Zhu: Reboot culture limits creativity, stifles new voices

Caroline Zhu, Staff Columnist

In the past decade, more and more blockbusters have been either reboots or remakes of old films and franchises. It raises the question of not only why this is happening, but whether or not these films have any value to offer to popular culture beyond pure nostalgia.

Although it is difficult to pinpoint when this trend took hold, we can point to Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” from 2010 as the first of many remakes from the company. Adjacent to the Disney remakes of their earliest animated features in live-action, other franchises experienced reboots, most notably Disney’s third trilogy of the “Star Wars” franchise, beginning with “The Force Awakens” in 2015. Both of these ventures were wildly successful, in no small part because of advanced special effects and stunning visuals.

Going back to my first question of why these movies have monopolized the box office in recent years, profitability from nostalgia seems to be a clear answer. As film production firms see a generation of children raised on Disney classics and “Star Wars” grow into adulthood, recreating the same films makes profits quickly based almost entirely on childhood memories people have of the originals.

However, perhaps a more important question to examine is whether these remakes represent any meaningful contribution to popular culture. By definition, a remake tells the same story as its source material, while reboots often fall into the trap of telling the same story slightly reframed.

Consider the Empire and the Rebel Alliance in the original “Star Wars” trilogy and the First Order and the Resistance in the “Star Wars” reboot, almost identical in nature and in story. In choosing to tell the same story over and over again, the film industry effectively stifles new voices and new narratives.

Until recent decades, the filmmaking world was largely dominated by white, male narratives—something which has largely changed—but reboot culture tends to reinforce this status quo. From the “Transformers” series to the “Batman” trilogy, reboots of franchises many adults remember from their childhoods tell the heroic story of a white man facing impossible odds.

Alternatively, consider more recent, original films. Films such as “Us,” “The Shape of Water,” “Moonlight” and “Crazy Rich Asians” were all created by filmmakers who had never seen their stories told on screen and were able to showcase their narratives to significant success.

These remarks are not meant to judge films based on quality. Rebooted films have been released to much critical success, while some more original, unique films have floundered at the box office and in reviews. The issue with reboots is not that they represent bad movies; the issue is the perpetuation of a cycle of profitability. Production companies can see that source material was successful in the past and choose to produce remakes. These will invariably lead to box office success, reinforcing a false dichotomy that original content made by marginalized filmmakers is unprofitable.

It is time we give more space in cinemas to a greater variety of films to pave the path for filmmakers to create more unique content. When asked about creating films with white leads, director Jordan Peele made the most succinct argument for his filmmaking choices, and for the argument for more original content: “[It’s] not that I don’t like white dudes, but I’ve seen that movie.”

Caroline Zhu is a first-year computer science and economics major with a deep and abiding love for Shakespeare. She is currently asleep and cannot take any messages.