While Star Wars: The Force Awakens earned over a billion bucks in about five minutes and enjoyed lavish critical praise, it’s not the only series reimagination that’s been successful over the years. Let’s take a look at previous movie franchise reboots that also won the crowd.
To make this list, a series must have had a successful run with an established cast, received decent critical acclaim, and then rebooted with a new cast and possibly a new storyline. Things like King Kong or Godzilla don’t count, as they are more recurring characters than an actual series. Philip Marlowe, for instance, has been played many times by the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, James Garner and Robert Mitchum, but only Mitchum played him twice—the second time badly.
8. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Tim Burton’s misguided remake of author Pierre Boulle’s sci-fi classic was inferior in every way. However, it surprisingly didn’t kill the franchise. And unlike the first series of movies, this modern reboot has gotten better with each try, with the most recent, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, perhaps the second best Apes movie since the original.
7. James Bond: GoldenEye
I was never a Roger Moore fan, but even in his last decent movie, Octopussy, he was obviously too old and fat for the stunts he was supposedly performing. A View to a Kill had everyone wondering if Bond was done. Timothy Dalton tried to be a more realistic, muscular Bond in the mold of Sean Connery, but came across as dour.
Enter Remington Steele — I mean Pierce Brosnan. The suave Brosnan was just credible enough at the action, while restoring a sense of style and fun to James Bond. Even though only every other Brosnan Bond movie was good, and none again would be as good as GoldenEye, the “Brosnan period” restored the franchise.
6. Jack Ryan: Patriot Games
No one seems to stay with this franchise long enough, but Harrison Ford was a great choice to play Jack Ryan after Alec Baldwin opted not to do anything with this conservative series after one big hit — The Hunt for Red October.
Unfortunately, after two flicks battling the IRA and narco terrorists, Ford went on his way, too. After Clear and Present Danger, he only made one more good movie, Air Force One, before going on to make a long stretch of really, really bad movies. He should have stayed with Tom Clancy.
5. Superman: Man of Steel
Superman is the blandest of all superheroes, which is partially why Christopher Reeve was the most popular in the movie role. But director Zack Snyder has not only assembled the best cast for Superman ever in Man of Steel, he’s imbued the character with some grit—without giving in to dark excess.
Henry Cavill retains Superman’s goodness, but with a new gravitas, and Amy Adams — well, let’s just say, who the heck would give up their superpowers for Margot Kidder?
4. Star Trek (2009)
This wasn’t just any reboot or origin story. Like Batman Begins, this was the best film to date for its characters.
Despite a clunky, pretentious first film, Star Trek had a nice middle run with its original TV cast before getting bogged down with the lesser Next Generation characters.
But J.J. Abrams restored the middle-American can-do attitude of James T. Kirk with the ideally cast Chris Pine and a really fine supporting cast — and he fulfilled a promise of adventure and heroism that even the original never quite achieved.
3. James Bond: Casino Royale
Though Brosnan’s last Bond film, Die Another Day, was the worst of his tenure, the series was not in bad shape when Daniel Craig took over. But Craig took the series to heights of popularity not seen since the Connery glory days. Craig was equally believable as a lover and a fighter, and just as comfortable in a tux as he was in jump gear.
He’s leaving very big shoes to fill.
2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
J.J. Abrams does what series creator George Lucas has been trying unsuccessfully to do since 1983: make a worthy sequel to Star Wars. By wisely ignoring pretty much everything about the “first” three movies, Abrams restores the spirit of the original franchise, with easily the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back.
1. Batman Begins
Christopher Nolan set the standard for restoring a franchise and establishing an origin story with this terrific film. It’s not just the best “superhero movie” ever — it’s a great film, and it’s actually about something. For an encore, Nolan made an even better film with The Dark Night, which is both timeless and perfectly suits the age of terrorism surrounding its release date. The Dark Knight Rises wasn’t quite as good, but still rises above almost everything else in its genre.
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