Reboots: RIGHTS and WRONGS of Writing a Reboot

What is a Reboot?

In the realm of movie-making, a reboot is a reimagining of an existing franchise that rebrands or restarts the established fictional world. The most notable franchises that are known for their reboots and remakes belong to the superhero genre. Cue Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland. Three different versions of the same character created within a fifteen-year period.

Audiences often look down upon reboots as unoriginal cash-grabs. While these negative connotations are justified by Hollywood’s constant push for unwanted reboots, it’s important to note that there’s still hope for quality to be upheld in these stories and it all starts with the writing.

After all, this phenomenon isn’t going anywhere as each reboot is guaranteed an attached audience and a chance to introduce a new generation of audiences. So let’s take a look at how to tackle a reboot as a screenwriter.

Reboots Vs. Remakes

Reboots and remakes may seem like synonyms for the same concept. However, their subtle differences are important to note as they often get confused. We know that reboots deal specifically with established franchises.

To start (something) anewto refresh (something) by making a new start or creating a new version

Definition of ‘reboot’ from Merriam-Webster dictionary

On the other hand, a remake is an updated version of a single film. The film usually stays true to the original plot and characters to be considered a remake.

In the last decade or so, Disney has been in the business of remaking all their classics to add modern elements to their stories, including 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast and 2019’s Aladdin.

Aladdin Remake

Writing a Reboot

The task of writing a reboot can arguably be more daunting than writing an original idea from scratch. Similar to an adaptation, the screenwriter is working from source material that is already beloved by a dedicated fan base. Specifically, these fan bases have expectations and doubts that the screenwriter must accommodate for.

However, too much accommodation may be where a lot of screenwriters go wrong when approaching projects like these. If the story is too similar to the original then the material comes across as repetitive, uninspiring and dull.

Ultimately, the best way a writer can approach a reboot is to write as boldly as possible. Understand everything about the franchise that has made it successful and find the best way to transform it for modern audiences.

This could be by updating elements such as theme, style, genre, characters or plot. Updates should stay true the source material, but bring a new life to it that explores modern-day realities. To best break down these elements and go into detail, let’s look at some examples of successful reboots.

Where Reboots Go Right: The Best Reboots

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a great example of how to go bold with a reboot. The Jumanji franchise started with the 1995 film where two siblings discover a magical board game that unleashes a world of adventure. Twenty-two years later Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle came out, grossing $962.1 million worldwide.

The success was a surprise, to say the least. At the time of writing, the movie stands as Sony’s third highest-grossing film worldwide (taking the top spot in North America). So, why exactly was this particular reboot such a success?

First, of course, the screenwriting. Four teenagers are sucked into a magical video game, and the only way they can escape is to work together to finish the game. In essence, the heartfelt idea about vulnerable teenagers who turn into the opposite embodiments of their insecurities is relatable for any age-group.

The concept came from screenwriter Chris McKenna, who spent a lot of his youth using video games as a form of escapism, something that a lot of people will resonate with. Mix that with the nostalgia of the 1995 film, lean into the comedy-adventure and you’ve got yourself a movie for the whole family.

Overall, the movie distances itself just enough from the original that it feels like a whole new experience watching it. The association is important but doesn’t feel like a crutch. It might not be an Oscar contender for its screenwriting, but in the formula it employs it makes for great crowd-pleasing entertainment.

Batman Begins

In 2005, the first of three in Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight Trilogy is released. Batman Begins reboots the Batman franchise that had been dormant for eight years prior. As the title suggests, the film tells the origin story of Bruce Wayne and his path to becoming Batman. He faces villains such as Ra’s al Ghul and the Scarecrow.

Although the original Batman series started off strong with Tim Burton‘s Batman, by the fourth instalment, Joel Schumacher‘s Batman & Robin, it had all gone downhill. The dark style of Burton took an unexpected turn when Schumacher took over as director.

The intention was to make the movies more family-friendly. Unfortunately, it came across more as some kind of corny joke. The negative reaction put the franchise on pause.

Again, the franchise does a complete 180 with Batman Begins thanks to the brilliant direction and writing of Nolan. Where the screenplay goes right is in its structure, conflict and dark themes.

The conflict in the movie is structured in a way that pushes the story forward. Each act breaks with the resolution of the different conflicts that Bruce Wayne must face. The antagonists, Carmine Falcone, the Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul embody these conflicts in the form of moral oppositions.

After defeating each antagonist, Bruce is left with the moral compass that fear should only be used in the name of good. Thus, the theme of fear comes full circle.

Nolan sets the world of Gotham in reality and explores the darkness inherent in the Batman story. Furthermore, Nolan sought to make contemporary allusions to themes such as terrorism. This clearly resonated as, followed by The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, the trilogy is known as one of the greatest reboots a franchise has ever seen.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

The Planet of the Apes franchise started strong but went downhill as the years went on. The 1968 science fiction film was based off the 1963 French novel La Planète des singes.

The original film saw great success thanks to its emotional and realistic portrayal of relevant themes such as war, humanity, morality and ethics. Although the next four films continued to explore these themes, they steadily decreased in numbers in both the budget and the box office.

Despite the disappointing ending of the series, the franchise wouldn’t remain dead forever. In 2001, Tim Burton directed the Planet of the Apes reboot written by William Broyles Jr. The film fell short of the original, receiving mixed reviews from audiences and critics.

The rushed production and last-minute rewrites were to blame for the film’s shortcomings. With a messy plot and lack of emotion that the original portrayed so well, no sequels were made as originally planned.

