Hollywood's Obsession With Franchise-Building Needs To End
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Hollywood's Obsession With Franchise-Building Needs To End

Rebooting a great franchise is like reheating a good meal: it yields diminishing returns.

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Hollywood's Obsession With Franchise-Building Needs To End
Wikimedia

Rebooting a great franchise is like reheating a good meal: every time you do it, the end result becomes a little less appetizing. It doesn’t matter that it’s the same food, or even the same food with a few different ingredients mixed in: it’s never going to taste as fresh as a new meal. Of course, most studios stop at the figurative food coloring, which fools only consumers with no taste (which, unfortunately, is most of them).

Before we kick things off in earnest, I’d like to start by clarifying some terminology: for the purposes of this article, reboots, remakes, and franchise-building are all in the same [sinking] boat.

Whether you’re gluttonously draining a genre of its potential with yearly offerings like Marvel or Star Wars, forcing a franchise out of something that worked better as a one-off film like Edge of Tomorrow or Pacific Rim, or resurrecting a decades-old product in an attempt to make easy money a la Ghostbusters or Independence Day (which, in the above analogy, is the equivalent of finding twenty-year-old pizza in the fridge and microwaving it to see if you can convince your friend to eat it), you are falling under my Sauron-like gaze.

(Fourth category: stretching an existing work to ludicrous lengths in an attempt to sell more tickets, as with The Hobbit.)

While there are many things about the franchise-obsessed state of Hollywood that irk me from an artistic and economic standpoint, standpoint, I am working with a word count limit here, so I (unlike Hollywood) will attempt to be concise in the presentation of my work. The first problem with the franchise-building craze is that it discourages risk-taking. If your business model is predicated on every film being a box office smash, then you’re going to stick with what you think “works,” leading to creative stagnation.

Reading or watching the same stories over and over again is a bit like breathing the same roomful of air for your entire life, or drinking and urinating a single tank’s worth of water for the rest of history. If you’re lucky, things start to lose their flavor. If you’re unlucky, your mouth starts to taste like crap (or urine).

An emphasis on shared-world storytelling (which does not necessarily include all franchise mania, but has grown to be a significant enough fraction of it that I am comfortable using the terms interchangeably) also takes creative manpower away from what could otherwise be new and exciting stories and settings. I know everyone loves the Darth Vader scene in Rogue One, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many people walk out of Solo laughing and high-fiving themselves over how great Han’s famed Kessel Run was.

But every time we look back on an awesome moment in the newest iteration of a decades-old franchise, we need to ask ourselves what could have been if those jaw-dropping sights or gut-wrenching emotional beats had been elements of a new story, with new characters, in a new setting.

As cool as moments like the Kessel Run may be (or wind up being), when we prioritize “Star Wars Stories” over original characters, concepts, and universes, we’re diverting resources (both the renewable resource of creative people and the non-renewable resource of novel ideas) away from projects that could have made them not just cool moments in franchises that are starting to show their age and inflexibility, but awesome moments told in brave new worlds alongside bold new characters.

I’d wager that thirty years from now, Luke, Han, and Leia will still be seen as the “original” Star Wars trio, regardless of who Finn, Poe, and Rey might have been or where they might have gone. Maybe if characters with the spirits of those we’re Forcing into old franchises were allowed to prove themselves in new stories and settings they would be able to grow up outside the shadow of the first big hit—and maybe even come to surpass it, with the sanctity of nostalgia not being there to hold the public’s imagination captive.

Perhaps the most immediately apparent issue with the franchise-building model is that it increases the access fee to understand what’s going on in pop culture, and even in specific stories. Anyone can walk into a theater, watch Arrival, and walk out with their mind blown (or, they could have, back when it was still in theaters*). But if you walk into Marvel’s upcoming Avengers: Infinity War without a working knowledge of the MCU, your mind is going to be overflowing with questions, not revelation.

The days when one movie told one story are being replaced by an era in which it takes many movies to tell a single subset of a story, and the end result is that there are fewer stories for us to share and enjoy.

I loved The Dark Knight as much as the next guy, and probably a little more. But The Dark Knight worked because Christopher Nolan had a vision for a Batman that was darker, grittier, and more cinematic. It worked because even if the cinematic Batman had been done on film before, it had never been done well. The idea provided fertile ground on which to build a story.

But, as DC’s continued and unsuccessful attempts to dark and grit-ify their heroes demonstrate, there comes a time where the creative soil has been drained of its nutrients and is unable to produce additional fruit. At that point, you have three options: get new soil, wait a long time for the land to become arable again, or eat subpar fruit for the rest of your life.

At the end of the day, the studios are going to do what they think will make them the most money. As long as people keep shelling out billions of dollars for halfhearted remakes like Beauty and the Beast, they’re going to keep retreading the same stories over and over again. And it istreading: pounding into the dirt. Even timeless tales can’t maintain their flavor after decades of zap on and zap off if nothing new is being done with them.

So if you’re a moviegoer, put some thought into which (if any) reboots are worth your time. And if you’re a studio executive…you’re probably not going to listen to me anyway.

*If you still haven’t seen Arrival, you should, because it’s great, and also on Amazon Prime for free-ish. Technically, despite being an amazing movie, it was based off an amazing novella, providing further evidence of Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy worthy of an article unto itself.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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