Rebooted movies have appeared in theaters with a very regular frequency over the past few years: Casino Royale, The Incredible Hulk, Star Trek, a reboot every year or so. This summer that frequency has skyrocketed to ridiculous levels. Three of the summer’s biggest movies are all reboots: The Amazing Spiderman, Total Recall, and The Dark Knight Rises. I can understand why Hollywood does it: it is a shrewd business decision that more or less guarantees a strong opening gross. Fans who like the first movie will most likely see its reboot. But why do audiences do that? Why will they pay to see three stories they’ve already seen told over again, especially with ticket prices as high as they are, and with expendable income so much harder to come by?
It seems ridiculous that Hollywood would reboot the Spiderman franchise and make a movie with nearly the exact same plot as the first that came out less than ten years ago. But people still went to see it; The Amazing Spiderman broke the $100 million dollar mark its opening week just as the original Spiderman did in 2002, becoming the first movie to ever do so. Audiences are as obsessed with reboots as Hollywood businessmen are, but for entirely different reasons. We are obsessed with reboot movies because they are easier for us to consume. We know what we are going to see, which is comforting, and the new styles and technologies make us proud to see how far we’ve advanced as a culture.
Moviegoers may try to convince themselves they are going to the movies to see new stories, with fantastic, unexpected, and unheard-of plots, but really the portions of those plots that are most compelling are the parts that are most familiar. The common topics of love, identity, luck, disappointment, death that give life to movies are topics that human beings think about day after day. Films dress up these topics in a plethora of flashy costumes and show them to us from a variety of angles, but they always contribute the same content and produce the same emotional reactions. Reboots take the familiarity of these elements to the highest degree. Going in to see a reboot, we know what kind of emotions we are going to feel. We know that we are going to get our fix, and there is something reassuring and comforting about that. We are confident that our ticket will be a good buy.
We know the reboot will be the same but we also know that it will be different enough, and that difference is heartening for a variety of reasons. Hollywood’s reboots are grittier and darker than their originals; their characters are cooler, edgier, and more troubled. Audiences today have a higher tolerance for violence in films; they respond to it more if it is harsher and realistic. These differences tell us how we have changed as a culture, for better or for worse. They show us that we have come accept the harsh realities of violence in our world. The over-the-top, immaculate, almost cartoonish style of violence that characterized the original Batman and Schwarzenegger movies is no longer popular. Our heroes are no longer invincible, and our villains are no longer hopelessly terrible shots. The violence is more tangible, crueler, more random like it is in real life (There is a lot to be said on this topic. The consequences of this are not something I want to get into in this piece.).
The differences between reboots and their originals affirm our belief that our films are more engrossing and thrilling than the movies of the past. They show how our technology has improved, which is something that we are very proud of as a society. New CGI technologies illustrate how much more beautifully and realistically we can tell stories about our world. Comparing reboots to their originals makes it easy to see how far we’ve progressed in terms of cinema technology and our values as a society.
It may seem to audiences that reboot movies are a good way of tracking how our society progress, but they do only to an extent. Our new darker, raw reboots show how much cooler our culture is compared to American culture of the past, but they don’t show progress—they show stagnation in the film industry. Remaking three old blockbusters is hardly making anything new. The new Amazing Spiderman might have looked much more dynamic, but its characters and script were not. The movie added nothing new to the story or to the genre. Our nations economic downturn has limited Hollywood in the films it can make. They cannot afford to take as many risks and reboots are safer. Hopefully, when the economy turns around, Hollywood will stop making reboots and book adaptations and get back to making unique, creative, and progressive films that will showcase our thriving culture. I can’t believe that audiences will tolerate much more of this constant rebooting, before they realize this creative stagnation and get demoralized and bored.