On TV and the big screen, all that's old is new again...and again, and again

Tom Holland is Spider-Man in Columbia Pictures' "Spider-man: Homecoming."
Chuck Zlotnick

The year 2017 is barely a week old, but a clear trend is already emerging.

A deluge of movies and television shows that are reboots, reimaginings and remakes will debut this year, and they'll keep coming at a fast clip.

Hollywood, of course, is infamous for putting a new spin on old scripts. Some of the highest grossing movies of the last year, including smash hits like "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," "Rogue One" and "Jurassic World," just to name a few, weren't technically reboots, but continuations of long-dormant storylines.

Meanwhile, last year's "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," featured two main characters that have been the subject of franchise reboots several times, and was itself an effort to jump-start DC's efforts to be competitive in the superhero movie business. Separately, Marvel's "Spider-Man: Homecoming" will reset the series once owned by Sony Pictures.

Based on the sheer quantity of revisited material on tap, 2017 is quickly shaping up to be a big year for entertainment deja vu. Therein lies the rub: Much of the reboot material is from properties that were either modestly successful or long forgotten, and may prove challenging to revive at the box office.

The upcoming movies include a remake of 1995's "Jumanji," due in December. In June, the "Mummy" franchise will relaunch in the summer with Tom Cruise in the lead role, and March will see "Power Rangers" — a Generation X childhood favorite — try to reclaim its old glory.

The road to commercial success is littered with failed reboots. Will audiences bite this time around?

Zachary Weiner, CEO of the communications and marketing firm Emerging Insider Communications, said that just because a previous adaptation of a given property failed, it doesn't automatically follow that future adaptations will follow suit.

The source material "has passed its initial proof of concept," he told CNBC recently. "All that is left is a better way to tell a storyline that is already proven."

Content is spread pretty thin, especially since streaming video continues to rise. It's easier to recycle proven ideas than risk new shows that can easily flop.
Tom La Vecchia
founder, X Factor Media

"Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" was considered a modest success when Jim Carrey starred in the movie adaptation of the children's book series in 2004, going on to earn more than $200 million globally. It was enough for Netflix to roll out a new series based on the same source material on Jan. 13, past performance be damned.

Of course, a property that's failed once can surely fail again, and even a formula that was successful in the past can lose its glow.

Bex Schwartz, a television writer and creative director at the media company Alkemy X, cited the 2015 reboot of "The Muppets," which ran for a single ignominious season on ABC. It followed the format and style of "The Office," and alienated fans of the original as a result.

"It just wasn't 'The Muppet Show' or the 'Muppet' movies we grew up on," she said.

EMERALD CITY -- "Mistress-New-Mistress" Episode 103. Pictured: (l-r) Isabel Lucas as Anna, Vincent D'Onofrio as Wizard.
David Lukacs | NBC

All of these reboots may make it seem like the entertainment industry is creatively bankrupt and unable to produce any new ideas. However, photographer Michael Freeby says it's not so.

Freeby, who has photographed such celebrities as Grant Gustin — star of the CW network's reboot of "The Flash" — pointed out that some highly regarded movies were themselves reboots. In fact, NBC recently rolled back the curtain on a new Oz-themed television reboot called "Emerald City." (NBC is owned by Comcast, also the parent company of CNBC.)

"The 'Wizard of Oz' movie from 1939, that our generation and many generations before ours has come to regard as a major classic and original, was actually a reboot and remake," he said. A silent version of the movie actually appeared in 1910, and has been rebooted consistently in the subsequent decades.

"The Wizard of Oz" isn't the only culprit, Freeby explained, adding that classic Disney movies were also glossy retreads of yarns that were spun years prior.

It underscores that a good story, told well, will resonate with audiences — regardless of how frequently it gets revisited. That is potentially lucrative, since there's more of an audience out there, and more avenues to reach them, than ever before.

"Content is spread pretty thin, especially since streaming video continues to rise," said Tom La Vecchia, founder and president of X Factor Media, a digital marketing firm. "It's easier to recycle proven ideas than risk new shows that can easily flop."