10 Movies…That Are Reboots Of Really Old Pop Culture (Just Like the New ‘Lone Ranger’ Movie)

A new big-screen version of The Lone Ranger comes out this weekend, starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow as Tonto. It looks less like a faithful adaptation of the Western saga that thrilled your great-great-grandfather as a little boy in front of the magic sound box, and more a vehicle for Johnny Depp to act goofy and the delight the fuck out of everybody once again. That’s because rebooting The Lone Ranger, which premiered on radio in 1933 and TV in 1949, is a hard sell. Yeah, Hollywood is reboot crazy these days, but they tend to go after known entities from the last 20 years or so (Man of Steel is a rare exception, but that’s SUPERMAN, you guys).

Here are 10 other movies that paved the way for Disney’s cautious attempt at a modern, big-screen update of a popular franchise that began in radio, comics, film serials, or pulp novels in the early 20th century.

The Legend of the Lone Ranger

Clayton Moore was deeply associated with the role of John Reid/the Lone Ranger from his years playing the character in over 200 episodes of the TV version of The Lone Ranger in the ‘50s. Moore continued wearing the mask and hat at public appearances around the country well into the ‘70s. When a new Lone Ranger move was put into production for release in 1981, Moore was sued to get him to stop wearing the mask in public—the studio feared people would think the elderly Moore was starring in the movie. Moore wore wraparound sunglasses instead; maybe he should have been in the movie. Starring an actor named Klinton Spilsbury, with his lines dubbed in by another actor, The Legend of the Lone Ranger made $12 million at the box office and won three Razzies. Spilsbury never acted again.


Flash Gordon

In the wake of the massive, somewhat surprising success of the soap opera Star Wars in 1977, came this reboot of another space opera. Flash Gordon was about an all-American football stud who goes into space to fight the evil Ming the Merciless. Pure pulpy goodness, filmmakers played up the pulp and the camp in the 1980 Flash Gordon movie. It did pretty well at the box office, despite Star Wars significantly raising the bar on what a sci-fi movie could and should look like. (Excellent soundtrack by Queen, though.)


The Shadow

Some projects just work for a specific medium. The Shadow did best as a radio serial, where it was totally spooky and plausible that a hero could get shit done by “clouding men’s minds.” That’s a little hard to pull off in the visual, and this became another nail in the coffin of Alec Baldwin’s inexplicably middling film career.


Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan

After film serials and B-movies starring Olympian Johnny Weissmuller, Tarzan was pretty passé, and pretty campy – guy in loincloth talk in few words, grab Jane, swing on vine. Bunga bunga. But 1984’s Greystoke was an attempt at a thoughtful, artsy film. A predecessor of projects like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Greystoke took Tarzan seriously and realistically. It didn’t really work, because Tarzan doesn’t need to be that reverently handled, but solid effort, guys.


Brenda Starr

Brooke Shields actually can act – she’s good in small roles on sitcoms and such, like on Friends, and The Middle. This movie, a full-length take on pre-war super-reporter Brenda Starr (not to be confused with Brenda K. Starr, her daughter who waged an unnecessary war in Iraq and recorded “I Still Believe”) was filmed in 1986, but since the filmmakers didn’t quite have the rights to the character, it was dumped onto video in 1992.


The Phantom

Paramount Pictures severely overestimated the box office appeal of a pre-Titanic Billy Zane in a weird purple jumpsuit wandering around the 1930s African bush.


John Carter

Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ groundbreaking if not genre defining sic-fi novels dating to the 1910s, it’s kind of fun that they made a super-high-budget movie out of what is, in all positive, glorious senses of the word, pulp. The movie was ambitious and a love letter to the books, if not early sic-fi, and doesn’t really deserve to be lumped in with other notorious money-losing flops conceived in cynicism.


The Mask of Zorro

Zorro dates back to dime-store novels in the 1910s, but the mix of adventure, humor, and sex appeal mean this was the role Antonio Banderas was inevitably going to play some day.


Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze

One of America’s first true pop culture heroes was intrepid adventurer Doc Savage. While immensely popular across a number of media in the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s, he was ignored for a generation while several big-screen attempts never materialized. This troubled 1975 production would have been, in a perfect world, the beginning of a whole new franchise.


