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Deja Vu: With ‘Men in Black’ and ‘Shaft,’ Studios Bank on Reboots and Revivals

Everything old is new again … at least in Hollywood. 

Take “Men in Black: International.” Sony is banking on the star power of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson to breathe new life into the sci-fi series first made popular by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in the mid-’90s. It’s not the only film hitting theaters that looks awfully familiar. “Men in Black: International” will debut alongside Samuel L. Jackson’s “Shaft,” another series getting revisited decades after the fact. 

The blockbuster hopefuls are two of many reboots gracing multiplexes this year as studios attempt to figure out how many times they can spruce up aging franchises. After all, Hollywood gravitates toward the familiar, a tendency that only intensifies over the summer when multiplexes are flooded with superhero tentpoles and big-budget fare.

Properties such as “Star Wars,” “Creed” and “Jumanji” have continued to expand their IP to consistent success. And their gains have other studios looking to follow a similar playbook. The coming months will play host to sequels to “Bill & Ted” and “Rambo,” as well as reboots of “The Addams Family” and “Child’s Play,” series hailing from the 1980s and ’90s. On TV, reboot culture is in full bloom, with everything from “Will & Grace” to “Veronica Mars” getting renewed life. With the possible exception of a “Murphy Brown” update, most of these shows have been ratings hits. 

“You have to figure out if the content can still draw an audience,” says Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners. “Is it still relevant?”

Sony is hoping that having Thompson share the spotlight with Hemsworth will prevent “Men in Black: International” from feeling like a tired retread. It’s a formula that helped “Ocean’s 8,” last year’s gender-swapped remake of the heist drama, rake in nearly $300 million at the global box office. While Hollywood is slow to give women and people of color their due, female-fronted films like Brie Larson’s “Captain Marvel” and “Halloween” with Jamie Lee Curtis continue to prove that moviegoers will shell out to see such fare. “MIB: International” could also benefit from Marvel fans hoping to get their fix of Thor and Valkyrie as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes take a big-screen hiatus after “Avengers: Endgame.”

“To have a strong female co-star right now is probably a good thing given how well ‘Captain Marvel’ has done and the attention the women in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have achieved,” Handler said.

The upcoming iteration of “Men in Black” comes nearly a decade after Smith and Jones last assumed the roles of Agent J and Agent K. While domestic box office receipts shrank with each entry, ticket sales overseas grew for 2012’s “MIB 3,” with international revenues accounting for almost two-thirds of the franchise’s worldwide grosses. So it’s not surprising that this time around, the movie is set in the London bureau of the top-secret organization and the agents are sent traveling around the globe after getting involved in a series of alien attacks.

“The title says it all,” says Jeff Bock, a media analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “Who are they going after? Look at the uptick for the last three films overseas, and you’ll see why Sony made the film.”

The price tag of $110 million is almost modest compared with what some major studios spend for superhero spectacles and sci-fi epics. While that figure doesn’t account for hefty global marketing costs, the film will rely heavily on international audiences to turn a profit. It’s expected to earn $40 million at the domestic box office in its inaugural weekend, a start that would be slightly behind those of its predecessors, all of which debuted just above $50 million.

“It’s risky, but it’s not like it’s a $200 million film,” Handler says. “If you can do $125 million in North America, you’re probably OK. You’ll see how the rest plays out overseas.”

As Hollywood continues to revisit past properties, the distinctions between reboots, remakes and revivals get blurrier. Like “Men in Black: International,” “Shaft” is introducing fresh faces to a franchise that hasn’t had a new installment since 2000. Though Jackson is reprising his titular role, the upcoming entry focuses on his son (Jessie Usher) joining the family business. This “Shaft” is a sequel to the 2000 film of the same name, which was itself based on the Gordon Parks-directed 1971 movie starring Richard Roundtree.

Amid an especially crowded summer, “Shaft” is expecting to collect between $16 million and $24 million during its first three days in theaters. It won’t only be competing with “Men in Black: International” for the attention of moviegoers. “X-Men” installment “Dark Phoenix” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” are just a handful of titles still in release. There’s a common thread running through all of these films: It’s been nearly 20 years since the X-Men first saved the world on film and more than 60 years since Godzilla initially laid waste to Tokyo. 

For the movie business, some intellectual property never goes out of style. 

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