In light of the successful revivals of intellectual properties (IPs) like Star Wars (theatrical releases [1977–2019]; expanded as The Mandalorian [2019-] and other shows on Disney+), The Karate Kid (theatrical releases [1984, 1986, 1989]; expanded with Cobra Kai [2019-] on YouTube Premium and later on Netflix), and Lost in Space (original broadcast television series [1965-1968]; theatrical remake ; revived as long-format series of the same name on Netflix [2018-]) on popular streaming services, I thought it a fun experiment to propose expansions, reboots, remakes, re-imaginings, etc. of additional franchises on current or future streaming platforms. These hypothetical expansions of existing IPs that follow are envisioned as series rather than standalone feature-films, given Netflix and other services’ dependency on binge-watching as part of their business models. As a function of this, most of the prospective franchise expansions listed below are of novels or a series of novels, which better translate to television than 2-3 hour features.
Mull over the following IPs I argue could find new life on contemporary streaming platforms, even if — or, maybe even because — they haven’t found success or relevance on screens of any size in years. After all, everyone loves a good comeback story:
5.) Mortal Kombat (Videogames = 1992-2019; Feature-Films = 1995, 1997, 2021): I’m well aware of the upcoming (Q2 of 2021 as of this writing) feature-film reboot of this videogame series, produced by James Wan of The Conjuring (2013, 2016, 2021), Saw (2004-2017), and Aquaman (2018, 2022) fame, and starring a who’s who of East Asian and Oceanian character actors (e.g. Joe Taslim, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, etc.). My main concerns with this film involve its rookie director, Simon McQuoid, as well as the lackluster quality of the franchise’s previous live-action adaptations, not to mention Hollywood’s terrible track record of videogame adaptations in general.
The IP’s schlocky premise (fantasy characters fighting to the death in an interdimensional tournament of hand-to-hand combat) and almost grindhouse aesthetic (the franchise garners controversy for its cartoonish violence and gratuitous blood and gore to this day) is well suited for the big-budget, “straight-to-home-video” feel of Netflix’s plethora of Original Limited and long-format series. One could design episodes around particular matchups between the game world’s awesome/ridiculous characters like Sub Zero vs. Scorpion or Sonya Blade vs. Kano, then build a series or season to the tournament’s championship round. Given how many bizarre, oddball projects exist on Netflix in particular, I don’t see how an exploitation action series like Mortal Kombat wouldn’t fit into today’s streaming marketplace.
4.) Animorphs (Novels = 1996-2001; Live-Action Television Series = 1998-2000 ): One of the weirder but also better written children’s book series from the Scholastic Corporation (see also Goosebumps [1992-1997] below) was Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant’s insane, action-packed science-fantasy saga about California teenagers battling a covert alien invasion with shapeshifting powers. To be specific, the novels’ main characters uncover a vast, global conspiracy of parasitic, extraterrestrial slugs called “Yeerks (I’m not kidding)” who control other host species by entering and merging with their brains through the ear canal. These antagonistic slugs are also engaged in intergalactic warfare with other alien races beyond our solar system, and technology used by those rival factions finds its way into the hands our human — and occasional nonhuman — protagonists.
This series scratches multiple itches with regards to the modern streaming environment: (A) Its mostly teenage cast and suburban high-school setting make it easily relatable to a wide youth and young adult demographic; (B) its diverse genre overtones range from cosmic science-fiction to fantasy to action to teenaged melodrama, ensuring an almost Star Wars-level of appeal for fans of all those genres without compromising any single one; (C) its ensemble cast’s ability to shapeshift into both terrestrial and extraterrestrial organisms allows eye-candy for general audiences, and those literal character transformations are now feasible and relatively inexpensive with contemporary special FX.
3.) Goosebumps (Novels = 1992-1997; Television Series = 1995-1998 ; Feature-Films = 2015, 2018): R. L. Stine’s long-running children’s horror series, another staple of 1990s Scholastic books, achieved more mainstream recognition than Applegate and Grant’s Animorphs by a significant margin; it was adapted to broadcast television (i.e. television before Internet streaming) for four seasons, was adapted to two cartoony, mainstream blockbusters starring Jack Black in the 2010s, and remains one of the best-selling children’s book series in history, second only to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter (1997-2007; see below).
More than any other property on this list, Goosebumps lends itself to an anthology style in the vein of American Horror Story (2011-) or better yet, Black Mirror (2011-) and The Twilight Zone (1959-1964, 1985-1989, 2002-2003, 2019-). Its 235 individual titles, about four times the number of Animorphs books, are mostly standalone with a few iconic villains (e.g. Slappy the Dummy) crossing over to a handful of different titles. The original broadcast TV series abided by this format, too, but was limited by the constraints of its broadcast medium (e.g. 22-minute running times for most episodes, necessary commercial breaks, violence censorship, etc.). A reboot on Netflix, for example, could expand this run-time as needed and improve the books’ occasional fantasy spectacle and body horror imagery with modern special FX and a larger budget.
2.) Terminator (Feature-Films = 1984-2019; Television Series = 2008-2009): The Terminator series has been used, abused, and misused even more than my beloved Alien (1979–2017) and Predator (1987–2018) franchises, floundering in creative myopia since its iconic original feature (1984) and watershed first sequel (1991). Franchise entries include different amounts of bad writing, bad direction, bad special FX, and beyond, including a short-lived broadcast TV series that even diehard fans have forgotten about. The franchise’s modern day-chase template, whereby a killer robot is sent from a post-apocalyptic future back in time to assassinate key figures of the later human resistance, has been twisted and overcomplicated to the point of absurdity.
Given how studio executives seem determined to beat this dead horse no matter how many failures, I suggest the series transition to an online subscription service as a failsafe option. The Terminator franchise has enough character and tonal diversity to fill an 8-24 episode (i.e. one to three seasons at 8 episodes each, perhaps at 45 minutes per episode) storyline and enough special FX and violence to keep fans happy, but what it really needs is some auteur creative freedom outside of the traditional Hollywood studio system.
1.) Harry Potter (Novels = 1997-2007; Feature Films = 2001-2011): Though fans of the series may balk at this suggestion in light of the property’s numerous theatrical releases (10, as of this writing), all of which have been financially successful, I stand by my arguments that the series on film has been a lackluster, generic, poorly acted mess from start to finish. The child cast suck, the adult cast are wasted talent, the scripts feel truncated and rushed, and the features overall are empty special FX showcases, bland eye candy for general audiences seeking bland entertainment.
The original novel series alone could fill seven seasons (i.e. one book per season), a long-format television series would accommodate Rowling’s detailed, verbose writing style, and most crucially of all, a Netflix-style reboot would allow the Harry Potter IP to refocus its brand from digital FX nonsense to the original appeal of the books: A relatable, universal coming-of-age story set in a fantastical world not too distant from ours. Forget casting actors who look like the fans’ favorite characters and cast actors who feel like them.