Reboots aimed at ’80s generation, as well as their kids

SHARE Reboots aimed at ’80s generation, as well as their kids

By Bill Goodykoontz | Gannett News Service

Besides this weekend’s “Mad Max” sequel, this summer we have “Vacation,” “Poltergeist” and a “Terminator” movie.Those “Alien” and “Ghostbusters” movies in the works ought to be pretty sweet, too.

Wait a second. What decade is this again?

It’s no secret that summers are filled with remakes, reboots and, well, rehashes, for lack of a better word. But this is so specific, so ’80s-centric that there must be a reason for this kind of targeting, right?

The “Poltergeist” remake, starring Kennedi Clements, comes out May 22. | 20th Century Fox

The “Poltergeist” remake, starring Kennedi Clements, comes out May 22. | 20th Century Fox

“Hey, I’ve got two of them” coming up, said Michael Douglas, the actor and producer. ” ‘Starman’ I’m working on a remake of, and ‘Flatliners.’ ”

“Flatliners” was released in 1990, but we’ll cut Douglas some slack. Besides, his answer is telling in its lack of specific time. Sure, there is some nostalgia involved in these movies, some love for all things old as Boomers and Generation X get older. But there is more, of course. This is the movie industry we’re talking about. That means, like always, there is one overriding factor.


“Popular culture tends to recycle successful things to try to make more money from them,” said Ellen Rigsby, a member of the communications faculty at Saint Mary’s College of California, in Moraga. “These films are Hollywood’s own real-life zombies.”

And the time is right for the dead to inhabit theaters again. Only they don’t want our brains. They want our wallets.

“One of the keys to a successful opening of a motion picture is immediate brand recognition,” said Clark Woods, vice-president for film at IPic Entertainment, a theater chain. “Hit movies of the ’80s have just that — ’80s movies are new enough to have title recognition with movie-going audiences. They are old enough to be updated with new stories and modern special effects.”

Movies from the 1980s are old enough that parents loved them as kids — and now they have kids of their own. On the recognition front, that’s two birds with one cinematic stone.

The films “may have particular hopes set on where we Generation X folks are,” Rigsbysaid. “We remember these movies fondly from our childhoods and teenage years, and studios hope that we would pay to see them again and take our children.”

“Bingo!” said Wheeler Winston Dixon, the Ryan professor of film studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “You’ve got two age groups in one theater. And, of course, since there are reboots, if they work, they’ll open up a whole new series of sequels. There’s nothing more lucrative than a franchise that works time and time again.”

What’s interesting is not just the decade in question but the kind of movies coming around again.

“We are not likely to see remakes of ‘Gandhi,’ ‘Reds,’ ‘Babette’s Feast’ or ‘Chariots of Fire,’ ” said John Baick, a professor of history at Western New England University in Springfield, Mass. “Instead, our new 1980s movies offer challenges and resolutions of a personal and primal variety. Not a lot of geopolitics or human complexity — more about the triumph of the individual over the nameless, faceless (or masked) enemy.”

A new “Vacation” movie arrives July 29. | Warner Bros.

A new “Vacation” movie arrives July 29. | Warner Bros.


Because “1980s movies are not a reflection of the decade,” Baick said. “Popular culture is not a mirror, but a prism through which to look, often about hopes and fears. Hollywood’s choice of which movies to remake is an assessment of how Americans see their present and their past. In the case of this current wave, it is more about fear. …

“In our current environment, Hollywood is betting that these will strike a chord, that we feel like the world is falling apart and that the answers will come from individuals ratherthan institutions. The hero of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is not really Jimmy Stewart, but the decency of all average Americans and even the government. ‘Star Wars’ was about faith in a mystical force; 1980s remakes are about films that require an Everyman to kick someone’s butt, even a phantasmagorical one.”

That may be true. But let’s not wander too far from the most likely inspiration: cash.

“It’s economics,” said Douglas, an Oscar-winning actor who produced and stars in a new video-on-demandfilm, “Beyond the Reach.”

“It’s all about fear. [It’s] the studios just finding out more economical ways [to make movies], looking into their libraries.”

There’s safety in there. And if there’s anything a movie studio likes, it’s a safe bet.

“Since it seems that original ideas are too risky — not pre-sold, might flop and we can’t have that, since movies cost too much to make — let’s go back to a hit that worked, and try to do the whole thing over again,” Dixon said. “With the ‘Terminator’ or ‘Poltergeist’ brand name on it, the film is almost guaranteed to make its money back, especially overseas.”

It’s worth noting that the originals are good, at least. That means the new films have a firm base from which to start — and George Miller, who directed the original “Mad Max” movies, also directed“Mad Max: Fury Road.” On the other hand, that means the new films have a lot to live up to.

We’ll see how they fare. Just keep your greedy mitts off “Sixteen Candles.”

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