Is It A Reboot or a Remake?

Jon: As readers of the website and followers on Twitter know, I hate the word “reboot.” I don’t use the word ‘hate’ freely. I don’t hate anyone. I may hate some actions, but I don’t hate anyone. I don’t hate inanimate objects either. I may not like lemon (a.k.a. Satan’s piss), but I don’t “hate” lemon. Hate is a word I have learned negatively affects the person who feels hate. So, for me to say I hate the word “reboot” you know I really hate the word “reboot.”

Technically, a reboot begins a franchise or series over. Think of it like a computer. When you reboot a computer you’re restarting the computer. It’s not a different computer, but the same with updates or new or removed programs. But it’s the same computer. I look at movie reboots the same way. It’s the same movie, but with new shiny things and some older things taken out.

It would make sense to call a movie franchise a reboot if you are starting the franchise over again. Right? The Amazing Spider-Man is a reboot of Spider-Man. The Incredible Hulk (2008) rebooted Hulk. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins rebooted the franchise started by Tim Burton. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel rebooted the Superman property Superman Returns failed to reboot.

I’m almost fine with calling a franchise based on a comic book a reboot. How else is Disney, 20th Century Fox, and Warner going to keep things interesting and fresh to the masses? Studios spend an incredible amount of money on these things for them to stall out and not make any money. Look at Superman. The original ran out of steam long before Superman III, but they pumped out Quest for Peace anyway. The result was no Superman for a long time.

The problem and the root of my hatred

Every movie today has to be a reboot. People (bloggers, journalists, etc.) use the word like their handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.

When Godzilla (2014) came out it was a reboot. But what about the million of other Godzilla movies that have come out over the years? Was Matthew Broderick’s Godzilla (1998) a reboot too? Some called Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes a reboot. Which Sherlock Holmes was he rebooting? Was Ritchie rebooting the Christopher Plummer Holmes, the Michael Caine Holmes, or was he rebooting the Basil Rathbone Holmes? Solomon Kane (2009) was called a reboot. What the hell did it reboot? I’m sure Terminator: Genysis will be called a reboot even though it is the continuation of a series.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was called a reboot of the series of Ape movies in the 60s and 70s. But the movie didn’t reboot anything even though it had the elements of a reboot. I would call it a prequel because the movies depict what happens before the world came under total control of those damn, dirty apes. Not everyone will agree with me because the movie does combine elements of the previous movies.

But that brings up another point. If everything is a reboot then what is a remake? Mad Max Fury Road is being called a reboot, but it’s a remake. Right? You have the same characters in one fashion or another show up, there are new characters from the original, and the trailer makes it seem that the story is the same as The Road Warrior. So, it’s a reboot? Or is it a remake? I’d argue with George Miller’s involvement and that all the major points from the original are involved it’s a remake. No one called Samuel L. Jackson’s Shaft a reboot of Richard Roundtree’s Shaft. But it did the same thing Mad Max Fury Road is doing and fits the requirements of a reboot.

Reboot is a fancy comic book word.

Marvel and DC have used the word “reboot” long before it was introduced to the movie lexicon. Almost every major character the two companies own have been rebooted many times. It’s a cash grab. The companies use this word knowing fanboys and girls will jump on it and have to buy the next round and all the various covers it spawns. Now it’s in the movies and it’s still a cash grab.

We like to label things, we need to label things. It makes us feel comfortable. I get it, but I also get most movie-goers don’t like the word “remake.” Remake brings up negative connotations. Labeling a movie a remake brings up memories of movies like The Lone Ranger, Arthur, Psycho, and Footloose. We don’t like remakes, but a reboot will get us flocking to the local cineplex in droves.

In the final analysis, if it’s not original it’s a remake. Using comic book words like “reboot” dilutes a medium that has the potential to be so powerful it makes things meaningless.


Mike: First off, you’re trying to put these movies into neat little boxes, when you can’t. It’s like a Venn diagram. Some movies, like Nolan’s Batman fit into the reboot category, while others fit in remakes. Some will lie somewhere in the middle.

The key factor, and what I thought you were going to do, is to define what is or isn’t a reboot. Here’s how I look at them.

A reboot will:

  • Start its own story line, independent of the previous films. Often the new story will conflict with prior stories. Examples: Batman, Amazing Spider-Man, Man of Steel and (the upcoming) Ghostbusters 3 flick.
  • Start with an origin story, introducing characters, plots or themes to new audiences. The focus is on other elements than the prior films.
  • Will have sequels. That’s why the first focuses on the origin story. Hollywood loves them. Audiences love them. Except for Jon. Everyone loves them but Jon.

