Talk about the state of show business long enough, and someone will come to the conclusion that there aren’t enough original ideas – that too much of what’s coming at us consists of sequels, remakes, reboots and other adaptations of existing material. This might be true. And it might also be true that a lot of this repurposed stuff might not actually be good so much as a blatant attempt to cash in on a recognized brand.
However, just because something is a remake – or a reboot or a sequel or what have you – that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be terrible. And we’re closing out the year with a quick list of a few of 2015’s releases that managed to turn out well in spite of being something other than a wholly original idea.
On paper, Fury Road should have been a disaster. A moribund franchise left to idle for 20 years coming back without the actor who played the title role? What a silly idea. In practice, however, Fury Road became one of the better cinematic adventures this year, no thanks in part to the fact that it introduced an exciting new action hero in the form of Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, who got more to do, perhaps, than even Max himself (Tom Hardy).
Humans running from dinosaurs is timeless, it turns out. While this fourth Jurassic Park movie wasn’t perfect – poor, poor Zara! – this latest Chris Pratt blockbuster proved that the franchises of our youth can be revived successfully. (And if you disagree, Pratt will gladly point you in the direction of $1.6 billion worth of reasons to rethink your disagreement.)
What Makes Chris Pratt So Funny?
Breaking Bad was as perfect and complete a chunk of TV as we could hope for, so fans were understandably skeptical when AMC announced a spinoff prequel series centered on Bob Odenkirk’s supporting character, Saul Goodman. Fears were put to rest, however, when the show’s first season debuted to enthusiastic reviews both from critics and Breaking Bad fans stoked to spend a little more time in the world of the original show.
NBC found some success with live stagings of The Sound of Music and Peter Pan, but a lot of the people watching seemed to be doing so specifically to heckle the productions on Twitter. Those haters were probably most surprised of all when the network nailed its live adaptation of The Wiz. People tuned in in droves too: 11.5 million viewers watched, considerably more than those who watched Peter Pan Live!, and that’s especially remarkably considering that the actress playing Dorothy, Shanice Williams, was a complete unknown before the scoring the role.
5. Fear the Walking Dead
Full disclosure: This writer gave up on The Walking Dead a while back and was therefore dubious that the world needed a spinoff, much less one set in Los Angeles. (“What will it be? Zombies and bad freeway traffic?”) However, Fear the Walking Dead turned out to be a well-done series in its own right – moody, well-acted and different enough from the main series, which is plodding along not unlike, well, a zombie. If there must be spinoffs cashing in the success of a successful TV series, please let them be as worthwhile as this one.
6. Ryan Adams’s 1989
Who saw this coming? Who imagined it being good? Ryan Adams surprised his fans, Taylor Swift’s fans, and the music industry in general when he announced that he’d be covering all of Swift’s album 1989 – and in the style of The Smiths, no less. It’s kind of a genius idea, as it meant exposing his fans to Swift, Swift’s fans to him and music fans in general with the idea that album-length homages could totally be a thing. Can this happen more often? But continue being good?
It’s a live-action adaptation of the Disney classic that itself was a retelling of the fairy tale everyone in the world had heard a hundred times over. (Hey, remember Ever After?) Yet if Disney is going to regurgitate all its beloved movies into non-animated versions – and they apparently are – they could all be at least as good as this one. We’re crediting director Kenneth Branagh for turning out a magical old-fashioned fairy tale in a modern age, with extra brownie points given for the perfect casting of Cate Blanchett and Lily James as the evil stepmother and the famously oppressed stepdaughter, respectively.
Between Once Upon a Time, the live action cinematic remakes and this, it seems like Disney has no compunctions about cannibalizing itself. But hey – at least Disney had fun with this High School Musical-esque TV movie take on its vast archive of characters. Few probably would have guessed that Kristin Chenoweth, Wendy Raquel Robinson and Kathy Najimy were ideal choices for the roles of Maleficent, Cruella de Vil and the Evil Queen, respectively, but hey – the right cast and a good, fun take on these classics means that Disney can run all these adaptations parallel to each other just fine. We’re into it.
Some of you reading this list will literally never care about any superhero-related pop culture project, to say nothing of yet another exploration of the expanded Marvel cinematic universe. But there’s a bit that sets the very noir-ish Jessica Jones apart from The Avengers, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and even Netflix’s previous Marvel outing, Daredevil. It has a sense of humor, thanks in part to Krysten Ritter’s performance as the title character. It has more well-rounded female characters than most stories about superpowers, supervillains and super-everything. And most importantly, it’s one adaptation that most viewers went into fresh, since Jessica Jones wasn’t a character most casual fans knew much about before the series premiered.
Did you maybe hear that a new Star Wars movie came out this year? Did you maybe see advertisements for it here and there? Did you perhaps notice that your Facebook timeline was overflowing with people who had opinions about it one way or the other? Regardless how you feel about this new generation of space adventurers, appreciate at the very least the collective sigh of relief as millions of diehard fans realized that this new film, unlike the prequels, was a worthy successor to the original trilogy.