As enjoyable as films like Die Hard 4.0 (2007), True Grit (2011) and Star Trek (2009) are, this time of belated sequels, remakes and reboots can be tiresome. The release of Super 8 this weekend reminds us that there are other ways to build on the success of the past. By borrowing the style and tone of bygone movie eras and combing them with new characters and stories it’s possible to create something that feels familiar yet original. Here are eight great examples.
1. Super 8
Origin: 1970/80s Spielberg
J.J Abrams’ children led Sci-Fi adventure set in 1970s small-town America is an open love-letter to the Spielberg of old. The most obvious reference point is E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) but there are also shades of Jaws (1975) and 1985’s The Goonies (produced by Spielberg and developed from his story). A spectacular CGI train crash spoils the retro mood a little but Super 8 remains an old fashioned adventure.
Origin: 1950s melodrama
This tale of gender, racial and sexual politics is a perfect reflection of life and filmmaking in the 1950s. The melodrama of Douglas Sirk – in particular All That Heaven Allows (1955) – is the clear inspiration. Although Todd Haynes’ 2002 film is free to tackle the issues more directly than Sirk ever could.
Origin: 1970s exploitation
Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez combined once more to honour the exploitation movie. And they didn’t just want recreate the films; making a double-feature complete with fake exploitation trailers, they attempted to recreate a lost cinema-going experience. Apparently, audience members were prone to walking out half-way though, not realising there was a second movie. Unfortunately, the UK was deprived of the Grindhouse experience and the movies were released separately.
Origin: 1940s film noir
Raymond Chandler meets John Hughes in this unexpected neo-noir. Writer/director Rian Johnson’s film debut boldly takes the conventions of film noir and inserts them into the setting of a modern day Californian high school. Most striking is the slang heavy rhythmic dialogue that’s straight out of a Dashiell Hammett novel.
Origin: 1970s blaxploitation
This hilarious parody is crafted with such care and attention to detail that it may as well have been made in the 70s alongside Shaft (1971) and Super fly (1972). The cinematography, camerawork and editing make it feel like the real deal; the note perfect performances and smart script ensure there are plenty of laughs too.
Origin: 1970s conspiracy thrillers
There aren’t any on-the-nose references in this corporate conspiracy thriller from writer/director Tony Gilroy and star/executive producer George Clooney. But Michael Clayton does brilliantly emulate the intelligent, character driven thrillers produced in the 1970s, All the President’s Men (1976) being a perfect example.
Origin: 1980s action
More of a reunion than a throwback. Sylvester Stallone had the luxury of borrowing not only the spirit of over-the-top 1980s action movies but the cast as well. Veterans Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Eric Roberts are joined by Jet Li, Jason Statham and Steve Austin to blow things up like it’s 1989.
8. The Artist
Origin: 1920s silent movies
This black and white silent movie is surely the most ambitious throwback on the list. Like Singin’ in the Rain (1952) it looks at the transition from silent films to the talkies. Coincidentally, as The Artist has a score it’s technically a return to the few years after the advent of the talkies in 1928 (when silents were still produced but with the addition of recorded music). The Artist doesn’t have a UK release date yet but impressed at Cannes where Jean Dujardin won best actor.
Not everyone welcomes throwbacks like Super 8. Some argue that, along with sequels, remakes and reboots, they’re symptoms of a huge problem: Hollywood doesn’t believe in new ideas anymore. Where do you stand?