and nostalgic trailer we’ve seen this year is for The Force Awakens. Hell, people were actually crying at the sight of Chewie and an aged Han Solo. In less than two minutes, that trailer did an exceptional job at demonstrating the magic, fun, and soul of the initial Star Wars trilogy. In addition to staying true to the classics, it looks like Director J.J. Abrams is bringing a darker, grittier edge to the universe. Seeing as how Abrams did such an impeccable job at breathing new life into Star Trek, we trust in him to do the same for the most beloved film franchise of all time.

Chewie, we're home.

Chewie, we’re home.

Nevertheless, this wouldn’t be the first time Star Wars pulled on our nostalgia heartstrings and then ripped our hearts out. Remember when the trailer for The Phantom Menace hit and how excited we were leading up to its release? Who didn’t cheer when the screen read, “Every saga has a beginning,” and John Williams’ classic musical score kicked in? Then remember how disappointed we were when the prequel actually came out?

So where did The Phantom Menace go wrong where nostalgic films like Jurassic World, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Skyfall went right? Well for starters, the film mistook updating story, tone, and characters with updating effects. While The Phantom Menace looked great for the time, nothing new about it stood out besides the visuals. Unlike the original trilogy, the drama, romance, and dialogue felt incredibly awkward. You wouldn’t think this would be the case since George Lucas himself wrote and directed the film, but that goes to show that sometimes it can be best to hand the torch over to someone else. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull only strengthens that argument.

The best recent blockbusters have hit hard with nostalgia by going back to the basics and looking forward into the future simultaneously with new talent, either in front of or behind the camera. It’s hard to be too upset about all of these nostalgic movies, as Hollywood is essentially giving audiences what they want. It helps that the universes of Terminator and Star Wars have already been largely expanded upon in graphic novels, video games, and TV shows. The possibilities for both series were, from the very start, set up to be endless, and they’re widely open to various different artistic interpretations that can offer unique, yet nostalgic, visions. Of course some nostalgic films will miss the mark like the Poltergeist remake, but many are finding the right balance of old and new.

With all this said, should we be concerned that almost every modern big budget motion picture is feeding on our nostalgia in some way? Even if many of these follow-ups and reboots are differentiating themselves, they’re still not novel films. The only wide release that’s been truly 100% original this summer is Pixar’s Inside Out, which notably had the highest-grossing opening weekend ever for a non-sequel or non-adaptation. Of course even it couldn’t top Jurassic World, which still sits at number one.

How do you feel about all this nostalgia?

How do you feel about all this nostalgia?

The lack of original titles parallels the lack of originality that defines this generation. The ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s all had their own distinctive qualities. Outside of being dominated by cellphones and Facebook, the 2000s and 2010s haven’t really left a signature mark. We’ve basically just latched onto things from the past and updated them. Seeing as how the Internet has made retro media easier to access than ever, it’s understandable that this generation would be obsessed with the past. What’s more, this obsessive passion gives filmmakers more reason to do justice to these nostalgic franchises. If we keep resurrecting nostalgic property, however, there will ultimately be nothing left to bring back.

In time, society will get to the point where we’ve had too much nostalgia and suffer from a case of Sequelitis. When Hollywood is ready to take more risks on new concepts, there will be plenty of artists lining up to share their ideas, be it from the geniuses at Pixar, Christopher Nolan, or the next Steven Spielberg. But just because an idea is original doesn’t mean it’s bound to be good. Jupiter Ascending is proof of that. For every dud, however, there can be a game changer like The Terminator, Jurassic Park, or Star Wars. We all need to grow up eventually. Until that day comes though, let’s just enjoy this awesome nostalgic trip while it lasts.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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