The movies and TV of the ’80s and ’90s was defined by bright color schemes, simple stories, and a clear divide between our heroes and villains. As our culture has shifted though, so have our interests. The lighthearted, more well-defined stories of the past have been abandoned for darker reboots of childhood favorites, culminating in a theme that’s become dominant in virtually all our action and dramas. What’s become abundantly clear in recent years is that no property is safe from the dark and gritty treatment.
The progression of this can be seen perhaps most clearly in the Harry Potter movies, spanning a full decade. We start out with Chris Columbus’s whimsical Sorcerer’s Stone, and by the time we’re on Alfonso Cuaron’s Prisoner of Azkaban we already were seeing a darker, edgier approach to a children’s story. In that same year, our horror movies took a turn for the shockingly violent with the release of the very first Saw. A year after that in the superhero universe, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins came out, giving us our first look at that same approach applied to a comic book movie. The noir-esque Sin City hit theaters a year later, making it clear that the darker storytelling motif had progressed into a full-on movement.
Our obsession with the tortured anti-hero threw much of mainstream entertainment down this rabbit hole. In 2008, both Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy hit the airwaves on AMC and FX respectively. The dramas of the past where the line between good and evil was well-drawn have been replaced with stories where even our main character’s morality is questionable.
All this came to a head recently, when a 14-minute reboot of Power Rangers starring James Van Der Beek and Katee Sackhoff surfaced on YouTube. A quick Google search yields two words used most prominently to describe it: Dark and gritty. In it, we see the Power Rangers of old get picked off one by one in a dystopian future. It’s very little like the show we remember as children, featuring far more death and destruction than the lighthearted heroes of the past. What it acts as though, is a consummate example of what our entertainment has become in just the last decade.
This trend seems to have no intention of slowing down either. Man of Steel had Superman straight up murdering someone, the CW’s Arrow has a main character who possesses similarly few qualms with killing, and every time a franchise is rebooted it almost always seems to be shot in grey tones with a tortured hero. There’s something we all seem to find wildly appealing about a protagonist who isn’t entirely good or evil, and really it makes for a more compelling story.
The future of entertainment seems to be firmly rooted in this strategy. The days of plucky heroes on whimsical adventures appear to be at an end, replaced by directors with visions far more focused in the opposite direction. Maybe the next decade will see us shift back in the other direction, but for the time being at least we’re firmly entrenched in the dark and gritty.