Franchise Reboots

Should Jake Gyllenhaal replace Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man? From Sherlock Holmes to James Bond to the Karate Kid, VIEW OUR GALLERY charting franchise fiascoes and successes.

Dr. Who

Doctor Who, the classic long-running twice-revived British sci-fi TV series, is an ingenious example of a franchise-friendly story: Its main character, The Doctor, is an alien who necessarily changes his appearance and personality every time he faces a serious injury. No more pretending that two totally different-looking actors are portraying the same character or embarrassing gaps between two different portrayals—that’s the way it’s supposed to be! It doesn’t mean there aren’t favorites, though. Tom Baker, the Fourth Doctor, is the early, “classic-Doctor” favorite (and the best-known in the U.S.), but David Tennant’s witty, chatty Tenth Doctor, who just finished up his run in January, set a new standard in the portrayal of time-traveling aliens. How will Matt Smith compare with Tennant, and all the previous Doctors?

Spider-Man

With Tobey Maguire and director Sam Raimi no longer attached to Spider-Man 4, it’s time for Marvel to reboot the franchise that began in 1962. The first reimagining of the character came in 1967, with an animated series best remembered for its infectious theme song (“Spider-man, Spider-man, does whatever a spider can…”). The live-action series that came a few years later is best forgotten, but the Maguire trilogy will likely stand as a highpoint, depending on who takes over the role as the webslinger. With director Marc Webb of the indie romance 500 Days of Summer behind the reboot, he could choose Joseph Gordon-Levitt to play Peter Parker, but there are two clear fan favorites. Twilight god Robert Pattinson is most frequently mentioned, but his prior commitments will likely make it impossible for him to suit up. So it may be up to Jake Gyllenhaal to get teenage girls’ Spidey senses tingling.

Sherlock Holmes

It seems fair to say that if you created the character said to have been portrayed in more films than any other, you must have done something right. According to The Guinness Book of World Records, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective has been the subject of some 211 films, played by 75 actors. And while Conan Doyle’s stories remain unmatched, many of those actors have acquitted themselves very well when playing the famous resident of 221B Baker Street, few have done as memorably as Basil Rathbone, who donned the deerstalker cap and Inverness cape in 14 black-and-white films. Rathbone’s only rival to the “best onscreen Holmes” title is Jeremy Brett, whose own manic-depressive, obsessive personality was eerily mirrored in his portrayal of Holmes.

Star Trek

For a franchise that’s been around since Stardate 1966, Star Trek has managed to keep up a remarkable level of quality throughout its many iterations. Well, throughout its many live-action iterations: Star Trek: The Animated Series, a low-budget—even by Star Trek standards—cash-in from the 1970s was disowned by franchise creator Gene Roddenberry and appreciated only by the most nostalgic (and deluded) of Trekkies is the clear franchise low point. The high point? Captain Jean-Luc Picard and The Next Generation will always have a place in the interplanetary pantheon, but no one—on this world or any other—could approach William Shatner’s James T. Kirk and Leonard Nimoy’s Spock from the original series.

James Bond

Not many people get three different cracks at the same franchise—but Sean Connery’s not most people. In the early 1960s, Connery defined Ian Fleming’s hero in Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball, briefly retired, reassumed the Walther PPK again after the brief and unfortunate reign of George Lazenby (who will eternally be known as the Bond in the crushed-velvet bodysuit), and finally returned several years later in an ill-advised, toupeed stint as a middle-aged Bond in Never Say Never Again. His seven films all in all are matched only by Roger Moore, who portrayed 007 from 1973 to 1985. Time will tell if Daniel Craig, whose brooding, misanthropic Bond owes a great deal to Fleming’s novels, can reach the same heights as Connery, but he’s started out with a bang: Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, the first two films of the Craig era, grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide together.

