Every decade seems to be fascinated with the one 30 years before it. The 1980s was famously home to 1950s diners. The stars of That 70s Show were the talk of the town in the 2000s. And in the 2010s, we got Stranger Things, It, and other 1980s-inspired media with Finn Wolfhard in the cast.
But something strange happened in the 2010s: we double-dipped the decades.
Viacom launched the “’90s are All That” block on TeenNick in 2011. Jonah Hill’s directorial debut was the film Mid90s in 2018. We even copied aspects of the Y2K crisis and pasted them into all of those December 2012 shenanigans (though I will say the world has gotten markedly worse since then).
It’s not unprecedented for decade nostalgia to come a little early — That 70s Show did start airing in August 1998 after all — but for it to start just a year into the 2010s? Hollywood needs to start planning ahead if they want to get ahead of the curve, and if the Duffer Brothers are going to use the decade they grew up in to set their scenes, we’re going to need an expert in the Noughties.
I’m not much of an expert on anything, but I do have a degree in creative writing and a certificate stating that I won UNC Wilmington’s 2019 Screenwriting Contest (and no, it’s not just because there were only five entrants), so why not let me have a go?
Consider this my application. By the end of this article, not only will you — the Hollywood producer — have a clear guide to what makes for powerful 2000s nostalgia bait in cinema, but you will also receive MY vision for what will be the greatest movie for young Millennials and older Gen-Z folk in the next decade.
You need the culture.
I had the questionable pleasure of watching Captain Marvel twice in theaters, and one thing that was consistent among both viewings was raucous applause at the mere VISUAL of Blockbuster (and, to a lesser extent, RadioShack).
This does belay the first problem with making a movie set in the Noughties, though: the 2000s are pretty much just the 90s but with less Bill Clinton.
Blockbuster was absolutely a staple of my childhood, but as we just discussed, it fit perfectly into a movie set in 1995. While we could ride that wave and have a bunch of stuff that fit into both decades — Circuit City, The Simpsons, conflicts in the Middle East — it’s going to be much more fruitful if we can find tokens that are exclusive to the new millennium.
You could have the bratty kid character slide off-screen in a pair of Heelys. You could design a teenager’s room so that it has a Green Day poster on one wall. You casually slip the words “iPod nano,” “Borat,” “Myspace,” and “YouTube reply girls” into casual conversations depending on which years you’re trying to capture.
For my money, the easiest way to capture the whole decade with one prop is having someone hold a Game Boy Advanced SP. Whether it’s red, blue, or the classic silver, if it can play the movie tie-in game for Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, it’s enough to capture the spirit of the 2000s.
You need the fashion.
Without going into too much detail, I can say that Marvel’s WandaVision is currently doing a great job portraying the decade it’s set in using all kinds of tricks, but one thing that immediately stands out to me is Geraldine’s hair.
If your sitcom’s resident black woman character is wearing a tidy, straightened beehive hairdo, you’re likely watching a show from the 1960s; and if she’s suddenly got an afro and is always walking around as if there’s funky music playing, it’s probably the 1970s.
2000s fashion isn’t super drastic like that, but there are some things that you can draw from. Despite portraying characters from centuries’ past, the characters in MTV’s Clone High perfectly capture what high schoolers were going for at the time. Same goes for the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies or anyone in a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game.
Crop tops. Long cargo shorts. Short sleeve shirts over long sleeve shirts. If you’re a rapper from Atlanta, grab a football jersey 18 sizes to big for you and you’re golden.
These are the things that your average passersby—“extras,” perhaps—would be wearing, but if you want to get REALLY specific to the era, you’re going to need a lot of spikey bleached hair and frosted tips. Bonus points if you throw in some scene girls instead of your usual goths.
It doesn’t have to be everyone, but as long as one character looks exactly like Brad from the first live action Scooby-Doo movie, you’re in good hands.
You need the celebrities.
When I think mid-2000s celebrities, I immediately go to Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and power couples like Brangelina and Jay-Z & Beyonce. Of course, you can’t nail down a whole era with just six people, but these are the kinds of folks on my mind.
But then we run into a similar problem as with the culture at large: a lot of them span the decades. Brad Pitt won an Oscar in 2020. Timberlake was in the actual best movie of the year in 2020, Trolls: World Tour. Britney Spears had a song at number 17 on the Billboard charts in 2016. Beyonce is literally Beyonce.
If we’re going to go back, we’re going to need someone who not only peaked in the 2000s but also disappeared afterward. While I went back and forth on this one, I think I have to give this slot to Freddie Prinze Jr.
Sure, I Know What You Did Last Summer and its sequel came out in 1997 and 1998 respectively, but if I’ve spent my whole life being told I’m not a 90s kid when I was born in 98, then dag-nab-it, this movie isn’t a 90s kid either.
