Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
False (re)start: 24 failed attempts to reboot a movie franchise<em></em>

False (re)start: 24 failed attempts to reboot a movie franchise

Photo: Tomb Raider (Warner Bros.), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Paramount), Conan The Barbarian (Lionsgate), Graphic: Jimmy Hasse

A couple weeks ago, Hollywood took a second shot at making a hit franchise out of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, adapting the fourth novel of the Nordic crime opus into The Girl In The Spider’s Web. Reviews leaned negative, and audiences mostly ignored it. This week, a new version of the Robin Hood legend hits screens, and while it’s too early to say whether the movie will be a hit or a flop, will you be seeing it instead of Fantastic Beasts, Creed II, or Ralph Breaks The Internet over the Thanksgiving holiday? For as reliant as the Dream Factory is on old ideas, not every once-profitable series is so easily revived. Below, we’ve singled out 24 failed attempts to reboot a movie franchise. Because for every Batman Begins, there’s a Superman Returns waiting to happen.

1. Ghostbusters (2016)

First we speak in the objective language of economics, because placing the word “failed” in such close proximity to Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones’ adventures in paranormal investigation is akin to building a gateway through which all of the internet’s biggest assholes may enter our world. These are the facts, and we’re ready to believe them: Though Ghostbusters was 2016’s top-grossing Hollywood comedy, it still failed to turn a profit, a deficit magnified by a marketing blitz that sent a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man crashing through the tile at Waterloo Station and spread the film’s logo around like it was 1989 all over again. Sony felt confident enough in the film’s opening weekend to cry “sequel,” but never made it official; the following fall, director Paul Feig—who, along with the cast, had signed on for a trilogy—declared that a direct follow-up wouldn’t be happening. Of course, well before Feig’s statement, everything around the film had been contaminated by the rhetoric of misogynist crybabies and glib fascists, forcing decent, non-irony-poisoned people to defend a lumpy special-effects comedy. If there’s a Ghostbusters II in this scenario, it’s the culture war that’s only escalated in the years since, in a growing tide of negative human emotions that are forming into a vicious ectoplasm with explosive supernormal potential. Dr. Jillian Holtzmann deserves better, but it’s unlikely to be found in the franchise-expansion efforts Ivan Reitman and Dan Aykroyd are forever flinging around. [Erik Adams]

2-3. Terminator Salvation (2009) and Terminator Genisys (2015)

Listen and understand. The Terminator franchise is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until any last trace of interest in this story is dead. With relentless, machine-like determination, producers keep trying to build a new series atop the debris of James Cameron’s two-part science-fiction opus. After T3 failed to outgross its seminal predecessor, along came Terminator Salvation, which was designed to kick off a whole new trilogy set during the postapocalyptic future glimpsed in previous installments. Then the rights passed to different filmmakers, who tried to launch their own trilogy with Terminator Genisys, bringing Arnold Schwarzenegger (and time travel) back into the fold. But underwhelming box-office and dismal reviews erased that potential franchise timeline, too. Remarkably, another attempt arrives in 2019, with Cameron returning to produce and Linda Hamilton returning to star in a “direct sequel” that will wipe from the continuity every installment since T2. Even if it too fails, something tells us that judgment day for the Terminator will be pushed back again. [A.A. Dowd]

4. Robin Hood (2010)

Pop culture’s favorite outlaw has generally been portrayed on screen as a mischievous scamp, embodied most memorably by Errol Flynn in 1938’s high-spirited, swordplay-heavy The Adventures Of Robin Hood. This conception started to feel a bit corny by the end of the 20th century, and Kevin Costner’s popular but atypically grim take on the legend in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (1991) was followed by nearly two decades of big-screen silence. When the character finally re-emerged, it was in the uniquely joyless form of Russell Crowe, re-teaming with director Ridley Scott for what amounted to a second stab at Gladiator glory, minus the unapologetic Hollywood myth-making that fueled that movie’s success. Feats of derring-do were replaced by grittily realistic political scheming and backbiting, and the Merry Men were anything but. This wasn’t your daddy’s Robin Hood—it was your most boring high school history teacher’s. [Mike D’Angelo]

