How pop culture turned into a placid sea of franchises, sequels, reboots and other reliable earners

Originally published at: How pop culture turned into a placid sea of franchises, sequels, reboots and other reliable earners | Boing Boing



In my view, a lot of my fellow white male cis-het geeks got a little too comfortable and defensive once they won over popilar and business culture (although a lot of them simultaneously act like they’re still the bullied and marginalised underdogs).


I remember real cinema that required real actors, but I digress.


It all went downhill when they started making talkies.


All the likes and shares and what have you I think is the catalyst for this phenomena because talking about something nobody is familiar with wont get you to viral status. It’s a feedback loop until people burn out on the topic whatever it may be. The internet makes it seem like anyone could break out and be noticed but who’s actually looking for those people? Everyone wants to have fun with the crowd, not educate them about this great thing/person they never heard of. Wonder Woman, I bet you know who I’m talking about. That independent film with the cast of unknowns but it had a great script? How much effort would I have to put in to get you to care? Probably more than you’d put up with

1 Like

I haven’t read the OP but the answer is driven by how he framed the question- in terms of profit percentages. Because of that the answer is simple- risk. Sequels and known IPs are dramatically lower risk as a business. I can’t speak with authority for movies and music, but it’s 100% why every new video game is Halo Call of Black Ops War 7. The companies are trying to de-risk their production overhead. During my AAA career, I was in dozens of meetings where that trade-off was being weighed and it fell on the side of lower risk every time.

American businessmen like very much to frame themselves as “bold and aggressive risk takers” but the opposite is true. They are the most terrified, conservative group you’ll ever find when their own money is on the line (as opposed to the public’s or yours and mine).

Now, if the OP had framed the question in a more interesting way, such as by sheer number of options in each of those entertainment formats, I think he’d find the opposite. Pop culture has exploded in every indie nook and corner. The barrier to entry for game making has never been lower and we hear the voices of amazing people that we never could have before. Got a weird niche interest? There are 720,000 hours of video uploaded to YouTube per day. Trust me, your “weird” interest is already three entire genres on YouTube.

So, sure- be cynical if you want to about pop culture, or look around and be thankful you live in the greatest time for entertainment culture in human history.

If anything, we have the opposite problem as pop culture as well. It used to be you could chat around the water cooler about what was on TV last night because everyone watched the same things. Now the conversation dies with “Never heard of it. What service is that on? Disneymount Plus? Oh I don’t have that one. That game is Linux-only right? Our local theatre didn’t get that one”.


I wonder how novel this phenomenon really is. Universal made eight sequels to the 1931 adaptation of Frankenstein before they finally retired that franchise, to say nothing of all the other monster movies they set in the same narrative universe.


85 Westerns listed for 1940 alone. Other years may have more but I don’t feel like counting.

John Wayne was personally in 162 films, mostly westerns.


I agree with previous posters. I think costs and risks are the huge factors. To make an MCU or Star Wars level movie is a huge cost. You need a return on it. Another established IP movie is going to have a default audience that they don’t need to rope in.

That all said, there is more independent content being created than ever before. So if you have an idea that you can film cheaply, then you can still get a movie made that isn’t based on existing IP. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, etal. are giving what would previously have gone “straight to home video” a larger audience. And occasionally, you will see something become widely popular. Or at least gain a cult following, like many movies that did meh or weren’t even in theaters that went on to become popular. Oh, and exposing more and more people to some good foreign films out there.

And they DO make bigger budget films with stars that are new stories. Do they hit like Star Wars or MCU? No, but I think they are still good films and they make money to make more.


And whenever Universal would make a particular kind of monster movie, a ton of other studios would make similar ones, too.


Sherlock Holmes was featured in over 50 stories written by Doyle, some after he killed off Holmes in an effort to get away from Sherlock stories so he could devote attention to other writing! Franchises, sequels, and reboots are nothing new, even while it sometimes feels like nothing new is being released.

