Remakes, sequels, reboots, spinoffs, prequels—what happened to original content? It’s an age-old song now that the media is ultimately a business and, because of this, relies on what sells as an indicator of what to make next. But how much is too much? A few weeks ago, the Disney Channel announced that it is developing Girl Meets World, a spinoff of the beloved 90s show Boy Meets World. The show is set to focus on another generation of characters, featuring the daughter of the protagonists in the original show as the star of the new series.
Girl Meets World may be a recent example of remaking old content that has a lot of people talking, but it is by no means unique. There are 24 James Bond movies, countless spinoffs of the Superman and Batman franchises, and far too many reality shows born out of other (originally mediocre) reality shows—Teen Mom comes from 16 and Pregnant and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo from Toddlers and Tiaras, to name a couple. Two of the highest-performing movies currently in theatres are The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 and Skyfall—the most recent addition to the never-ending James Bond series. And it seems that every animated movie is being revamped and re-released as a 3D movie; on top of all that, a simple Google search reveals that dozens of movie sequels are currently in production.
While this compulsion to reminisce is most obvious in the realms of television and film, it’s a trend that permeates all facets of popular culture. In his piece in The Atlantic, “‘Retromania:’ Why is Pop Culture Addicted to its Own Past?”, Eric Harvey questions if our collective tendencies to relive the past are focusing on more and more recent segments of the past as time goes on. He asks, “Is pervasive nostalgia for the recent past…normal? Or is there something wrong with today’s fixation with the past?” It seems that a healthy amount of nostalgia is harmless, but if it stops innovation in its tracks, we’ve probably gone too far.
That being said, the extent of the nostalgia craze has definitely increased in recent years. According to Box Office Mojo, of the top ten films in 2011, eight were sequels, and two were adaptations. In other words, not a single one of the top-performing movies of the year was an original story. Furthermore, Bridesmaids, at number 14, was the highest-performing original film of 2011. By contrast, in 1981, seven of the top 10 highest-grossing films were originals. Looking at this data in ten-year chunks, the list of moneymakers has become more and more inundated with sequels and remakes as time goes on.
Now this isn’t to say that there aren’t any original stories being produced, but rather that they are few and far between on a larger scale. When storytelling is as profit-driven as it is today, it is much easier to take the safe route than risk it all on a leap of faith. As more and more remakes and sequels snag the top box office slots, film production companies will be continually lured into this trap of spinning what they have already done.
Not every sequel or spinoff is automatically mediocre. Many stories deserve to be retold, and sometimes, the second time around is even better than the original. But we can only go so far with what we already have. Nostalgia and revival of the past is valuable in moderation, for the wisdom it can grant us about what we’ve accomplished and how we have failed is invaluable. However, an excess of this sort of media production will render us stagnant. It’s much harder these days to sell an original story, because there is no security ensuring that it will work. And as the movie industry continues to underperform, it’s understandable that the safe route would look more and more appealing.
There is also an element of this issue that rests with the audience rather than the producers. If the masses continue to lap up old material as quickly as the trends show, then there will be little incentive to stray from what’s proven to work. It seems like a chicken and egg sort of problem: we either must stop taking what we’re being given, or media producers must stop handing out what is readily being snatched up. If we wish to put an end to the constant déjà vu, it should be recognized that this is a two-sided issue where responsibility rests in part with each side.
But this is not a death sentence for good storytelling. Few people would argue that popular culture embodies genuinely good taste, and there are still plenty of refreshingly new stories being told on all channels of media. The question remains in whether or not the general public will eventually grow sick of the same leftovers they’ve been eating for years.