5. RoboCop (2014)

The idea of a RoboCop revival originally gained traction in 2005, with Darren Aronofsky at the helm, but it’d be almost another decade before MGM gave the green-light. The reboot looked good on paper, with Elite Squad director José Padilha at the helm and a killer group of actors (Samuel L. Jackson, Michael K. Williams, Michael Keaton) in the non-RoboCop roles. The resulting movie was fine enough, and it made a tidy profit ($242 million on a $100 million budget), but in stripping the acidic satire and hard-R violence of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original, it failed to linger much in anyone’s memory. This was, in other words, not exactly an Avatar-style hit for MGM. Talk of a sequel lingered into the next year, but ultimately nobody really cared much to see what happened to Joel Kinnaman’s version of the character. The franchise is now getting the Halloween treatment, with Neill Blomkamp hard at work on a direct successor to the original that’ll ignore all other sequels. [Clayton Purdom]

6. Superman Returns (2006)

The rare franchise reboot that missteps by being too reverential to its source material, Bryan Singer’s love letter to the Richard Donner Superman movies actually has plenty of things going for it. Brandon Routh gives a fine performance as the Man Of Steel, attempting to reconnect with his adopted home after a multi-year midlife crisis out in space, while Parker Posey and a pre-scandal Kevin Spacey inject a little life into the proceedings by remembering that comic-book bad guys are actually supposed to be sort of fun. It’s just a shame that the rest of Singer’s film didn’t catch the memo, slogging through plot points like “Superman, Deadbeat Dad,” getting needlessly bogged down in worshipful messianic imagery, and failing to give the world’s greatest superhero a final challenge more cinematically interesting than lifting a really heavy rock. No wonder the next effort to give Supes his fair due at the box office flew off in a radically different direction, giving Clark a far more violent and visceral opponent to fight. [William Hughes]

7-8. Dracula Untold (2014) and The Mummy (2017)

Of all the attempts to build a Hollywood mega-franchise on par with what Marvel has achieved, Universal’s plan for a “Dark Universe” at least makes some sense. After all, the studio kind of pioneered the strategy several decades ago with the same characters, throwing its classic monsters together in cinematic crossovers like House Of Frankenstein. But the original Dark Universe, as it was most certainly not called back then, didn’t build its old dark manor on a faulty foundation. This time around, the wrong rotting foot was put forward—first with the Nolan-biting Dracula Untold, starring Luke Evans as a boringly heroic prince of darkness, and then with the just-kidding-this-is-the-first-entry The Mummy, a much-maligned Tom Cruise vehicle featuring shoehorned-in references to monster mashes still to come (but let’s face it, probably not). Universal secured, and photographed, a star ensemble for its action-leaning “world of gods and monsters,” including Javier Bardem as Dr. Frankenstein’s infamous creation and Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man. That we’ll probably never get to see those actors in those roles has a lot to do with the studio’s inability to grab audiences from the start, the way a quipping Robert Downey Jr. or a poetically waxing Bela Lugosi once did. [A.A. Dowd]

9. Godzilla (1998)

By the time Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin turned their eye for disaster porn toward the King of All Monsters, an American Godzilla film was already eons in the making, having previously passed through a Fred Dekker-penned 3-D iteration and a Jan de Bont-directed take that got far enough along for Stan Winston Studios to sculpt some fantastic renditions of the star and its fearsome adversary, the Gryphon. Unfortunately, Emmerich and Devlin started their Godzilla from scratch, opting for a sleeker-looking monster that contends with a cast of mostly comedic performers, builds a nest in Madison Square Garden, and acts out the filmmakers’ beefs with Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. In the hubristic realm of the blockbuster bomb, there’s no greater irony than Godzilla’s dick joke of a tagline, “Size does matter”; its box-office gross proved to be totally average, and its cultural footprint is now largely measured in a soundtrack album that features P. Diddy rapping over “Kashmir,” Godzilla roaring over “Brain Stew,” and an incongruous (but indispensable) Ben Folds Five B-side. A planned trilogy—and the $5 million Sony paid Toho for sequel rights—went up in flames, but Godzilla ’98 managed to spawn some sort of successor: Its version of the scaly anti-nuke metaphor was integrated into the Toho canon, doing (spitefully brief) battle with the true Gojira in 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars. That monster is now known simply as Zilla, because as Final Wars producer Shogo Tomiyama put it, Emmerich and Devlin’s film “took the ‘god’ out of ‘Godzilla.’” [Erik Adams]

