'Batman v. Superman,' 'Star Wars' and Hollywood's New Obsession With the "Requel"

Requels Illo - H 2016
Illustration by: Kyle Hilton

Requels Illo - H 2016

Holy box office! The industry's latest trend isn't a sequel or reboot, it's a hybrid engineered to capture nostalgia and launch a new (and lucrative) film universe.

A version of this story first appeared in the April 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Hollywood's done the remakes, reboots, prequels and three­quels. The latest obsession: the "requel," a movie that's both a reboot and a sequel, blending old with new in an effort to extend the life of a franchise and, in the best cases, reinvent it for a "universe" of follow-up movies.

When it works, it's a potent combo. During the March 25-27 weekend, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice — a reboot of the Batman franchise in the post-Dark Knight era that's also a sequel to Zack Snyder's Man of Steel Superman movie — debuted to a March record $166.1 million in North America and $422.6 million globally, making it the No. 1 superhero launch to date. That's despite withering reviews, a "Sad Ben Affleck" web meme and fanboy ire.

At this pace, the Warner Bros. tentpole could earn more than $800 million globally as CEO Kevin Tsujihara launches the DC Entertainment universe in a battle to rival Disney's Marvel franchise. Two Justice League movies, Suicide Squad and a Wonder Woman solo outing are a few of the films in the works before 2020.

Unlike BvS, most "requels" revive franchises that have been dormant for years, if not decades. Steven Spielberg struggled for years to bring Jurassic Park back from extinction but couldn't find a way in. Finally, Spielberg, producer Frank Marshall and Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow embraced the 1993 original and returned the action to the fictional Isla Nublar with new dinosaurs and stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. Jurassic World roared to $1.67 billion globally.

Six months later, an even bigger requel arrived in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams' love letter to 1977's Star Wars that shrewdly paired new actors with original stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. The Disney/Lucasfilm movie has earned a mammoth $2.06 billion globally and, more importantly, set the course for a series of follow-ups and spinoff movies. "With Star Wars or any project that revisits a world or characters that are known and beloved, it's essential to remember and honor what made the original resonate with people in the first place — otherwise you wouldn't be going back — but it's equally important that you bring something fresh and relevant," says Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn. "There has to be a way in for today's audience."

For years, Hollywood relied on origin stories to revive sagging franchises such as Spider-Man, Star Trek, X-Men and Planet of the Apes. Some were successful, and some were not. Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man series, for example, is a stark reminder of the bad things that can happen when trying to give new life to a franchise by telling the same story over again

Smaller films have also tried to make a comeback after a long absence, but lack a new element to broaden their appeal. In 2015, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, released five years after the original, bombed with $13.1 million. And earlier this year, Zoolander 2, starring Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell 15 years after the first film, was also a major disappointment. One exception in terms of box-office returns was Dumb and Dumber To, reteaming Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey after a 20-year gap. Released in 2014, the movie laughed its way to $169.8 million worldwide; however, there's no obvious follow-up.

Then there are the pure remakes (think numerous versions of Peter Pan and King Kong, for example). But the requel is different in that it nods to and exploits goodwill toward the past while launching a new generation of actors and stories. Imax Entertainment CEO Greg Foster compares the concept to a mulligan in golf, where a player is informally allowed to replay a stroke. "You get to keep the best of both worlds," he says. "If something has been played out but people really like it, you can cherry-pick and keep what works and what people responded to and cared about."

Spielberg and Ford will get their chance at a mulligan when making the recently announced Indiana Jones 5. In 2008, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull strayed from the series' mythology by introducing aliens and quickly was forgotten despite earning $787 million globally. There has been no word on what writer David Koepp's next installment will be about, but insiders believe Disney will "requelize" the franchise with a younger actor (or even several actors who could be the focus of a universe of Indy films).

Another high-stakes requel, Fox's Independence Day: Resurgence (June 24), debuts two decades after Will Smith's original. Smith isn't returning, but co-stars Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch and Vivica A. Fox are, alongside newcomers Liam Hemsworth and Jessie Usher. "There was a lot of love for this property, and we wanted to get it right," says Fox domestic distribution president Chris Aronson. Adds box-office analyst Jeff Bock: "At least with a reboot that is also a sequel, the lineage of events stays intact. Bridging the old and the new is an easy way for studios to link generations of fans together and continue to grow an audience, all without having to market and sell a whole new world to ticket buyers. In other words, it's easy money."

Maybe. Sony's female Ghostbusters opens July 15 amid debate as to whether the film, hitting 32 years after the original, is a requel. Director Paul Feig says it's a reboot, not a sequel, but the new film is set in the same world and features appearances by original stars Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver and Dan Aykroyd. Even writer Katie Dippold says the "spirit of the original is in it, but the storyline is not." Regardless, Sony would like the film to launch several sequels and spinoffs.

Other high-profile requels in the works include Alcon's untitled Blade Runner film (2018), which teams original star Ford with Ryan Gosling. (Harrison Ford is clearly the king of the requels between Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Indy 5 and Blade Runner.)

There's also xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (2017), starring Vin Diesel. And some would argue Warner Bros.' Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Nov. 18) is a requel because it is set in the world of Harry Potter but with a new story.

There's certainly risk in requels. In Terminator: Genisys, Arnold Schwarzenegger reprised his iconic role with a new cast, but the $155 million movie struggled and Skydance yanked two follow-ups. "You have to come up with a good idea, even if there is a nostalgia factor," says MKM Partners analyst Eric Handler. "Star Wars was a good story. Terminator wasn't."