Opinion: Why Nostalgia's Big Business for Hollywood

Are Battleship, Transformers et al a good thing?

Nostalgia is big business in Tinseltown right now, but why? Film writer Daniel Bettridge weighs in with his thoughts…


If you listened carefully last month you could just about hear the collective cry of despair from despondent film fans who’d read the news about Megan Fox being cast as April O’Neil in Michael Bay’s upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot.

Fox - as you’ll no doubt remember from the Transformers franchise – has been known to turn in performances so wooden you’re likely to get splinters just by watching. Yes, fans enjoy it when she’s draped over the bonnet of a car, but she’s so far removed from the Turtles’ yellow-jumpsuited sidekick that it’s like casting Pamela Anderson in the lead role of a Delia Smith biopic (which, coincidentally, we’d probably watch).

But whilst the outrage TMNT fans were spouting in 140 characters or less was palpable, the decision to reboot the much-loved franchise itself has been greeted with more of a malevolent meh than a concerted cowabunga.

Although there's always going to be an audience who want to see the above.

It’s no surprise really. After all, in recent years we’ve become used to Hollywood cashing in on our rose-tinted nostalgia in order to entice us into the nearest multiplex. You need only look at the release of G.I. Joe: Retaliation for further evidence. The action-figure inspired sequel is just the latest cinematic salvo from Hasbro; the company who are also behind big screen toy stories like Battleship and Transformers.

It’s not just toys either. Tinseltown is now consistently turning to video games, film reboots, bedtime stories, comic books and even fairy tales in a bid to bust blocks off of the back of our treasured childhood memories.

From an industry perspective it’s easy to see the appeal. For us it’s entertainment, but for them, to paraphrase The Godfather, it’s just business. By making a film that taps into our childhood memories studios can ensure their films have an inbuilt audience, a proportion of people who are guaranteed to file into theatres no matter what. It also saves money on marketing. If we already know who the Turtles are, already care about what happens to the Autobots, or already know the premise behind Jack and the Beanstalk; then studios don’t have to spend millions shoving it down our eyeholes 20 times a day. And let’s not forget the merchandise.

At the end of the day these are the type of things that beancounters care about and who can blame them? After all, there’s a lot of financial risk involved in making a movie – just ask those investors with a John Carter shaped hole in their bank balances. So it’s understandable that they’ll do anything in their power to mitigate it.

But where does that leave the movie-going public? Surely I can’t be the only person who’s grown a little tired of taking a trip down memory lane? Yes, I was excited for the first Transformers; I was just about on board for the Turtles reboot. But the planned Monopoly movie? An impending Lego film franchise? A big screen treatment of Space Invaders that’s in the works? It’s starting to feel like they’re scraping the bottom of the nostalgia barrel isn’t it? I mean what’s next? Pop-Up Pirate 3D? A Hungry Hungry Hippos trilogy?

(Actually, that could be pretty awesome - image via AICN)

Maybe it’s time Hollywood went back to blazing a new trail instead of going over old ground. But then again whilst we continue to file into theatres to watch the movies, what’s the point?

Daniel is a freelance film writer - you can watch him throw his toys out of the pram on Twitter @danielbettridge.

What do you think? Are you a fan of nostalgia tinged movies or are you growing a little bit tired of the latest trend? Let us know your thoughts below....


    • Hadouken76

      Mar 29th 2013, 10:13

      If anything, its actually more of a risk. than going with something completely original. If an original idea failed, at least people can shrug if off as an aborted franchise, but if something nostalgic fails (Hello Star Wars prequels)..it will fail HARD and audiences will never forgive the studios (or chosen director) for violating their childhood memories with such a cynical and second-rate effort. Look, studios don't CARE, they don't CARE, there is no department of creative thinking, they just want to rush things out and hope the fog of nostalgia and 3D add-ons will fool people into parting with their cash before the wave of negative word-of-mouth crashes down.

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    • FBAPedersen

      Mar 29th 2013, 13:24

      Well, Hollywood is f****d anyway. After 15 years of remake hell, they're looking elsewhere for their source material. And why not? Nostalgia is everywhere. The gaming industry is seeing an explosion of small companies reviving classic franchises of isometric, story-driven adventure games and rpg's. They're being crowdfunded by the dozens, setting new records on Kickstarter. In music, every rock band with a sense of self-preservation puts out vinyl editions of their new albums, and sales are rising dramatically. Analog studios are popping up again all over. When Hollywood starts to gnaw on old folk tales, mythology and classic childrens toys, the only question is why they've waited for so long. Haven't they ever been to the library?

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    • redgonzo

      Mar 30th 2013, 23:01

      Hollywood has always been insecure about orignal properties, adaptations have been there bread and butter since it's inception. The dawn of the remake or reboot shows maturity in the medium, there age allows them to draw inspiration from themselves rather then from other sources, for better or worse. I would also point out that something like battleship being such a thin concept actually requires more creativity to create then the mirad of book, and play adaptations that people point at as the golden age of hollywood creativity. Hollywood will never and has never relied on original properties. Much like the separation between writer and director, hollywood is creative by taking what is in the public consciousness and building on it.

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    • FBALeal

      Apr 1st 2013, 18:18

      The number one mistake people still make about Hollywood is the assumption is that it is in the business of making movies. In fact, Hollywood is in the business of making money.

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    • NickyC

      Apr 3rd 2013, 16:09

      JUST. DON'T. WATCH. IT. If you're tired of the multiplex being filled with c**p you don't care about, then it's up to you to go and find something else more interesting to watch. The impoverished makers of the indie films (that get no media love while magazines like TF do yet another '30 photos from the set of Empire you've never seen before') will be more grateful for your time and your money than Hasbro ever will. Hollywood is in the business of SELLING movies ... all you have to do is not watch their rubbish and then they'll find something else to sell you. The problem is that audiences are so much more susceptible and stupid than they think they are ... they will literally eat, drink, wear and watch whatever they're told to.

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