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June 22, 2015

The scale of Hollywood remakes and reboots

The Italian job and it's Hollywood remakeThere a number of clear signs you’re getting older; Policemen look younger, music gets louder and more unintelligible and you start complaining more often about “How could they possibly remake that movie?”

Personally, I think part of the outcry against any upcoming Hollywood remake is in fact misplaced anxiety about the passage of time and the ever-closer creeping inevitability of death, but I guess that’s a debate for a different blog. While you’re still around to complain, would you like to see the stats on Hollywood remakes?  ‘Course you would…

  • The percentage of Hollywood remakes has been falling over the past decade
  • In 2005, 17% of top grossing films were Hollywood remakes but by 2014 it was just 5%
  • The fourth horror film ever made was a remake of the first horror film
  • 29% of top grossing Hollywood horror movies are remakes, 2005-14
  • Very few Hollywood dramas or romantic comedies are remakes (2.7% and 3.4% respectively during 2005-14)
  • The Scorpion King is a 2002 spinoff of the 2001 prequel to the 1999 remake of a 1932 film.

The case for Hollywood remakes

Hollywood is constantly on the search for “new ideas” and where better to find those “new ideas” than in movies they’ve previously made – everything was new once, right?  So if you’re a cigar-chomping Hollywood exec and you want to breathe new life into an old franchise with the hope of creating a new generation of paying fans then you have a few options…

  • Direct sequel – Carry on as if the old film series never stopped, such as Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull and Terminator 3: Rise of The Machines.
  • “Years Later” sequel – Recognize that time has passed and hand over the baton to a new generation of characters, such as Tron: Legacy and Herbie Fully Loaded.
  • Remake – Just tell the same story as the previous film, maybe updating Walkmans for iPods, such as You’ve Got Mail and Ocean’s Eleven.
  • Reboot – Throw out all the existing continuity and re-imagine the characters and world, such as Batman Begins and Casino Royale.
  • Remake in name only – Take a successful film and copy some of the surface elements while re-writing the characters and world, such as The Italian Job

One of the first Hollywood remakesThe idea of remaking a successful movie is about as old as film itself.  The fourth horror film ever made, The Haunted Castle, was an English language remake of the first horror film, Le Manoir du Diable, which was a French film made a year earlier in 1896.

There are a number of films you may not realise are Hollywood remakes or reboots, including…

Note: Today I’m only measuring official remakes, not films which were clearly borrowed from one another, such as the retelling of Point Break under the title The Fast and The Furious (see here for a comparison).

Hollywood remakes becoming less common

The percentage of top grossing films which are Hollywood remakes or reboots is falling. In 2005, 17 films were Hollywood remakes (including four in the top ten) whereas by 2014 that number had fallen to just five of the top 100 grossing films.

Percentage of top grossing films which were Hollywood remakes

Batman is one of many Hollywood remakesI think many people will be surprised to hear that there are fewer Hollywood remakes than 10 years ago but bear in mind that when a remake is successful then it may spawn other films (sequels, prequels and spinoffs) which won’t be classed as remakes or reboots.  For example, Batman Begins is a reboot of the Batman franchise, but The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises are just sequels.

Therefore, to get a true picture of Hollywood today we need to combine the data from this week’s research on Hollywood remakes / reboots with last week’s data on sequels, prequels and spinoffs.

Hollywood remakes as a percentage of top 100 grossing films 2005-14

Some films blur the line of sequel / remake / adaption to the point of abstraction…

  • Alien vs Predator movie posterAliens vs. Predator: Requiem is a sequel to an adaptation of a comic book which itself was a spinoff of two films.
  • The Dark Knight Rises is the second sequel to the reboot of a series previously seen on-screen in the 1990s and on TV in the 1960s, both of which were adaptations (and possible reboots) of a comic book series started in 1939.
  • The Scorpion King is a 2002 spinoff of the 2001 prequel to the 1999 remake of a 1932 film. Oh, and there have since been three straight-to-video sequels to the Scorpion King released in 2008, 2012 and 2015.

Which genre features the highest percentage of Hollywood remakes?

5 points if you guessed horror.  In the years 2005, 2006 and 2008 half of all the horror films in the top 100 were Hollywood remakes.

