The Pain of Remakes And Reboots
Whenever I teach a screenwriting class, it won’t be long before someone brings up remakes and reboots. This person will most often* be a middle-aged white man at the beginning of his screenwriting journey. (*But obviously doesn’t have to be).
Anyway, he will confess that remakes and reboots make him very angry … Hell, he may even GET angry just talking about them. Then he will insist that remakes and reboots are enemies of creativity and that Hollywood shouldn”t be so ‘risk averse’.
When I ask him how many movies he’s watched this year that are NOT remakes and reboots, he will say that’s not the point. When I say it very much IS the point because Hollywood follows the $$$, he will shrug.
He will then change the goalposts, saying the reason HE watches remakes and reboots is because there’s ‘practically nothing else to watch these days’.
If this claim was ever true (it’s not), it’s certainly NOT TRUE in the 2020s
As I’ve said on this blog before multiple times, there’s an embarrassment of riches to enjoy. Filmmaking and television was invented a loooooong time ago now, which means there’s a MASSIVE library of content going back nearly a century.
In the streaming age, access is easy too nowadays. As well as new content that drops constantly, we can call up old movies and TV shows with the click of a button. Many are ‘free’ as part of our subscriptions or thanks to advertising, such as the FreeVee channel. Others are usually somewhere between £1.99 and £19.99, the most expensive still being less than a night out on the town.
So, if people really DO hate remakes and reboots?
No problem whatsoever!!
You can call up whatever you want, whenever you want.
No matter how niche your tastes are, you will find something that suits.
In short, you need never watch a single remake or reboot EVER AGAIN. Fact!
The ‘Latest Research’
When confronted with my thoughts on remakes and reboots (‘Don’t like em? Don’t watch em!’), that writer will change tack.
He will say that research has apparently shown that when kids are shown the original and the remake, they nearly always prefer the original.
Now, remember I’ve been in the screenwriting trenches a very long time. The first time I heard about this ‘research’ was somewhere around the beginning of the noughties.
I was super-interested to hear about this back then, so asked the person where they read it so I could read it too.
I got some vague answer: ‘Oh some movie magazine’. Hmmm, okay.
As the years passed, I heard about this ‘research’ again and again. Each time I would ask the person speaking – again, nearly always white, middle-aged men at the beginning of their screenwriting journey – where I could read this research.
Always, I got the same answer (though interestingly, over time ‘some magazine’ became ‘some website’ instead as everything went online!).
Over time, I strongly suspected this ‘research’ into remakes and reboots did not exist
I Googled all the potential keywords I could come up with, but yielded nothing.
Next I asked my plethora of contacts, including sales agents and even screenwriters who’d actually written remakes and reboots!
I also asked people on my highly-engaged socials multiple times.
Not once has anyone ever said: ‘Oh! I think it could be [THIS] research!’
Hell, there hasn’t even been a time when someone has said anything than ‘Eh???’
Feelings Over Facts
If this research does not exist then, WHY do so many people cite it?
Well, it would seem they loathe remakes and reboots so much they need to validate those feelings with FAKE facts.
Yet even the lightest of scrutiny shows this ‘research’ does not stand up … Here’s why.
1) FACT: remakes and reboots make BANK
It’s a fact that pre-sold intellectual property like a remake or reboot nearly always outplays an original story. So if people of ANY age really did prefer the original, they wouldn’t watch the new ones … Except they do.
Remember, Hollywood follows only one thing and it’s GREEN (no, not Yoda or Kermit). They’re not patrons of the arts, it’s known as show BUSINESS after all.
So if such films and TV shows did not make $$$? They wouldn’t be made. Simple as that.
2) Remakes & reboots are bad *as standard* …
The notion remakes and reboots are automatically ‘bad’ or ‘worse’ than the original is overstated.
There are countless movies that are considered modern classics that are also remakes or reboots, such as Ocean’s 11 (2001), Casino Royale (2006), Mad Max Fury Road (2015), IT (2017) and Dune (2021).
That’s just for starters.
Kids prefer the original … really??
