Think back to the beginning of 2016. What were some of the movies you were dying to see? Did some of those films include “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “Finding Dory,” “The Jungle Book,” “X-Men: Apocalypse,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Out of the Shadows,” or “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story?” It likely didn’t take long for you to realize that all these major releases have something in common: They all fall into the category of a remake, a sequel, a reboot or an adaptation of some sort.
This is an issue that has faced 21st century cinema for quite some time now: the abundance of unoriginal ideas. Why has this problem persisted and been ignored? Is it just a phase that we are going through? Well, it is time to look into why movies are what they are today.
First and foremost, it should be mentioned that adaptations, sequels and remakes have existed since the beginning of storytelling, and movies are no exception. Even in the early days of silent cinema, adaptations of stories have always made their way onto the screen in one way or another.
Film adaptations of books from “The Lost World” to “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (yes, even before the famous 1939 adaptation starring Judy Garland) have come and gone throughout the 1910s and 20s. During the 1930s, however, the success of some book-to-film adaptations began to take on identities of their own that almost took over their literary sources even to this day; this included movies like “Frankenstein” (1931), “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937), and “Gone with the Wind” (1939).
Sequels were also becoming a hot new filmmaking trend at the time, with films such as “Son of Kong” (1933) and “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935). During the 1940s and 50s, sequels and adaptations found more and more success in mainstream cinema. By the time the 1970s and 80s rolled around, almost every big success in the box office found itself with a follow up of some sort, whether it needed it or not (*cough, cough, “Jaws” sequels*). In some situations, we were even given sequels to remakes, such as “King Kong Lives” (1986), a sequel to the 1976 “King Kong” that itself was a remake of the original 1933 film of the same name.
Starting in the late 1970s, film adaptations of comic books also started becoming popular with mainstream audiences, with films such as “Superman” (1978), “Batman” (1989), “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (1990), “Blade” (1998), and their various sequels becoming great hits. However, it wasn’t until the 2000s that comic book movies became the pop culture mega blockbusters that we know them to be today, with movies such as the “Spider-Man,” “X-Men,” and “Dark Knight” trilogies propelling these characters into the public consciousness. Comic book films have become so popular, new generations are growing up without having read a single comic book. Rather, they have gained their knowledge of superheroes from the various film and television series and reboots based on the characters (“Spider-Man” alone has already been rebooted three times since 2002).
So why have these kinds of films ruled cinemas for so long? Likely, the biggest reason is simply because they make money. The general movie-going audience will tend to go see something that they have a connection with in one way or another, whether it be a movie they have grown up watching that is now getting remade, a movie sequel, or a book they read that is receiving an adaptation. With this fact in mind, most filmmakers are forced to make films that fall into these categories to ensure success in the box office. The trend has become so popular that the more original ideas put out by Hollywood sometimes suffer financially in comparison, forcing many first-time filmmakers in particular to depend on an adaptation or follow-up to bring them success (for example, “Deadpool” was the first film by director Tim Miller).
In the critical department, many of these kinds of films have also found great success, sometimes even when they stray far from their source material. A prime example are the animated Disney films. Movies such as “The Jungle Book” (1967), “Pinocchio” (1940), “Cinderella” (1950) and even “The Lion King” (1994), which is actually based on Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” stray far from their original source material in many ways, yet still arguably remain the most remembered adaptations even to this day.
Many comic book films such as “Spider-Man 2” (2004), “The Dark Knight” (2008) and “The Avengers” (2012) have also received critical acclaim as exceptional films. There are also several films that fall into these sequel and adaptation categories that have not only been considered good movies but are also considered to be some of the best movies ever made, including: “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), “The Godfather Part II” (1974), “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” (1980), “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994) and “Forrest Gump” (1994).
So with the box office numbers and even critical acclaim of many of these films, why has mainstream cinema been so criticized for their overuse of adaptations, remakes, sequels and reboots? I realized this after watching “Batman v Superman.” There were entire sequences dedicated only to providing “fan service,” scenes that were there to provide references and homages to the source material that only die-hard fans of comic books and graphic novels could understand. While they were a nice nod for these fans, the sequences were so frequent and took so much time that the film’s pacing was ultimately sacrificed.
Many other audience members who had probably not even picked up a comic book were left confused and even a bit frustrated at these scenes. I thought that the problem was only within this film, but then I saw “Captain America: Civil War,” the new 2016 “Jungle Book” and heard reviews regarding “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Out of the Shadows,” and it came to me. Hollywood seemingly acknowledges that all they make these days are unoriginal ideas. Instead of trying to create something distinct from the source material, they have rather opted to fill in their movies with countless homages, references and nods to the fans that end up becoming almost incoherent with newer audiences.
The main purpose of an adaptation, remake, reboot or even sequel at times, is to introduce entirely new audiences to these stories and characters by respecting the source material and still offering something that can stand on its own as a memorable experience. While many of these kinds of movies these days have garnered their own acclaim, they are, sadly, more likely to be forgotten in the future for not holding their own ground.
Spanish conductor Pablo Casals once said, “Let us not forget that the greatest composers were also the greatest thieves. They stole from everyone and everywhere.” We are likely not going to ever stop living in a world of re-imaginings or follow-ups of famous stories, movies, or plays for as long as entertainment is around. In many ways, it is almost its own form of storytelling, a way of passing down the story from one generation to the next.
We all have the hopes that one day our children will have the same sense of awe and nostalgia that we will always hold close from the movies that captured all of our imaginations when we were young. We will always have bad films, but fortunately for every “Transformers: Age of Extinction” (2014), there will be a “Creed” (2015). It is simply great to know that for a movie to receive so many sequels, remakes or adaptations, it must still have the power to inspire generation after generation to tell stories and captivate others.
Mikael Trench, 18, is a rising freshman at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). He is an aspiring filmmaker who specializes in working with stop motion animation. His latest short film, “The Tree That Refused To Fall,” can be found here.
For Mikael’s recommendations of Pixar’s top 10 movies, click here.