Ten years later Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver developed the concept for Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Inspiration for the idea came from the rapid modern-day advancements in genetics and the controversy surrounding humans owning and raising primates.

The story alone made this reboot stand out from the others. Its roots in reality make this origin story the perfect new beginning. The film brings back the emotional aspects of the important themes this franchise explores and even touches on some new ones including identity, depression, family and oppression.

These themes tie together in a cohesive exploration of humanity. Although the task of the plot is to establish this world from the beginning, the exposition doesn’t feel overbearing. This is because it starts in a world we already know and builds with a balanced flow of pacing.

Where Reboots Go Wrong: The Worst Reboots

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Sometimes the studio and creative team will make bold changes, but end up missing the mark. That’s what happened with Michael Bay‘s 2014 reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The film wasn’t a complete flop. All in all, it did alright financially and received a good amount of praise from audiences.

However, many viewers and long time fans of the franchise were left disappointed. Much like the successful examples above, TMNT made some bold changes to fit modern times. Unfortunately, the changes made didn’t elevate the story. They were different and new but overall unnecessary.

In terms of story, this film comes across as an uninteresting, forgettable exposition dump. The charming humor that the turtles possess is switched out for corny cheap laughs. Instead of pushing the story forward, the characters are put into situations for coincidence only.

Besides the changes in story elements, one of the most hated changes were those made to the look of the turtles. What may seem like a small, unimportant change, the CGI monstrous look of the main characters, left a bad taste in the mouths of audiences.

The number one thing this movie lacked was heart, something integral to the beloved series it was based on. There was a handmade quality to the original characters that the beefed up CGI versions betrayed. It was an example of a misunderstanding of what audiences want from those characters.

Men in Black: International

MiB Reboot

The production of the reboot Men in Black: International was rooted in creative conflicts and last-minute changes. It’s heavily criticized for its poorly developed characters and nonsensical, uninteresting plot. It lacks the high stakes and emotion that’s supposed to keep the viewer invested.

Instead, the story moves forward without meaning or purpose. One thing happens and then another thing happens, all out of coincidence or for the sheer purpose of getting from point A to point B.

Amiable yet forgettable, MiB International grinds its stars’ substantial chemistry through the gears of a franchise running low on reasons to continue.

Rotten Tomatoes, Critics Consensus

Given that the original film was everything the reboot failed to be, this spin-off acting as a reboot was disappointing for many and left people wondering why the studio had even bothered. As the RT consensus above highlights, this is the perfect example of a franchise on its last legs, with half-hearted CPR not enough to fully revive it.

Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four Reboot

The motivations and intentions behind making the 2015 Fantastic Four were off from the beginning. The only reason for the creation of this film was so 20th Century Fox could keep the movie rights to an already dead comic book series. It didn’t matter what kind of story they were telling as long as it made money.

A money-hungry studio isn’t anything new in Hollywood, but what about the writers and director? Director Josh Trank seemed to cause more problems than solutions. It was clear that the studio and director didn’t have the best relationship where they constantly blamed each other for the mess of the production.

As for the writing, Jeremy Slater wrote the first draft that took a lot of elements from the comics and superhero aspects. Later, Simon Kinberg came on for rewrites. The intention was to set the movie more in reality much like Nolan’s Batman movies. Unfortunately, their approach fell flat.

Dull and downbeat, this Fantastic Four proves a woefully misguided attempt to translate a classic comic series without the humor, joy, or colorful thrills that made it great.

Rotten Tomatoes, Critics Consensus

Yet again, a reboot failed to take what made the source material so lovable in the first place and instead threw it all out the window. Undeveloped characters, slow pacing, messy plot, low stakes and unwarranted motivation are some of the huge factors of why this movie is a horrible flop.

This isn’t the first time a Fantastic Four movie has failed. In fact, every movie in the franchise has received overwhelmingly negative feedback. The question is, will they ever recover?

The Future of Reboots

With endless amounts of profitable franchises, reboots aren’t slowing down any time soon. Even if certain reboots seemed to kill off certain franchises, there’s no guarantee there won’t be another attempt a few years later.

So, how exactly can studios, writers and filmmakers avoid future failures? Knowing how the industry works, it’s inevitable, but there’s still hope for the true creatives whose sole purpose is to tell a compelling story for the ages.

To bring back a story that’s already been told for modern audiences you have to have an understanding of what makes the source material so successful and what topical issues or stories could be told today. As a screenwriter, figure out how to combine the two for maximum effectiveness and you might just create a great reboot.

Creating a successful reboot requires looking past the cynicism often driving reboots, that is the desire to make easy money. As a creative, you have to search for the success layered between the lines of a well-liked movie or concept. What has given this story/character/theme so much juice over the years? Don’t take success for granted. Instead, interrogate what was truly driving the success of the given franchise in the first place.

In Summary

What Is a Reboot vs Remake?

In the simplest terms, a remake is an updated version of a single film, whereas a reboot is a new version of something, typically a concept or character. A remake will be focused around the same storyline as the film it’s based on, whilst a reboot will typically come up with a (mostly) new storyline.

The Keys to a Good Reboot

The best reboots tap into what made the original successful and liked. They tend to not be too beholden to what has come before and instead use the original as a launchpad for a new journey.

Why Do Reboots Fail?

Typically the worst reboots fail to do anything new with an old concept. They perhaps miss the point in terms of what was so good about the original that they’re based on and they don’t do enough to update or renew it.

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This article was written by Madison Kemeny and edited by IS Staff.

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