A remake will:

  • Update the visuals, actors and stick to the original plot. It’s not telling the same story in a new way, like a reboot, it’s telling the same story in the same way.
  • Not add anything new. Old Boy with Josh Brolin is a perfect example. This version stayed true to the original, to a fault.
  • Suck. Because it’s the same thing in a new package, people have seen it before. That’s not to say reboots can’t suck. They’re movies. They can suck at the drop of the hat. But if they didn’t like the original, they won’t like the remake.

As I mentioned earlier, movies can be in the gray area between a reboot or remake, which makes it harder to define them. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe the two phrases are interchangeable.

You can piss and moan about “reboots being a cash grab,” but this is Hollywood we’re talking about. Everything they do is a cash grab.

And the only movie I’m going to respond to directly is Terminator: Genisys. It IS a reboot. Look what reboots do. They go and erase the previous stories from their own universe. Genisys is removing the first four movies from its universe. It’s its own god damned paradox. I talked about that in the last round table. I’m not going to re-tread that tire.


Andy: Good lawd! I don’t understand why this is such a big deal. Obviously it is to some people though…

They are, in fact, two separate things. A reboot retools the film with a new story or new characters. A remake takes the same movie and same characters and changes it with just slight differences.

I have no problem with the term reboot as long as it’s cleverly done. The two new Star Trek pictures were clever reboots. Abrams took the characters and through a series of time travel and idiotic stunts we have Kirk and Spock aboard the Enterprise in a new set of circumstances. This was a clever way of doing things and was a definite improvement over previous movies.

On the flip side, 3:10 to Yuma was a favorite movie of mine growing up and the remake did it just as well. It took the movie and characters and totally redid it with a small twist for the old viewers. It took the original set of characters brought them down the same storyline with a different conclusion.

Each was successful and each had a good reason for a reboot versus a remake.

Here are the reasons for a reboot:

  • You’ve exhausted the story of the characters but have a new idea that will improve the story arc.
  • A previous director or writer annihilated the old story and you just have to get that bad taste out of the mouth (I’m looking at you Brett Ratner – killing off Professor X).
  • You have a fresh idea for an old story that can’t be told on the previous story arc (the newest Godzilla comes to mind).

Reasons for a remake:

  • It was an old story that benefits from a retooling of the technology (War of the Worlds with modern tech was so much better).
  • It takes the original story and adds a twist to the movie or a new setting (Magnificent 7 is simply The Seven Samurai, but both are excellent).
  • The movie just fits this new time frame better (Would anyone know Tony Montana if that was not remade).

While we can look at both of these types of films and point to examples that suck i.e. Peter Jackson’s King Kong or The Karate Kid remake, I personally don’t want to live in a world with a dead Professor X . As long as it is well done, I have no problem with either retooling the story or redoing it. Just do it right.


Mike, Andy: First, I get what you are saying about a reboot. But if it is “it’s own story line, independent of the previous films” there shouldn’t be any conflict with anything that may or may not have happened before.
Also, most “reboots” still focus on the same things as the original. Uncle Ben will always be shot, Bruce Wayne’s parents will always be murdered, and Superman will always be from Krypton. The story will always be the same, but getting to the end may be a little tweaked. Hence, my opinion of “reboot” being a comic book word because it’s a remake.

Second, almost every movie not completely original or the first in a series falls into your reboot criteria. Other than the already mentioned Oldboy I can think of few movie remakes that don’t add something new in some form or fashion. Scorsese’s Cape Fear, 2010’s American remake of Let the Right One In, and Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho come to mind.

Now most movies that are “remakes” do add something new to the film or focus on other elements than the original versions. Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 adds a lot of new things in his remake. 2005’s The Amityville Horror took out a lot of elements of the original to focus on George Lutz’s deteriorating mental state.

And not to help retread an old tire, Terminator: Genisys looks like a reboot because it involves confusing time travel elements. As mentioned in a previous Round Table, Austin Powers in Goldmember handles time traveling perfectly by telling the audience to just watch the damn movie and enjoy.

Of course, Hollywood is a business and no business wants to go bankrupt. In the long run, I am thankful Avengers will be rebooted so many times my great-grandchildren will be watching a version. Why? Because as odd as it sounds big hits help smaller movies get made and distributed. Begin Again may have never seen distribution if Mark Ruffalo wasn’t in one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. However, these labels matter because it dilutes and diminishes a medium that has so much potential for great things and boils it down to a tag line. I don’t want to live in a world where everything becomes a reboot of a reboot of a reboot.

About the author