Genres of Hollywood remakes and reboots

Brace yourself, more are coming

There Bill and Ted is one of many films lined up to be Hollywood remakesare numerous reports of movie classics which are being developed for Hollywood remakes.  Many of these films won’t make it to the big screen as Hollywood develops far more scripts than it actually produces.  However, as superhero movies go from great to grating, we should expect to see many more Hollywood remakes in the coming years. These include A Prophet, A Star is Born, About Last Night, Agent 47, Akira, All of Me, All Quiet on the Western Front, American Psycho, An American Werewolf in London, Barbarella, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Cliffhanger, Commando, Death Note, Drop Dead Fred, Escape From New York, Flatliners, Flight of the Navigator, Frankenstein, Gremlins, Headhunters, Heat (not the good one, thank God, this is the Burt Reynolds 1968 film), Highlander, Honey I Shrunk The Kids, IT, Jacob’s Ladder, Jumanji, Logan’s Run, Mortal Kombat, Overboard, Point Break, Police Academy, Poltergeist, Porky’s, Rebecca, Short Circuit, Soapdish, Starship Troopers, The Birds, The Craft, The Crow, The Fantastic Four, The Mummy (yes, again!), The NeverEnding Story, The Orphanage, The Seven Samurai, The Wild Bunch, Three Men and a Baby, Time Bandits, Timecop, Tomb Raider, Van Helsing, Videodrome, Wargames, Waterworld, Weird Science, Wild Bunch and xXx to name but a few.


When I decided to look at originality in Hollywood movies I didn’t think that the hardest topic would be Hollywood remakes.  Some of the topics which came up include…

  • What is a remake? For the purposes of this research I decided to be generous to Hollywood on the subject of remakes. If a film was a remake of a TV show I did not classify it as a ‘remake’ (just an ‘adaptation’). For some shows, such as Sex and The City and The Simpsons it’s obvious as it’s only the characters and their world which have moved over to the big screen.  However, it’s a closer call for projects such as the 2009 mediocre film ‘State of Play‘. It was based on the terrific 2001 six-part BBC drama of the same name and contains the same basic events (save for a location change and bringing minor details into the current age). It could be argued that this makes the 2009 mistake film a remake but for these stats I have gone with the stricter definition of remake to mean ‘remake of an existing feature film’.
  • Is a new adaptation a remake? If the original film was itself an adaptation then the new film could be regarded as a remake of the previous film or as a new adaptation of the original source material. In these cases, I researched the lineage of the new project and tried to determine if it went back to the source material or the previous film adaptation. So for films like the 2005 film War of The Worlds and 2012’s Total Recall I did not class them as Hollywood remakes, just adaptations (from HG Wells’ 1897 serialized novel War of The Worlds and Philip K. Dick’s 1996 short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, respectively).
  • When is a remake also a reboot?  In theory, the line between a remake and a reboot is clear. A remake is specifically based on an existing film whereas a reboot takes an established canon of work, throws out much of the continuity to start from the beginning again. Clear examples of each would be the shot-for-shot remake of Psycho made by Gus Van San in 1998 and the 2014 Godzilla reboot which changed the creature from villain to hero. However in practice, the line can be vague. For example, many people at the time referred to the 2012 Total Recall film as a ‘reboot’ but with hindsight we can see that it was more of a remake (or new adaptation, as detailed above).


What started out as a single article on originality in Hollywood ballooned into three and yet I still don’t feel fully sated.  When measuring originality it’s not enough to simply look at the lineage of the script or characters.  Unfortunately this is all that I can do at this stage but hopefully the day will come when I can command a fully intelligent AI and force it to read 1,000s of scripts to objectively measure the creativity therein.  Of course, the worry then would be that reading so many Hollywood blockbuster screenplays would either diminish its faculties or cause it to lose its newly-found will to live.  Ah well, that’s a problem for future me.

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29 Responses

  1. avia June 22, 2015 at 8:00 pm #

    1999 Peirce Brosnan 1968 Steve Mc Queen is it too weaerly to do yet another remake of Thomas Crown Affiar? Gorgious.

  2. Margo January 23, 2016 at 10:05 pm #

    I think your data is deceiving when it comes to the actual number of remakes and reboots produced since you’ve only looked at the top grossing movies. There are many remake/reboot failures. I’d like to see a true number of how many remakes/reboots are produced each year in comparison — whether they do well or not, Hollywood is certainly putting money into them.

    • Stephen Follows January 24, 2016 at 4:20 pm #

      Hi Margo

      You’re right to say that it doesn’t measure all films made. The tricky thing with any research like this is to decide on a fair criteria for study and what’s feasible to perform. Here I’m looking at the top 100 US-grossing films of each year, as I wanted to look at the films which make up most of cinema-going.

      If we look at all films ever then we have a number of challenges – firstly, deciding what we’re measuring (i.e. by volume, what used to be called ‘Straight to Video’ releases will cause us to be swamped with sequels, but not provide an accurate reflection of what normal cinema-goers are faced with at the multiplexes). Secondly, it’s then harder to gather the data to ensure we have complete datasets, and finally, would take a lot more time to go through each film and work out it’s linage.

      Hopefully, the article contains enough information of what I actually researched so as not to confuse anyone.


  3. Meredith Dunham April 10, 2016 at 5:37 pm #

    Hi Stephen,
    I’m writing a paper for my Hollywood and American Film class concerning the “remake industry” Hollywood has nearly become, and your article interested me. A major reference I’ve made is Disney’s 1996 remake of the original film noir version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, especially concerning censorship in these remakes. Do you think a major part of Hollywood remakes has to do with censorship, or are the two unrelated? I’m trying to find more articles regarding this connection but unfortunately it isn’t a commonly made one. If you had a moment to share some of your thoughts I’d love to get your input. Thanks so much!

