2022: The Year that Nostalgia Won

2022: The Year that Nostalgia Won

The only people who love Hollywood’s history more than Hollywood itself are those who consume it. Audiences adore nostalgia, in general. Most people can’t help but long for simpler times, specifically their childhood. Back when nothing mattered to children except getting toys in their Happy Meals, waking up early enough to catch their Saturday morning cartoons and salivating at the screen as Tom Cruise piloted his F-14 Tomcat while he soared through the air with delight.

Those were the days, right? They don’t make them like they used to, right? Except, of course, in 2022 when they went out of their way to make them like they used to, or at least Hollywood tried, all in the name of nostalgia. 

From Action to Cartoons to Horror

Nostalgia seemed to be the running theme of 2022, as several movies followed the route of revisiting the past. Top Gun: Maverick, a sequel almost 40 years in the making, is one of many in a long line of sequels, reboots and remakes that arrived in theaters in the last year. Around the same time as that film’s May 2022 release date, Jurassic World Dominion brought back familiar faces like Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern and Sam Neill to, once again, combat dinosaurs of a bygone era. Meanwhile, Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers gave audiences a love letter and, in many ways, a history lesson in the cartoons of old. And let’s not forget that Batman returned to cinemas for another revamp of the character, this time starring Twilight heartthrob and cinema darling Robert Pattinson. Before the year was over, audiences saw Michael Myers rise from the grave one last time right before Halloween Ends.

The Return of ‘Jackass’

Before any of that, Johnny Knoxville got the band back together for one last trick around the rodeo in Jackass Forever. The film not only sparked another commercial success for the franchise but crafted the most positive reception, arousing the highest Rotten Tomatoes rating with most critics calling this the best in the franchise. In theory, most of the stunts committed in this film aren’t unlike stunts seen in the trilogy that precedes it, but audiences who grew up during the franchise’s boom period couldn’t help but be endeared by a cast that’s now considered a “legacy act” return for one last ride. This is the same wave of thinking that led to the prior success of Scream, a nostalgia act that arguably started this year’s trend.

‘Scream’: Setting the Trend

It almost feels apropos that at the very top of the year in January, Scream set the tone for a year of nostalgia. Scream serves as both the fourth sequel in the long-running horror franchise and a reboot that pumps new life into the once-dormant franchise for new audiences. The film affectionately refers to itself as a “requel,” being a self-aware commentary on the growing trend of reboot/remake sequel hybrids that plagued Hollywood for the past few years. The dialogue in the movie even suggests audiences have grown weary of the “requel” concept. However, ironically enough, the box office year in review for 2022 tells a different story.

Scream was able to rake in almost $140 million off of a $24 million budget. The-Numbers reflect that Scream was able to outgross its predecessor, Scream 4, by more than $42 million. Not bad for a “requel.” The same can be said for Top Gun: Maverick, which was able to exceed every expectation imaginable, even those set by its predecessor’s box office gross, by becoming the 11th highest-grossing film of all time. 

Why Nostalgia is a Success

Despite its success, among the success of others this year, Scream wasn’t wrong in its meta-commentary assessment that audiences normally recoil at the thought of their favorite films being remade or bastardized by an umpteenth sequel. Such ideas were once frowned upon and groaned at a few years ago. As recently as last year, Cosmopolitan’s Daniella Scott questioned why the then-current scope of film and television seemed so overrun by remakes. The ultimate conclusion that she came to — along with Leicester Media School’s Dr. Matthew Jones, who was interviewed in the same piece — is as relevant now in 2022 as it was in 2021. Nostalgia in media doesn’t just boil down to a desire to revisit beloved classics from their past, but the need for nostalgia to be a safe purchasing option during cyclical times.

“In these moments, audiences find themselves with less disposable income in their pockets and Hollywood knows that, as a result, cinema ticket sales will take a hit,” Jones told Scott. “As a consequence, the studios’ appetite for risk collapses and they turn to safe bets that they can guarantee will get bums on seats.”

More recently, the coronavirus pandemic and the money lost from the experience made a lot of people warier about where their disposable income goes. Before that, it was the Great Recession of the late 2000s, and before that, the economic aftermath of 9/11. More than ever, moviegoers don’t want to risk wasting money. That wasteful feeling becomes riskier when walking into an original property. 

Disney Does Nostalgia

Take Pixar’s Turning Red, another movie that tried to capitalize on nostalgia. Set in the year 2002, the movie drenches itself in an early aughts aesthetic that audiences peered fondly over. This is one quality that helped the movie garner immense critical success. As of this writing, Turning Red is considered a front-running favorite for animated accolades during the upcoming award season. However, it’s also a box office flop.

Overwhelmingly positive reviews aside, the movie’s box office returns only amounted to just over $20.1 million off of a $175 million budget. Granted, the movie released simultaneously in theaters alongside a Disney+ streaming option and, according to Deadline, was the most watched program across all streaming services for most of March. The movie likely was enough to drive a new subscriber base to the Disney+ streaming platform.

On one hand, it proves that the promise of nostalgia is enough to drive success for even original properties. On the other hand, it proves that audiences will always choose the safer, cheaper option when the product is unfamiliar. This explains why so many viewers chose to stream the movie, rather than go to the theater. There’s far less of a risk in paying $7.99 to subscribe to Disney+ — or watch the movie for free for those already subscribed — than in driving to a theater and paying full price.

Nostalgia is most bankable at the box office when it arrives as an established property, be it a remake, sequel or even a prequel. Nostalgia will always be profitable as long as the economy is in a position where the average consumer must be selective about their income. As long as this is true, expect nostalgia to be cinema’s best strategic marketing plan.

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