Everything that was ever once popular eventually gets redone. That’s become a fundamental rule of entertainment. Studios, network executives, and comic book publishers love “safe bets,” finding comfort in knowing that there’s a pre-existing fan base out there that can be tapped into. When you’re putting money into a project, there is a sense of safety in the idea that a target audience already exists. This is why we get so many reboots these days.
Many reboots opt to go the “dark, gritty” route. It’s hard to say what kicked off this trend, although Tim Burton’s Batman and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy both showed that eschewing traditional approaches to existing properties in favor of edgier ones can yield big results. (Both abandoned the lightweight manner in which Batman had been portrayed on screen up to that point.) Of course, that approach doesn’t always work. Below are fifteen examples of gritty reboots that failed spectacularly.
There is often some dispute over what differentiates a remake, a sequel, and a reboot. We aren’t going to split hairs here. For the sake of this list, we’re defining “reboot” as anything that brings back a previously-established property in some new form. Most of these are movies, but there are some TV shows and a comic book here, as well.
Here are 15 Gritty Reboots That Completely Failed.
15. Fantastic Four
When the Fantastic Four first came to cinemas in 2005, it was in a lighthearted adventure that — some mild violence and a brief shot of Jessica Alba in her underwear aside — was pretty family-friendly. The 2007 sequel added the Silver Surfer and tried to be a little hipper, though it was still relatively tame compared to other superhero flicks at the time. Both did okay at the box office, but most people felt that the potential of the series had not been met.
Once the Marvel Cinematic Universe hit full-force and became the biggest thing since sliced bread, it was clear that the heroic quartet deserved its own grown-up, blockbuster movie. That led to Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four, which was supposed to fix the problems of the previous installments. Of course, what ended up onscreen was an unholy mess. Yes, it was darker and grittier. However, Trank’s original cut didn’t please the studio brass, who reportedly insisted on a complete re-edit of the picture. What audiences ultimately saw was a fairly interesting visual interpretation of the characters, surrounded by an incoherent story that left major plot points undeveloped. In trying to get the heroes “right,” the movie got things very, very wrong.
14. The Wolfman
In 1941, the great Lon Chaney, Jr. starred in The Wolf Man, the story of a guy who is bitten by a wolf, then starts to develop some very strange symptoms, including growing hair all over his body and howling at the moon. He even develops a taste for human flesh. Featuring special effects that were groundbreaking at the time, the movie was heralded as a milestone of horror cinema — a designation it holds to this day.
Of course, in the ’40s, there was a limit to how graphic horror movies could be. It therefore probably seemed like a good idea to the folks at Universal Pictures to reboot the character for a gory, R-rated iteration, as they did with 2010’s The Wolfman. Benicio Del Toro takes over for Chaney in the picture. He’s not bad, but the attempt at a more hardcore approach to the character is foiled by the use of CGI to create the wolf, which takes away from the crucial idea that there’s a man buried in there somewhere. Additionally, there were rumors that the studio meddled with director Joe Johnston’s cut, which may explain the plot holes that make The Wolfman confusing to watch. In the end, this take on the classic monster is definitely grittier, but far less effective, than the one from decades before.
13. Robin Hood
Robin Hood is one of the most enduring characters in all of fiction. He has been featured in motion pictures since the 1920s, with actors as diverse as Errol Flynn, Sean Connery, Kevin Costner, and (in Mel Brooks’ comedic take Robin Hood: Men in Tights) Carey Elwes take a turn at portraying him. Often, Robin Hood movies are fun, swashbuckling affairs, with an occasional dose of romance to sweeten the deal. In 2010, noted director Ridley Scott put his own spin on the popular figure with an eponymous movie that cast Russell Crowe in the title role.
Scott is a terrific filmmaker, but swashbuckling fun doesn’t seem to be his thing. His Robin Hood features a lot of dull exposition about such scintillating topics as unfair taxation, royal lineage, and medieval politics between countries. His action scenes, meanwhile, are heavily-edited, shaky-cam messes. The kind of smooth, thrilling action audiences associate with Robin Hood films is replaced with something gritter, yet less fun. It doesn’t help that Crowe plays the character with an angry, brooding quality. In the end, the film appears as though it’s doing everything possible to not be a typical Robin Hood adventure – which, of course, makes it something Robin Hood fans can’t really cling to. Here’s hoping his next big screen reboot takes things in a different direction.
