Remakes and sequels typically dominate the box office, but this isn’t a new trend. Classic films many regard as originals, like Scarface, An Affair to Remember, or The Departed are actually remakes of older ones. And while we might complain about the endless sequels and prequels that bombard movie theaters year after year, there are numerous examples of franchise installments that are both critically and commercially successful. The Lord of the Rings series has won 17 Oscars in total, and The Godfather Part 2 won twice as many Academy Awards as The Godfather. This past awards season, Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth installment in the franchise, was nominated for Best Picture and won numerous Oscars.
There is something to be said for Fury Road’s critical success in light of the disparate content of Mad Max’s previous installments—in fact, there is something to be said about the power of serial films and remakes in general. It’s certainly annoying to see movies like The Purge: Election Year or The Divergent Series: Allegiant pulling in millions of dollars for putting out empty, uninspired content and exploiting the popularity of their predecessors. However, when an original movie garners a huge fan base, it makes sense that a filmmaker would want to capitalize upon its reputation. What differentiates a bland “Part 2” or CGI-packed remake from an inspired reimagining or addition to a quality canon is not just the content of the film. It’s also the intent.
Mad Max: Fury Road was an ecofeminist story set in a dystopian future. Its theme was a direct result of the hypermasculine content of the first three Mad Max movies. It’s not only a notable film because of its wonderful world building and plot, but also the way it was marketed as (and as such initially assumed by many viewers to be) another male-driven action movie about driving fast cars. That Fury Road was actually a critique of its own franchise, toxic masculinity, and industrial consumerism was therefore revolutionary—and it is neither the first nor last franchise installment/remake to approach its content with such pointed commentary.
This summer will bring a remake of Ghostbusters starring an all-female main cast. While it’s been advertised as a fairly straightforward revamping of the original, and it still doesn’t have a female director, the conscious choice of gender-reversing the cast indicates a feminist bent to the remake. We’ll have to wait to see if the content of the movie lives up to its rhetoric, but it’s still an outstanding example of responsible remaking. This past month brought us 10 Cloverfield Lane, which despite its title seemingly establishing it as a sequel to the 2008 hit Cloverfield, has an entirely separate story. It’s set in the same universe as Cloverfield, but it has nothing to do with the original. Other recent movies have done this, too—Captain America: The Winter Soldier disregarded the blatant patriotism and nationalism of Captain America and instead critiqued government surveillance, conspiracies, and corruption. Star Wars: The Force Awakens not only rebooted the franchise, but it reimagined the original trilogy with a more diverse and inclusive cast.
Of course, using the success of an original film or series as a marketing technique for a better-intentioned plot is still largely financially motivated and not ideal. It would be wonderful to see more original movies that get it right the first time and stand alone as great films. That said, when bad, greedy sequels and remakes are a dime a dozen and rake in millions each month, responsible franchise filmmaking is more important than it has ever been. It’s not just refreshing, it’s quietly revolutionary.