Is J.J. Abrams Responsible For the Rise of Nostalgia in Current Cinema?

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Question of the Day (QOTD) is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a film/TV-related question that we put to you, the reader. The comments section below is like the feedback box at work; except, in this example, we actually read what you write and care about what you have to say.

Welcome to a very prestigious Question of the Day. As you may or may not have noticed, a lot of the questions that I have been asking in over the course of the month of May, (which has been “2010’s Month” here at SAW), have had to do with nostalgia in current movies.

Considering the 2010’s is an extremely broad decade to tackle, I wasn’t sure what type of questions I was going to ask but since nostalgia is something that has been plaguing the movie industry for the past number of years, and since nostalgia is also a very broad subject, I figured that there needed to be more than one question that would able to touch upon the many areas where nostalgia presents itself. So, most of my questions were (more or less) building toward what I am going to be referring to as “the state of nostalgia”.

It’s no secret that the movie industry is in a “state of nostalgia” when it comes to modern cinema. There have been a lot of movies that have gotten made in the 2010’s (and even the 2020’s) that have more or less been either rehashes or direct rip-off’s of older ideas.

So, the question I ask today is: Is J.J. Abrams Responsible For the Rise of Nostalgia in Current Cinema?

There are a lot of the movies that have been made over the last half of the 2010’s that have very much been inspired by the movies that had been made in the 1980’s. It’s a decade that gets looked back upon very fondly as there was a lot of “magic” in the movies that were made during the decade. But the 1980’s didn’t “just happen”, the filmmakers of the time were very much inspired by the movies that they had grown up watching in the 1950’s.

The movies that were being made in the 1980’s were a lot more “original” than simply rehashing movies that had already been made. One way that it has been described to me is: the 1970’s were the last of the 1950’s and the 1980’s are the beginning of how it is right now. It might not be completely accurate but it is a very simplified way of describing it.

However, I just want to be perfectly clear about one thing: the 80’s never really went away. Not completely. There have always been attempts to bring back the “legacy” character in movies prior to the 2010’s. Sigourney Weaver was brought back as Ellen Ripley in Alien: Resurrection (1997), Arnold Schwarzenegger was (first) brought back as the T-800 in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Jamie Lee Curtis was (first) brought back as Laurie Strode in Halloween H20 (1998) and Halloween: Resurrection (2002) and Harrison Ford returned as Indiana Jones in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) — which I’m pretty sure is a Mandela Effect because despite everybody having memories of watching it, the movie just doesn’t exist! (Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains … )

Anyways, let’s get to the QOTD. What follows is, not necessarily my argument per se, but rather the point: nostalgia in cinema seemed to be a lot more obvious in movies being made toward the latter half of the 2010’s than what was being made in the former half.

The filmmakers who grew up watching movies in the 1950’s wanted to make movies and tell stories of their own. What they made in the 1980’s are a lot of what we call “classics” today. But now the people who grew up watching those movie when they were young have entered the movie industry and are wanting to tell stories of their own that are inspired by the 1960’s-80’s. One of those people is J.J. Abrams. He was hot stuff at one point in time, however he also came to be known as a “one trick” filmmaker with most of his movies wanting to pay homage to previous works, but somehow felt more like a rehash instead.

He’s known for creating the television phenomenon LOST (2004-2010), (which would eventually get passed onto Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse.) But J.J. Abrams’ initial pitch was described as a “modern day” Gillian’s Island (1964-1967). When he made Super 8 (2011), it had been compared to E.T. The Extra-terrestrial (1982), mostly due to the kids riding around on their bicycles — something that hadn’t been used in cinema in a very long time — instead of trying to get laid or constantly staring down at their smart phones.

One of his more notorious contributions to cinema was Star Trek (2009), which brought back all of the characters from Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969). They were recast with younger actors of course, but this is still a huge deal especially at this point in time (and please correct me if I’m wrong) but nothing like this had happened before. Not only was an older series being revitalized, but it was also a major success at the box office.

However, even though Star Trek (2009) was well received and gained critical acclaim, the cracks in his filmmaking and direction started to show with both Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) which felt like a rehash of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) which felt like a rehash of Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). The latter being the highest grossing movie in the 2010’s until being passed by Avengers: Endgame (2019).

1. Avengers: Endgame (2019) $2,797,800,564 2019
2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) $2,068,223,624 2015
3. Avengers: Infinity War (2018) $2,048,359,754 2018

These glaring similarities made many audience goers question just how much “originality” J.J. Abrams truly had when it came to his filmmaking, as it became more and more obvious that he wasn’t just being inspired by the movies and TV shows from the ’60’, 70’s & ’80’s, but rather his movies were simply remaking many older movies that he grew up watching.

So, one persons opinion …

Looking back at the 2010’s, there is a clear spike of nostalgia in films during the latter half of the decade compared to that of the first. Maybe the current state of nostalgia could be contributed to the way in which J.J. Abrams chose to make Star Trek (2009) … maybe it’s not.

… but with Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) being released directly in the middle of the decade, one has to wonder if this was the movie that J.J. Abrams made which had a helping hand in ushering in what I’m referring to as “the state of nostalgia” in current cinema.

I’m merely pointing out that there does seem to be a lot movies that have spawned from its success as they appear to have the same type of production formula: whereas The Star Wars Sequel Trilogy brought back older actors (Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams) from the previous trilogy to star along side new characters, this would lead to many other franchises being revitalized that would do the same type of thing.

Of course, there are many signs that point to the fact that a new Star Trek movie would eventually be made — The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy for instance — but I would argue that Episodes 1-3 didn’t bring back older characters (sans Obi-Wan) in the same way that Star Trek (2009) was able to provide older generations with a “genuine” feeling of nostalgia.

*** Clarification ***

Okay, I just want to make a point of saying that anybody can point to certain eras in cinema and/or movies that were made during the course of the 1990’s and 2000’s and say; “this movie feels akin to nostalgia”; but at no point did a movie prior to Star Trek (2009) and (more so) The Force Awakens give the same feeling as if it had been directly responsible for ushering in the trend of an over abundance of nostalgia in cinema and film like there has been during the course of the latter half of the 2010’s (and overlapping into the 2020’s).

Also, I’m not saying that J.J. Abrams set out to bring about the state of nostalgia, nor am I insinuating that he is the first person who has brought back old ideas for new audiences. I’m just pointing out that there seems to be a lot of projects he has been a part of that can be traced back to what appears to have led directly into what cinema has become today.

I hope I’ve articulated this properly!

Apologizes for the length and just to reiterate; this is simply one person’s observation.

So what about you, screenagers? Is J.J. Abrams Responsible For the Rise of Nostalgia in Current Cinema?

I’ll see you in the trenches.