With yesterday’s announcement regarding the dismantling of the expected “Spider-Man 4” and the rise of a reboot in its place, it put us in mind of some of pop culture’s best (and worst) reboots. Some are home runs, some are strike-outs, and some are chipped flies that drop for singles. In other words, reboots are a dicey business; they run the risk of alienating the old fans even as they try to draft new ones. Take, for example, the two “Charlie’s Angels” films. They made a lot of money, but never supplanted the popularity of the original. Here are 10 Important Reboots, and not all of the relaunches were exactly successful.
10) Heroes Reborn: In 1996-1997, Marvel Comics tried to breathe life into some of its properties by farming the books out to expatriate Marvel artists/Image Comics co-founders Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld’s studios. While Lee’s take on “Fantastic Four” went over well and the other titles (“Captain America”, “Avengers”, and “Iron Man”) posted strong initial sales, renegotiations and other problems hit at the half-way point, prompting Liefeld to exit. The various revamps lasted 12 issues before the characters were folded back again into the regular Marvel Universe.
Final Analysis: While responsible for a spike in sales, the new visions did not stick.
9) Superman Returns: After a 19-year absence from the big screen (after 1987’s “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”), Superman actually did return to the movies in 2006. Director Bryan Singer chose to ignore the original “III” and “IV”, instead positing a continuity that picks up after 1980’s “Superman II”. As such, it wasn't a full-on reboot, but denied enough of the movie continuity to be considered on this list. Initial reviews were strong; unfortunately, some strange creative choices (we’ve even referred to the film in a joking capacity as “SuperbabydaddystalkercryptoJesusimage Returns”) were met with deflated responses from fans. Though talk continues of another Superman film, the direction, and whether or not it will be another reboot, remains in question.
Final Analysis: While the movie did Superman back in the public eye and could be considered a success on a few levels, a number of elements (the kid, the stalker element, Luthor with a land swindle AGAIN, etc.) have reduced the reputation of the film over time.
8) Hulk/The Incredible Hulk: A prime entrant in the “too soon for a reboot?” category would be the Hulk. The 2003 Ang Lee film did respectable business, but was a somewhat joyless affair that, again, featured odd directorial indulgences and bizarre story choices (Bruce’s abusive dad as sorta Absorbing Man? Gamma poodles?). Five years later, Louis Letterier directed “The Incredible Hulk”, this one featuring familiar antagonist the Abomination, as well as recast Bruce, Betty and General Ross. While the second film can be seen as being in continuity of sorts with the first, the top-down creative team changes qualify it as a reboot. Even with swapping things around and featuring fan friendly stuff (the moribund signature music of the ‘70s TV series, Hulk using a car as boxing gloves, “Hulk smash!”), the reboot made . . . right about the same amount of money as the first one.
Final Analysis: “Incredible Hulk” is more fun, but all things being equal . . . it was all pretty equal. No huge upside, and no tremendous downside.
7) James Bond: You really can’t call the various actor changes (Connery/Lazenby/Moore/Dalton/Brosnan) reboots as later films still referred to earlier characters and events as if they were all one continuity. “Casino Royale”, however, is indeed an origin/reboot film, and Daniel Craig is a new take on a nascent bond. Fans were rattled early on in the making of the project, but seemed to galvanize to the new vision of Bond as it became very successful and immediately spawned another entry in the series (“Quantum of Solace”).
Final Analysis: Bond came up a big winner.
6) Ultimate Spider-Man: Not too many reboots get to exist alongside their predecessor, but this one did. “Ultimate Spider-Man” was the first of the Ultimate titles in Marvel’s sub-line of books that essentially took the big characters back to formula in a more modern setting. Coinciding more or less with the eruption of Marvel into mainstream movie consciousness, the books were an effort to attract new fans that would be earned by media projects. However, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley did something unexpected: they made the new book a huge success with fans that weren’t as into the regular Spidey titles of the time, and they managed to surpass the Lee/Kirby run on Fantastic Four for number of straight issues by a team at Marvel. Ironically, Ultimate Spider-Man itself got something of a reboot last year, with a title relaunch (though Bendis still helms as writer).
Final Analysis: The original Ultimate Spider-Man title was a big success, both creatively and financially.
5) Batman Begins: It had been 8 years since the Batman franchise crashed and burned with “Batman and Robin”. Director Christopher Nolan and writer David Goyer took Bruce Wayne back to his formative years and gave the world a new, serious vision of the genesis of the Dark Knight. A big hit at the box office and a bigger hit on DVD, “Begins” set the stage for “The Dark Knight”, which of course went on to become the 2nd biggest moneymaker of all time in 2008.
Final Analysis: A lesson in treating the source material with some degree of seriousness and respect, “Batman Begins” paid off its promise with a strong film and a stronger sequel.
4) Star Trek: Rebooting the franchise that practically invented fan activism and fan outrage would seem like a task made for Sisyphus. Instead, apparently, it was made for J.J. Abrams. Though Star Trek had carried on through five live-action series, one animated series, ten theatrical films, comics, and novels without number, the aura was there that . . .something . . . needed to be done to kick the rust off of the Enterprise. Abrams and company did it with an origin-story reboot that mapped continuity on to a new vision with a fresh, young cast and a rollicking action-adventure that broke new ground while tipping its hat to the original with reverence.
Final Analysis: Huge hit. Huge fun. Sequel pending. Sorry, Shatner.
3) The Post-Crisis DC Universe: As DC Comics celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1985, they cleaned house. Literally. Beginning with the maxi-series “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, the DCU streamlined its complicated multiversal continuity into a “one Earth, one universe” timeline with restarts aplenty for the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and many, many more. The large tidal wave reboot made for many smaller reboots under the umbrella (Man of Steel, Year One, etc.), several of which went on to influence the various film and animation takes that followed.
Final Analysis: Enormously important. Even today, fans still refer to Pre and Post-Crisis when discussing DC history. And the smaller reboot series set the tone for how many global rethinks are still done today.
2) Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Joss Whedon’s 1992 notion of the dead-blonde-from-the-horror-movies-gets-revenge didn’t exactly translate perfectly on the big-screen, especially since he wasn’t in charge. That change when he took the reins and took Buffy and a new set of mentors and pals to the tube in 1997. The ongoing metaphor of high-school, then “your 20s” as horror story captivated a group of die-hard fans for seven seasons even as the critically praised show spawned a spin-off (“Angel”) and a continued-continuity comic series (helmed by Whedon) that runs even now.
Final Analysis: One of the best reboots of all. The goofy movie became a solid series. There’s been talk of original producers the Kuzuis doing their own new Buffy film without any of the series characters owned by Whedon; we don’t see that one going too well, especially with series stars like Alyson Hannigan dumping on it in the press (as she did in December at CinemaBlend).
1) Battlestar Galactica: Really, what can you say? The original ‘70s series still holds a special place in the hearts of many a fanboy. Nevertheless, Ronald D. Moore and David Eick managed to forge a new television classic beginning with the opening mini-series in December 2003. Their new approach was gritty and, at least in terms of the psychology of the characters, very real. Critical accolades followed, including Emmy nominations for writing, and the series was often mentioned as among the best in television by sources as diverse as The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly.
Final Analysis: Call it militaristic sci-fi, call it religious or scientific metaphor, call it a great action series. Whatever you call it, Battlestar Galactica stands as a shining example of what a reboot can be.