Amber at ForRent.com just sent me a link to a fantastic infographic in which she took a statistical approach to comparing the big reboots of our time to their originals. But before I get to that I’d like to talk about Spider-Man, or, more specifically, how a couple of people I bumped into responded to the new Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War earlier this summer.
As I walked out of Civil War I overheard two guys offering their quick assessment. “The new Spider-Man was pretty cool,” said one of them, quickly cut off by his buddy, “Yeah, but there should be some rule about rebooting, like your last movie must have come out at least five years ago before they can hit the re-set button.” How did the guy who had just praised this rebooted Spider-Man respond? “I know. They need to stop with all the damn reboots.”
It was sort of like they were saying, “They got lucky this time because it actually worked out, but I’m getting really sick of this.” When I actually got a look at them they appeared to be no more than 18 or 19 meaning they were probably only 4 or 5 when the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man debuted and 14 or 15 when Andrew Garfield subjected his glorious hair to the indignity of being obstructed under a Spidey mask. For them, Hollywood routinely rebooting its comic book properties is just a way of life.
You need not necessarily have lived through all of this to know that. Those teenagers have seen three different live-action versions of Spider-Man in their lifetime. I’ve seen five different versions of Batman in mine, six if you count Gotham (which doesn’t really count, not until Muppet Babies Bruce Wayne becomes full Adult Muppet Bruce Wayne). However, apparently even little kids are aware of this merry go ’round.
“Oh great, another Spider-Man movie,” was the surprisingly sarcastic way I overheard one particular 8-year-old respond to Civil War‘s post-credits scene setting up Spider-Man: Homecoming. Turns out, this superhero-obsessed kid and his brothers had been taking bets as to what movie would be set up in the post-credits. One of them was hoping to see something from Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Another was pulling for Ant-Man and the Wasp. The youngest among them just hoped The Hulk would show up, and his mind was adorably blown when I told him Hulk was actually going to be in the next Thor movie. Instead, they got another scene of Spider-Man, and they all groaned, too young to say what they appeared to be thinking: “This shit again?”
Of course, two teenagers and three little kids do not a consensus make, and most everyone seems to love Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, allowing it to serve as the exception: if your reboot is pretty much perfect then we’ll forgive the fact that we last saw a different version of that character two years ago. Or at least some of us will.
That’s a really strange rule to live by as film fans, though. Remember the glory days when the studios would at least wait decades to reboot? And then that was whittled down to 5-10 years? And now it’s down to a mere 2 years in the most extreme cases? As Amber joked, “In the future, kids may have no need for the concept of nostalgia. Why would they? None of the movies or TV shows they love will ever go away. They’ll just be rebooted over and over again until the end of time.”
So, she…ah screw it. I’ll let her tell it:
“We conducted a survey of 27 recently rebooted franchises versus their original debut and looked at how they fared over four different categories: adjusted domestic gross revenue, adjusted worldwide gross revenue, critical response and audience response. In every category, the originals handily beat the reboots. In critical response, only eight reboots did better than the versions that came before them. Audience response treated reboots only slightly better, with nine reboots coming out on top. But the truly surprising statistics were the box office results. At the end of the day, money rules Hollywood, so you’d have to assume that the reboots would, at the very least, be proving financially successful for them to keep being made. But only seven of them made more money than their predecessors once you adjust their grosses.”
And that last line – “once you adjust their grosses” – is probably the most important part, Basically, most reboots fail to come close to matching their predecessor in terms of actual attendance, but the box office figures can still look pretty impressive until you adjust for inflation. Of course, it’s not entirely fair to compare the box office figures for movies from the 70s and 80s to those of the 2010s simply because the business of Hollywood has changed so drastically in the interim, and the level of competition films now face for attention is astronomical compared to what it used to be.
Two last notes: A couple of films on this list (Star Trek, Jurassic World, X-Men: First Class) aren’t, strictly speaking, reboots since they actually honor franchise continuity (or at least part of it), but they filled the same financial function as a reboot for their respective studios. Also, Amber appears to have used RottenTomatoe for the critical score, and FiveThirtyEight has been making a lot of noise lately about how RottenTomatoes, MetaCritic and other such internet movie ratings systems are more broken than we realize. Still, this all makes for a fun exercise, one designed to kick off debates like, “Actually, I disagree. I liked the reboot of [insert franchise name] better than the original.”