The '80s tone in Aquaman was inspired by influential directors like Tim Burton, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas. The film's director, James Wan, revealed that this trio of directors had an indirect influence on Aquaman's overall tone and atmosphere - namely films that they directed in the '80s and '90s.
Aquaman is first and foremost a superhero movie. That said - like all of the other previous entries in the DCEU - it fits into a variety of subgenres that set it apart in the franchise. For example, Wonder Woman took inspiration from other war pictures and fantasy/adventure films, while Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice shares a similar aesthetic to other dark crime thrillers. When it comes to Aquaman, though, the inspiration is slightly more fragmented. Not only does it exist between two different worlds (the surface world and the ocean world), it combines Arthur Curry's (Jason Momoa) reckless, devil-may-care M.O. with royal family drama, sci-fi-inspired utopias, and globe-trotting, Indiana Jones-esque journeys - and it's not without a particular style of self-awareness that harkens back to certain action movies of the '80s. As it so happens, that's exactly where director James Wan found his inspiration.
During an Aquaman junket interview with Screen Rant, Wan revealed that the noticeably '80s tone in his film was inspired by some of the most revered directors from that era; directors who, in fact, are still just as influential now as they were then. Having grown up as a child in both of those decades, he revealed that the films of Tim Burton, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas played a large role in Aquaman's overall look and feel, though he didn't specify which of their films stood out more than others. When asked about what inspired the film's tone, he said:
"I really think just growing up as a child of the '80s and '90s; you know - just my love for filmmakers like Lucas and Spielberg and Tim Burton. And so, you know, when I finally get the chance to make my action-adventure film, I think a lot of what those guys had done had rubbed off on me in a big way. And that's just sort of the spirit that I wanted to make this film with."
The inspiration from movies like Indiana Jones and Star Wars have already been called out - based on various scenes that have been released for the movie alone - but the Burton influences are also just as present. Aquaman is literally a "fish out of water" story, and Burton's filmography is based mostly around characters who don't feel as though they belong. What's more is that Burton's films are very much imbued with highly stylized fantasy elements, which are a focal point of Aquaman.
What's especially interesting about Wan's comment is that two of Burton's most notable films from the '80s and '90s are Batman and Batman Returns - which also just so happen to be based on DC comics. And, though Aquaman is decidedly less gothic than Burton's two Batman films, there is just as much of a balance between creepy fantastical creatures, stereotypically ideal communities that aren't entirely what they seem, and outsiders who finally find their purpose.
- Aquaman (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018