“Star Wars,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Ghostbusters.” The most hyped and sometimes most successful movies and shows these days seem to be revivals that are thinly veiled remakes.
While remakes aren’t exactly a new concept — the fourth horror film ever made, “The Haunted Castle,” was a remake of the first horror film ever made, “Le Manoir du Diable” — their increasing frequency says a lot about our current collective mindset.
Familiar themes, genres, and even actors address certain needs, namely …
1. They help us de-stress
“Nostalgic memories can serve as reminders that life wasn’t always so difficult [and] restore a sense of being grounded and able to survive during difficult times,” says Krystine Batcho, PhD, professor of psychology at Le Moyne College in New York.
In times of conflict, turmoil, rapid change, or stress, she says remakes and revivals can temporarily transport us to the past. Specifically, to when those stories were made, and life was (seemingly) happier, more prosperous, or less stressful.
Case in point: the live action remake of “Beauty and the Beast,” the trailer for which received 128 million views within the first 24 hours of its release (a record). “For those in the audience who were children or teens when the originals were produced, remakes revive the positive feelings associated with youth — feelings of being secure, carefree, and loved unconditionally, [as well as] restoring the sense of imagination and fantasy of youth.”
For older viewers, revivals, like Disney’s “Star Wars” films, can reinstate good feelings from their lives during that time, such as time spent with friends or loved ones while watching or discussing those films.
2. They remind us of our values
While many original series on streaming services like Netflix attract hype, many others do not. That can’t be said for its revival works, like “Fuller House” and “Gilmore Girls,” which were attracting buzz for up to a year before they were released.
And despite mixed reviews, both were popular with viewers, as evidenced by their Metacritic scores. The explanation: When people don’t relate to contemporary themes in popular media, we tend to retreat to the past in order to reclaim “lost” qualities.
“An older series becomes attractive again after enough time has passed for boredom to have dissipated, and its best features are remembered,” says Batcho. “[People] can remember films from the past as better than they might have actually been. As the saying goes, ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder.’”
3. They make decision-making easy
Have you spent more time prowling Netflix for something to watch than actually watching? We all have. With so many options of what to watch, it can be hard to decide on one. “So a movie or show with a familiar title — or, better, with the original stars returning — makes the decision a little easier,” says TV critic Alan Sepinwall from Uproxx.
“If given the choice between a title or concept you’ve never experienced before and, say, ‘Gilmore Girls,’ it can just feel safer to retreat to ‘Gilmore Girls.’”
4. They also make spending decisions easy
We feel safer spending money on things we know we’ll like versus things we only think we might like. That applies to movies, too.
“At our hearts, we are creatures of habit, and we tend to make many decisions that way,” says Kevin Carr, host of the syndicated radio program Fat Guys at the Movies. And the same goes for studios. “[They] don’t want to spend $20-200 million to make a movie that has no proven track record. So, Hollywood always wants to relate a new movie to something in the past,” adds Carr.
Disney in particular has found great success in reinventing its own films for audiences both old and new, with “101 Dalmatians,” “The Parent Trap,” and “Pete’s Dragon,” to name a few.
Still, the investment doesn’t always pay off. Carr says people reject remakes as often as they embrace them. “In the past year or so, we saw franchises and nostalgia grabs fizzle after only a couple installments,” says Carr. “Just trying to cash in on something old doesn’t always work. You also need to have a good story, or at least one that still appeals to the old, core audience to make it work.”
5. Finally, they give us a sense of belonging
There is a feeling of belonging that goes with being a Trekkie or Potterhead. “Today, social media has made it even easier to comment and speculate on a film with other viewers,” notes Batcho.
However, for that belongingness to stay sound, a revival can’t deviate too far from people’s memories of the original.
“If the remake fails to capture what viewers loved about the original, it will be perceived as inauthentic or phony,” says Batcho. “Ideally, the remake should include enough features of the original, such as location, actors, buildings, props, etc., to elicit nostalgia.”
Is it healthy to be so nostalgic?
While remakes have their place, the past serves us best when it functions like a rear-view mirror, says Batcho. “We check it now and then, but we need to stay focused on the road ahead. We wouldn’t want revivals to substitute for or diminish originality and creativity. The past can remind us or inform us of good qualities missing from current productions, but innovation and originality is essential in art and entertainment.”