The year 2000 seems to have brought a never seen before fondness for repetition in popular culture. The formula of adopting a successful idea, stretch and exploit it over and over again has deepened in many platforms, of which cinema is undoubtedly the best example.
If something works better not to touch it. That seems to be the principle ruling mass culture today. Whether it is an epidemic generated with the arrival of the new century, or an older trend that has worsened over time, it is a fact that plots, characters, melodies, aesthetics and styles are repeated shamelessly again and again, while originality remains ridden by a virus that revels in repetition.
Perhaps there are people who argue that such a diagnosis is overdone. But it is just necessary to take a glance at the long list of sagas, trilogies, eternal series, revivals, reboots and remakes invading bookstores and billboards, and then judge whether or not there is cause for concern.
It’s raining superheroes
Hollywood is perhaps the best example of this pest obsessed with relapsing. If we adopt a wide guideline when considering what repetition is, we could talk about all those cases in which movies are based on precedent books, films or comics. This being the case, many indicators show a fall in the levels of originality in major studios from almost 60% of original content within the total amount of releases made by big studios in 1984 to almost 38% in 2004 and less than a 25% in 2014.
However, numbers really rise up when it comes to pure and merciless repetition, this is all those cases in which we are not talking about inspirations or adaptations, but just on repeating stories, a formula which normally comes in the form of remakes or franchises releasing films based on the same plots year after year. Numbers show how big productions based on those formulas has doubled from 80s.
Anyways, the best example can be noticed on this superheroes invasion in which we are engaged right now, a huge business both in quantity and cash. The recent explosion of the Marvel universe, for example, which appeared back in the 60s as a comic phenomenon, apart from some occasional features widely spaced in time, has turned since 2000 into a total of 36 films, an average of two to three superhero films released every year during the past 15 years, accompanied of course by the reissue of numerous old comics.
But we can even say more, since almost all those films are part of seemingly never-ending sagas: three are based on Blade; five on Spiderman; six on X-Man with another one based entirely on Wolverine, that is, more of the same; and two on The Punisher. And to split hairs: there are three films based on The Fantastic Four, which also had one of his heroes, Hulk, starring in his own series of two films; and there are now two films based on The Avengers, which also repeated another of his characters, Iron Man, in three more films, Captain America in two more, and Thor in equal numbers. It means that of these not inconsiderable 36 films based only on Marvel´s Universe, all of which have already a similar theme (the Marvel superheroes), 31 repeat characters and plots again and again and again.
(As always, South Park echoed this phenomenon on one of their Halloween specials)
And if that was not enough, there are still many more supermen wandering around us: Batman inspired, only during the last 25 years, seven films, including three premiered only in the last ten years, with a new reissue coming soon where he will be fighting Superman to be followed by three more films in less than two years. Talking about Superman, the humanoid alien amassed four films in ten years, rested for a while and returned in 2006 with two more films that will become three soon, and that came accompanied by its own TV series (Smallville).
Fantasy, magic, vampires, zombies and whatever it takes
If we leave aside the super-however universe and focus a bit more on magical fantasy, we will see how eight films based on well-known Harry Potter book series (seven in total), the best-selling books in the world by the way (link) were released in quick succession, covering fourteen consecutive years since the first volume was published (1998) until the latest film adaptation was born, which makes an average of more than one book or movie per year, undeniably a good ration of magic in Hogwards, especially for those who used to read the books and watch movies as they were being released.
Another example of fantasy repetition may be the most famous and endless series of books J.R.R. Tolkien concocted 80 years ago, which since 2001 has become a mass success, adding five extensive films to the previously existing three infinite books (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion) divided in at least eight different volumes (two of which are the second and third best-selling books ever) and a nebula of posthumously published material from where they could still perfectly make more books and movies, and if not just wait.
And, of course, we should also mention the enduring Star Wars saga, in principle on its own way to completion (we will see) with the publication of its seventh film, which will be followed shortly by two more in order to reach a projected total of nine, plus an unparalleled amount of merchandising, toys and video games, TV series, animated series, comics and books. All this 40 years after releasing the first film.
