Essays · Movies

Reboots, Late Sequels, and the Impatience of Hollywood

What can Hollywood learn from the success of the new ‘Halloween’ and the failure of so many franchise reboots?
Universal Pictures
By  · Published on October 27th, 2018

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so much movie news as synergetic as it has been this week. And it began with one of the most important revelations of all: Halloween is a big hit. The reason the movie’s box office is so significant is that it delivered the franchise’s best opening ever. How? By going back to the start and moving forward anew but with the elements we loved back then.

Sure, it’s basically what Star Wars: The Force Awakens did, and that success led to the “rebootquel” trend that also gave us Independence Day: Resurgence. The difference is that Star Wars and Halloween are great movies with huge fan bases while Independence Day was just mildly enjoyable at the time. And they only really work by having so much involvement from the necessary original players.

That is why the next Terminator could work (coincidentally The Terminator has always been viewed as a sci-fi Halloween), because it’s bringing back the real Sarah Connor, Linda Hamilton, and not recasting the role again. It’s why Fox should have gone with Neill Blomkamp’s Alien sequel that would have brought back Sigourney Weaver instead of making Alien: Covenant.

The irony is that this week also brought news of a Pirates of the Caribbean reboot, despite the fact that everyone knows that series only really commenced so well because of Johnny Depp and his — let’s not forget — Oscar-nominated performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. Of course, the report couldn’t say if any cast members would remain, further shredding the clarity of the term reboot.

But Disney would be wrong to launch another Pirates movie with Depp given his reputation lately (unless they believe most of the world doesn’t care about that — they could be watching how Fantastic Beasts does next month to gauge interest). What they could do, because they want to maintain the brand for merchandise and theme park reasons, is do a quality spinoff that gives it a fresh new direction. Key word being quality.

More ironic is the fact that the Pirates news came about the same time we were already about to share the recent Filmento video essay about what makes a movie or franchise safe from being redone that has the Pirates series as one of its prime examples. Maybe the other titles in the video, including 2001: A Space Odyssey and Back to the Future, are in fact “remakeable” too — Universal just has to wait for Robert Zemeckis to die for the latter to happen.

There have been franchise reboots that have worked. Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, James Bond, the Planet of the Apes series, Godzilla, and Star Trek, to name the handful. And none of them tried to remake what was done before, while the latter three either connected to the originals or hinted in some way that they’re of the same franchise just in a different timeline. Just as Halloween is taking its property on a new trajectory than before (a sequel is, of course, being discussed).

Why is Hollywood still thinking about remakes and reboots, then? Halloween‘s recent reboot from Rob Zombie was comparably a failure, but the late sequel is a hit. Robert Englund is interested in doing another Nightmare on Elm Street now, so similarly that series should ignore its recent remake and let Freddy Krueger return like Michael Myers did. Same goes for Jason Voorhees, whose Friday the 13th series LeBron James wants to reboot. And Child’s Play shouldn’t be redone (as will be on the big screen), it should be continued (as it will be on the small screen).

With many properties, the fans don’t want a new look for iconic movie characters. They didn’t want different-looking Scarecrow and Tin Man, etc. in Return to Oz, and they don’t want new versions of horror legends. Imagine if anyone ever tried to reimagine the look of Frankenstein’s Monster that was done for the 1931 adaptation and has become the portrayal of Mary Shelley’s creation for all things beyond even official tie-in merchandise.

Killer Klowns
MGM Home Entertainment

So when we see news, again this week, of Killer Klowns and Critters resurrections, we have to hope they’ll keep the character designs of their ’80s originals. Part of it’s for nostalgia sake, which translates to being good for business. You can get away without bringing back Grant Cramer or Scott Grimes, respectively, but you can’t as easily get away with altering the character and puppet work of the Chiodo Brothers for either. Those are more important familiars than the names of the properties.

The thing is that Hollywood needs to be patient — after all, absence makes the heart grow fonder — and that’s not something that always seems right for business. Pirates, for instance, can’t really wait 40 years for its Halloween (2018) or its Force Awakens (the original was such a Star Wars knockoff, so the latter comparison is apt) given its ancillary needs. The trend has been there successfully with Entertainment Weekly photo shoots and now sitcom resurrections with the original casts, fans like reunions rather than redos, but it’s the long waits that deliver the greatest appreciations.

Actually, if you think about how the previous Halloween movie — Zombie’s Halloween II — was only nine years ago, there’s room for ongoing properties of lesser quality for a while if Hollywood can’t be patient with their IPs. The new Halloween and The Force Awakens didn’t come along that late after their franchise’s last efforts, respectively reboot or prequel installments — they just went back to the start and the original characters and stars. Even though we just had a terrible Terminator movie, the next one could make us forget it if it’s good enough. Pirates could do a full reboot or give us the young Jack Sparrow chronicles, and they could be terrible, but then Disney should go back for a retconning sequel directly following The Curse of the Black Pearl but set 40 years later released in 2043.

Not that such a strategy is a guarantee. Certainly, the quality of the movie is also always a big factor. Independence Day: Resurgence just wasn’t well done. Halloween, at least according to its Rotten Tomatoes score (if not myself), is well written and executed — that’s why Jamie Lee Curtis wants David Gordon Green to return to helm the next one. The upcoming Top Gun: Maverick has the anticipation of a long delay since the first movie, and if it’s done right it could be like Creed rather than Rambo.

Of course, quality continuation doesn’t always translate to box office, as seen with Tron: Legacy (directed by Top Gun: Maverick helmer Joseph Kosinski) and Blade Runner 2049, but at least those movies are still talked about and could maybe one day inspire another late sequel, as opposed to forgotten remakes like Total Recall and RoboCop, the latter of which is also getting a Halloween-esque retconning sequel (by Blomkamp) that directly follows up its first installment only.

There is a chance that the newly announced Night of the Comet and Clueless remakes will be good, given the talent involved in each, but wouldn’t fans rather see Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd back for a 25th-anniversary sequel of the latter if handled respectfully, and wouldn’t another Night of the Comet work, even if recast, as a separate or loosely continued story set in the same world as the original, like what Mad Max: Fury Road did with its brand?

No formula, model, or trend is ever going to be a certainty, of course. There needs to be the right combination of demand and value, as well as the right mix of familiar and original. Halloween could easily have flopped, or at least just been on par with the so-so success of its peers, just as it is. Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria may only be popular with critics and a cult audience. The latest A Star is Born could have gone ignored outside its Oscar buzz, too.

But when Mary Poppins Returns makes all the money in two months, then Hollywood is definitely going to be looking at other 40-50-year-old classics that could get a sequel rather than a remake, and surely much of the industry will be doing so for the wrong reasons. But those wrong reasons can be joined by the right reasons. Halloween producer Blumhouse and Disney want to make a lot of money with their respective familiar properties, but they also committed to doing right by each of them.

And the generations of fans (critics included) are aware and appreciative and eager, and they will come.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.