Nothing is Really New: The Persistence of Reboots and Sequels in Hollywood

Image by Dawson Vosburg

Image by Dawson Vosburg

by Jacob Bretz

To many who peruse cinemas across the United States, a common theme permeates the plot lines of many major motion pictures. While there are plenty of ground-breaking films released every calendar year, very few of them find commercial success. Certainly, films such as There Will Be BloodNo Country for Old Men, and Fruitvale Station were critically lauded upon their release. But still, there seems to be a penchant for recycling stories and themes. Why are so many movies non-original reboots, remakes, prequels, sequels, and spiritual-successors? Why are so many of these films commercially successful? Is this a growing trend in cinema?

Out of all the most successful movies of this decade, five of the seven top-rated films from their perspective years were non-original movies. Fourteen of the top nineteen top-grossing films of the decade as a whole are either remakes, reboots, or sequels. Previous decades seem scarcely more original. Seven of the ten years in the 2000s were led by non-original films in the ratings. As the decades stretch further back, the trend lessens a little, but not in any significant way. Has the originality of the film industry deteriorated with the rust of time? Probably a bit, but the theme of unoriginality runs deep throughout the film industry from its conception.

Even the seemingly original films that reached critical acclaim rarely are truly original. Many standalone or initial films in a series are actually adaptations of other works of literature. The Shawshank RedemptionI Am LegendFight Club, and American Psycho all were originally written word. If a film uses the characters, settings, plot, and title of a book, does that not effectively negate the originality of the screenplay?

But is unoriginality even a problem? Popular art has always been a game of borrowing. Pop music often uses similar chord structures and organization; television is more or less a mass of Seinfeld rip-offs; how many popular young adult novels in the past few years took place in a dystopian future starring a teen lead of few character traits, if any? The repetitive nature of popular art can easily bore the more discerning consumers. However, if this model of production did not work, why would multi-million dollar companies utilize it?

In the end, any issues we have with the film industry are our own fault. Consumers are the ones whom drive the trends of consumption. If people truly wish for commercial film to be a groundbreaking medium, we—as consumers—have to stop consuming trash. If there are twelve Avenger’s films released in the next ten years, we cannot blame Hollywood, we cannot blame Disney, there is no one to blame except ourselves.