Bad '90s Movies With Ideas So Good, They Deserve A Reboot

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Vote up the bad movies with concepts so good, they need another shot.

Frequently maligned as a sign of the “lack of imagination” or “unoriginality in Hollywood," sequels have pretty much become accepted, and even expected, by moviegoers, especially after some of them turned out to be better than the originals. Even more frequently disparaged than sequels are reboots, a relatively new term to describe the creation of a new film continuity within an existing, established franchise. Producers may believe they are “refreshing” the franchise for a new audience, but many moviegoers feel like reboots are “ruining” their “childhood memories," with inferior products that push Hollywood dangerously close to “peak suck.”

Like sequels, reboots are not inherently bad. Much of the problem – and fan pushback -- revolves around the movies and franchises that Hollywood chooses to reboot: popular, successful films that many feel are perfect just the way they are. After all, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it,' right? After all, there are plenty of broken movies that could be fixed by a reboot without risking the ire of fans by messing with their sacred cows. In fact, just in the 1990s alone, there are so many movies with original concepts that could have led to great films, that they almost scream “reboot!” 

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  • 1
    263 VOTES

    Concept: A murdered Marine is resurrected and granted superpowers by a demon so that he can return to Earth to see his fiancee one last time, but the bargain isn't quite what he had in mind.

    Delivery: Based on Todd McFarlane's wildly popular independent comic book of the same name, Spawn was a modest hit in 1997, debuting a decade before Iron Man ushered in the MCU and the modern era of comic book movie dominance at the box office. Notable for being one of the first movies of the genre to feature an African-American lead, Spawn was a gritty, violent adaptation that more faithfully matched the tone of the source material than contemporary movies like Batman & Robin

    With a plot involving superpowers, demons, and a climactic showdown between Spawn (Michael Jai White) – and his enormous, animated cape -- and the giant demon Malebolgia (voiced by Frank Welker) in the bowels of hell, the movie required extensive use of CGI. Produced with a budget only one-third that of similar genre movies, the money allocated to produce the “impressive special effects” appeared to come at the expense of hiring better writers as the ”sappy plot" was almost an afterthought. Without a memorable story, and with White and co-star John Leguizamo's performances buried beneath latex and makeup, the effects were the cornerstone of the movie's success, and they quickly became outdated.

    Reboot-ability: No matter how many critics or filmmakers – including Steven Spielberg! – predict the end of superhero movies, the genre continues to dominate the box office, with no end in sight. Marvel and DC/Warner Bros. both have release slates loaded with superhero movies for years to come, but many fans have begun to grumble that their movies are too formulaic and pedestrian, firmly planted in PG-13 territory. A violent, horror-tinged Spawn movie that's well-written and utilizes modern special effects could easily appeal to moviegoers hungry for something edgier.

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  • 2
    235 VOTES

    Concept: In the near future, a “mnemonic courier” is hunted by a corrupt corporation and the Yakuza for the cure to a global wi-fi virus stored in his cyber-brain.

    Delivery: Alongside similarly themed films like Hackers, Virtuosity, and Strange Days, Johnny Mnemonic was rushed into theaters to capitalize on the computer and internet technology explosion of 1995. Building on his success as a leading man in Point Break and Speed, Keanu Reeves was cast in the title role. A forerunner to his landmark role as Neo in The Matrix with many parallels, Johnny downloads data directly into his brain implant and then physically couriers the data to clients to avoid hacking or wi-fi interception. Pursued by Pharmakom security forces, Yakuza thugs, and beefy assassin “The Preacher” (Dolph Lundgren), Johnny – aided by a female AI based on his late mother – races to extract data about the cure for a “virtual internet” disease from his head before he loses it.

    Though it was based on a story by one of the creators of the cyberpunk genre, the movie was blasted by critics as an unoriginal mash-up, “a shabby imitation of greater movies," The virtual reality special effects failed to impress (and were quickly outdated), while many complained “the rest of the film [looked] murky." Even Keanu's surfer-dude style of overacting was criticized.

    Reboot-ability: With cybernetic implants a current reality – and concerns about security, privacy, and artificial intelligence constantly bubbling to the surface  – Johnny Mnemonic has a concept as intriguing today as it was in 1995. By toning down the wackier elements of the script and setting the movie in a landscape less derivative of other movies of the genre, a reboot could trailblaze the way for a neo-cyberpunk cinematic revival.

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  • 3
    306 VOTES

    Concept: The hottest actor of the early '90s headlines a post-apocalyptic action movie set in a world submerged beneath water in a race against pirates to find the fabled “Dry Land.”

    Delivery: With a string of hit movies and two Academy Award wins in the late-'80s and early-'90s, Kevin Costner was one of the most bankable Hollywood actors of his generation in 1995. But even Costner's mass appeal and talent as a producer failed to translate to success when it came to his first foray into sci-fi. Set 500 years in the future, when every continent on Earth has sunk beneath 25,000 feet of water and humanity clings to life on floating artificial atolls, Waterworld was conceived as a “Mad Max rip-off," with ocean waves subbing for desert dunes. 

    Unfortunately, behind-the-scenes personality clashes, several near-fatal accidents, and an artificial seawater enclosure set plagued by problems – including a hurricane! – conspired to sink Waterworld. When the movie debuted, its incomprehensible plot about a girl with a prophetic tattoo (Tina Majorino), a mutant anti-hero with webbed feet (Costner), and a cartoon pirate who worshipped machinery (Dennis Hopper), was roasted by critics and generally avoided by audiences.

