It’s no secret that franchises have become the go-to source for mass revenue in Hollywood. As production budgets rise and high opening weekend numbers are a must to ensure maximum profitability, studios are wise to turn to big name properties. After all, casual viewers are more likely to go see something they recognize, so there’s a serious incentive to green light films that feature existing fan-favorite characters.
In recent years, a trend has emerged when it comes to dealing with movie franchises – and we’re not talking about the shared universe phenomenon. Executives are also looking for ways to continue iconic franchises years – or in some cases decades – after they were last seen on screen. 2015 saw projects such as Jurassic World, Creed, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which served as franchise relaunches while still operating within the existing continuity. This year, the practice goes on with the release of Jason Bourne (watch the Super Bowl spot). Even though it’s been just four years since the Bourne series saw an installment, star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass are returning after nearly 10 years away, putting Jason Bourne in the same boat as the tentpoles of last year.
It’s a stark contrast from the first part of the 21st century, where hard reboots like Batman Begins and Casino Royale wiped the slate clean and started from scratch. The thing that’s in now is the “soft” reboot: a movie that introduces a particular brand to a new generation of moviegoers, while still keeping the canon of previous films intact. Many of these works have seen great critical and/or commercial success, making it easy to see why the soft reboot is so appealing compared to the alternative.
The Problem of Remakes
The movie business is no stranger to remakes or hard reboots, where filmmakers take a premise that has been attempted before, imagining that the previous incarnation never happened. There are examples of excellent remakes (like Ocean’s Eleven), but more often than not studios pursue the wrong kind of film to redo. Banking on the familiar titles of years past striking a chord, it’s usually perceived classics of a genre that get the remake treatment. Modern examples include Point Break and Total Recall, which offered sanitized PG-13 renditions of R-rated hits that won over audiences. When these films are announced, they’re met with more eye rolls than cheers because many viewers see them as unnecessary.
One big issue with remaking a well-received movie is that comparisons are inevitable, and there’s rarely anything the 2.0 version can do to improve upon the original. Why would action movie fans settle for 2015’s Point Break when they can pop in Kathryn Bigelow’s cult smash with the irresistible pairing of Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze? Why would sci-fi admirers go for the 2012 Total Recall when the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle of the same name is seen as one of the actor’s many highlights? It’s why so many people immediately blasted the impending Memento remake; the film’s already great, why mess with it? Christopher Nolan’s thriller is seen as one of the best movies of the 2000s and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. It’s hard to see how a remake can do anything but be a pale imitation.
Remakes should really only be attempted when the initial film took an interesting premise but didn’t execute it as well as it could have. That’s why people like the 2001 Ocean’s Eleven so much. Seeing a bunch of charming criminals rob three casinos simultaneously is undeniably fun, but the 1960 original was hardly seen as a crime classic (despite its big name cast). Fifty years later, director Steven Soderbergh and a team of A-listers delivered a breezy, entertaining film that was very successful and launched a franchise. In addition to taking a poor film and making it better, the new Ocean’s Eleven also waited a long time to take its second shot, well after the original faded from memory. Many failed remakes come out too soon, which only puts them at a greater disadvantage.
With this in mind, it’s no shock that out of all the franchise revivals of 2015, Terminator: Genisys was one of the ones that flopped. It tried selling viewers on the nostalgia of James Cameron’s first two Terminator films, but didn’t add anything new to the equation. Scenes from the originals were outright recreated, making Genisys a pseudo remake that angered fans instead of making them excited. Tapping into the emotional resonance of a beloved franchise can go a long way, but it takes more than a couple of recognizable shots to make audiences care. Cameron’s Terminator movies still hold up and are revered as watershed moments for cinema. One can pop in the Blu-ray for T2: Judgment Day to get a real visceral experience, as opposed to paying to see the same thing again in a theater.
Next Page: The Appeal of the Soft Reboot
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