10-11. The Sum Of All Fears (2002) and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

You can’t really blame Paramount for getting cocky about the idea of keeping Tom Clancy’s CIA analyst character Jack Ryan alive with other actors. After all, Ryan was played by Alec Baldwin in The Hunt For Red October, only to be made over as an older and dad-lier Harrison Ford in Patriot Games and Clear And Present Danger, which were both substantial hits. For that matter, The Sum Of All Fears, the studio’s fourth Jack Ryan movie starring their third Jack Ryan, did reasonably well in the summer of 2002, with the character reconfigured as a less experienced agent. But by the time a sequel would have been gearing up, star Ben Affleck’s career was in free-fall; suddenly, their Ryan was also the guy from Surviving Christmas. Paramount simply re-used the idea of an early-career Ryan a dozen years later with 2014’s Shadow Recruit, placing Chris Pine in the role. The Kenneth Branagh-directed film is less bombastic than the nuke-detonating Sum, but it was also the first Jack Ryan movie to more or less flop, sending the property to TV for yet another Young Jack Ryan story, now starring John Krasinski. [Jesse Hassenger]

12. The Bourne Legacy (2012)

Tom Cruise briefly flirted with passing the Mission: Impossible mantle to his costar, Jeremy Renner. That change in leadership never happened (Renner, in fact, isn’t even in this year’s Fallout), but the Hurt Locker star did briefly assume headlining duties of a different superspy franchise, stepping in to replace Matt Damon as the temporary lead of the Bourne series. A stopgap installment made between Paul Greengrass sequels, The Bourne Legacy cast Renner as black-ops agent Aaron Cross, who ends up on the run from the usual government bigwigs. Perhaps not surprisingly, audiences had trouble warming to a Bourne movie without Bourne, and Legacy became the low-grosser of the series, with Damon reprising the titular role a few years later and the producers basically scrapping plans to continue Cross’ parallel narrative. Nonetheless, this soft reboot/spin-off has plenty of its own charms, from the more legible action offered by director Tony Gilroy (otherwise known as the screenwriter of the whole series) and a jittery, intense performance from Renner, who spends a lot of the movie fiending for performance-enhancing “chems.” [A.A. Dowd]

13. Alex Cross (2012)

Many people who saw Alex Cross during its ill-fated theatrical run were probably unaware that its title character had previously been played by Morgan Freeman in Kiss The Girls (1997) and Along Came A Spider (2001). Readers of James Patterson’s novels, on the other hand, were surely thinking “Tyler Perry?!?” While Perry would later prove (in Gone Girl) that he was capable of a performance more nuanced than Madea, Patterson’s analytical forensic psychologist was well out of his range; the best he could manage was to lower his voice half an octave and assume what he presumably imagined was a look of intense concentration, which instead came across as someone struggling to remember his lines. Matthew Fox, playing the villain, apparently felt compelled to take up the slack, twitching and grimacing up a storm. A sequel that had been confidently announced prior to Alex Cross’ release wound up being quietly scrapped. [Mike D’Angelo]

14. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Sony had a lot of nerve, asking audiences to accept a new Spider-Man just five years after Sam Raimi’s blockbuster trilogy came to its melodramatic close. The gossamer had barely dissolved when The Amazing Spider-Man took the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler back to square one, sticking Andrew Garfield in the spandex costume Tobey Maguire had just shed and returning geeky alter ego Peter Parker to high school. Writer-director Marc Webb got a few things right, from supplying his version of the character with some actual wisecracks to nourishing the chemistry between Garfield and Emma Stone (playing Parker’s doomed first love, Gwen Stacy). But The Amazing Spider-Man mostly functioned as a bland remake of Raimi’s first Spider-Man, rehashing the same origin story with less personality, and the 2014 sequel overstuffed a negligible narrative with boring villains. Though both Amazing films did well enough at the box office, Sony could sense a lack of enthusiasm for its new take on the superhero, and rather than go forward with its plan for an extended universe built around it, the studio opted to play nice with Marvel, necessitating yet another reboot. At least everyone seems to like this one. [A.A. Dowd]

15. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Producer Michael Bay did to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles what you’d expect Michael Bay to do to them: He dumbed them down and blew up everything around them. Populated with worthless humans (including Bay vet Megan Fox as reporter April) and featuring lots of tepid CGI, the film managed to suck most of the fun out of the beloved group of rag-tag pizza-loving reptilian bipeds led by a sensei rat. Still, the 2014 reboot made enough cash to necessitate a sequel, Out Of The Shadows, which at least had a game add like Stephen Amell’s Casey Jones to improve on Will Arnett’s flummoxed Vern Fenwick. But less-than-thrilling skydiving and spaceship sequences were not enough to offset the films’ weak wisecracks and the turtles’ near-constant in-fighting instead of affectionate brotherly camaraderie. This expensive prospective franchise fortunately failed after the second film. [Gwen Ihnat]

16. The Legend Of Tarzan (2016)

At a time when Hollywood is dominated by superheroes boasting computer-generated powers galore, it’s hard to imagine what could be done with an old-school figure like Tarzan, best known in the popular imagination for wearing a loincloth, swinging on jungle vines, yodeling, and hanging out with wild animals. In truth, Johnny Weissmuller’s famous version bears virtually no resemblance to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Earl Of Greystoke, and the most recent film version, starring Alexander Skarsgård, made a sincere effort to honor the character as written, even as director David Yates (who’d helmed the last four Harry Potter films) stuffed in as much noisy spectacle as he could justify. The result was fatally uncertain of its purpose, serving as both an anti-colonial message movie and a half-hearted attempt to compete with the Planet Of The Apes franchise. But at least Wikipedia got another entry for its “White savior narrative in film” page. [Mike D’Angelo]

17-18. Friday The 13th (2009) and A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)

Michael Bay’s genre-centric Platinum Dunes wasn’t always a home for original fright franchises like The Purge or this year’s soon-to-be-sequelized A Quiet Place. It used to specialize almost exclusively in slick horror remakes. And while the company’s post-millennial Texas Chainsaw Massacre spawned a prequel, the production house’s take on two of the most popular, prolific slasher villains of the 1980s stopped at a single movie apiece. The films didn’t flop; both, in fact, made more domestically than any entry in their respective franchises except the shared one that pitted them against each other. But fan reaction was negative enough to apparently, ahem, kill any chances of a new ongoing series for hulking mama’s boy Jason Voorhees or dream-invading jester-of-evil Freddy Krueger, neither of whom have slaughtered teenagers in a movie since. To be honest, the pans were a little exaggerated: This Friday The 13th was better made (and certainly no stupider) than most of its predecessors, while the Bay-produced Nightmare actually played with the icky implications of Wes Craven’s original, making Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley) a truly repulsive specter of childhood sexual abuse. [A.A. Dowd]

19. Dredd (2012)

Pete Travis’ scaled-down take on Mega-City One’s most lethal protector owes far more to The Raid—and the pages of 2000 AD—than it does to the Sylvester Stallone/Rob Schneider ’90s action vehicle it’s ostensibly rebooting. At the time, audiences rejected Travis’ take, which sees Karl Urban doing game work as the permanently helmeted Dredd, trying to keep rookie Olivia Thirlby alive as they fight their way up a massive apartment complex under the control of Lena Headey’s drug-slinging psychopath Ma-Ma. But though the film returned a mere portion of its $45 million budget at the box office, it’s since picked up a cult reputation, powered in part by its bloody claustrophobia, and by Travis’ ambitious, frequently beautiful uses of slow motion. Sadly, that minor success hasn’t been enough to make producers anxious to load up for Dredd 2. [William Hughes]

