Theaters are closed, film festivals are canceled and release dates are pushed back to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus to the disappointment of audiences worldwide. Nevertheless, in times of uncertainty, not losing sight of the positive remains important. The planned releases of 2020 promise plenty to look forward to for all filmgoers, particularly the return of familiar faces and of stories in the films — even if it means watching from home.
Cinema constantly navigates a balance between films premised on familiar, established ideas and those that take risks by exploring new directions. Blockbuster sagas, reboots and live-action renditions of classic animated films seem to be tipping the balance in their favor now more than ever before. They aim to entice viewers by capitalizing on nostalgia, which holds particular appeal in times of instability. The general results have been mixed responses from critics, but record profits.
The sagas of spring are blooming later than usual this year as studios and theaters contend with social distancing mandates. Scheduled spring reboots, whose loyal audiences could have made them box office hits, are positioned to become summer blockbusters instead.
Disney’s “Mulan,” the latest adaptation of Disney’s animated classics, has been pushed back to July 24 from an original release planned for March. Replicating the success of 2019’s “The Lion King” will be difficult, though, especially with a PG-13 rating that may turn away families looking to entertain younger children. Another familiar face, Daniel Craig, returns for his fifth James Bond film, “No Time to Die,” which is the 25th in the series since Sean Connery first brought the character to the screen in 1962 with “Dr. No” — not that anyone is counting.
Reboots of this kind reflect the popularization of looking to the past in film by building on established ideas and iconography. Though recycled plot points harbor the potential for rapid burnout, the promised return of cherished heroes may indeed provide meaningful relief amid adversity with the characters’ optimism and comforting longevity.
Reflecting on particular time periods associated with affluence and ease is another method by which contemporary films offer welcome distraction. The 1980s are alive and well in 2020 as many of the older generation’s idols are primed for long-awaited returns this summer.
Reboots and sequels featuring original cast members, including “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Coming 2 America” and “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” promise to send parents digging through storage bins for their old Ray-Ban Wayfarers and Madonna cassette tapes. Themes of 80s nostalgia popularized in the 2010s by shows like “Stranger Things” continue to resonate with contemporary audiences. This idealization of the past illustrates the appeal of cinema as a vehicle of escapism, taking viewers to what were perceived as less complicated times, which feels needed especially now.
The nostalgia continues as films this year are still building off the familiar and reliably popular superhero genre, which in many ways defined American cinema during the 2010s by reflecting a time of unprecedented economic growth and the demand for moral virtue in global leadership. Now, well over a decade since the trailblazing 2008 “Iron Man” film, our heroes continue to fight on with star-studded casts, creative character crossovers and staggering theatrical revenue records.
In case you haven’t had enough of the 80s yet, Gal Gadot returns as Wonder Woman in DC’s “Wonder Woman 1984” on June 4 for another throwback to everyone’s favorite decade, while phase four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicks off Nov. 6 with the overdue release of the standalone film “Black Widow” starring Scarlett Johansson. These releases, coupled with the relatively warm critical reception to the Harley Quinn-centered “Birds of Prey,” suggest the women of the superhero genre who made their mark in the 2010s are here to stay.
According to custom, many of the year’s most anticipated films will not be released until winter in order to garner momentum for awards season. Two films slated for release later this year that build not on familiar plotlines from the screen but ones from the page include “Hillbilly Elegy,” directed by Ron Howard, and a second film adaptation of “Dune,” directed by Denis Villeneuve. These films stand as a promising pair of novel adaptations helmed by skilled veteran directors, representing another way in which cinema in 2020 borrows from established successes for its stories.
Ultimately, it is still early in the year and much remains to be seen. Creativity continues to circulate in film, though not without competition from popular reiterations that insist on looking to the past — for better or for worse — in reminiscence of cherished characters and familiar stories. In any case, this cross-genre tendency offers something for everyone seeking to stream their next new release from their couch.
Tucker Oberting is a junior in the College. The Reel Deal appears in print and online every other week.