I also find it curious that it’s claimed children automatically prefer the original, too. As a mother myself, I have my own kids, with big age gaps between them, and yet have never heard any of them ever say this. I am also a trained teacher and spend a lot of time in classrooms with young adult learners. Again, I’ve never noticed ANY of them say this!
But let’s say the ones claiming this are telling the truth of sorts … and it’s their OWN kids who prefer the original over remakes and reboots. That’s obviously fine, IF it’s true (and they haven’t been essentially coerced in order to placate a parent with strong feelings on the matter).
However, making the assumption ‘all’ kids prefer the original is a stretch. The old adage ‘to assume – you make an ASS of U and ME’ is relevant here. It’s always worth doing REAL research over anecdotal stuff when it comes to the film and TV industry!
3) … Plus many many people don’t realise remakes and reboots have ALWAYS been a thing!
Lots of new writers believe remakes and reboots are a new thing. They’re not.
As an example, many Millenials and Gen Xers have no idea that the almost-forty-year-old Scarface (1983) is a remake.
That’s not the earliest example of a remake or reboot either. 1959’s Ben Hur and 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars are also remakes. You’d be surprised by how many classics are remakes.
And let’s not forget the plethora of remakes, reboots and franchises when us Millenials were children in the 1980/90s too:
- Police Academy had a whopping SEVEN movies made in the 1980s and 90s
- Tremors brings up the rear with 2 more in the 90s, 2 in the 00s and then another 3 in the in the last 5 years!
- There’s been 6 Home Alone movies
- There were four Jaws movies
- Even Dirty Dancing got a 2004 sequel, plus a TV series
Again, all of this is just for starters. Chances are your favourite childhood film you thought was ‘perfect’ got a sequel (or three or four), a TV reboot or remake at some point. Why? Because the original made $$$ and there’s more moolah to make.
4) There’s no such thing as the ‘perfect’ movie or TV show …
A common outcry on social media against remakes and reboots is that the original is ‘perfect’. Even if that claim was true (again, it’s not), remaking or rebooting does not ‘erase’ the original. Nor does it erase your enjoyment of the original.
5) … Plus movies and TV shows date, FAST
Similarly, movies date FAST. Even if we love an old movie, that should be obvious to us as screenwriters studying filmmaking.
Another example: one of my all-time favourites is Alien (1979). It’s a fantastic movie, but its pace takes ‘too long’ by modern standards. That’s because audiences are now more media literate *today* than they were *back then*.
Also, we’ve seen the creature – MULTIPLE TIMES – since 1979, whereas it was a shock back in 1979 because it was 100% new.
As a result of all this, when Alien was rebooted as Alien Covenant in 2017 – BY THE SAME TEAM AS THE ORIGINAL – the pace was waaaaaaay faster. We also saw a lot more of the creature, too with a new spin on it (whether you think it works or not – and I didn’t really, overall – is not the point).
6) … Plus new tech impacts on storytelling
Beyond audience preferences on craft stuff like pace, it’s also worth remembering the mechanics of filmmaking change decade to decade. We’re still only approximately 10-15 years into digital filmmaking.
New types of camera, styles of shooting and even making films on iPhones are now a thing. All have had an impact on how stories are told and how audiences receive them.
Similarly, old tech or ways of making a film may impact on new generations’ enjoyment
It’s no accident my 11-year-old thinks the majority of 1980s filmmaking is ‘cringe’. They can see the wires on puppets and blue screen very, very easily. It detracts from the viewing experience, especially after they are used to much higher grade CGI as standard.
Consider now how WE received movies as children. Did those of us brought up on colour TV like black and white films generally?
No, we did not (unless we had a specific interest! Another example … as a teen I loved Psycho because I a) loved horror b) was interested in Alfred Hitchcock and c) was doing media studies).
Similarly, when we were kids in the 80s and 90s we TOO thought stuff from the 50s and 60s was ‘cringe’.
I will never forget watching the 1960s TV series Lost in Space as a child and laughing at the ‘alien’ which was clearly a chimpanzee with fake ears. Another time I watched an episode of Star Trek and again, the ‘alien’ was clearly a Pekinese dog that had been dyed orange and was wearing a mask.
Stories like these NEED to be remade or rebooted to attract younger audiences. It’s not rocket science.
