Recycling Ideas in the American Film Industry


Even though remakes are as old as the movie industry, the recycling of ideas in the American film landscape is getting more prevalent.

In the 1930s, the storylines of 16 percent of the 500 most successful films were recycled. Films such as Dracula and Frankenstein were made several times. Treasure Island (1934) and A Tale of Two Cities (1935) had been produced previously as silent films.

In the 1980s, the percentage of rehashed storylines increased to 22 percent. The 80s became the decade in which the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series were continued. It was also the time of the Scarface remakes (1983) and the creation of franchises such as Die Hard, Police Academy and Rambo.

In the first ten years of the 21st century, no less than 36 percent of the 500 most popular films are either a remake, sequel, spin-off or part of a franchise. Harry Potter, Pirates of The Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, and (again) Star Wars – to name a few – are turned into film series. Other examples include the Disney remakes of the Marvel superhero films, and the modern takes on Starsky & Hutch (2004) and Miami Vice (2006).

“We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. To make money is our only objective.” – Michael Eisner, Disney CEO (1984-2005)

In other words, there has been a 20 percent increase over 80 years since the 1930s in the number of major American films whose storylines is either a remake, sequel or spin-off. The number of mainstraim American films which can be labelled “recycled” according to these criteria was 36 percent in the 2000s.

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