For years, film fans have been pointing out how little the "Tron" name meant to any but the most dedicated geeks. And yet somehow its sequel proved very popular this past weekend anyway.
No doubt the new "Tron's" $43.6 million of domestic box office was fueled by Disney's gargantuan marketing campaign, which made sure no waking human could go 10 minutes without being reminded of the film's existence. But given how infrequently most of us have thought of "Tron" since it came out 28 years ago, it's worth asking a counter-intuitive question: Could the lukewarm feelings for Steven Lisberger's original actually have helped the new film?
As Hollywood has gone reboot-crazy in recent years, particularly for all things '80s, the thinking has been that it's wise to play off a beloved name. That's how, the wisdom went, a studio can easily conjure up warm and fuzzy feelings and ensure a lot of the marketing work is done before it ever spends a dollar.
But as we get deeper into the 1980s revival, something curious is happening. We're embracing remakes of properties we didn't care for much the first time around -- and turning a cold shoulder to remakes of the movies and TV show we remember fondly.
This year, for instance, the resurrections that struggled were based on iconic properties: "A Nightmare on Elm Street," the original of which horror fans hold dear; "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," a sequel to an era-defining classic that performed decently but not great; and, most prominently, "The A-Team." The story of a crack commando unit sent to prison for a crime it didn't commit is one of the most appreciated of all '80s entertainment brands. But it struck out in 2010.
On the other hand, the '80s names that unleash a weaker stream of nostalgia have landed more forcefully. "Clash of the Titans," a movie that on its first go-round in 1981 was liked but hardly canonized by most film-goers, took in an eye-popping $163 million. And now "Tron: Legacy" -- which continued the story of a film most audiences barely remembered, let alone liked -- is on its way to becoming a hit.
Could it be that, even as most of us roll our eyes at '80s remakes, we're actually interested in them -- as long as what's being remade isn't sacrosanct? (The one exception is "The Karate Kid," the new version of which was able to overcome this skepticism with savvy casting and marketing.)
It's impossible to know if this upside-down rule of remakes will continue to hold as Hollywood proceeds in bringing back the '80s. But the evidence may now be sufficient to make the people behind the new "Ghostbusters" worried -- and those behind the new "Conan" excited.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Olivia Wilde in "Tron: Leagcy." Credit: Disney
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