A Retro Revival: Why the Entertainment Industry is Kicking It Old School

The way we access our fun is moving with the times, but the fundamentals remain the same. It’s the reason why we’re seeing shades of retro coming through in all aspects of the entertainment industry.

From the excitement of the first cinemas, where stories stuttered in black-and-white across projector screens; to the reign of the video store, running your hand along the Blockbuster aisles of VHS tapes; to the ease of microwave popcorn and flicking through Netflix from the comfort of your own sofa, entertainment has undergone some serious alterations in definition. But the feeling at the centre of it—getting comfy as the MGM lion roars its roar, waiting in anticipation for the film to begin—hasn’t changed a bit.

It’s the same the entertainment industry over. Gaming, outings, music: the way we access our fun is moving with the times, but the fundamentals remain the same. It’s the reason why we’re seeing shades of retro coming through.

The smash-hit 80s tribute, Stranger Things, was one of Netflix’s biggest ever successes. 15.8 million people watched the season 2 premiere within 3 days of its release, and publicity for the occasion reached rarely-seen levels. Part of the reason it was so widely-watched, and widely-loved was the nostalgia it inspired—even amongst those of us who weren’t even alive in the 80s.

Stranger things at Oxford Circus tube
(Oxford Circus tube morphed into the upside-down to celebrate the release of Stranger Things 2)

This desire to return to the entertainment of a simpler time is something we’re seeing picking up speed amongst brands, and it’s being met with applause from their consumers.

We wondered which brands are throwing it back, and what are people loving about it?

The Golden Age of Cinema

The latest trend in TV and cinema, without a doubt, is home streaming. 2017 was yet another exceptional year for Netflix. In July, they passed the 100 million subscribers mark; by October, Forbes predicted they would exceed $11 billion dollars of revenue; and ‘Netflix and chill’ was consolidated into the vocabulary of millennials.

But the Netflix model perhaps isn’t as modern as we think it is. To a large extent, it allows us to throw it back to the good old days. There is a huge amount of content from decades gone by in the libraries of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. Thanks to the recommendation system that categorises movies in more interesting ways, than just by genre, viewers are led gladly back into the past. A quick glance at my own Netflix dashboard sees Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) sitting cheek-by-jowl with the very modern Master of None (2015).

Netflix dashboard

Netflix’s strong focus on personalisation also helps. By constantly adapting the way they use data, their recommendations are more accurate than ever. Netflix not only analyse which shows you watch, but how you get there so that they can decide where to take you next. If you jump from one show with a comic female lead to another, perhaps they can take you to Annie Hall, even though you’d never usually dream of choosing anything made before 2000.

The feeling that ‘they don’t make ‘em like they used to’ is even easier to distinguish when we look at cinema trends. Cinema’s been pronounced dead a number of times: in the 50s it was supposed to die out with the rise of telly; in the 80s, it would perish at the hands of video rental shops; and in 2018, it’s supposed to be dying due to the popularity of streaming. But now, as ever, cinema has shaken off the doubts and continued to enthral. Box office figures are healthy and multiplex cinemas are well attended. Perhaps more noteworthy, though, is the resurgence of the old-fashioned picturehouse.

Everyman Cinemas (a brand of small, old-fashioned picturehouses) now own 22 venues across the UK, with another 23 planned to open over the next three years. The brand reported a 45% rise in box office takings in 2016, with revenues jumping over £9 million from the previous year. Their winning formula depends on the creation of an experience akin to the golden days of cinema, when watching a film was a rare treat. Red velvet armchairs and sofas; chocolate-drizzled popcorn; and cocktails served to your seat all play their part.

Screen on the Green

Northern Morris Cinemas (another retro cinema brand, operating across the north of England) also capitalise on the strength of nostalgia: there are intervals in the middle of screenings to sell ice creams; there are organ recitals; and their buildings hark back to days gone by.

The Luna Cinema takes it one step further, recreating the joy of the drive-in with the return of outdoor cinema. Screenings of cult classics like Grease and Pulp Fiction keep people coming back again and again, not because they’re desperate to find out what happens (most of the audience could probably speak along with the actors) but because it transforms entertainment from an everyday stop gap, to an event in itself.