20. Tomb Raider (2018)

You can’t blame the filmmakers behind this year’s tepidly received Tomb Raider for taking another shot at bringing Lara Croft to the big screen. After all, the character—a modern spin on Indiana Jones, quick of wits and on her feet—is iconic and fairly irresistible, and the games in which she appears tend to be reliably cinematic already. But Roar Uthaug’s origin-story reboot, starring Alicia Vikander as a new-to-adventuring Croft, isn’t really much of an improvement on the junky Angelina Jolie series that stalled out after two films earlier this century; even with Vikander bringing more vulnerability and less va-va-voom posturing to the role, 2018’s Tomb Raider still plays like a very long cut scene you can’t skip, the clichés amplified by your inability to at least play them instead of just watching them unfold. Though the film did okay at the box office and its star has expressed interest in slipping back into the iconic green tank top, a sequel seems unlikely. If we see Croft at the multiplex again, she’ll probably be played by someone new—and maybe, like the two before her, a budding movie star chasing a recent Best Supporting Actress win with a paycheck blockbuster gig. [A.A. Dowd]

21. Conan The Barbarian (2011)

It’s a hard and increasingly frequent lesson for studios to learn: Sometimes the name recognition of a particular project is not actually in the name of the famous property, but in the actor who originally appeared in it. Case in point: Conan The Barbarian, a movie that may not have reached the heights of box office or iconography achieved by Predator, Terminator 2, or Total Recall for star Arnold Schwarzenegger but is nonetheless closely associated with him as his first big box-office hit. It’s not unreasonable to think that someone else could take over the role of the deadly, sword-wielding pulp hero; after all, they’d have no choice but to play it different from the inimitable Schwarzenegger. The downside, as so many Terminator sequels have seen, is the distinctive impression the impossibly muscled Austrian makes, one that future Aquaman Jason Momoa wasn’t quite prepared to compete with in 2011. Maybe a less disposable movie could have made a difference, but the inoffensive but forgettable 2011 Conan was directed by Marcus Nispel, master of the inessential remake. [Jesse Hassenger]

22. Fantastic Four (2015)

Even the foul odor of Hollywood’s previous Fantastic Four movies—a pair of cartoonishly bad mid-2000s efforts that rendered the superhero team as imbecilic as its films’ screenplays and clunky CGI—smells positively rosy compared to the pre-release publicity and eventual critical assessment of 2015’s Fantastic Four. Director Josh Trank, then a hot commodity thanks to the surprise success of his 2012 found-footage superhero movie Chronicle, was greeted with a barrage of bad press following the film’s troubled production, ending in the studio and stars laying much of the blame at the feet of their director. The eventual arrival of the intended franchise-launcher was greeted with poor reviews, and disavowals of ownership by Trank himself, who tweeted the film had essentially been studio meddled to death. It’s understandable—presumably no one would want to take credit for the dour, un-fun spectacle that flamed out in theaters. Reports at the time suggested Trank’s bad behavior had even gotten him pulled off an upcoming stand-alone Star Wars film, though he denied being fired. Either way, the Fantastic Four were DOA. [Alex McLevy]

23-24. King Arthur (2004) and King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (2017)

You have to go back to John Boorman’s 1981 Excalibur to find a truly popular big-screen depiction of King Arthur. Since then, at least a couple of films have stumbled attempting to parlay enduring interest in the legends into hit franchises. Shrouding itself in a veneer of dubious (and widely refuted) historical accuracy, Antoine Fuqua’s gritty King Arthur re-envisioned the medieval knight as a Roman officer played by Clive Owen, defending his country against invading Saxons. Though it basically ends with Arthur becoming king (and cleared its budget on a global scale), this critically eviscerated adaptation was not the triumphant start of a new series. Clear franchise aspirations aside, neither was last year’s Legend Of The Sword, which cast Charlie Hunnam in a half-comic, fantasy-heavy, Guy Ritchie take on the material. Perhaps the Arthur tales are too squarely rousing and old-fashioned to click with cynical modern audiences. Or maybe Monty Python just made it forever possible to take Camelot seriously anymore. ’Tis a silly place, after all. [A.A. Dowd]