The Karate Kid

Ralph Macchio’s performance in the first Karate Kid movie helped catapult the 1984 martial-arts Rocky to nearly $100 million at the box office. On the other hand, Hilary Swank, who studied under Mr. Miyagi in 1994’s The Next Karate Kid, was a disappointment—the film didn’t even gross $10 million—but she still went on to be one of Hollywood’s million-dollar babies. Presumably Jaden Smith (son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett), who stars alongside Jackie Chan in this year’s remake (due out in June), can restore honor to the role.

Batman

If the history of screen versions of DC Comics’ beloved character tell us anything, it’s that there are two Batmen: sober, serious, and dark (Michael Keaton and Christian Bale), and funny, flamboyant and, well, colorful (Adam West, Val Kilmer and George Clooney.) The first archetype tends to result in terrific action movies, while the second kind gets you Bat-shark repellent and bodysuits with nipples. The first kind also tends to see a better box office: Bale’s two movies ( Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) raked in a Bruce Wayne-worthy sum of $700 million; Keaton’s two films did $400 million; and Kilmer and Clooney—combined—only brought in $300 million.

The Incredible Hulk

After a campy but beloved run on television, the big screen adaptation of the Marvel Comics’ Hulk seemed promising. On paper. It turned out the film—directed by Ang Lee and starring Australian actor Eric Bana—was such a big green mess that several years later, it was remade, as though the first version hadn’t ever happened. Edward Norton’s The Incredible Hulk was barely an improvement over Bana’s ponderous, unlikeable Hulk. The lesson, perhaps, is that CGI is really no replacement for having two different guys play Bruce Banner and The Hulk, especially if one of those guys is Lou Ferrigno.

Herbie, The Love Bug

It’s hard to find a less-fortunate franchise than the Herbie series, whose adorable, titular VW Beetle hasn’t seen a bright spot since his original incarnation with Dean Jones in The Love Bug. The line on Herbie’s reboots graph looks a little bit like the stock market circa 2008—or, maybe not coincidentally, the line on a hypothetical “Lindsay Lohan’s career” graph.

The Pink Panther

Like a bizarro-world version of Sean Connery and the Bond films, Peter Sellers originated The Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau, and returned to the role twice—after a mediocre outing by Alan Arkin as the bumbling French detective, he donned the trench coat in several films, and once even after he had died, in Trail of the Pink Panther, his performance pieced together from unused footage in the other films. Even the late Peter Sellers was more fun to watch onscreen that the others who attempted to revive the Pink Panther franchise—with the exception of Steve Martin, whose Pink Panther remakes took in almost $300 million at the box office—but the real loser may be David Niven: Niven, who played “The Phantom” in the first Pink Panther movie, was intended to be the focus of a new series about his debonair thief character, until Sellers stole the movie—and the franchise—out from under his nose.

The Saint

Roger Moore’s Bond may have just lost out to Sean Connery’s James Bond, but he’s got no competition in the “Best Saint” stakes. Moore’s heavenly portrayal of Leslie Charteris’ debonair spy-detective-thief Simon Templar—George Sanders portrayed him on film in the ‘40s—was the part he was born to play, and no other Saint has been able to touch his halo. Val Kilmer, on the other hand, reveals himself as franchise poison—a low point as Batman, and the low point as Templar. Interestingly, Dougray Scott, who is reportedly lined up as the lead in the new Saint TV series, is a two-time also-ran in the franchise game: The actor was replaced by Hugh Jackman after being cast as Wolverine in X-Men, and was just beaten out by Daniel Craig for the part of James Bond.

The Tonight Show

In the world of franchise science, there is maybe no more cautionary tale than NBC’s handling of The Tonight Show: Created in 1954 by Sigourney Weaver’s father, Pat, NBC’s Tonight (a bookend to Today) starred comedian Steve Allen and is still influential today. Allen’s three-year stint as host gave way to Jack Parr’s volatile but must-watch five-year tenure, followed by the legendary Johnny Carson’s 30-year reign behind the desk. And then: disaster. With the Jay vs. Dave drama (ending with Leno’s ascension), the Conan O’Brien interregnum, and the Jay vs. Conan drama (ending with Leno’s ascension), it remains to be seen whether the Tonight Show franchise can ever recover. Or if it will indeed have the last laugh.