LPs and CDs

The same trend can be spotted in how people listen to music. In our recent industry report on the entertainment sector, HMV trumped the likes of Spotify and Tidal, implying that streaming might not be as dominant as you’d think. Since HMV went into administration back in 2013, it’s fought hard to battle against the deluge of digital streaming services. And by the end of 2016, it had managed to jump ahead of Amazon in physical music sales.

And consumers are looking to throw it back even further than CDs. Cue the vinyl revival.

HMV Vinyls

LPs and record players are back with a bang: Urban Outfitters now stock Crosleys by the dozen; the number of independent record shops in the UK grew by 50% in 2014; and artists as modern as they come (take Taylor Swift, for example) are releasing their newest offerings in vinyl form.

The desire to have a physical (and old school) copy of your favourite album (whether a new release or a dancefloor classic) is strong. People are using the cases as art; and the records as a way to really own their favourite songs. And according to Gennaro Castaldo from the British Phonographic Industry, being able to stream music doesn’t infringe on this: “Essentially streaming is about access rather than ownership, so it leaves space for people to do both. It allows you to discover new music, or to rediscover old favourites, and then if you really love something you have the option to buy or gift it.”

Crosley Record Players
(A modern twist: the Urban Outfitters range of Crosleys act as bluetooth speakers as well as record players. It’s the aesthetic of nostalgia but without compromising on the high-tech quality we’ve become accustomed to.)

There’s a phenomenon that we see with video subscriptions services, and the same thing is at play here. In the same way that we find millennials subscribing to an average of 4 streaming services, and households who have Amazon Prime or Netflix, being significantly more likely to also be cable or Sky subscription homes, having access to music through streaming services doesn’t negatively impact the likelihood of consumers also investing in music via other avenues. In fact, vinyl sales are as healthy now as they were in the 80s.

It’s the reason why polaroid cameras are still a thing: in this world of disposable, intangibles objects, sometimes people want something they can hold, and even treasure.

There’s an elusive cool to an LP that a Spotify subscription will never achieve (though their playlists, eliciting the throwback feeling of a mixtape, are tapping into the nostalgia that drives LP sales). Your very own vinyl can be proudly displayed. When it’s played, it’s an event. For Baby Boomers and Gen X, it harks back to glory days. For and Millenials and Gen Z, it’s a taste of the past (and helps with gaining the kind of cool that comes with owning anything vintage).

Old School Gaming

The games world, too, is noticing an enjoyment of its oldest offerings. While 4k visuals are the priority of some gamers, many players are sticking with the games of old.

In 2016, a question hovered over Nintendo: would it be able to compete with the likes of Sony and Microsoft? In the face of an expanding market, fast moving advancements in CGI and 4K visuals, it would be difficult.

So where did they turn for help? Back to familiar faces. Their first big release was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a game that first came into existence in 1986, and Super Mario Odyssey wasn’t long behind. There’s an enduring appeal to the characters and the games that people are keen to return to again and again.


And it’s not just about creating nostalgia with new releases, people are still turning back to the games that they had years ago. With a rise in the number of gaming cafés; the opening of a National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham in 2015; Nintendo reviving their older consoles in new casings; and Sega releasing free mobile versions of everyone’s favourite games from back in the day, there’s certainly an appetite for the old as well as the new.


Within all aspects of the entertainment industry, consumers are keen to try new things but not at the expense of losing touch with the old. The rose-tinted glory of days-gone-by puts arthouse cinemas, vinyl records, and Sonic games on a vintage pedestal. Though these experiences and products generally cost more (an Everyman cinema visit costs more than going to the Odeon; one new vinyl record is more than a monthly Spotify subscription), people are willing to pay a higher price for the excitement of making entertainment an event again. When it comes to retro entertainment, the curtain’s certainly not coming down anytime soon.

If you’d like to find out how your business can tap into the revival spirit, whether you’re as old as Crosley, or as new as Apple Music, get in touch.


Content Team 

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