The new Jem and the Holograms movie did not entirely win over all the fans of the original 1980s cartoon, right on the heels of that Peter Pan prequel. But there have been plenty of disastrous reboots in the past. Here are nine of the most baffling reboots of all time.
1) The Night Stalker
In two TV movies and his own short-lived series, reporter Carl Kolchak investigated the supernatural working as a Chicago-based newspaper journalist, much to the chagrin of his tormented editor. Though the series was off the air after just one season in 1975, Kolchak stuck with the people who saw it, as an utterly unique fusion of horror, mystery and comedy with a bizarre lead and rotating cast of newspapermen.
When Frank Spotnitz revived the series in 2005, the the mummies and dream-creatures made of Spanish moss from the original were no longer committing city-wide murder (although the pilot did feature hell-hounds…). Instead, each episode’s “monster” was a corrupt human, displaying demonic tendencies incubated by their own guilt, memory or obsession—strictly human tendencies. Set against a bleak, perpetually dark city, lit only by the yellow headlights of passing cars and dirty streetlights, the show’s focus was uniquely timed to 2005. With the stories on secret societies and corruption in journalism, the “monsters of the week” were torn from the headlines of its current presidential administration. And while it was definitely a “more dour” take on the property, the show’s main hurdle was the character himself. Kolchak’s distinct, fascinating personality had been riven into three distinct characters, like a transporter malfunction.
The new Kolchak—no longer unable to keep a girlfriend, but instead haunted by a deceased wife he had been suspected of killing himself—was tasked with the brooding, dark arts-focused mindset leading to the show’s ghosts and goblins, while lucidity and reason fell in the hands of Gabrielle Union as crime reporter Perri Reed. Eric Jungmann handled “squirreliness” duties as McManus, the comedy tag-along.
The need to make a Kolchak a post-Buffy ensemble really dragged its storytelling capabilities down, leading to many scenes of three people in a room, talking, instead of all these weird ideas exploding from a single character.
At its best, the series achieved a level of quality equal to late-period X-Files– season eight, maybe.
2) Friday the 13th
After heading to New York, going to space and battling Freddy Krueger himself, the hive-mind behind the Friday the 13th series—detailing the adventures of an unstoppable zombie who died at summer camp—decided it should reboot itself after thirty years to start the whole cycle anew.
While the reboot synopsized the first four movies—and introduced the idea that Camp Crystal Lake was built over a disused mine shaft—this was a devastating waste of potential. By this point, the franchise had actually given itself a lot of really fascinating material to work with. After his countless murders, death and resurrection, a visit to Times Square, full bodily obliteration at the hands of a SWAT team, and meeting Freddy Kreuger, the government suddenly knew about Jason Voorhees. The FBI knew about Jason, as did the president and the military. No longer a campfire story, after eleven movies, Jason Voorhees had officially become a fact of reality—and no one reasoned this was an amazing springboard to launch a new series of stories. Jason Voorhees-as-Osama bin Laden can no longer hide.
And it’s especially too bad because there was a great alternative storyline available. When tasked with writing stories set within the universe, the Friday the 13th comics series from DC/Wildstorm did some really interesting things—a story written by Jason Aaron featured Voorhees befriending (to the best of his abilities) a child with a similar cranio-facial abnormality, leading to a Citizen Ruth-style satire where the full force of the state and the boy’s grieving parents come to retrieve him.
Following the events of Jason X, Voorhees is now marooned on a dead planet, with nothing to kill on sight—only to explore. Imagine if Paramount had made Wall-E, with Jason Voorhees, before Pixar. A new cycle of films with Jason Voorhees as a mute antihero would have been beautiful.
3) The New 52
Considering the high quality of a lot of the material published prior to August 2011—and then everything that followed—DC’s attempt to reboot itself winds up looking like one of the all-time weirdest.
Prior to the New 52, things really felt as if they were hurdling toward a new era. The decades-spanning Batman: The Brave & The Bold was on TV, while Batman, Inc. was happening in the comics. The books, at their best, were head-and-shoulders above Marvel’s latest output. The sudden relaunch in 2011 not only soured DC’s best creative teams, but lead to a dripping trail of editorial gaffes and redesigns in an attempt to streamline the last 75 years of material. Five years after this relaunch, an inexplicably younger Commissioner Gordon is the current Batman due to Bruce Wayne’s selective amnesia, Dick Grayson has become a secret agent, Damien Wayne has died at the hand of his own microcephalic clone, etc.