7) … Plus sometimes, meaning changes over time
In addition, thematics also change. I’ve written before how certain genres like comedy get OLD, fast. This is the most obvious of genres ‘ageing’ … What is funny NOW is rarely funny in the future.
But this happens to nearly all films and TV shows, whatever genre they are.
It’s rare that a Horror remains super-scary for decades (as in point #5 on this list), or Thrillers remain thrilling, for example.
As ‘older’ viewers we are often enjoying the ECHO of what we liked back then, rather than what it is *now* … Which is why new viewers may find the same story boring.
What’s more, we have all re-watched an old favourite and gone, ‘YIKES!’
We discover the messages may feel dodgy now, when we didn’t notice back then.
This is because society has moved on regarding an issue since the movie or TV show came out … but the movie or TV show has obviously been frozen in time.
Stories like these are ripe for remaking or rebooting.
8) New audiences are not always aware of what’s gone before
If we are cinephiles who genuinely love film and watch everything we can, we may be aware of what’s gone before.
Ditto if we are …
- writers who enjoy research
- media studies students, or
- people whose jobs demand we have a good knowledge of what’s gone before (script editor, Dev Exec, etc)
However, the average member of the movie-going public is not like this. They have no NEED to be.
People watch what they watch because they happen to like the look of it for *some reason*. This might be a result of a marketing campaign, a particular star being in it, or because they love certain genres or types of story. It’s that simple.
So whilst us ‘oldies’ might automatically remember the original, younger people may not (as in #3 in this list)
For example, I lead an Alien-based workshop with ten 14-16 year old teens recently. We did a thought shower of everything we knew about the Alien storyworld …
- They all knew the Xenomorph (1 had a keychain in their bag with it on; another said they had a face-hugger at home)
- Some could link it to The Predator, with 2 boys having seen the first Alien Vs Predator
- 6 said they’d watched Alien Covenant
- 3 others referenced Prometheus (2012) … One said it was her mum’s favourite movie!
- 1 mentioned Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron
Not a single one of them mentioned Ripley!
She just wasn’t important to them, because they’d NOT seen Alien, Aliens, Alien 3 OR Alien Resurrection.
Even the Alien Versus Predator movies were ‘old’ as far as they were concerned … which makes sense: the movies came out when these teens were not even born!
9) Remakes and reboots can win BIG at awards ceremonies
Oscar winners like The Departed (2006) and 3:10 To Yuma were remakes.
Mad Max Fury Road is a reboot and won multiple award nominations.
Franchises such as Jurassic Park / Jurassic World have also received gongs in abundance.
Hell, even movies based on goddamn TOYS like the Transformers franchise (2007) or The Lego Movie (2014) have won big too.
Rebooted TV shows and movies can get acclaim, too. Will And Grace (2017) took home a raft of awards and nominations, just like it did in its initial run.
The Charmed (2018) reboot did pretty well too. Disney+’s recent reinvention of 80s favourite Chip N’ Dale Rescue Rangers (2022) won an Emmy. In short, people lovelovelove nostalgia … deal with it!
10) Remakes and reboots have INSPIRED the next generation
Love or loathe these movies or TV shows, their cultural impact has been MASSIVE.
There will be screenwriters and filmmakers out there who will cite them as their influences and the ‘reason’ they got into the creative arts. (You may wonder HOW or even WTAF but that doesn’t matter … it’s not your journey. It’s theirs).
It’s absolutely fine if you don’t personally like or enjoy remakes or reboots. You don’t have to watch them, ever.
But citing fake research or insisting that Hollywood should be less risk-averse is not going to cut it.
Hollywood follows the $$$, so it will make such movies and shows as long as they’re popular.
So remakes and reboots are here to stay – and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Seeing what the trends are, plus how and why they’re updated for modern audiences can help US with our own original stories.
They can also help us understand how target audience works and how to appeal to them. Good luck with yours!
It’s hard to believe, but B2W’s book, Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays will be TEN YEARS OLD in 2023! Because of this, I have updated the content for the 2020s, including new info and case studies, including TV series. It equates to a whopping extra 100 PAGES!!!