His long black cape has whipped over the shoulders of eleven different actors in the last seventy-eight years, a trademark feature on one of the most beloved superheroes of all time. Lewis Wilson was the first to put on the Batsuit in 1943, which has since evolved drastically in style with everchanging gadgets, cowls, ears and body armor designs, but the core idea hasn’t changed: Batman flapping through Gotham City in the dead of night, jumping off rooftops and beating criminals into the pavement, going up against villains like Riddler and Penguin and the Joker. Behind the mask, Batman’s voice has ranged from being articulate and clear to low and growling. This year it will happen again. The Batman with Robert Patterson, the twelfth actor to play the Caped Crusader and troubled Bruce Wayne, is guaranteed to be a smash at the box office. Hollywood is remaking films and rebooting franchises more than ever, aiming to keep the power alive for coming generations. But what are the real reasons? Is Hollywood running out of original ideas? Is it solely about money or are filmmakers genuinely trying to resurrect a franchise to make it better or explore a new vision of the same story? Vastly different opinions on why, as divided as black and white, has caused intense debate in all areas of the industry.
“If it’s a beloved franchise, reboots and remakes can be a way,” said David Bloom, writer and consultant with Words and Deeds Media, who closely tracks trends in the entertainment industry. “There are two challenges: One, you have to do it well because there’s audience that cares about it. Two, if it’s too beloved of a franchise, it’s very easy to do it wrong because of those hardcore fans. For a studio, it’s how they can keep paying the bills when there’s so much competition for audiences and properties. The business is in the middle of an apical shift. For screenwriters, there are more places you can take a script than ever. The reboot and the remake is the thing the audience has to begin with. That’s a much-loved thing in Hollywood. I often have found that it’s hard to recapture the magic, but sometimes it can be done. I think often what’s more interesting, is less what’s more of a reboot, something that extends your time in a universe. Something that lives in that narrative universe.”
“War of Ideas would be the name of our new era’s media conflicts,” said Hossein Panahi Dorcheh, Founder and CEO of HPD Media. “It’s been many years since we’ve been able to easily find movies or contents with original new ideas. Not to say we don’t have any, but the numbers have dropped significantly in comparison to the previous decades. These days we watch new movies, TV series, and animations which you can completely say some parts or elements are a copy of a previous, older content. I don’t deny that sometimes it’s for money or to use a franchise to keep the ball rolling, but I would also look at this from another point of view—from a platform or TV channel’s point of view. It’s like a blackhole; no matter how new the movie is, or if it’s a mega budget movie or a low budget movie, once you broadcasted that content…boom, it’s gone. Now your audience has watched it and they will be starving for new content.”
The most remade movie of the past century is Scrooge, based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. First appearing on film in 1935, the story has been retold six times. Scrooge, along many other well-known tales like Dracula, King Kong and Huckleberry Finn, have made an incredible profit, more and more each time. When money is involved, studios are less willing to take risks.
“People act like remakes and reboots are a new thing, they’ve been part of the film industry since its birth,” explained Christopher Lockhart, producer and Story Editor at William Morris Endeavor. “In fact, before copyright laws applied to film, a studio would make a movie one week, and others would remake it the following week. A Star Is Born was made in 1937 and remade in 1954, 1976, and 2018. There are plenty of original films out there and I venture to guess that the majority of productions (outside the studio system) are based on original ideas. Hollywood produces remakes because they feel they’re a safer investment. As long as audiences support these projects, Hollywood will make them. For a hundred years, some have complained about remakes and reboots, but those cries have gone unanswered because audiences embrace them. Remakes and reboots are here to stay. Like it or not.”
Franchises often share a fictional universe with an ensemble of characters, branching out to separate storylines in “crossover” films. Especially true for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (The Avengers, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, X-Men, Spider-Man, Captain America) and DC Extended Universe (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Justice League), this style of storytelling, while creatively clever, is even more so business-wise. Studios have made billions, capitalizing on each film and character to the maximum degree. As much as the franchises themselves, it’s their recognizable characters that bring moviegoers back.
“We tend to be drawn to characters that are complex and layered with contradictions,” stated entrepreneur and Oscar-nominated producer Howard Baldwin (Ray, Death Sentence). “And subtle as well. These characters can be flawed, or evil, but they must be interesting. For example, we loved the fact that in the movie The Firm, Will Brimley (The Quaker Oats guy) played a bad guy. Unexpected to say the least. We tend to be drawn to projects that represent the triumph of the human spirit. Certainly not all our projects have that theme, but most do. It’s a universal feelgood theme that we like. Often harder to set up but nonetheless it’s a theme that we believe in. We are in the entertainment business, after all, and this theme if done well usually strikes a chord.”
“To remake or reboot is one of the primary questions when considering a new opportunity for product differentiation and capturing the market niche,” explained actress, writer and entrepreneur Jacqueline Doll. “In essence, it is a form of rebranding. Tangential to that question is the brand strength. Sequels in the Back to the Future series have done an exceptional job of character portrayal and identifying with its consumers, so much so that after thirty years consumers are still waiting for hoverboards. Remakes such as True Lies with Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as The Terminator series have been very successful. When evaluating rebranding, the new character must outshine the old character.”
-Creative Screenwriting Magazine