Because of the site I write for, I’d be remised if I didn’t mention that Prinze Jr. did work with WWE in 2012, voiced Kanan Jarrus in Star Wars Rebels from 2014 to 2018, and was in a number of video games like Mass Effect 3, but that was all behind the scenes or in a recording booth! While everyone else was winning Oscars or going on tours, Prinze Jr. was being a selfless artiste and working away from the spotlight.
But I need the heartthrob back — the one who starred in Scooby-Doo with then-future wife Sarah Michelle Gellar.
If you’re already trying to use nostalgia bait, you’re likely trying to make a lot of money, and nothing makes more money than a movie that’s fun for the whole family.
Remember how off-the-chain family movies were back in the 2000s, though? Donkey got called a jackass in Shrek and talked about how “parfaits are the best damn thing in the world.” I watched The Simpsons Movie in my elementary school classroom, where all of us witnessed Bart Simpson’s uncensored “doodle” (though, to be fair, that movie was PG-13). And in Scooby-Doo, Shaggy falls for a woman named Mary Jane; then, when Fred’s soul get switched into Daphne’s body, Fred quips that he can now look at himself naked.
And even if it’s not for families, movies like Superbad and Step Brothers really knock it out of the park with raunchy comedy.
The point is, if you’re going to make the perfect 2000s movie, you need to write a couple of jokes that fly over a kid’s head. Though, with the internet being as it is, I’m sure nothing will fly over Tik Tok and YouTube kids’ heads.
Like Drax, a character written by James Gunn, screenwriter of Guardians of the Galaxy and, uh, other movies.
You need the talking animals.
I mean, this is just a staple of any generation. Felix the Cat, Mickey Mouse, and Bugs Bunny are all very famous talking animals who have been around for ages, so this isn’t strictly a 2000s thing unless we’re specifically talking about penguins. (Because who can forget that time period where we got Surf’s Up, Happy Feet, Madagascar, and the documentary March of the Penguins.)
But once you add dated CGI into the mix, we’re really cooking with something.
Dated CGI as a whole does fit into the 2000s in general (shout out to the Spy Kids trilogy), but when Garfield, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and other half-animated-half-live-action movies each take up their own separate portions of the decade, you realize it’s a bit of a working pattern that certainly can’t be forgotten about during this process.
Now, without any bias at all, I will say that animating a talking dog into your film is definitely a bonus. It’s not only marketable because dogs are man’s best friend, but also…
You need the music.
If your trailer doesn’t have “Who Let the Dogs Out?” by the Baha Men playing, prepare for a financial and critical flop. I didn’t make the rules.
Stranger Things used The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” not only to set the show in the 80s but also as a song that’s pretty entwined into Will and Johnathan’s brotherly bond. You might not get that same effect from “Atomic Dog” by Bow Wow and Snoop Dogg, but you have ten years of music to choose from.
“Clint Eastwood” by Gorillaz. “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry. “American Idiot” by Green Day. “Dangerously in Love” by Jay-Z and Beyonce. “Photograph” by Nickelback. “Stan” by Eminem — which, actually, I think might just be the right answer. At least Dido’s part could be used for something serious.
But seriously, it could be anything from the time. I’ve even thought long and hard about how the background music from old “Piracy is Stealing” ads legitimately slaps and wouldn’t be out of place in a Matrix fight scene.
Or, if you just want to set the scene without care for how the music sounds, you could just bring in Sugar Ray for a scene or two. I’ve seen it work in a movie once.
You need my pitch for the perfect 2000s movie:
Have you ever heard of this movie called Scooby-Doo?
I’m not going to pretend like Raja Gosnell and James Gunn’s Scooby-Doo film is a perfect movie, but every time I’ve say down to watch it, all I can think is, “Dear God, this is the most 2002 thing I’ve ever seen.”
You could try and come up with some film that mixes together Talladega Nights, Bruno, Kung Fu Panda, Juno, Harry Potter, and Orphan, but you know what that gets you? Epic Movie — or worse, Ready Player One but for millennials.
Unless you go in with an agenda like I have, you’re not going to look at the plot, the cast, the soundtrack, and the critical reception of Scooby-Doo and think, “Yeah, this captures EVERYTHING that the Noughties has to offer,” but there’s just this vibe that’s hard to explain.
I wasn’t alive for the 80s or the early 90s, but when I watch The Goonies or Little Rascals, I feel “something.” It’s hard to describe, but it’s definitely something nostalgia-adjacent—like it’s one emotion over from how I feel watching something from my own childhood.
And while Shark Tale, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and yes, Scooby-Doo, aren’t quite the classics that those Amblin films are (though Rotten Tomatoes does have Little Rascals at a 23%, which is bull-hockey), they do make me feel an emotion that feels specific to me and those who grew up around me.
I guess all I’m saying is, Warner Bros., let me write a movie or TV show about an old Hanna-Barbera franchise — maybe The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan — and I can bring you the HBO Max equivalent of Stanger Things.
Hit me up.
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