Is nostalgia cramping Hollywood’s creativity?

In an era of reboots and sequels, originality is less profitable

Reboots are a blockbuster recipe.
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Over the past decade, it’s started to appear as if Hollywood is incapable of creating anything new.

From the recent Star Wars sequel trilogy to what feels like the hundredth Batman reboot in the last two decades, popular characters and franchises are being continuously reinvented, reimagined, and regurgitated to audiences—and for what?

While it may seem like a new phenomenon, the idea of leveraging familiar themes, stories, and faces has existed in cinema throughout its history. There’s a reason why the same tropes in film and television have prevailed for so many years: they’re favourites.

Commercial cinema, like Hollywood, has always prioritized profits over quality storytelling. But never before has this been more apparent than in the current era of highly-criticized reboots and unnecessary adaptations.

Interspersed through the ceaseless barrage of regurgitated characters and tropes, there have been some truly impressive original and innovative stories coming out of the film industry in the past several years. Jordan Peele’s horror films have been touted as groundbreaking and captivating expansions of the genre; Moonlight was extremely deserving of its three Academy Awards.

But when the majority of popular films play on our nostalgia, it’s easy for more creative projects to get lost in the mix. Moonlight made a modest $27,854,932 domestically; Spider-Man: Homecoming saw domestic gross earnings of $334,201,140.

The current excessive reliance on reboots and retellings in cinema is the industry’s capitalist underbelly showing through. Studios want to make a lot of money without a lot of risk, and there’s no better way to assemble an almost-guaranteed blockbuster hit than with pieces you know have been successful in the past.

It’s not only easier, but safer to rely on stories and characters that audiences have already proven to love. We’ve seen four separate blockbuster Spider-Man franchises in the last 20 years, and we still want more.

But there’s only so much creativity Hollywood can harness when it’s caught in an endless cycle of self-plagiarism—and audiences are noticing. Disney’s live-action Mulan was met with extremely mixed reviews and controversy; the latest Star Wars films are widely criticized for failing to hold up.

Unfortunately, we’re bound to see the same stories reused and the same characters exploited for money over and over again until they stop being profitable—and then the mainstream film industry is going to move on to cannibalizing something else popular until it, too, is bled for all its worth.

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