Every now and again a thesis is floated out into the ether of geek internet. The thesis is as follows, “Perhaps nostalgia reboots keep failing because the properties aren’t as loved by general audiences as movie geeks think”. On the face of it this is a justifiable argument. Those of us who are fondly in love with 80’s and 90’s media are often blind to the fact that the majority of the people around us don’t care one bit about those things we obsess over. I can rant and rave about the genius of Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop, all while citing the satirical and biting use of hyper violence as a takedown of 80’s America. Eyes will glaze over and then the frightened person will walk away dazed and feeling attacked by a manic fanboy. The endless stream of content coming from podcasts, YouTube streams, websites, and fan conventions can lead us to believe that the whole world hungers for our beloved thing. Whether that be Master of the Universe, The Goonies, Monster Squad, M.A.S.K, or even Ghostbusters.
The truth is the general population of moviegoers doesn’t have the consuming fixation we have with fictional properties. The size of the “community” we participate in isn’t as large as one would conclude from aforementioned outlets. We are living in an echo chamber folks. Being a pop movie mad man or woman left many of us feeling like outsiders when there were more clear lines on what was cool and what wasn’t. Sitting in your basement watching a VHS copy of Ghostbusters or Ratboy for the 1,000th time certainly wasn’t cool in 1997. Trust me. However, the spread of the internet connected us to every stray person who fell into similar niche interests and passions. It turns out a whole lot of us were actually sitting around in 1997 perseverating over copies of Jurassic Park or Die Hard.
Still the fact that we are not alone in our love affair with yesteryear cinema doesn’t mean we aren’t the minority. To most functional adults, movies are commercial diversions from mundane life. They are temporary thrills to be consumed and moved on from. A movie may stick with them for a few weeks or even long enough to prompt a future rental or purchase but for most people movies come and go with the passage of time. I suppose this means that on some level I do in fact agree with the above thesis. Yes fans and studios greatly overestimate the value of an IP to general consumers. However, I think another factor is in play here.
The majority of beloved films were not intended to create sequels or launch billion dollar franchises. Old school studio logic dictated that sequels were a money losing endeavor and were generally not well received by audiences. You’d get rip-offs and variations on familiar hit tropes (think buddy copy movies) but not many direct sequels. The focus of earlier films was to make as much money as possible respective to budget and genre. As it turns out movies make more money when people like them and then tell their friends to go see them. So the goal was to make as entertaining of a films as possible or at least as entertaining of a trailer as possible. In the post Jaws and Star Wars era studios were more open to the horror, fantasy, science fiction, and action movie genres. Studios were willing to green light creative scripts and ideas as well as bankroll productions helmed by young or transformative directors (Spielberg, Cameron, Zemeckis., etc). These directors utilized their film student or Roger Corman training to maximize moderate budgets, DIY visual effects, and lesser known actors. The result was a short lived era of creative, unique, and heartfelt productions that endeared themselves to audiences and endured the passage of time.
Contrast that with the remakes and reboots of today. Has any reboot made in the last 10 years had anything new or interesting to say? Do any of them have the same heart and ingenuity of their originals? Are any of them more than just lifeless corporate products meant to sell insurance or pizza? Does one stand out from another or do they all have the same cut and paste overly shiny CGI, dubstep score, over paid actors, and franchise aspirations. Does even one of their trailers feel different than any another? Has a single reboot had a specific point of view or personality that adds dimension and value to their predecessor? Are you thinking of Creed or Mad Max? Aren’t both of those more sequels than strict reboots? Don’t both highly value what has come before and didn’t both films intimately include their original creators?
Let’s take Creed for example. Director Ryan Coogler loves the Rocky series. He and his father have spent years bonding over the films and when his father took ill Coogler used the world of Rocky as an outlet. He had something to say. He injected it with the same real life heart and soul that Stallone did four decades ago. The other reality is that no one wanted to make another Rocky. There weren’t plans for a 20 phase sprawling Rocky universe. Rocky Balboa was a modest hit and well received at the time. It was the fitting end to a great series but that was that. Coogler then went on to cast a roster of up and coming or unproven actors to tell his story. Other than Stallone not a single cast member was a bankable star. The film was given a modest budget, it had heart, it honored the series and the beloved creator, it had something new to add or say, and it was filled with fresh faces. Low and behold the movie was a hit with critics, longtime fans, and general audiences. The best entertainment comes from passion, humility, point of view, and adversity. Good movies are rarely produced in sterile factories in front of green screens with bloated budgets. Great movies come from desperation and risk not plotted out spreadsheets and box office projections.
The great movies of our past (whether hits or cult classics) are loved by us because people had something to say. Maybe what they wanted to say was trite, or profound, satirical, or romantic but some desperate crew of people stood in front of rolling cameras attempting to catch lightning in a bottle. The idea that this can be manufactured reveals a shocking lack of humility or understanding regarding the creative process. The idea that any 4 actors could be put in grey flight suits and it’d be box office gold is an affront to the unique chemistry of unique talents. The whole concept of slapping a name on a barely written premise then calling it a finished script is insulting to the target audiences for most reboots. The very people most likely to come back for more and drag their friends are put off from shallow corporate cash-ins.
Bottom line? Most reboots fail to capture the essence of why we love the originals. Because of this, most reboots suck. These movies are failing because they suck. Because their target demo recognizes that they suck and they are telling their friends to stay away. The fact that general audiences aren’t as invested as hardcore fans works both ways. Yes, they won’t cry over their childhoods being ruined but they also won’t go out of their way to see something in theaters. By failing to recapture the spirit of original works, studios fail to recapture their hardcore fans and their friends. If you think I’m wrong go ask Disney how well The Force Awakens is still doing. Despite whatever corporate money mongering motivates Star Wars, the recent reboot showed genuine heart. Studios must recreate the very thing that made so many weird and diverse movies beloved in the first place. I’m not suggesting this is easy. In all reality it’d be easier to just make wholly original films with moderate budgets and large amounts of risk. After all, you never know which of your current films some suit will want to rehash in 30 years.