Was Avatar really this generation's Star Wars?

Hereditary Is This Generation’s The Exorcist. Let’s Rank Similar Comparisons.

Hereditary, the new horror film starring Toni Collette, is being called “This generation’s The Exorcist by everyone, everywhere. If you’re not tuned into the current mid-budget horror renaissance, you probably heard about Hereditary when its (absolutely terrifying) trailer was accidentally played for a room full of Australian babies about to watch Peter Rabbit.1 In reporting that incident, media outlets around the world referred to Hereditary as… “This generation’s The Exorcist.”

Comparing one thing to another thing is the easiest kind of copy in the world to write. It’s been popular among critics and marketing people alike to use major pop cultural events as these universally-understood touchstones to describe something without having to do any actual thinking about the product they’re discussing.

Here, I’ll run through other films that have been called “the BLANK of this generation” and why that was either accurate or hilariously naive.


“This generation’s Star Wars…”

The Matrix, 1999

It’s 2018, so I don’t need to explain what The Matrix is to anyone. If I had to I could probably summarise the whole thing in GIFs and memes.2 The Matrix made a massive splash in the late ’90s by marrying two things that really shouldn’t work together as well as they do: Hong Kong action cinema and goths. A big hit with teens like me, whose appreciation of cool slow-mo gunfights and lazy philosophy was about equal, The Matrix promised a trilogy full of rich lore and satisfying answers to the big questions. Then we got Cave Rave and Rainy Clone Battle.

Princess Mononoke, 1997

Comparing Princess Mononoke, Hayao Miyazaki’s high-fantasy animated masterpiece, to Star Wars was meant as a massive compliment. Looking back, it’s kind of an insult to Mononoke. Where Star Wars is content to iterate on itself and present morally pure good guy characters as “conflicted” just because they get dirt under their nails, Mononoke gives you a full stable of characters with genuinely complex morals and then refuses to give any easy  answers. If you’ve never seen it because it’s technically an anime, you need to drop your judgement: Mononoke is one of the best films ever made — regardless of style or genre.3

Avatar, 2009

Avatar was supposed to be the biggest thing since forever. Insanely overhyped, critically panned, and rightly compared to watching a video game cutscene rather than a movie, it still made an absolute boat-ton of money.4 Then it kinda went away. Avatar‘s lasting impact has a lot more to do with the internet making fun of James Cameron than anything the actual movie did, since it was so derivative there isn’t much to say about it.

“This generation’s 2001: A Space Odyssey…”

Interstellar, 2014

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is another in the director’s long line of films that should be beautiful and perfect but are mostly boring and frustrating. As much as I love a slow-burn, big-budget, hard sci-fi movie, Interstellar suffers from the same issues as most of Nolan’s films: the guy wants to make these sumptuous, complicated examinations of the human condition but all his characters talk like robots. Even though they’re played by the best actors in the world. Say what you will about Anne Hathaway, but that infamous scene where she tries to describe love as a quantifiable power in the universe reads like it was written by a Speak-n-Spell.5 Nolan seemed to realise his failings as a writer and got around this problem brilliantly in Dunkirk by having basically nobody speak ever. Interstellar is absolutely the 2001 of this generation, which is both an endorsement and a warning.

Alien, 1979

Forget 2001: Alien is the hard-ish sci-fi movie that everyone should be comparing things to. Massively influential and still terrifying today, Alien is close to the perfect movie. The tense, tight script is backed up by believable improvised dialogue and the greatest movie monster ever. The most terrifying thing about Alien is the corporate exploitation of the movie’s blue-collar crew. Where most sci-fi properties cast their characters as scientists and soldiers, Alien popularized the space trucker trope and no one has done it better.

Avatar, 2009

Because they both have spaceships? They were both expensive? I could be charitable and say they’re both about progress? They both star Giovanni Ribisi? While J-Camz never explicitly compared his day-glo fever dream to Kubrick’s groundbreaking sci-fi opus, he has stated in interviews that 2001 was one of the reasons he got into filmmaking, which is like a band saying they were influenced by Radiohead. Actually makes sense: we all remember the scene where Bowman f***s the Monolith.

“This generation’s The Godfather...”

McMafia, 2018

This BBC show, which has the worst title since Fear The Walking Dead, is based on a best-selling non-fiction book about modern organised crime. It stars serial-killer handsome lump of tofu James Norton and I guess is being compared to The Godfather because it’s about mobsters? I don’t know, I haven’t seen it and I don’t care about a whole show that sounds like the “Los Pollos Hermanos” subplot from Breaking Bad.

The Dark Knight Trilogy, 2005-2012

In that both are trilogies with one really great movie, one decent but influential movie, and one really bad movie? The Dark Knight is just Heat with Batman in it6 and the best thing Nolan took from the Batman mythos was Gotham’s relationship with organized crime. Still, as much as I love most of most of those movies, Christian Bale sitting in a Sad Chair7 after Maggie Gyllenhaal blows up isn’t exactly on par with “You broke my heart Fredo.”

Avatar, 2009

Wh…what? Avatar, what are you doing here?8 Yeah, so JC called the Avatar sequels “A generational family saga” in an interview and then compared his movie about skinny blue cats running around a green screen jungle in their underwear to the movie that gave us sinister oranges. He also then said that modern fantasy movies aren’t about family even though the Fast and Furious movies mention how important family is every five seconds and Star Wars is literally about one family ruining the galaxy over and over again.

Okay, let’s switch gears here. I don’t want an article celebrating Hereditary, by all accounts an exciting, original masterpiece, to devolve into another Avatar slag-fest. Let’s look at a piece of technology, like the iPhone, that has been used to compare things that are not iPhones. I don’t see how this could possibly come back to Avatar…

“The iPhone of…”

Tesla Model 3

This article by Barron’s quotes analyst Romit Shah as saying that Tesla fans have “real passion” similar to how Apple fanatics are already sold on a new iPhone before they even know anything about it.

Pax 2

Did you know that “vape” was the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year in 2014? Neither did I, until I read this Business Insider review of the Pax 2. Calling it the “iPhone of vaporizers,” the article brought a lot of new things to my attention, namely that vape reviews are a thing, that vapes have been around a lot longer than I dared imagine, and that no one has yet beat this store in Parkdale for the best name of a vape store on the planet.

Avatar, 2009


References   [ + ]

1. Which was the first I’d heard there was a Peter Rabbit movie. Different strokes.
2. White Rabbit. Mr. Anderson. Red Pill. Whoa. Bullet Time. Rage Against The Machine.
3. I’m saying it’s nothing like Naruto.
4. A boat the size of Titanic.
5.  “The cow says ‘killllll…meeeeee.'”
6. Sorry for ruining The Dark Knight for you forever.
8. AKA, the entire world’s reaction everytime someone mentions Avatar.