  4. BT July 25, 2016 at 5:38 am #

    Why are you counting only “highest grossing” movies in your stats? That kind of stats clearly means that remakes are getting *shittier* (or at least less profitable) over time, not that less are being made. If more remakes are being made, and the percentage that reach “top grossing” level are going down, you can pretty clearly see why people are pissed off at the deluge of remakes

    • BT July 25, 2016 at 5:40 am #

      Looks like your stats are also pretty misleading, even in the category of “top-grossing”:

      • Stephen Follows July 25, 2016 at 5:56 am #

        Hi BT

        I’m not sure I understand what you mean by misleading. That article is looking at a slightly different topic (originality of script source vs specifically remakes of existing films) and actually comes to the same conclusion I did when I look at that topic (

        It’s true that whatever criteria you use to define a dataset will affect the results, but there is no objective, impartial place to draw the line. For this research I wanted to look at the biggest and loudest films, ie. those which dominate our idea of Hollywood movies, hence the decision to focus on the top 100 grossing films of each year. If I had widened the net to include all films made then it would include a whole bunch of indie films and I think would be measuring something different.

        • Alessio August 21, 2016 at 10:51 pm #

          Very interesting article! Is there a website or something else reporting more of these statistics about Hollywood remakes??

        • jlist September 29, 2017 at 7:31 am #

          You’ll be interested to note that remake/sequel-itis is infecting the anime world, as more anime is funded by American companies who have no fresh ideas.

  5. Brandon Finch July 29, 2016 at 9:40 am #

    How would you describe the new ghost busters lol

    • Brandon Finch July 29, 2016 at 6:43 pm #

      My wife and I were having a debate about The new Ghost busters. I said it’s the same thing, just remade lol.. Back me up! Lol

  6. William Gottelier January 22, 2017 at 3:14 pm #

    My name is Will Gottelier and I am a 3rd year student currently studying BSc Television and Broadcasting at the university of Portsmouth. For my thesis, I am discussing the history of remakes in Hollywood and focusing on reason to why certain films are getting remade and at what cost. Having read your blog, I was wondering if i could ask you a few questions regarding the remakes in Hollywood and their purpose in modern day Cinema. The questions are as followed:

    When comparing originals and remakes, do you believe that with the use of CGI and special effects creates a better viewing experience than the original?

    Are we going to follow the same formula in say 10 years time.

    Do you think that one of the main reasons for films to be remade is for nostalgic purposes?

    Do you believe that there are certain films that are deemed as “untouchable” when it comes to remakes.

    If you could answer these, your opinions would be greatly appreciated.


    • Stephen Follows January 26, 2017 at 2:59 pm #

      Hi William

      Glad to hear that the article was useful. I’ll do my best to answer your questions (see below). You may have to clarify a few of your questions as some don’t really make sense to me. But if you provide any additional info where I’ve misunderstood them, I’m sure we can get there in the end!

      1. I don’t think you can be as broad as to say that visual and special effects are a meaningful difference between remarks and originals. Also, I’m not sure what you mean by “a better viewing experience”. A film’s quality is subjective, differs between audiences types and is not the reason why films make or lose money (it helps to be good but is far from a requirement for success).
      2. Which formula? As you can see from this article and the previous one on film series, Hollywood doesn’t keep doing the same thing but instead follows trends in a pack. If there is a magic formula for success in 2017 then I doubt it will work in 2027, if that’s what you’re asking.
      3. Again, I’m not sure what you mean. The “purpose” of these big studio films is to make money – it’s that simple. The studios have expensive distribution machines which need to be kept fed, and as movie-making is a risky business they like creating work with a pre-existing audience and proven appeal. Nostalgia is certainly playing a part in why some of these films have performed well. Jurrasic World is a great example where a very mediocre film (at best) has become the fourth-highest-grossing film of all time (ignoring inflation).
      4. No. The only things stopping a film being remade is if the rights holder(s) refuse to license them or if no-one thinks they can do so profitably.

      Hope this helps.

  7. Rufus McDufus July 13, 2017 at 7:11 am #

    “Personally, I think part of the outcry against any upcoming Hollywood remake is in fact misplaced anxiety” A very narrow minded view. There are many reasons to “outcry” remakes but the most obvious one is why they make them. Originality costs effort and money and involves risk that a movie will flop. Most moviegoers are morons who would not appreciate it anyway. The vast majority of remakes are worse than the originals (except the special effects and you don’t need a remake for this anyway. The excitement of a new idea has been thrown away by Hollywood’s greed for ticket office success and this should be fought, not apologised for. Your website is, sadly, the ramblings of a sucker brainwashed by Hollywood’s insatiable marketing and money making machine.

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