Why Hollywood’s obsession with the 1980s should fastforward to the 1990s

The success of the Netflix hit Stranger Things, and the old school music driving its story, is just the latest example of a wave of 1980s-themed content that has taken over the film and television business in the last few years. But Hollywood might have the wrong decade in its sights.

A new report from Luminate, the group that helps track music streaming sales and trends, indicates that while nostalgia is profitable, US-based Gen X (ages 42 to 57), millennial (ages 26 to 41), and even Gen Z (10 to 25) listeners prefer content from the 1990s over that from the 1980s. Baby Boomers (58-76) are the one group that favors 1980s music over the 1990s.

Of course, music tastes don’t always directly translate to movie and television preferences. Still, the thematic inclinations of the US public point to a love of the 1990s that Hollywood isn’t fully tapping into, compared with the mountain of 1980s ephemera currently being shown in theaters and on television.

Stranger Things vs Yellowjackets

In addition to Stranger Things, other recent 1980s-focused projects have included Wonder Woman 1984, It, Snowfall, GLOW, Physical, The Goldbergs, Mindhunter, Narcos, American Horror Story 1984, Chernobyl, and Halt and Catch Fire, just to name a few. Conversely, the recent 1990s fare available is still just a trickle that includes Captain Marvel, Yellowjackets, Pose (the last two seasons), Everything Sucks!, Fresh Off the Boat, and I, Tonya.

Screenwriters are giving us the nostalgia they want to see

Part of the reason the are so present on the big and small screen may have something to do with the screenwriters behind the scenes. Among all groups in the Luminate study, only Gen Xers ranked the 1980s as nearly as popular as the 1990s. Pairing that insight with data from job search site Zippia, which shows that the average age of a Hollywood screenwriter is 42, suggests that the sentimental leanings of Gen Xers are heavily influencing the narratives on screens. (The same site also found that the Hollywood producers green lighting these projects are also generally over 40 years old.)

However, the older demographic seems to lose control of most film and television narratives around the age of 55, when their participation as screenwriters drops to just 18%, based on recent figures from the Writers Guild of America West. That may explain why 1970s-themed content like American Hustle, Super 8, Argo, and Almost Famous has recently dropped off compared to the early- and mid-2000s.

The next phase of TV and film time travel will finally leave the 1980s mostly in the past

The good news for fans of the 1990s is that, like previous decades idealized by Hollywood on film, the era of dial-up internet, the mainstreaming of grunge rock and hip-hop, and Gen X cynicism will get its moment in the spotlight, too. That means an increase in shows like Yellowjackets that showcase everything from Smashing Pumpkins music to a distinct lack of smartphones in the hands of teenagers will probably soon begin showing up more often on TV and on movie theater screens.

HBO Max recently aired Beanie Mania about the 1990s Beanie Baby toy craze, and That ’90s Show (a follow up to That ’70s Show) is expected to debut this fall on Netflix. This trend will likely ramp up even faster as Luminate’s data reveals that the favorite decade for Gen Zers, after the 2010s and 2020s is, that’s right, the 1990s.

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