William Zabka and Ralph Macchio reprise their roles as Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso from the “Karate Kid” in “Cobra Kai.”
Reboots, remakes, revamps, call them what you want, Hollywood has spent decades recycling popular franchises and cult favorite films trying to capture the attention of a new generation.
This trend is nothing new in the entertainment industry. What has changed is its frequency.
“Bates Motel,” “Scream,” “Westworld,” “Fargo,” “Watchmen,” “Teen Wolf,” “What We Do in the Shadows,” “Limitless,” “Lethal Weapon” and “Cobra Kai” are just a few examples from recent years. And more are in the works.
Shows based on “Alien,” “The Mighty Ducks,” “Snowpiercer,” “A League of Their Own” and “The Equalizer” are currently in the pipeline. Then there are series like “Clarice” and the new “Lord of the Rings” show that are based on books, but were also hit films, and Disney’sslew of Marvel and Star Wars programs that are tied to its film franchises.
“I don’t think it’s because we are out of good ideas,” said Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University and a pop culture expert. “I think the reason we are seeing so many of these is because there is so much real estate to fill.”
The combination of having more streaming services available to the public than ever before and a massive shift in content consumption habits means that Hollywood is going to become even more reliant on tried-and-true franchises than ever before.
No more channel surfing
Gone are the days of surfing through a finite number of channels, looking for something to watch.
In the last decade, streaming services have disrupted the content pipeline. Cable and network television have a restricted schedule. Day time talk shows and reruns play during the morning and early afternoon hours and new episodes of shows arrive after the evening news. This means that companies can only have a certain number of programs.
Unbeholden to 24-hour scheduling, streaming consumers watch what they want, when they want. That means, a subscriber can watch an entire season of a show in just a few days or an entire series in a week. Then they are hungry for something else to watch.
With few exceptions, studios that have opted to enter the streaming world have provided consumers with all of the episodes of a season of TV upfront instead of on a weekly basis. This strategy means that streaming services need to provide more content to their subscribers than their cable counterparts.
Turning nostalgic films into longform TV shows is an easy way to capture audiences and reduce financial risk.
“The development costs are lower,” said Candice Alger, professor at Creative Media Industries Institute at Georgia State University. “It’s safer to go with a story that’s already proven and characters are already developed.”
If the show succeeds, like “Fargo” or “Cobra Kai,” studios can continue to produce multiple seasons. If the show fails, the losses are smaller.
“It’s a great way to develop content without having to deal with the unpredictability or the risk of trying to establish a new franchise,” said David Schreiber, the entertainment industry studies chair at Belmont University.
Nostalgia as currency
Hollywood has long tapped into nostalgia to sell movie tickets or to get viewers to tune into a new show. There’s a lot of built-in emotional equity when it comes to franchises big and small.
Disney used this strategy when it launched its streaming service Disney+. The platform has plans to launch series based on “The Mighty Ducks,” “Turner and Hooch,” “Monsters Inc.,” “Night at the Museum” and “The Sandlot,” among others.
“Monsters, Inc.” is getting a new show on Disney+ called “Monsters at Work,” which explores the transition from scream to laugh power in Monstropolis.
These shows will give audiences a chance to relive their childhoods and to share those childhood favorites with their own children.
While there are a number of TV shows coming that are based on movies made during the 2000s or later, many are from the ’80s and ’90s.
“The ’80s and ’90s is still in the sweet spot,” Thompson said. “It’s not too far away to be forgotten, but not too [recent]. There are fond memories of those movies.”
Not to mention, there’s a great marketing bonus that comes from that sentimentality.
Thompson used “Cobra Kai” as an example. The show, which started as a YouTube series before moving to Netflix, gets its foot in the door with older audiences that saw “The Karate Kid” when they were younger. It also captures the next generation who watched the movie when it played on cable TV.
The show also gets the attention of new consumers who are either being introduced to the content from a parent or from word of mouth.
“The real asset to reboots and remakes is that you’ve got years of marketing budget already bought and paid for,” Thompson said.
These shows are bolstered even more when actors that appeared in the original film return. Keeping with the “Cobra Kai” example, both William Zabka, who played Johnny Lawrence, and Ralph Macchio, who played Daniel LaRusso, returned to be part of the series.
That’s not to say that rebooted shows that do not bring back the original cast will automatically fail, but people often have a strong emotional attachment to the actors that originated iconic characters. That attachment can help entice them to watch the new series.
“We are living an era where people are looking for genuineness and that happens a bit more easily when you bring back those [original] actors,” Schreiber said.