Reboots have been a key cornerstone in Hollywood’s Reduce-Reuse-Recycle policy of the past decade and a half. With bigger budgets to recoup and more competition from other forms of media, it’s no wonder studio heads and producers have become risk averse and bank more and more on properties that already have name recognition and can be franchised into other money-making fields.
What has been a bit of a surprise lately is how quickly Hollywood has been willing to start a franchise over from scratch. Earlier reboots tended to be at least a generation or more apart, ensuring an eternal debate between children, parents and grandparents over who the true Batman is (it’s Michael Keaton, btw.)
That’s no longer the case these days, with reboots coming right on the heels of other reboots, whether the previous film made money or not. Kids these days will have multiple Supermen and Spider-men to be nostalgic about. Reboots of films like I Am Legend and Friday the 13th are currently in the works, despite their last iterations coming out only a few years ago.
Like a universe bursting with dark matter, modern reboot cycles are only accelerating, perhaps to a point where several different versions of the same property will be premiering the same weekend, a Reboot Singularity heralding the heat death of the cinematic cosmos.
The following are just some of the reboots Hollywood have released only a decade or sooner since their previous versions, most of them reboots themselves. This list doesn’t include foreign language remakes, including American-language adaptations of British films that were apparently indecipherable to audiences in the States. Most of the films are superhero, sci-fi or fantasy films, which makes sense since many reboots are based on the idea that special effects have improved and the same story can be told in an even better-looking fashion, and because dramas like 12 Years a Slave don’t necessarily sell as many toys as the Ninja Turtles. Again, this list is based on how little time has passed between incarnations, not on how unnecessary they may have been (cough, Total Recall, cough).
1. The Amazing Spider-Man
The Amazing Spider-Man might sound like an insult to the regular plain ol’ Spider-Man that exploded the box office in 2002, but the name, which comes from the comic book, was originally going to be the title of the Tobey Maguire-led sequel. Adding that adjective may have raised expectations for the 2012 reboot, which was desperate to differentiate itself from the Sam Raimi trilogy that had last been in theaters only five years previous.
Going with an almost carbon-copy origin story and light-hearted tone (the producers claim the reboot is dark and gritty, which is about as adorable as a five-year old dressed up as the Joker for Halloween), The Amazing Spider-Man did practically nothing to make itself distinct. Choosing a thirty-year old actor to play a younger, hipper Peter Parker was also an odd choice, as was reusing the Green Goblin storyline for its sequel. While the new Spider-Man has its merits and looks like it will stray farther from the original trilogy with each progressive sequel and spin-off, not taking more risks proved the 2012 Spider-Man to be the epitome of pointless, boring reboots.
2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
A reboot that did take risks in completely diverging from the original was 2001’s Planet of the Apes. And everybody hated it. But while the 1968 film has iconic lines and scenes, its storyline isn’t necessary cherished by mainstream movie audiences, and changing the plot wasn’t exactly a risk—rather, Tim Burton’s “re-imagining” failed for several other reasons.
Nonetheless, 2011’s reboot stayed clear of the Mark Wahlberg and Charlton Heston incarnations, using the guise of a prequel to show Apes in a whole other light. By starting from the beginning with a relatively low-key character-based prison break movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes found critical and commercial success and paved the way for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a sequel that resembles more what Tim Burton was trying to pull off in 2001 than anything else.
3. Left Behind
Left Behind is a series of novels dealing with the aftermath of the Rapture. It’s the exact same premise as the novel and HBO adaptation The Leftovers, though the two are written from completely different points-of-view. Left Behind is distinctly and proudly evangelical, hoping to show readers the light and bring them to God before everybody vanishes on them.
It’s no surprise then that the movie franchise adapted from Left Behind stars born-again star Kirk Cameron. Its religious leanings and shoddy filmmaking have kept the movie and its sequels from blockbuster status, though they sell better and have larger budgets than most direct-to-video fare. The last Left Behind film, World at War, was released in 2005, and while Kirk Cameron continues to find success starring in Christian-themed films, the same production team decided to reboot the franchise with Nicolas Cage, because of course. Rather than a globe-spanning epic, the 2014 reboot focused on a single location and handful of related characters, and Nicolas Cage. It was released on October 3 and was quickly derided by critics for its poor writing, acting, directing, and Nicolas Cage.
4. The Incredible Hulk
Many remember Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk as a bomb, but it actually recouped its $140 million budget and then some. And while a sequel was planned, the powers-that-be cancelled it because of the overall negative feedback it received, primarily from a mainstream audience surprised by Ang Lee’s distinct direction and a calmer and more introspective tone than Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, whose shadow stilled loomed large in the pre-Nolan, pre-MCU superhero moviesphere.
When the MCU—Marvel’s interconnected Avengers-based cinematic universe—was born with 2008’s Iron Man, it was a natural choice to start Hulk’s story from scratch. Rather than follow Iron Man’s successful character-based tone however, The Incredible Hulk‘s script and direction was defined by being as different as Ang Lee’s film as possible. The action-fueled “grounded” take is now considered one of the weakest links in Marvel’s chain and while Edward Norton was invited to co-star in The Avengers, his character was once again rebooted with Mark Ruffalo’s complex and crowd-pleasing performance. Perhaps believing the third time isn’t always the charm, The Incredible Hulk is the only MCU film with no sequel in its future.