I type this, of course, while Abney Park plays in the background here in my office. I have no issue finding music or other entertainment that’s not part of that “placid sea.” If you only listen to the radio of course you’re never going to hear anything but the most mainstream stuff!


Though the games are very different, they’re both made by Lucas Pope. Conceivably, you could have chosen Obra Dinn partly on the reputation of Papers pleas, and not strictly on the merits, thus falling prey to the same pattern of consumption that sustains Marvel.

(I’m glad I didn’t, I lacked the skills to stamp papers all day.)



Not to come across all hipster-y, but “turned”? At the end of the day, isn’t this the very essence of pop culture?


Pardon me for being a noodge and making an edit. That should be “FEWER music artists than ever enter the charts each decade.”


While I generally agree with this sentiment and I really wish new, creative, riskier ventures were financially encouraged to the same degree as endless sequels and reboots, I can’t help but play devil’s advocate for the example picture used, the Marvel movies- they have literally decades of material and hundreds of characters to draw from. Does anyone remember comic book movies before Iron Man? Awful CGI Spawn, Nicholas Cage as Ghost Rider, Batman and Robin, Howard the Duck? Even the halfway decent ones seem clunky and cheesy now.

The MCU is the first real, sustained attempt to stay reasonably true to the source material while having the budget and tools to convincingly portray superheroes doing superhero things. It may finally be getting a little stale now after a couple dozen movies, but it turned into a franchise because there’s so much variety and wonder in the comic book genre that hadn’t been explored in film yet, and it was being done very well. I really can’t call the continual introduction of new characters, villains and diverse storylines “just another sequel” in the traditional sense simply because it happens to take place in a shared universe. It only becomes tiresome once the quality drops or the characters or stories become too similar to each other.

Compare this to, say, the Alien or Terminator franchises, which ran out of ideas after the second or third movie but keep chugging along purely on name recognition.


With games, it was pretty clear how this happened - the rise of “AAA” games. It used to be that one’s marketing budget determined sales, mostly. But as the tech improved, game development at the top tier became (exponentially) more involved (and expensive), and as the number of gamers increased, the amount of money you could spend on a game and potentially recover also increased, so it was feasible to spend those exponentially rising amounts of money making games (and then even more money marketing them). (Previously you had a few games like Shenmue, that were famously expensive to make and had expansive, detailed worlds that cost more to develop than could be recovered in sales at the time, but it was a loss-leader to sell consoles, which is the only reason it existed.) Those big budget games with massive marketing campaigns dominate sales. (And similarly, action-heavy big-budget movies more easily penetrate diverse global markets.) Small games that sell through word of mouth are freakishly rare, as it’s almost impossible for that to happen. (It’s only because there are absolutely insane numbers of small games that you have significant numbers of games that hit the top ten without AAA marketing budgets.) It’s got to be even worse with films, as the distribution model doesn’t allow simple word of mouth to make an indie movie compete with an MCU giant.

I remember, just previous to the existence of the “AAA” category, a publisher could put out half-a-dozen games (or more), and have only one of them even make a profit, but the profit would pay for all the rest. Development costs got so crazy - and are still rising, making everything worse. Now in AAA, even a game that has “hit” sales (or sales that at any previous time would have made it a hit) might barely make a profit. It certainly won’t pay for a game that flops. There’s all sorts of consolidation in already risk-adverse publishing as a result, as you need an even wider basis for spreading out the risk, even when all you’re putting out is relatively safe bets of popular game sequels.

There have always been a lot of sequels and remakes, etc. (film-making has always been expensive), but a completely new movie (or game, etc.) could be on fairly equal footing with them. Not so much now. (Look at the top-grossing movies of previous time periods, e.g. the '80s, versus now.)


x-men marvel GIF

1 Like

Is it capitalism?

It’s capitalism, isn’t it.

It’s always capitalism.

Burma Shave.