12. The Bionic Woman
If you were a kid in the 1970s, The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman were undoubtedly among your favorite TV shows. They were a bonafide phenomenon. Jamie Sommers, the lead character of the latter, had her debut on the former before spinning off into her own series. After a skydiving accident, Jamie was implanted with bionic technology that gave her super-hearing, great arm strength, and the ability to run at high speeds. Sure, the program was a little cheesy, but it really tapped into many kids’ fantasies of having special abilities.
In 2007, NBC brought The Bionic Woman back to the screen with an updated series that attempted to take the premise with complete seriousness. While the pilot episode was promising, the show quickly became bogged down with elaborate action scenes, to the point where kind-of-important things like character development got pushed into the background. Many television critics also felt that co-star Katee Sackhoff would have been a better, more charismatic lead than actual star Michelle Ryan. When all was said and done, the darker Bionic Woman flopped, getting the ax after just eight episodes.
11. Total Recall
Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall is one of star Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most highly-regarded movies. He plays a man who pays to have a “virtual vacation” to Mars implanted into his brain. Before this can take place, he starts dredging up buried memories of having once been a secret agent. Things go wrong, people begin chasing after him, and he has to go to Mars for real. Or does he? The movie keeps you guessing as to whether things are really happening or whether they’re part of the memory implant process.
Verhoeven surrounded the story’s action and violence with sly humor and satire. That is a major part of its appeal. Len Wiseman’s 2012 remake, on the other hand, excises all the satiric elements, leaving a fairly generic sci-fi adventure whose only stabs at “humor” come in the form of pandering references to the original. And whereas the Schwarzenegger version has a sense of over-the-top joy, this Colin Farrell-starring reboot is so busy packing every second with shootouts and mayhem that it starts to feel conventional. The slightly goofy quality that made this story so memorable the first time around is erased. The Total Recall reboot begs the question, Why remake something that was already perfect?
10. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
We all know the story of Hansel and Gretel, the central figures of the time-honored Grimm fairy tale. The brother and sister are lured to the edible house of a fierce witch who plans to cook and eat them. After a close call, Gretel outsmarts the witch, shoving her into a hot oven and bolting the door. Pretty bizarre stuff for a kids’ story, huh? Nonetheless, it’s one that has been made into an opera, several TV specials, and numerous motion pictures.
Perhaps the oddest of the movie adaptations is Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, an action-comedy that turns the characters into full-fledged action heroes. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton play the now-grown siblings in this intensely gory, blood-soaked adventure. A fresh take on an old property isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in this case, the results were less than spectacular. Reviews were scathing (a 15% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes), the box office take was underwhelming (only $55 million in North America), and endless pre-production problems resulted in the cancellation of a planned sequel.
9. Black Christmas
Black Christmas was never the biggest horror movie. Since its release in 1974, though, it has developed a very passionate, appreciative cult audience. The film follows a group of sorority sisters who endure some yuletide stalking at the hands of a psychopath hiding in the attic of their house. Director Bob Clark (Porky’s, A Christmas Story) delivered a taut thriller that stands as one of the first examples of the “slasher” movie.
Perhaps because it wasn’t as widely known as later slasher flicks, former X-Files writer/director/producer Glen Morgan decided that a Black Christmas reboot was in order. His version is packed with up-and-coming actresses, including Katie Cassidy, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michelle Trachtenberg, and Lacey Chabert. Veteran comedienne Andrea Martin plays the house mother. There are some notable problems that prevented the movie from achieving the acclaim of its predecessor. Whereas the original shows a little restraint in its violence, the update is gory to a fault, and the sly humor of Clark’s film is virtually absent. Furthermore, the decision to open the picture on Christmas Day resulted in backlash from Christian groups. Critics hated Black Christmas, and the public stayed away.
