In entertainment, if something is made, it is inevitably remade in one form or another. However, franchises seem immune. Sure, Batman’s origins will get filmed over and over, but the movies aren’t the source. Even in the comics, there have been retellings of how Bruce Wayne became Batman, but they all follow the same beats and Bruce Wayne always becomes Batman in each version. Can a franchise be rebooted and rebooted successfully?
Definition time – a franchise is a work that spans multiple media, be it literature, film, television, comics/graphic novels, video games, even radio. A series of novels doesn’t count, nor does a TV series. Once licensing gets involved, the franchise is starting to form. The wider the licensing, the bigger the franchise. Star Wars as a franchise is huge, starting with a movie, then expanding into toys, games, comics, tie-in novels, animated series, live action series, spin-off movies, serialization on the radio, and video games, and I’m probably missing other parts of the franchise in that list, with more coming out every year. Even smaller franchises cover a portion of what Star Wars has.
Back to the question, can a franchise be rebooted? If the original, core work of the franchise is a movie, can it be remade and, if so, does it break anything? Likewise with a TV series, can it be remade? Literature creates a new issue; few people are going to buy a rewrite of an original work, especially if the redone work isn’t by the original author. But if the audience’s perception of what the original work is switches to another medium, then can the franchise reboot?
Note that rebooting is not the same as a creating a new series. Star Trek: The Next Generation isn’t a reboot of Star Trek, but a continuation set much later in the settings time line. However, JJ Abrams’ 2009 Trek film is a reboot of the original series. The concept isn’t clear cut.
Some franchises don’t need to reboot, thanks to the setting. Star Wars has an epic scale that allows for exploration of different styles. Space Western with Samurai influences? Done – The Mandalorian. Want to add a mystic element? The Jedi. Heist movie in space? There’s enough of a underworld described in the movies and TV series that someone robbing jewels from Cloud City should be easy to write. Not all franchises have this range of flexibility. However, sometimes, just advancing the timeline is enough to shed some baggage by placing into the past, as Star Trek has done.
Some franchises have tried to reboot. DC Comics tried to reset using Year One to update character origins. Marvel tried something similar with the Ultimates line of comics. Both companies have decades of prior stories that make it difficult for new readers to just jump in. Introducing new characters to take up the mantle of a superheroic ID is hit or miss. Miles Morales as Spider-Man worked, but DC killing Superman to have four characters take over the role didn’t take, with Superman returning.
Let’s break it down by original source. Literary sources aren’t going to reboot right away; writing takes work and authors aren’t going to be willing to go back to rewrite a book that’s been published. All the rewrites were done before the book reached shelves. Film remakes are a known entity, but early franchise entries seem almost immune; the potential to break the audience could doom the remake at the box office and studios are risk adverse. No killing the golden goose for them. Comics could, but as noted above, it’s been tried and the results are hit-or-miss. Video games can; new technology and new releases mean that a larger audience could play the latest version. Most video games are stand-alone, though there are exceptions like Mass Effect. Traditional games, mist likely can’t; if the game is popular, it’s too beloved to change too much. However, tabletop RPGs could; new editions come out to correct mechanical problems and settings will get adjusted for the game.
Could a franchise be rebooted? The answer is a big maybe. There are a number of factors in play, including popularity and the risk of losing an audience if the change is too great.
Next week, a look at some examples.