Hollywood Has A Grave Robbing Problem
— 22 March 2024

Hollywood Has A Grave Robbing Problem

— 22 March 2024

Look, I’m all for a franchise. Some of my best friends are franchises. I’ll stand by Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget being the best film I’ve seen this year. But with the arrival of Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire and now Beetlejuice 2, I question what drives Hollywood to continuously flog the proverbial.

It’s no secret that Hollywood has an originality problem. The past year alone has churned out remakes, reboots, spin-offs, prequels, sequels, and musicalifications of classics like Mr & Mrs Smith, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Walking Dead, Mean Girls, Scream, Indiana Jones, Mission: Impossible, and Percy Jackson (to varying degrees of success and originality).

Starting in 2016 with Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, the Ghostbusters reboots have famously flopped. The cult-like appeal that the 80s’ Ghostbusters garnered was due to its off-beat, jaunty tone (complemented perfectly by Murray’s desert-dry delivery) — something which simply can’t translate to a CGI-heavy, over-produced spinoff.

With each remake, Ghostbusters is pleasing audiences less and less. So why do studios insist on revamping our favourites when it’s clear nobody’s asking for them? Show of hands: who among you has been clamouring for a follow-up to Beetlejuice starring Michael Keaton and Jenna Ortega?

Whilst a popular criticism may be that Hollywood has run out of original ideas, this ignores the steady flow of great original shows and films. It’s also nothing new to claim that Hollywood is a profit-driven glutton.

Pulitzer Prize-winning Walter Hickey suggests it’s less about turning a profit than it is about avoiding risk. Put simply, producers can count on a reboot making enough money to regain any production costs, compared to “gambling” on something entirely original.

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In contrast to original films, which typically generate a solid 2.8 times return on investment globally, sequels tend to outperform with an average return of 4.2 times. Existing fanbases, leveraging nostalgia, a predefined story-world, and opportunities to merchandise all mean that remakes are a safer bet for investors and shareholders.

Disney Studios’ slew of recent remakes has, in many cases, outperformed the originals in approval ratings and multiplying box office earnings many times over — representing billions in profits. So in this sense, low-risk/high-reward franchises are the Hollywood investor’s ‘Holy Grail.’ In the broader investor’s portfolio, remakes are therefore an important risk-management tool.

It also pays to consider the global audience. Recognisable franchises often have mainstream appeal. The American market only makes a third of the global box-office sales, and a film’s success overseas is often the deciding factor in continuing the franchise. Point of fact: over 80% of the original Ghostbusters revenue was attributed to the American market, while over 40% of its 2016 counterpart’s box office take was attributed to a foreign audience.

Hollywood is no longer restricted to LA-based production studio lots. Streaming titan Netflix is increasingly representing a threat to traditional media. 55% of Netflix’s content library is originals, with a 5% year-on-year increase. These platforms commit to producing series upfront (without pilots); the trade-off being a larger focus on serialised content. Any risk in taking the leap to produce an entire series (without a pilot’s performance indicators) is mitigated by algorithmic projections.

With new remakes now starring TikTok influencers (Reneé Rapp in the Mean Girls Musical, Addison Rae in He’s All That), it’s clear that the commodity of online engagement is the newest “safe bet” element. Engagement and streaming numbers, of course, are the driving forms of revenue for streamers, regardless of approval ratings. In other words, Netflix will slap on those Top 10 tags to get you to watch thereby boosting revenue and feeding the franchise beast.

Cynics may proclaim this fascination with franchises will lead to the industry’s demise, but audiences are starting to reach their limit. Despite news of upcoming Jurassic Park and Book of Eli reboots, the continuation of Ridley Scott’s Alien saga, and the umpteenth Star Wars property on the horizon, appetite is clearly waning.

Netflix recently reported a spike in demand for older, licensed titles over remakes, meaning there’s hope yet for original content. As for Ghostbusters, Beetlejuice, and what have you — I think we can all agree they should be allowed to die in peace.

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