8. Miami Vice
The TV show Miami Vice was a phenomenon in the 1980s. It had guys all across America wearing Hawaiian shirts, white sport jackets, and loafers. The series was beloved for its sleek style and hip soundtrack. Popular artists of the day – including Phil Collins, Glenn Frey, and Tina Turner – provided songs that were used to give each episode a contemporary atmosphere. Such use of music on television was a new concept for the time.
Years after it went off the air, filmmaker Michael Mann, who had served as executive producer on the original series, brought Miami Vice to the big screen. Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas were out, replaced with Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx. Perhaps because he wanted to take the show out of the ’80s, Mann made the decision to drop Miami Vice‘s most revered qualities. The fashion sense is gone, and the soundtrack has considerably fewer relevant artists. There is subsequently not much fun in the graphically violent picture, and certainly none of the coolness that defined the show. Compounding the problem is an ugly, shot-on-digital-video look that’s at direct odds with the beautiful visuals of the series. The cinematic Miami Vice has a cult of devoted fans, but critics and general audiences rejected it.
7. Knight Rider
The ’80s TV series Knight Rider was a little over-the-top, but it knew that about itself, so it was alright. After all, when you have David Hasselhoff fighting crime with the help of a talking car, you more or less have to approach everything with tongue firmly in cheek. The show may not have been the best example of televised entertainment ever made, but viewers delighted in its sense of playfulness.
A 2008 NBC reboot of Knight Rider was Hasselhoff-less (yes, we just coined an awesome new term), although it did offer Val Kilmer as the voice of the automobile KITT. That was just one of several major changes, most of which proved disastrous. Michael Knight was no longer the hero. Instead, it was his estranged son, played by Justin Breuning, who is no David Hasselhoff. Most controversially, KITT was no longer a Pontiac Trans Am. Instead, in an obvious instance of product placement, it was a Ford Mustang. The rebooted show also couldn’t nail the fun tone that people enjoyed about the ’80s version. Trying to be respectful of the old standards while still ushering in some new elements resulted in a mess that was cancelled after just one season.
Decades — and plenty of crummy sequels — after its original release, John Carpenter’s Halloween remains utterly terrifying. The 1978 slasher classic is one of the most taut, dread-filled horror movies ever made. It was quite literally a game-changer, making fright flicks about masked killers stalking teenagers all the rage in Tinseltown. None of the knockoffs ever came close to capturing the terror of this seminal work.
That includes Rob Zombie’s 2007 Halloween reboot. Although the rock musician-turned-filmmaker displayed some raw talent with his previous efforts (House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects) his approach to the character of Michael Myers is, at best, wildly misguided. For starters, the picture is brutally violent, unlike Carpenter’s gory-only-when-absolutely-necessary take. Worse, Zombie includes scenes of a young Michael’s troubled home life, as he deals with his stripper mother and her physically abusive boyfriend. That’s right — Zombie tries to explain Michael Myers. Turning villains into victims is never a good idea because it takes away their inherent evil. Asking us to feel sorry for them induces the wrong kind of nightmare.
5. The Curse of Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty is a beloved fairy tale that was, in its most famous non-print incarnation, adapted into a Walt Disney animated film. It has the essential qualities that all great fairy tales need: a beautiful princess, a dashing hero, and a malevolent villain whose attempt at evil is eventually foiled by basic human decency. No wonder the story is timeless! What isn’t necessary here is a goth makeover that makes the tale look like Hot Topic suddenly got into the moviemaking business. Yet that’s exactly what The Curse of Sleeping Beauty provides.
Ethan Peck plays Thomas, a man who has recurring dreams about a perpetually sleeping young woman. She awakens in one of the dreams, warning him about a curse on the creepy mansion he just inherited from a relative he didn’t know he had. Thomas comes to believe that this Sleeping Beauty is real and that abolishing the curse will save her life. The Curse of Sleeping Beauty has a visual style reminiscent of a Marilyn Manson music video. It tries way too hard to look and feel edgy. Maybe that could work, but the plot relies on a lot of worn-out horror movie cliches. Sleeping Beauty is a sweet story. Attempting to turn it into nightmare fuel — especially when carried out with too much style and no actual substance — simply isn’t effective.