The Spirit

“Here’s my pitch. Sin City, but in the old timey days, and I think everybody’s kidding?”

  • CoCarlin

    John Carter was a surprise to me – after watching the hideous marketing campaign, I was stunned with how much I liked the movie. I read how they took out the Mars / Sci-Fi aspect so they would not lose audience. Can’t help but think that more people would have seen it, actually, since there are more closet sci-fi fans than people realize.

  • Richard

    I loved John Carter and really could not understand the sabotage the critics gave to it. Was it orginal by comparision to the movies that came before it that .. No but from what I understand it was true to the novels which in turn inspired the movies to which it was being compared to . Poorly marketed and suffering from a huge budget that had Disney haters ready with knives out … the movie is a very entertaining rather thoughtful sci-fi romp and a visual feast . The last few days I have actually have wanted to watch this again and much like John Carter get back to Mars . Sequel? Probably not .. too bad.

  • George

    Don’t forget “The Rocketeer”
    (I also loved “John Carter.” It is a pity that it bombed, a victim of poor marketing.)

  • Esteban Martinez

    Most of these were flops despite some of them being actually decent/good films. Lesson learned? Don’t bother with them.

  • ninjaandy1975

    Lone Ranger was terrible. At least with Superman there was an attempt to honor the original concepts and themes while modernizing the character.

    But Depp/Verbinski crapped all over everything the original stood for — heroism, skill, thoughtfulness, honorable traditions, and justice. By contrast Armie Hammer’s Ranger is a vengeful, bumbling clown who detests faith and country and dishonors his brother’s memory.

    And Depp is just a less-charming Jack Sparrow.

  • Korabljenik

    Flash Gordon didn’t do well at the box office, as the article says.

  • Spoiler Man

    7 million over budget isn’t bad.

  • Spoiler Man

    Somebody is really butt hurt over John Carter and down voting anybody that liked it. Down vote this too asshat.

  • Guy Smiley

    The Rocketeer wasn’t a reboot of something really old. Rather, it was a fairly recent (to the time the movie was made) comic book created as a throwback to old-time movie serials, golden-age comics, an homage to Betty Page, etc.

    It’s a fun little movie that still holds up well today, more than 20 years after it (undeservedly) flopped in theatres. I picked up the recent 20th anniversay blu-ray, and it looks good.

    I’d love to see Rocketeer rebooted. Or maybe even get the main cast back for an adventure set 20 years after the first? They’re all still around (and Jennifer Connolly still looks great).

    I’ve also thought that an animated version (made by Disney-owned Pixar) could be fantastic. Get the original cast back to the voices.

  • DwDunphy

    Right. Dave Stevens created the character in the very early 1980s as a pastiche of 1930s elements, but I think it is a testament to the character and to Stevens that, even though they were not a part of the time period, people can easily integrate them in. Also, I’m a big fan of the movie but would hate to see a remake/reboot. The original had that pacing more akin to Spielberg in the 80s (Joe Johnston was a cohort, so it makes sense) but if that movie was made today, it would be all about the suit and the fire-jet coming out of the back.

  • Comics4eva

    Greystoke was great.

  • Iam_Sparticus

    Pre-Titanic Billy Zane? Titanic didn’t really do anything for his career. In fact, him, Winslet & DiCaprio pretty much dismiss that film and never watch it. Great visuals and production aside, it was too shallow with cardboard characters.

  • Guy Smiley

    Just a shame there wasn’t more… I think there are still possibilities for The Rocketeer on film, but it’s pretty unlike it’ll happen. Also, as you say, pretty unlikely they’ll do it right.

  • Brent Webster

    It’s only “true” to the novels if you don’t actually remember them. Every character was bastardized to the point of being unrecognizable. It looked neat (if a bit unoriginal), but true to the novels it was not.

  • SB

    You forgot about the Dark Shadows movie that came out last year.

  • Jackie Jormpjomp

    Sic-fi? You actually wrote it twice. Geez, you don’t even mention that the author of John Carter also wrote Tarzan. Your article makes it sounds like Tarzan only existed as b films prior to Greystoke. Greystoke is a terrific movie by the way.

  • Jackie Jormpjomp

    Yeah I’ll do you one better. I loathe Titanic.