How many times recently have you walked into a movie theater excited to see the newest film of the day but were instead whipped back 20 years, faced with a young Leonardo DiCaprio Titanic poster? Or else accidentally buy tickets for the 2009 Avatar when you had come to see Avatar: The Way of Water? (true story) Recently, the world of movie fanatics has witnessed an increase in classic films returning to the big screen for another rotation. Some of these are scheduled anniversary events like Disney’s 100th year celebration or Titanic hitting 25 years. However, others have resurfaced due to the popularity of their newer sequels or remakes like Halloween or Top Gun. Why have we suddenly reintroduced nostalgic movies to the theaters? Is it just a senseless money grab by film production companies? While many of these films have done incredibly well for themselves with their reintroduction, the reason often stretches deeper than simply being a means to shake movie starved fans of all their pocket change after COVID wreaked havoc on the theater industry.
While recently there has definitely been an uptick in the number of classic movies brought back to theaters, there also has been an increased interest in bringing more recent films back. Often this is because the original release was overshadowed by a huge film that came out around the same time or else their release is an effort to bring in extra revenue for a large film that fans wouldn’t mind seeing more than once like Spider-Man: No Way Home. Others such as the Back to Hogwarts double feature event and Titanic’s anniversary screening have had the way paved out for them by the recent trend for the movie production industry to lean into nostalgia when creating new films. The number of ‘requals,’ or films that take elements of previous films to create something new long after the original story has been told shows that audiences still love that taste of familiarity. While these rereleases are quite literally the same film that came out all those years ago, the trend stands that in the past three or so years, there has been a surprising amount of requals, allowing rereleases to feed off a similar nostalgia and take the stage.
Despite audience responses and reasons for rereleases, from a pure film industry standpoint, movie theaters took a major hit during the pandemic, losing around $5 billion in 2020 alone. With many production companies turning to streaming services for special paid screenings of new movies during COVID, the fear continued to grow that theaters may have a more difficult time working their way back into relevance post-pandemic. Because of the ease of access to films on streaming services, such as HBO Max’s controversial decision to release special screening options of films on the site the same day they appear in theaters, many worried that on-demand movie companies might cause theaters to shrink out of relevance. Even with HBO now revoking this service, studies have shown that for the time being, theaters aren’t going anywhere. However, that doesn’t fully make up for the damage that COVID caused the industry, leading theaters and movie production companies alike to find ways to bring audiences back. Rereleases are another opportunity to do just that and produce revenue for the industry, as seen by Titanic’s impressive global box office figure of $22.3 million for its rerelease early this year.
From an audience perspective, there remain other reasons to rerelease films besides the desire to bring people back to theaters; like the aspiration to keep classics relevant. While this is often the role that is played by sequels or remakes, bringing older films back to theaters can reintroduce older themes and techniques for all the film students in the audience and let them complete their viewing assignments in luxury. Seriously though, films like the 2003 Korean classic, Oldboy which recently came back to theaters brandishing its famous long take fight scene can give the younger generation of movie enjoyers something new (old?) to think about. Outside of filming techniques, bringing back old films or ‘learning from history’ as the cliche goes, is an important way to document the past and grow from it. Films are fantastic time capsules, portraying attitudes and cultures from a time gone by, showing growth, change, or stagnation in certain ways of thinking.
While all that is wonderful for the occasional film student dragging their family to the theater for the hottest rerelease of the day, the majority of audience members are just casual movie enjoyers who are there out of pure nostalgia. Nostalgia is quite a powerful emotion, particularly for huge movies like Titanic or Top Gun that had massive fan bases from the very beginning. While these movies are simple to pull up on most streaming services at home, the general consensus among movie fans is that nothing will beat the experience of seeing a film on the big screen, whooping, gasping, and clapping along with the rest of the audience. There is little that will beat the experience of sitting in a dark theater watching Spider-Man: No Way Home and hearing the cheers of your fellow moviegoers when Andrew Garfield removes his mask. Fans’ enthusiasm to go to the theater over and over again to see either their favorite film of the year or one that they enjoyed 50 years ago, is a major factor driving these anniversary rereleases and keeping the box office numbers up.
While theaters took a predictable hit during the worst years of the pandemic, the past few years have shown not only the resilience of the industry but also the willingness of people to reenter the theater for more than just new films. From a revenue standpoint, rereleases have brought audiences back to the movies to watch classic films on their anniversaries or else just for the thrill of seeing an old favorite on the big screen again. While this practice of rereleases often has been criticized as simply a money grab for theaters as these films can easily be streamed or enjoyed for much lower prices at home, there are still major reasons why rereleases benefit more than just the bigwigs of the movie business world. Following the trend of remaking classic stories or producing ‘requals,’ we as a human population love seeing content that we already are familiar with. It invokes nostalgia for the original fans and gives new meaning or relevance to the story. They also provide an opportunity for newer audiences to be introduced to past themes and cultures from filming techniques to older ways of thinking, acting as a time capsule for days gone by. But honestly, at a base level, nothing will beat seeing a film, particularly a popular and exciting one, on that big screen. Driven by nostalgia and fandom culture, seeing a rerelease in theaters can be just as thrilling as it was the day it came out. The community element of a theater and the quality of the experience keep movie fans coming back and encourage future rereleases.