With 2015 unofficially the year of the reboot with no less than 9 franchise returns or film adaptations of television series, we delved into why Hollywood is so stuck on reinventing itself.
Mad Max: Fury Road – a reboot of 1979’s Mad Max – has been lingering on our minds for a while now, sending us reminiscing back to the good old days when Mel Gibson was flitting around on a massive motorbike trying his best to look cool amidst the breakdown of society (glad he had his priorities straight). But, what’s the genesis of Hollywood’s interest in reviving this stale franchise – and others?
In this trend of reboots, remakes, reimaginings, redos and regurgitations, it’s easy to forget what Albert Einstein once said: That insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If he was right, Hollywood must be one of the most mentally sound places in the world – because Tinseltown expects the same results…and Tinseltown knows exactly what it’s doing.
So what is happening with Hollywood’s obsession with the franchise reboot? Could it be that filmmakers are running out of original ideas? Short answer: No. There’s never “no new ideas.” You only have to look at this year’s Cannes lineup – which includes horrifically disturbing Renaissance fairytales (Tale of Tales), avant-garde, oddball romantic sci-fi (The Lobster), and star-studded Shakespearean iterations from one of the darkest directors around (Macbeth) – to see that filmmaking creativity is in no short supply. In fact, even perversely admirable reboots like 2014’s Godzilla – which wrestled multimillion dollar blockbuster territory and gave it a proudly distinctive spin – prove that there’s no lack of imagination in Hollywood. So, why are studios so adamant on rebooting franchises?
Well, to some degree, it makes sense. Not all reboots are soulless attempts to exploit an established brand. Some of them are ripe for present-day social commentary, give old characters a new twist, or add a good dose of flashy CGI; films that both reinvigorate the brand and deliver a solid new chapter in a fan-favorite franchise. Take Christopher Nolan, for example. Reintroducing a grounded, more gritty take on the protagonist in Batman Begins, he paved the way for record-breaking box office numbers and critical acclaim. He flipped the script and gave us a more ‘real’ superhero, reminding casual filmgoers why Batman is, actually, pretty cool.
But, unfortunately, not all reboots are as good as Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. In fact, without wading too far into the vast pile of reboot material that already exists, it might be worth remembering such movies as 2001’s Tim Burton take on Planet of the Apes (Burton himself later disowned the mess, saying, “I tried”), 2010’s Karate Kid (perhaps the worst in an ever-lengthening line of Smith-family vanity projects), 2011’s Arthur (why anyone would attempt to redo the Dudley Moore classic is a mystery, let alone with Russell Brand in the starring role), and last year’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot which, shall we just say, caused mixed reactions for TMNT lovers (‘mixed’ meaning mixed between people despising the idea and people really, really, really despising the idea).
It’s safe to say that not all reboots and remakes are created equal. Perhaps they don’t even try to be. But, in what industry other than cinema can you produce the same, familiar material and expect consumers to lap it up, guaranteeing that you’ll go home up to your eyeballs in cash when you roll down the box office shutters at the end of the day?
Way back in the golden age of '50s westerns – Rio Bravo, Shane, Vera Cruz and the like – it was almost impossible to break into the filmmaking scene. Back then, movies were the third most profitable business in America and every week 90 million Americans trotted happily along to the pictures. The movie studios could make what they wanted, safe in the knowledge that they’d make a profit; they owned their own theaters and controlled the means of distribution.
But in the following two decades, television divided audiences and scattered moviegoers’ attention. The studios’ once-guaranteed weekly audiences weren’t there anymore, so studios made fewer films and spent more of their budget on marketing. And now that there’s more potential loss riding on each film, that potential loss translates as a reluctance of studios to take risks on original concepts. It’s hard to blaze a movie trail and rise above the din – with reboots, the studios have a pre-built world of recognition. Hollywood now relies on sequels, adaptations, and – of course – reboots.
And this phenomenon extends to worldwide audiences, too. Overseas, Michael Bay-style explosions translate easier than wit. So it’s safer to keep things...you know, safe. Now, films that lack flavor and originality have become entertainment "staples" – they’re the boiled potatoes of the industry. The marketplace rewards each new bland but digestible franchise reboot with more profit, guaranteeing each reboot blockbuster that follows a massively successful opening. Hollywood is now what film critic Matt Zoller Seitz describes as “an entertainment factory in which the audience is both consumer and product. Its purpose is not just to please consumers but to condition and create them.”
The market is saturated with a fear of trying something new. And that’s why it’s the independent film sector – not Hollywood – that appeals to a new wave of disillusioned audiences. With independent films, we see bold new concepts and people taking risks with the stories they’re telling. And while perhaps expensive to finance, we’re looking at meagre sums in comparison to the $300 million projects in the mainstream movie world – a small price to pay indeed for blowing the socks off of a creatively-starved audience.
Studios continue to reach further and further back into the past – leaving no stone unturned as they try to squeeze every last drop from their libraries. 30 years after Mel rode across a blasted-out near-future Australia, dripping with post-civilized militarism in a world where stuntmen – not computers – achieved the effects, they’re rebooting Mad Max. So, what’s next? Well, with any luck, a They Live reboot, please: John Carpenter’s subversive sci-fi about mass-consumable entertainment toyed with the idea that “alien forces” control our media and subvert our thinking. We need his bullshit-detecting sunglasses for the box office now more than ever.
Written by Sarah Gibson for Highsnobiety.com
For more remake action, check out the new trailer for Point Break.