    Reboot-ability: Mad Max has become the template for a sub-genre of sci-fi that continues to be appealing to audiences, so the high concept behind Waterworld is still viable, possibly more so today than in 1995 due to climate change concerns. Advances in CGI technology can solve many of the problems and cost overruns that plagued the original, freeing up resources better spent on top-notch screenwriters and less derivative costume designs.

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  • 4
    288 VOTES

    Concept: The greatest action star of the '80s stars as a tough-as-nails cop from the violent past thawed out in the future to apprehend a criminal too dangerous for pacifistic future police.

    Delivery: Despite stiff competition from Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone emerged from the 1980s as the top action movie star in Hollywood. Likely having noticed Schwarzenegger's success with sci-fi films like The Terminator, Predator, and the Running Man, Stallone in the '90s attempted to exert his influence in that genre as well, starting with Demolition Man, a political and cultural satire set in a future world “with no violent trauma but also no excitement, a… tranquilized world.” 

    Heavy on action, futuristic set pieces, and typical tough-guy dialogue, Demolition Man seemed like the perfect vehicle for Stallone to transition into sci-fi, especially opposite also-hot-at-the-time Wesley Snipes as throwback villain Simon Phoenix. Unfortunately, the VFX were hit-and-miss, the acting vacillated between stale and melodramatic, and the story was frequently derailed by pop culture references and poorly timed one-liners. The end result was a “noisy, soulless, self-conscious pastiche” of a movie, or to put it more gently, a film “as much of a piece of cheese as the grade-B sci-fi movies of the '50s.”

    Reboot-ability: Purposely “goofing on the puritan chic of the ‘90s, [and its] new righteousness,” Demolition Man’s high concept is perhaps even more topical today than when it debuted, as political correctness and  “woke” ideology has become a divisive issue in educational, political, and pop cultural arenas worldwide. With modern CGI technology, a director well-versed in the cinematic languages of both action and political satire, and an actor who, unlike Stallone, is in on the joke, a reboot of Demolition Man could be exactly what Hollywood needs – and moviegoers want – right now.

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  • Concept: A murderous alien intelligence possesses a pair of astronauts and impregnates their wives with the goal of infiltrating humanity from within.

    Delivery: As sort of an updated take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers – with some Rosemary's Baby sprinkled in for good measure – The Astronaut's Wife was filled with xenophobia and paranoia, but few “thrilling or exciting moments.” Swapping out Invasion's giant pods for a signal that allows aliens to possess humans, the story centers around a woman (Charlize Theron) who begins to suspect that her astronaut husband (Johnny Depp) is not the man he was before his last trip to space. Unfortunately, she doesn't realize her husband is hosting an alien intelligence until she is already pregnant with his/its twins, which leads to a mega-downer ending with little hope left for humanity.

    Despite featuring two white-hot actors, The Astronaut's Wife tanked at the box office. Some blamed the almost non-existent marketing campaign – which failed to mention aliens on the poster or in the tagline – but most agreed that it was simply that it was “so absurd, so ridiculous, so boring” as to be “unbelievably bad." (Though writer-director Rand Ravich did receive kudos for the “clean, sensuous look” of the film and “effective” and “visually interesting” flourishes.)

    Reboot-ability: The idea that a loved one harbors a dark secret is a fear of just about everyone at one point or another, so the original's tagline could survive a reboot: 

    Imagine the face of terror is the one you love.

    Everything else about The Astronaut's Wife has to go, however, in order to make the movie work for a modern audience. For a reboot to work today, it would likely have to go to one of two extremes: either, it would need to play up the psychological thriller aspects of sentience, trust, and betrayal, a la Ex Machina; or, go for more of a sci-fi/body horror vibe with the alien affecting more than just the minds of its hosts.

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  • 6
    201 VOTES

    Concept: One of the first costumed crimefighters defends his adopted African home against mercenaries and a ruthless businessman seeking an ancient power.

    Delivery: Debuting in print two years before Superman in 1936, the Phantom's adventures span eight decades of newspaper comic strips, once delighting as many as 100 millions readers (!) a day. The 21st inheritor of the mantle, Kit Walker continues the myth of the Phantom's immortality using his strength, intelligence, and trained animals to protect the African nation of Bangalla from his mysterious Skull Cave headquarters.

    More than a decade before the current superhero movie craze would change cinema forever, The Phantom movie debuted in a year devoid of any mainstream superhero movie competition. Set in the 1930s, the movie starred Billy Zane one year before his appearance in James Cameron's Titanic, with a plot revolving around a shady businessman (Treat Williams) conspiring to unite four ancient skulls foretold to bestow incredible destructive powers. The movie was loyal to the source material, taking place in a fantasy world overstuffed with air pirates, femme fatales, attack sharks, and disintegration rays, but ended up coming off as “goofy and earnest,” at a time when comic book movies were trending towards realism. Also problematic were the already outdated depictions of gender roles and bordering-on-offensive depictions of African natives. The Phantom opened in sixth place and was savaged by critics and moviegoers alike.

    Reboot-ability: Costumed crimefighters and caped crusaders continue to burn up the box office, so The Phantom could easily find a home in theaters. With a more grounded and realistic tone, and a script that is more sensitive to the Phantom's role as a white defender of an African nation, a reboot could be the perfect tentpole for a studio hoping to compete against Disney/Marvel and Warner Bros./DC in the crowded comic book movie marketplace.

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