4) A Nightmare on Elm Street
Featuring no imaginative set pieces, and a twenty-minute stretch in which we’re supposed to believe Freddy Krueger is innocent, this 2010 Rooney Mara vehicle fell horribly flat. Starring Jackie Earle Haley as Krueger—in life, a live-in preschool gardener (!)—this remains the dullest film about dreams ever. Haley’s Krueger, resembling some sort of toad or reptile, and a voice like Jim Backus’ as Mr. Magoo, fails to bring the sort of joie de vivre Englund defined the role with. Elm Street movies should be—and can be—anything but boring. This one actually makes you want to go to sleep—death be damned.
5) Fright Night
Turning Peter Vincent into a rock-star magician (which there are exactly zero of in reality, compared to the hundreds of cable access horror hosts across the country) this “contemporary” take on Fright Night offered a streamlined, effects-less version where even the mom gets in on the action! While the 1985 film—and to a lesser extent its sequel—was wall-to-wall gorgeous, practical effects and weird set design, you get a car chase here and… that’s about it.
In the original, Brewster, the teenager who dresses like it’s still the 1930’s, discovers his next door neighbor is a vampire and enlists the aide of Peter Vincent, actor and host of local cable access show Fright Night—and a modernization of this story completely misses the point. Most egregiously, the reboot totally omits Fright Night’s best character, Jerry’s implied roommate/lover and possible swamp monster, Billy Cole.
6) Space Invaders/Space Raiders
A very peculiar remake of the arcade game from Taito, 2002’s Space Raiders offered a dark, gritty, update to the original with swearing, nudity, and (in its favor) some pretty cool–looking alien leaf insects that resemble brains when their wings are closed. While the invaders are indeed from space, the action is set entirely on Earth in the scorched ruins of an invaded city. While the new additions, including playable characters, Justin, Ashley and Naji, are as empty as space itself, the aliens do still move in neat little formations as if it were a biological imperative, which is actually kind of interesting. The problem is that Space Raiders is an all too literal take on colorful toy-machine, and just isn’t vey fun at all.
7) Conan the Barbarian
A failed reinvention of the Robert E. Howard character, 2011’s Conan the Barbarian, like 2010’s Clash of the Titans and ‘12’s Wrath of the Titans, is another dud. And like the Titans remakes, what the Conan reboot lacked in character, it made up for in ash. Grey, flaming ash, blowing all around, everywhere. There’s some orange tint in there, too. They certainly doubled-down on a statuesque cast (Rachel Nichols and Jason Momoa) straight out of a Frazetta painting, but the film never fully embraces—or refutes—the meat-headed fun of the original. But we do get its ashes.
8) The Fantastic Four (2015)
This is sort of a gimme, but still worth mentioning. When it comes to reboots that completely lose the thread of what everybody liked about a particular series, the recent Fantastic Four movie stands alone. We’ll never actually know what went so horribly wrong with this movie, but it doesn’t actually matter. The end result is a film in which instead of fun space exploration and swashbuckling spandex adventurers, we get tortured, self-loathing victims, and a tired plot about the military wanting to exploit them. The Fantastic Four has a lot of neat ideas, but “the military wants to use us as weapons” is not chief among them. As with Pan and Jem, there’s a certain amount of justice in how badly this movie failed.
9) The Punisher: Purgatory
The Punisher was one of Marvel’s hottest characters at one point, until they ran him into the ground. For a while in the early 1990s, the murderous vigilante Frank Castle was starring in three ongoing series, putting him up there with Spider-Man or Batman. But by the mid-1990s, the thrill had worn out. Marvel tried shaking things up—first by putting the notorious mobster-killer Castle in charge of a mafia family, and then with Purgatory. Which is one of the most legendary miscalculations of all time. In this comic, Frank Castle is no longer a guy who kills criminals because his family died, but rather an angelic vigilante tasked with killing demons, by the other angels. As we wrote a few years ago, “Imagine if Spider-Man suddenly gave up his mantle and became ‘Peter Parker, The Crime-Fighting Racecar Driver,’ and you’ll get a good sense of fan reaction.”