5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
For a while, it seemed like the Ninja Turtles were a product strictly of their time, idolized by boys and girls of a brief period near the end of the twentieth century. The property hid in the sewers and the shadows, popping up here and there, until finally in 2007 it reasserted itself theatrically with a CGI feature, TMNT. The animated movie was considered a spiritual successor to the original film trilogy, one of those not-quite-a-sequel films that had the same blend of grit and humor, but utilized its medium to provide a more mystical fantasy plot.
While the film received mixed reviews and did relatively well at the box office, it was a success in that it showed a familiar property in a new light, though one close enough to its original source to avoid a wave of fanboy hatred. Only seven years later did Michael Bay reboot the franchise again, with decidedly more controversy. After several massive rewrites, the final result was another iteration of the Turtles that was not the same but not that different. If anything, the 2014 reboot proved that Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael can adapt to Hollywood’s perpetually evolving trends and could very well be cowabunga-ing in reboots for decades to come.
6. Batman and Superman
After the blockbuster success of the twenty-first century modern adaptations of X-Men and Spider-Man, DC was finally ready to reboot their two biggest properties: Batman and Superman. Christopher Nolan was heralded as his own hero after giving us the Dark Knight trilogy; Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns on the other hand received more head-scratches than thumbs up. While both movies tried something new, Nolan’s films tapped into the zeitgeist both thematically and aesthetically. Superman Returns, another spiritual sequel, was too attached to its Christopher Reeve-led past and struggled to establish its own identity.
While both franchises went in two different directions, they were both inevitably drawn back into the black hole of reboots by a gravity stronger than either of them combined. Superman only had seven years between reboots, emerging darker and grittier and Britisher in Man of Steel. While the Dark Knight trilogy only wrapped up two years ago, Ben Affleck will be starring as yet another iteration of Batman and joining the new Clark Kent in a battle royale set for 2016.
7. The Silence of the Lambs
Long before reboots not only became a Hollywood producing crutch, but also became largely the province of sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero films, The Silence of the Lambs took everyone by surprise when it premiered in 1991. It was a sleeper hit starring and directed by familiar faces that weren’t yet the megastars the movie would turn them into. It was also adapted from a dark, violent novel series that had already spawned a box office bomb five years earlier, an unprecedented turnaround for a reboot at the time.
Michael Mann’s Manhunter was based on Red Dragon, a prequel to Lambs, but with a different cast and Mann’s strong auteur direction the movies take place in entirely different worlds. This is even more apparent when Manhunter was remade again as a direct sequel to the Anthony Hopkins-as-Hannibal universe. Almost thirty years later, Manhunter is now more a memento of Mann’s hyperstylized 80s filmmaking than it is a Hannibal Lecter movie. With a hit TV show utilizing yet another iteration of the erudite cannibal, it’s becoming clear that Manhunter wasn’t a fluke—it was the start of a franchise with many faces. If you know what’s good for you, you won’t ask where they’re getting those faces.
8. Punisher: War Zone
It was no surprise that The Punisher was remade fifteen years after Dolph Lundgren held the role in the 1989 cult hit. Any comic book was game for a more “realistic” mature adaptation after the success of X-Men and Spider-Man. It was no surprise that like the rest of this new wave of millennial comic book movies, The Punisher was rated a violence-limiting PG-13. And it was no surprise that a violence-limited take on brutal vigilante Frank Castle proved unsuccessful. A Punisher story without gory, unflinching violence is like a Transformers movie without robots that turn into things.
Punisher: War Zone originally started out as a sequel to 2004’s Punisher but evolved into a gory, homicidal reboot with a new, bulkier star. While the movie bombed even harder and became Marvel’s lowest-grossing feature to date, it found a cult audience who appreciated it for being true to its blood-soaked material. With the rights back at Marvel, any new Punisher movie is likely to be yet another reboot, perhaps in the same shared universe as Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy. Either it will be sanitized and neutered again, or the Avengers will have to start wearing Kevlar vests and learning how to yell F-bombs in Asgardian.
9. Terminator: Genisys
After the original Terminator trilogy, the killer cyborg franchise has seen two reboots—one for TV and one for the big screen. The movie reboot, starring Christian Bale as John Connor, was intended to be the first of a new trilogy, depicting the post-Judgment Day world of the future. While it can be argued to be a direct sequel to the Arnold Schwarzenegger films, the series has had so much time travel and retconning that nearly every scene is a new reboot.
The 2009 film, Terminator Salvation, proved to be a dud best remembered for Christian Bale’s off-camera expletive-laden rant. Rather than try to fix it with a sequel, producers are starting from scratch, with next year’s Terminator: Genisys intended to start yet another trilogy. Hoping to have a longer shelf life than the TV and Bale reboots, the new movie will bring back Arnold Schwarzenegger. If that doesn’t work, we might only have to wait another five years before yet another reboot, and we’ll finally have a complete modern Terminator trilogy, albeit three completely different movies. There is after all, no fate but what we make. And remake.Back to the Drawing Board: Hollywood’s Fastest Reboots by Jack Picone