Passing the Remote

Are we done with Gen X nostalgia in movies and TV? 📺

As my fellow slackers entered our 40s, the entertainment industry began catering to our sense of nostalgia. We started to see more content set in — or based on — idealized versions of our childhood and young adult years. Now the oldest Millennials are in their 40s, and that’s going to profoundly affect what we watch in the coming decade.

In this issue:

  • Gen X-ers have driven film and TV production for the past few decades

  • Millennials are now shifting into those same leadership roles

  • With studios tightening budgets, nostalgia is the safe bet

Gen X got old, so we got Stranger Things

For the past 15-20 years, film and TV studios have used Gen X nostalgia to drive viewership and revenue.

2004’s Battlestar Galactica was a darker version of the 1978 original. Stranger Things took a similar approach with a grittier take on the Spielbergian kids-on-bikes genre. On the other side of that, Netflix’s sequel to Full House brought back the original’s family-friendly humor.

But how did we get here? At the turn of the century, Gen X entered their prime earning years and started families. Thus, TV studios began making content so advertisers could reach the Gen X market, and film studios made content that would get Gen X families into theaters.

At the same time, content makers changed. Talent 40 years or older get most of Hollywood’s production budgets spent on them. From 2010-2015, 66.4% of production budgets were spent on creative talent over 40. That’s why the biggest nostalgia-oriented franchises are spearheaded by Gen Xers like JJ Abrams (Super 8, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, the DC Universe), and Kevin Feige (the Marvel Cinematic Universe).

Millennials are aging into their nostalgia

Now, Millennials born in the early-80s are hitting the big four-uh-oh. That makes shows and movies they watched in the late-90s through this century’s first decade prime targets for the reboot/remake/sequel treatment.

We’ve already seen shows like Gilmore Girls and Roswell back on our screens. Last month, we got a remastered release of Titanic, and later this year, we’ll see new King of the Hill episodes.

It isn’t just that audiences are aging into the nostalgia demographic. Millennial creators are ready to take their place at the top of the Hollywood pyramid. When you consider the work of people like Damian Chazelle (La La Land, Babylon), you can tell a new wave of nostalgia is coming.

Rehashing fond memories is a safe bet

Let’s face it. The concept of “generations” is flawed. So many things shape our life experiences that a single label can’t fully encompass. Unless you’re an entertainment megacorp executive.

Creating fresh and innovative content is inherently risky. Who’s the audience? How many people will watch? Generational nostalgia is safer. Create a show that references idealized versions of people’s childhoods. Better yet, reboot a show people watched when they were younger. Creators can tell studio execs who the audience is by the numbers, which makes productions easier to pitch and fund.

Nostalgia isn’t new, of course. Happy Days, The Big Chill, and Forrest Gump all played on Baby Boomers’ feelings about the 50s and 60s. Lucas and Spielberg openly acknowledged Raiders of the Lost Ark’s debt to the serial films they watched as kids.

What we’re seeing now is just a transition from one generation’s nostalgia to another.

Our takeaway: We won’t see this ending anytime soon

As a proud member of the slacker generation, I’ve complained about Hollywood laziness. Seriously, who thought Red Dawn with North Korean invaders was a good idea? At the same time, I’ve counted down the hours until the next episode of Andor — it’s the Star Wars I grew up with.

As I reported last week, studios and streamers are doubling down on their franchises. Our nostalgia is a safe bet. But my nostalgia isn’t the same as yours. Heading toward the 2030s, Millennial audiences and creators will dominate content production. So expect more revivals of nineties/noughties fare in the coming years.

Give us your thoughts

Which 2000s-era shows do you want to see rebooted?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

The Watchlist

Shadow and Bone is back with its second season, available now on Netflix.

Need a boost? Skip the coffee and try some caffeinated energy bars from Verb Energy! Get 5 of these green tea-infused snacks for FREE when you use code SAMPLER at checkout.*

Swarm, a series following a mega stan trying to meet her idol, buzzes onto Amazon Prime Video this Friday, March 17th.

Crime thriller Boston Strangler starring Kiera Knightley drops onto Hulu also on Friday, March 17th.

Documentary film Bono & The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming with Dave Letterman comes to Disney+, Friday, March 17th.

Elvis rebrands as a spy in Netflix’s new animated series Agent Elvis, entering the building on this busy Friday, March 17th.

Just in case there wasn’t enough to watch, a documentary on the famous wrestling school Monster Factory is high-flying onto Apple TV+ on Friday, March 17th.

*Indicates sponsored link.

How did you feel about this issue of the Stream Report?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Join the conversation

or to participate.