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street
Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is a horror classic across the board. It tells the story of the lunatic Freddy Kruger, who haunts a bunch of teenagers through their dreams, rendering them afraid to fall asleep for fear of making themselves accessible to him. As the sequels progressed, Freddy went from being a villain to being more of an antihero. The movies added humor through his wisecracks and the increasingly bizarre ways that he infiltrated dreams.
The 2010 A Nightmare on Elm Street reboot attempts to return Freddy to his more horrific origins. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really capture any of the Freddy magic. There isn’t much imagination to the film, which is a basic blood-and-guts affair. Making matters worse, the filmmakers abandon the practical effects that made the original so effective in favor of bland, ugly, un-frightening CGI. A wedged-in theme about child sexual abuse is underdeveloped, causing it to come across as somewhat exploitative. As a result of all these things, A Nightmare on Elm Street really does not feel at all related to the 1984 classic that horror buffs everywhere fell in love with.
3. Red Riding Hood
Red Riding Hood is another movie that attempts to revive a universally-known fairy tale. Amanda Seyfried plays Valerie, an innocent whose parents are forcing her into an arranged marriage to a guy named Henry (Max Irons). Her heart really belongs to Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), a local woodcutter. Valerie plans to run away with Peter, but that plan is foiled when a werewolf starts attacking their village.
There are some very adult themes woven into this dark, gritty take on Red Riding Hood, including the intimation that the wolf may have some sexual interest in Valerie. Such potentially interesting elements are hampered, though, by the utter Twilight-ization of the story. Red Riding Hood ties itself into knots attempting to replicate the look, feel, and romantic triangle drama of that massively successful series (the original of which, like this film, was directed by Catherine Hardwicke). This could have been a really cool adult version of a fairy tale. Instead, it plays like a prefab attempt to hijack a blockbuster movie’s rabid audience.
2. House of Wax
House of Wax, released in 1953, is considered one of the defining horror films of that decade. The movie, which stars Vincent Price as a deranged museum owner who kills people and then makes wax dummies out of their corpses, was a prominent early example of the 3D format. Audiences thrilled to the sight of human limbs and other objects popping off the screen at them, and chilled over the spooky plot.
Fifty-two years later, Hollywood rebooted the idea, hoping to turn it into a franchise. The 2005 House of Wax features a cast of then-hot young stars Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, and Paris Hilton. Rather than maintaining the atmospheric vibe of the original, the new version opts for “shock horror.” It is filled to the brim with sadistic violence, as well as a stomach-churning scene in which Cuthbert’s character slides headfirst into a roadkill pit loaded with dead animals. In another scene, someone gets their lips stuck together with crazy glue. Material like this takes the Gothic fun out of the premise, instead delivering a dark, unpleasant viewing experience.
1. ThunderCats: The Return
ThunderCats began life as an animated kids’ series in the mid-’80s. It was quite popular, airing for four seasons. The characters — who were kind of like alien cat-people, or, if you prefer, people-cat aliens — went on to have their own Marvel comic book series. Action figures, video games, DVDs, and other merchandise sold briskly. For many kids all across the world, ThunderCats was a crucial, beloved part of their childhood.
The franchise was rebooted in comic book form in 2003, when DC’s Wildstorm imprint unleashed ThunderCats: The Return. It was an unmitigated disaster. Spanning five issues, the storyline takes an intentionally kid-friendly concept and makes it grotesquely adult. Lion-O returns to Thundera, only to discover that the Mumm-ra have taken it over and enslaved several of the ThunderCats. That’s a pretty hefty idea for young readers. It’s also just the beginning. The Return features bloody violence and death. The language is saltier. Most shockingly, there is a suggestion that Cheetara has been raped by the Mutants. Needless to say, parents who bought these comics for their children were horrified by the content. Adult readers, hoping to recapture some of that childhood magic, were angered to discover what had happened to their heroes. ThunderCats: The Return went dark and gritty, to the point where it turned off the core audience and any potential newcomers all at once.
What other gritty reboots utterly failed? Are there any you were particularly disappointed in? Let us know what you think in the comments.