Webster’s Dictionary defines a reboot as “the act or an instance of starting (something) anew or making a fresh start.” Which is actually not all that helpful for the purposes of figuring out how a reboot is different from a remake. What the hell, Webster’s? You’re supposed to define these things for us!

It feels like the terms remake and reboot are used almost interchangeably these days, depending on which of the two is more in favor at any given moment. “Oh, did a high-profile remake just bomb at the box office? Well, my new movie is actually not a remake. It’s a reboot!” or “No, see, people don’t like reboots. What I’m directing is a remake!” And so on.

So what the heck is a reboot and how the heck is it different from a remake? Take 2024’s  starring Jake Gyllenhaal in the role originally played by Patrick Swayze. If we want to get technical about it, is it a remake or a reboot?

Road House
Prime Video

READ MORE: Road House: The Craziest Moments in the Original Film

What Is a Remake?

A remake is a new film (or TV show, or whatever other medium you‘re talking about) of an old film (or TV show, etc.) If someone (let’s call this person “Jack Moron”) took Orson Welles and Herman Mankiewicz’s script for Citizen Kane and reshot it with a new cast — Colin Farrell as Charles Foster Kane, Anne Hathaway as Susan Alexander, Logan Paul as Jed Leland, and so on — the result would be a remake. (The result would also be a Hall of Fame bad idea. But what else do you expect from a guy named Jack Moron?)

Now in this hypothetical (and catastrophically misguided) example, we haven’t changed anything about the original film beyond the cast. Remakes like that do exist; Gus Van Sant remade Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho page for page, line for line, scene for scene, with only the tiniest cosmetic differences.

But changing nothing about a movie’s script is pretty rare. Most remakes update their premise to a modern setting. Take, for example, the 2005 version of The Longest Yard starring Adam Sandler. It’s the same essential concept — a disgraced NFL pro leads a bunch of convicts in a football game against their prison guards — but it’s been shifted from the mid-1970s to the mid-2000s.

The cast is different (although original star Burt Reynolds shows up in a different supporting role); the setting, the story, and even some of the character names are identical. Thus, a remake.

'Friday the 13th'
Warner Bros.

Okay, Then What Is a Reboot?

Things get more complicated when you are making a new version of something that exists beyond a single film. In a long-running franchise, a remake is rarely just a remake; it is far more common that the film in question wipes away years or even decades of continuity to start over fresh. That’s when a remake becomes a reboot.

Consider the Friday the 13th series. The original slasher saga spanned 11 films over more than two decades. Then, in 2009, producers started over with a new Friday the 13th. It wasn’t a straightforward retread of the original. In the first Friday the 13th from 1980 Jason Voorhees was the MacGuffin, not the killer. (Uh, spoiler alert?) The murderer in the first film was Jason’s mother, Mrs. Voorhees.

The update in 2009 combined elements from several different Friday the 13th movies to establish a new storyline; Jason’s mom appears in the opening, then a grownup Jason goes on a killing spree decades later in the rest of the movie. So Friday the 13th (2009) is a reboot, not a remake.

And so is Casino Royale (2006), which reset the continuity of the James Bond franchise at square one, introducing a new 007 at the start of his career. The key moments in the life of the old James Bond — like the death of his wife in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — were wiped away, along with all of Bond’s other prior exploits, meetings with Blofeld, battles with SPECTRE, and so on. Thus, a reboot.


Is It Possible to Remake a Film With Multiple Sequels?

We’ve already pinpointed the main difference between a remake and a reboot: A remake is a new version of one film, whereas a reboot is a new version of a multipart film series. You can’t reboot something that’s only had one movie in the first place. It would be technically incorrect, for example, to call the Frank Oz Little Shop of Horrors a reboot, because there was only one prior Little Shop of Horrors by Roger Corman to begin with.

That raises an interesting question: Is the reverse possible? Can you make a remake a film that is part of a long-running series that’s not a reboot? Or does the fact that a movie is a new version of a film that started a long-running series automatically make it a reboot?

Let’s use the 2014 RoboCop as our test case. The original RoboCop from 1987 inspired two direct big-screen sequels, along with comic books, video games, a live-action TV series, and two animated series. The sheer quantity of secondary stuff in its wake absolutely qualifies it for reboot status.

But is RoboCop (2014) a reboot? Technically, I suppose it is, since it ignores all of the secondary stuff and returns to the basic premise of a murdered cop who is Frankensteined into a robotic avenger. But the film is also close enough to the 1987 film in terms of plot, setting, style, and tone, that in a world where RoboCop 2 and 3 didn’t exist, you would absolutely call it a remake without a second thought. If a reboot can also be a remake, RoboCop is both. In my personal opinion, whether you call RoboCop a remake or a reboot you are right.

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

You would also be right whether you called Peter Jackson’s King Kong a reboot or a remake. 1933’s King Kong got several sequels through the years, including Son of Kong and King Kong vs. GodzillaThere was a prior remake with its own sequel, King Kong Lives. If a reboot is “a new version of a multipart film series,” then Jackson’s King Kong is definitely a reboot.

But Jackson’s King Kong is also one of the most slavishly faithful remakes in history. It’s got all the same main characters, all the same locations, the same exact story, the same ending, even the same timeframe. (Jackson chose not to update the story, and set his film in 1933.) It seems ludicrous to not call Jackson’s King Kong a remake on a technicality.

That brings us back to the 2024 Road House. It’s got to be a remake, right? Ah ah ah — not so fast. There is Road House sequel; 2006’s Road House 2, featuring Jonathon Schaech as the son of Patrick Swayze’s character from the first movie.

Road House (2024) ignores the events of Road House 2. (Shocking, I know.) So is it a reboot? Technically, I guess it might be.

But like RoboCop, I think it is safe to call this a remake. It features the same basic premise — man who hates wearing shirts cleans up seedy bar — and the same title character (Dalton, the man who hates shirts and loves ripping out dude’s throats). Even if there was a little-seen direct-to-video sequel to contend with here, If that’s not a remake, nothing’s a remake.

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