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Sequels, reboots and remakes: where does the spiral end?

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If you were to visit YouTube, chances are you’ll either see film trailers being played out in ads, listed in the “Trending” section, or popping up as recommendations on the homepage. Most of these trailers reveal details from the next slate of movies set for 2017 and 2018, including Cars 3, the rebooted IT, and the eighth instalment in The Fast and the Furious franchise.

Even trailers for Avatar 2: Return to Pandora, Spider-Man: Homecoming and other Marvel/DC Comics-related projects like Thor 3: Ragnarok and Justice League have recently been making the rounds.

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Did we forget to mention Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the sequel to the 2014 film? Wonder Woman, the fourth instalment in the DC Extended Universe after Wonder Woman had appeared in 2016’s Batman V Super: Dawn of Justice? What about DreamWorks Animation’s Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie based on Dav Pilkey’s series of children’s novels? Does that mean a second epic movie already on the way?

Book-to-film adaptations such as Stephen King’s The Dark Tower and Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (conveniently retitled King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) are also set for 2017 release.

Disney has already put out a live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast this year, and there are plans for more in the forms of The Little Mermaid and The Lion King among other classics.

A majority of these films (if not all) share the same pattern: they’re either sequels or reboots of past movie franchises.

Not even cartoons have been spared.

If the reboots of Teen Titans and The Powerpuff Girls weren’t enough, then along came the rebooted Ben 10 series, which made its debut a mere three years after the original series came to its nine-year end.

Disney’s Tangled and DreamWorks’ Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron respectively spawned animated series, the former’s expanding upon the Tangled universe and the latter’s … not so much (to say that it’s very loosely-based on the 2002 film is as obvious as saying that it’s a complete understatement).

It seems like Hollywood are really overdoing the sequels, reboots and remakes this time.

It’s not like anyone specifically asked for a television remake of Dirty Dancing or a Bad Boys III sequel that comes 15 years after Bad Boys II, yet we’re getting them all the same.

Okay… we’re getting The Incredibles sequel we’ve been asking for 13 years, but for the fans disenchanted with Pixar’s spate of sequels over the years, it’s a case of too little, too late.

With the likes of these films gracing us with their presence on the silver screen, one has to wonder where they have come from, and why they have come to be.

Sweet nostalgia

Growing up with these fictional characters, we become absorbed in their back-stories and find ourselves wanting to delve deeper into the mythos of their universe. And because they’re familiar to us, those figures who have become cultural icons in their own right, we simply latch onto them.

A dedicated Star Wars fan, a Marvel enthusiast or a DC Comics buff can either enjoy or loathe the plot threads as they unwind, but the settings, the familiar characters and the tropes (good versus evil, epic action intertwined with raw emotion, and drama with a dash of humour and hidden Easter eggs, that sort of thing) make up the formula designed to draw us, the audience, in.

Sequels, reboots and remakes, regardless of how many times you’ve seen Batman battling it out with the Joker (remember, they’re destined to fight forever), milk the formula for all its worth.

The nostalgia trip can only last so long: if you’ve seen one Transformers adaptation, you’ve seen them all, regardless of medium. We can blame ourselves for saying, “The movie/shows of today aren’t like what we used to watch, so we ought to get them back.” Sometimes, upon receiving the product, it’s retooled to the point of that’s only appealing to to its intended demographic, namely young children.

One has to wonder where the sequel craze has come from, and why it has come to be

Going back to Teen Titans, for example, it was wildly popular during its time. Based on characters from the DC Comics ‘verse, it was beloved by the critics and children alike. The character development, writing and design qualities were lauded. So of course fans were outraged when Cartoon Network cancelled it in 2006, two years after it made its debut.

Nowadays, a show like Teen Titans would seem out of place as we’re living in an age dominated by social media and popular culture. From 2013 to the present, the reboot, Teen Titans Go!, features kid-friendly designs, sub-par writing incorporating modern cultural phenomena (selfies and twerking spring to mind) and an average animation quality that does little to appeal to (or appease) the old crowd.

Children, though? They love it.

Same goes for Ben 10 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. They watch these shows and movies, and immediately they want to get their hands on the toys, the comic books and the other themed paraphernalia featuring their beloved characters.

These cash cow franchises generate tons of merchandise that’s worth billions of dollars, and turning out subsequent series and reboots bring in the ratings and profit for their respective networks.

Toy companies make an absolute mint from these sequels and whatnot. The Despicable Me franchise generates US$70-million a year, courtesy of its Minion mascot, the merchandise plastered with their images and the eponymous spin-off that featured them.

The Avengers series has generated billions across the globe, and you can be sure it’ll increase when Marvel drops the next two instalments. Frozen is the standalone ensemble horse that’s raked in US$5.3-billion in retail sales, but when its sequel springs up in 2019, the Frozen fever epidemic will become stronger than ever before.

In some cases, the film’s so good, it deserves to be continued – if you’re a fan of Avatar, you might agree. For films that aren’t up to scratch, like M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, it’s not really up for discussion. But when it comes to classics like, say, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial or To Kill a Mockingbird, should we preserve the magic that made them classics in the first place, or would giving them sequels or remaking them entirely tarnish or add to the sanctity of the original source material?

For the art, or for the money?

E.T. nearly got a sequel, but, as he told The Los Angeles Times, Steven Spielberg decided against it for fear of the original film losing its spark.

Originality seems to be up in the air at this point, particularly when all available tropes have been exhausted when telling a story.

We’re all familiar with the narrative that sees the protagonist facing a conflict and having to find a way to resolve it: plot-lines like “a group of so-and-sos band together to save their home from a destructive threat” demonstrates this. Variations of this narrative exist across a whole board of mediums.

Creating an original movie from scratch that engages with its intended audience without relying on clichés sounds damn near impossible. Maybe that’s why Hollywood is in sequential state?

Granted, a number of movies these days are adapted from novels, short films and the like. It’s when the box office brings in the big bucks that the dreaded sequel looms closer and closer. Rebooting an entire franchise or remaking a single film is where it becomes a touchy subject – either you love them because you get to see your favourite characters again, or you loathe them because they’re not the same.

Everyone has their own views on the topic, and it comes down to your take on the film’s quality and the creative effort that went into its production.

Whether your favourite film suddenly receives a sequel, however … that’s a ranting discussion forum all on its own.

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