(Choosing which fantasy genre to play had probably been quite hard for many children these last years)
And there is more, much more: Dan Brown took the most with his The Da Vinci Code series, placing his professor Robert Langdon as protagonist of four bestsellers and three films (the last one coming soon), all this in only thirteen years. The Scary Movie saga released five films in thirteen years. The always suggestive Hellboy has, apart from its dark comics, two recent films and several animated series. After the bright first premiere of Matrix in 1999 two more titles quickly followed within the same year! (2003), probably not caused by the huge success the first movie had, as well as many animation series and comics. The glib premise ruling The Fast and the Furious has inspired seven titles in fourteen years. Pirates of the Caribbean, an authentic revival of the highly exploited genre of pirates and buccaneers, numbered four films in eight years, with the promise of a new release coming soon. Transformers has counted four films in eight years so far. The disturbing saga of Saw accumulated a record of seven films in just six years, the last one released in 2010. Talking about disturbing things, the universe of Dracula and his pursuer Van Helsing has inspired no less than nine titles only since 2000, apart from a lot of smaller films and series; and better not mentioning the generic theme of vampires in movies that would never end, as Underworld, a sequence of four films in nine years, or the diluted Twilight, another example of book series published like hot cakes (four novels in three years, which shows how deeply the author worked her books) which was also filmed like hot cakes (five films in five years). Asterix and Obelix lived their golden age with four films in thirteen years before running out of magic potion in 2012. The film World War Z (2013) adapted the previous 2006 book, although “adaptation” is not the most appropriate verb in order to describe what was done with the suggestive creation of Max Brooks. And The Hunger Games, a trilogy written every year (also like hot cakes) has seen the birth of two films since 2012, just waiting to add the third one soon, a future that seems to be shared with The Maze Runner.
Those who seemed to go away but never left
In its quest to repeat good formulas, films industry has not been shy about dusting great old classical sagas: Star Trek has had eight new editions since its last revival in 1994, this after becoming almost a myth during the 60s and 70s. 007 does not retire, though being a sexagenarian, having released twenty-four films since 1962, all based on no less than fourteen books. Alien returned after inspiring four films with a new and ambiguous delivery in 2012 (Prometeus), which intends to become a new trilogy. Dinosaurs did similar in 2015 with the insipid Jurassic World. The Mad Max saga was vigorously resurrected in 2015. Terminator speed up after Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) and added three more films only during the last twelve years. Godzilla destroyed again entire cities in 2014. The Pink Panther was reborn in 2006 and saw two new films. Peter Pan returned to the big screen with Pan in 2015, 24 years after Hook. And just to finish this never ending list somewhere, it is to be remembered that international community was close to include the ineffable latest release of Indiana Jones saga (2008) on the list of war crimes, and that when nobody really expected or wanted to see the sympathetic hero coming to cinema again after his third and last adventure in 1989.
(What those scoundrels Spielberg and Lucas did to Indiana is nameless)
If we do not know how to repeat an idea, lets just repeat an entire movie
The recent remakes and reboots fever is another example of this repetitive fixation that seems to have subjugated us: without discussing the desirability or necessity of filming them, or the varied quality of the final result, there they go the rejuvenated versions of Star Wars conveniently released just before the saga restarted in 1999; Ocean’s Eleven in 2001, a title that led to two sequels in just three years; the face-lift E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in 2002; The Manchurian Candidate in 2004; Dawn of the Dead also in 2004; King Kong in 2005; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory also in 2005; The Departed in 2006; Poseidon also in the same year; Pathfinder in 2007; The Yellow Handkerchief in 2008; Fame in 2009; True Grit in 2010; Saturday Night also in 2010; 13 Assassins in 2011; Old Boy American version in 2013; the new Evil Dead also in 2013; Robocop in 2014; The Exorcist in 2015; Poltergeist the same year, Ghostbusters returning in 2016… and it would be better to stop counting here even if leaving many others out of this list.
(Some of those remakes were thoroughly made)
(Read the second part of this article here)
(Lee este artículo en español aquí)