How to Tell a Remake From a Reboot From a Sequel (and More!)
A moviegoer’s guide… to the movies.
Unsure of the difference between a remake and a reboot? Or what makes a sequel, a prequel, and a threequel? SPOILER ALERT: All is revealed below!
A remake is simply a new version of an old film; it can vary from the original in one or more of several ways, but generally it will be more similar than dissimilar. A reboot, however, is a peculiar animal: a new movie in an established series that discards all “continuity” in order to recreate the characters, timeline, and/or backstory from scratch. The removal of non-essential elements and distillation of a property to its core concepts makes it more appealing to newcomers.
Examples: Ocean’s Eleven (2001) is a remake of Ocean’s 11 (1960); Star Trek (2009) is a reboot of the Star Trek series of movies (1979–1991).
Bonus Fun Fact: The entire original Star Trek series was remade as the Start Wreck series (1980–1992), which itself is scheduled to be rebooted with Restart Wreck in 2019. (But see “restart,” below.)
Note: Reboot should not be confused with reshoot, an additional filming of a scene during production of a film, typically to correct an error. A reshoot is a very common occurrence in the complicated process of making a movie and therefore should not be confused with a retool, which is a pretty big deal, involving large-scale changes to major aspects of a film once production has begun — like when the interstellar big rig featured in Star Truck (2002) was redesigned from stem to stern, axle by axle — or a restart, which is a really big deal, such as when the lead role was recast a full six weeks into principal photography of Back to the Future (1985).
A remake should also not be confused with a premake, which is the result of a filmmaker’s traveling in time in order to produce an “earlier” version of a movie to be released in the past, with the result that the “later” movie will be considered a remake (and therefore have cachet with those who prefer their films to have a certain amount of “history”), even if it was actually completed and released first, as it were. During filming of The Time Machine(2002), for instance, director Simon Wells borrowed the titular device in the evenings and on weekends to make (under a pseudonym) The Time Machine (1960), to which the supposed remake was, unfortunately, considered inferior.
The same logic has led to the advent of the preboot, this being a movie that resets the continuity of a series before the series has even begun. Star Trek: The Motion Picture is such a film, in that it was made in 1979 based on a screenplay written in 2306 (concerning events that will [have] take[n] place in 2273).
Now, on any given day, it might seem that the number of movie sequels is much greater than the number of original properties on big screens across the country. If this is true, it is really only because there are so many different kinds of sequels. A true sequel is simply a movie that continues the story or further develops a theme of a previous movie. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is the sequel to Star Wars (1977). That film series did not end there, of course; Return of the Jedi (1983) is the sequel to The Empire Strikes Back and the threequel to Star Wars (not to be confused with the treequel in another sci-fi series, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Conifer).
Infamously, there are three prequels to the original Star Wars trilogy, each being a movie filmed later in time but recounting events that take place earlier in the so-called “saga.” Reception to the later trilogy of movies was so poor, however, that many fans have lobbied for remakes of the prequels — or reprequels. While this wish has not to date been granted, we did get a simple requel in The Empire Strikes Back to the Future (1986), which is slated for a preboot as The Empire Struck Trek to the Future Past in 1877.
Finally, we have the specific vocabulary for certain filmic items that are not part of a movie proper, but nonetheless part of the complete moviemaking and -going experience. Chief among these is the trailer, an advertisement for a feature film that usually includes footage from the film itself. (Trailers used to be shown after the movies then playing, hence the name. Nowadays, they’re shown before the main attraction.) A teaser is a very short trailer, typically revealing absolutely nothing about the film it advertises. A stinger is a scene that appears after all or some of a movie’s credits, often to deliver a final laugh or to set up a sequel. A strailer, of course, is a retroactive advertisement for a movie that appears on screen after the movie itself or even during the credits for that movie; a steaser is a short version of this; and a stranger is someone you don’t want to sit next to in a theater, which is why you put your coat down on the adjacent seat.
Enjoy the show!