When watching trailers for upcoming movies, I find myself unconsciously sorting them into three distinct categories: “that looks good,” “that looks bad,” and “why, oh god, did they remake/reboot/make another sequel to that?”. Unfortunately, that last category has been getting used more than ever in the past couple years. Hollywood has committed to making what seems like more remakes, reboots, or sequels than ever. In fact, from 2005 to 2014 only 38.5% of the highest-grossing films in the USA were completely original (ie. they were not based on any pre-existing source material including books, movies, plays, video games, etc.).
Is this really a problem?
Yes and no. Some remakes are remarkably well-made, and the genuine love that actors, screenwriters, and everyone else involved put into them shines through. Others are much less memorable. I can’t lie, Shallow from the latest remake of A Star Is Born was playing while I wrote this and I have the entire soundtrack from Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again saved to my Spotify. I have no qualms about enjoying any of these remakes. The places where I see problems are when studios turn down new, original scripts to produce multiple unoriginal movies just because they know they’ll make money. Or when they decide to put noticeably little effort into these remakes because they know these films will still draw an audience.
Why is this happening?
The short answer is to make a profit. By adding films to a well-known cinematic universe, especially one that is incredibly popular like Star Wars or Disney, companies are taking less of a risk by providing content specifically curated for a pre-existing fanbase. Also, in cases where the remakes are made many years after the original, like the new Jumanji film and the recent Lion King remake, these films can pull in a completely new audience: the children of the previous audience, brought to the movie by their parents. This new fanbase brings options for more money making opportunities, like toys, theme-parks and many other products.
What does the future of movies look like?
I am not a marketing or business specialist, but I understand that if something makes money, that’s a pretty good motive to keep making it. Remakes keep making money. Out of the 10 highest-grossing films in 2020 in the USA, only 2 were completely original. You may say, “So what? Quarantine made people nostalgic. I’m sure 2019 was better.” It was not. None of the highest-grossing films in 2019 in the USA were completely original. If audiences will buy tickets for movies that take less work overall (less marketing, less screenwriters, etc.), what incentive do movie studios have to produce anything else?
All in all, if you’re hoping for this cycle of remakes to end or even slow down, you’ll probably be waiting a while. Public opinion has shown an incredible sweet spot for nostalgic movies. Money talks, and if the general public keeps giving their money to films that pull on their heartstrings with sentimental scenes that remind them of better days, that’s what studios will keep producing, even if they’re just a cheap imitation of the original.
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