Tom Jolliffe looks at a current explosion of reboots in film and TV, with many from properties no one remembers anyway…
The idea of a reboot isn’t exactly unfamiliar. Hollywood is on a very well worn trail that is littered with remakes, reboots, sequels, whatever you want to call them. Some might say Hollywood has run dry of original ideas and the preoccupation with dusting off old properties and updating them is hardly surprising. However, there’s a problem. If we take the movies in particular, the majority of 21st century reboots tend to fail. I’ve long since groaned at some of the more pointless and poorly delivered reboots of recent times.
It could be The Hitcher (a remake of an underground cult hit starring Rutger Hauer) or Point Break (a thoroughly conventionalised reboot of a distinct and uniquely styled action classic), or RoboCop (a production line blockbuster lacking every trace or wit, irony and creative verve of Paul Verhoeven’s stunningly violent original). We’ve seen Terminator reinventions continually fail, a failed Total Recall reboot, consistently inconsistent attempts at rearming the Predator (and another in the works).
Meanwhile of course, successful franchises like Fast and Furious or Mission: Impossible continue to at least make the exercise look worthwhile, whilst Star Wars made a comeback that kicked off a Disney juggernaut of properties. Spider-Man has already been rebooted twice (and subsequently sequalised in addition) since Raimi’s first film in 2002. Being a comic book property, particularly under the Marvel wing brings almost inevitable success of course. Avatar will return despite bringing with it a general sense of disinterest across the viewing public who now idolise comic book heroes as the in thing.
Box office has taken something of a tumble when you discount a minority of incredibly successful juggernauts. Many big budget blockbusters were failing to make money even prior to the pandemic. Streaming has opened doors for smaller films but also made the returns more meagre in a realm that can’t be so easily judged on returns by units sold. In the previous few years studio misfires were outnumbering the big successes, propping up not only the industry, but the multiplexes too. There were seeds of hope in lower-to moderate budget films increasing in relevance again, as well as a slight rise in the success and wider distribution for indie and world cinema. Often too, a lot of these properties were new or original content.
Okay, we may have seen something like Uncut Gems before, but at the same time it wasn’t just a rebooted old second tier property. In the Hollywood thinking an exec might have said, ‘how about a remake of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie?’ It’s not especially well known, or lends itself to being intriguing as a reboot, but these quibbles don’t often seem to register with execs who decide the world needs an updated Eraser of all things. The point being an established ‘title’ has just as much likelihood of making people disinterested than enticing them in. Does a film which will re-use the core concept of Eraser, necessarily need to be called Eraser: Reborn (or in anyway linked to the original) to make it sellable? I don’t think so (short of it being another in a slew of straight to video spinoff sequels, ala Kindergarten Cop 2, Daddy Daycare 2, Hard Target 2 etc). I kind of get it in the world of straight to video genre films, but as potential theatrical entities, it’s arguably a waste of the kind of budgets they’ll throw at it.
Still, as box office seeks to resurrect itself and cinemas recover from the ongoing pandemic, it feels like a time of re-evaluation is needed. What do audiences really want? I see the potential benefits in rebooting properties that have a longer legacy and enough time that they could still pull in the established audiences as well as the new audience. Candyman for example, which also has the kind of concept that is inherently interesting, or further, the upcoming Hellraiser. Plus horror has always been a little more naturally ready for resurrection and reinvention (though it hasn’t stopped a majority of such being vastly inferior and often atrocious). I don’t see where there is an audience in wait for Eraser or Nighthawks (which has a series rumoured). Movies do need to try and find more creative ways in attracting their audiences, particularly as streaming has offered a good platform for balancing new projects and a place for rebooting properties that may not naturally have a big theatrical pull (Coming 2 America).
That said, does the world really need He’s All That (a gender spin update on She’s All That)? It strikes me too, that whilst inclusivity and diversity is sorely needed and must still improve, the cynicism in some studios approach to it as a marketing tool, is counter productive. Is there going to be anything of interest or creativity to He’s All That, other than swapping the gender of the geeky lead who’s (not so) surprisingly hot. What’s your pitch? Ghostbusters with women…And what about the script? We’ll cobble something together. Whether there’s a switch or not, the general feeling remains, that many modern reboots pitch the idea of a new Charlie’s Angels as an example, load it with elements they deem in vogue, but fail to think up an interesting film around it. The trouble is, the concept is key, a marketing focus group amalgamation of ideas where plot, characters and direction are afterthoughts.
Additionally as this shift to streaming continues, so too does this progression from film to serial content. Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and the rest are all putting a lot into serial content and hooking into the binge watch culture of the modern era. In the last decade TV has progressively got better and better, becoming more dramatically engaging and more daring. TV is beginning to more consistently enthrall than mainstream movies, offering more interesting roles, better performances, more creativity. Particularly it seems, with mainstream cinema more focused on franchise and formula. The trouble is, there’s now a danger that TV is in danger of regressing, and dumbing down.
We have a new Turner and Hooch (that looks more outdated than the Tom Hanks film), the aforementioned new Flight of the Navigator, a Doogie Howser reboot etc etc. Disney of course are newish as far as their streaming arm. In a bid to fill content their series output consists largely of rebooting old properties, creating endless Marvel and Star Wars spinoffs and little in the way of interesting original content. It’s all a bit light. Of course some will be good. The Mandalorian offered a nice mix of new, nostalgic and enthralling within the well worn Star Wars Universe. The Marvel spinoff series’ have been decidedly mixed. Beyond that there are countless more reboots on the card across the channels, including a new Addams Family and the aforementioned Nighthawks series.
In principal a Nighthawks reboot with the underrated Frank Grillo, switched to TV format, probably has some legs. What’s more strange though, is rather than creating a new title based on what isn’t a unique concept, they’ve opted to reinvent the largely forgotten Nighthawks. Nighthawks in fact is vastly underappreciated, a solid slice of thriller thrills in Stallone’s early days as an action hero, which also marked the American debut of Rutger Hauer. Hauer stole the movie at a canter it must be said, but in time the film is one which is perpetually overlooked. There’s very little weight in the title. Of course they could merely re-use it for the sake of using a title that sounds cool, but ultimately, what will it add to the appeal to be connected to the original film and titled the same? It may even put off viewers who have a natural wariness of remakes. The reason this came about differs though. Stallone himself is involved, and may feel like there’s unfinished business that suggests a more passionate, personal reasoning. Will a studio pick it up and treat it right? Stallone has a long held fascination with rebooting his older work too, even outside his prime franchises. Long rumours of Tango and Cash, Demolition Man, Cobra and more which he’d like to revive. Indeed a Cliffhanger reboot (minus Stallone on board) was rumoured a couple of years ago.
It seems at this current juncture, with an evolutionary step in the movie and TV business as we adapt to new tastes, realities and developments, that the crutch of rebooting old material is being leaned on as much as ever. Some of these will ultimately be worthwhile, but most will probably fail to attract a significant audience. Many will unfortunately be the half-hearted result of a studio brainstorming session and produced with production line, box ticking mentality, over creative engagement. It would just be nice to see a bit more of a push to create some more interesting ideas and more daring film and TV once more, or allow a greater window for independent, arthouse and world cinema. Films have been getting progressively more disposable in an age of waning attention spans, and TV could be in danger of becoming interchangeably disposable too.
What are your thoughts on reboots at the moment? Does it seem like more than normal are being greenlit? Any you are looking forward to? Let us know on our social channels @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021/2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/