This morning, in my social media feed, I saw two film-related stories stacked on top of one another. The first was a piece about Harrison Ford's return to play Rick Deckard in Blade Runner 2049, due to be released in cinemas soon. The second was an announcement from James Cameron that Linda Hamilton will be returning to her role as Sarah Conner in the next Terminator film.
In 1992, When I was 16 years old, and probably at my giddiest as a film fan, these two stories would have elated me. 1992 was the year that Ridley Scott released his director's cut of Blade Runner - allowing me to see it in the cinema for the first time - and the previous year saw Terminator 2 dominate the cinemas. This was 10 years since the release of Blade Runner and nine years since the release of The Terminator. It was unbelievable to film fans that we were getting more of each of these classic films.
25 years on from that, it is no longer unbelievable that we get more of our favourite films from the 70's and 80's. It is now depressingly inevitable. This was demonstrated to me poignantly yesterday when stood in Sainsbury's DVD section, I decided not to bother buying Alien Covenant, a film I already decided not to bother watching at the cinema. If I had told 16 year-old-me that Ridley Scott would return to direct a new Alien film, he would hyperventilate with joy. Then if I told him that he would not only not be queuing up at his local cinema to see it on day of release, but wouldn't even be likely to ever watch it unless there was no better choice on a long-haul flight, he would have some kind of breakdown. But, then I'd have to explain to him about Prometheus - how Ridley Scott had returned to Alien already. And it was shit. And I'd have to explain about how George Lucas had returned to Star Wars. And it was shit. And how John Landis had made a sequel to The Blues Brothers. And it was shit. And how there was a sequel to Tron. And it was shit. And how Steven bloody Spielberg had made a new Indiana Jones film. And it was really, really, really shit.
And 16 year-old-me would cry at the desecration of that which he held so dear and I'd have to comfort him by going "Don't cry - the newer Rocky films are kind of OK! You know... kind of!"
And he'd say "I don't understand! Please, Older-Me, surely the stars of these films are very, very old by now!" and I'll say "Yes. Very, very old. In interviews, Harrison Ford mumbles empty, worthless, nothings and has the sad, vacant eyes of a man who should be slowly eating soft food in a nursing home"
"Oh, so he plays his characters as broken old men?"
"No, Young-Me, they put him in tight jeans and t-shirts, give him a funky haircut and have him running around, shooting and jumping as if he's not three quarters of a century old."
"But why would people want to see that?"
"Because, Young-Me, inside all film fans are still 16 year-old fanboys and fangirls, desperately hoping to recapture the magic of their youthful experiences and willing to spend a lot of money doing so."
If you had shown the sixteen year-old-me - again, this is TWENTY FIVE years ago - the list of the top 50 grossing movies so far in 2017, it would not have seemed all that unfamiliar to him. We have movies based on 90's TV shows Baywatch and Power Rangers, movies based on 80's licensing sensations Transformers (fifth in the franchise) and The Smurfs (second), a new Planet of the Apes film (third in the franchise), a new King Kong film (second), two adaptations of Stephen King novels, live-action adaptations of animated films Beauty and the Beast (from 1991 and ninth in the franchise of Disney live-action remakes of animated classics) and Ghost in the Shell (1995 but you get the point), a new Alien film (sixth in the overall franchise, second of the prequel franchise), a remake of the obscure early-70s film he'd seen on TV called Going In Style. A new film of The Mummy, which is the first instalment of a franchise rebooting the Universal Monsters movies from the 1930's, a handful of epic, expensive films based on Marvel and DC comics characters from the 1960s and, of course, this is all ignoring sequels to films only slightly more modern than 1992 - Pirates of the Caribbean 5 (a franchise now 14 years old), XXX 3 (a franchise 15 years old), Cars 3 (11 years old) and the 8th Fast and Furious film, a franchise 16 years old. That's older than its target audience. Then, of course, we haven't yet had the final-quarter releases of 2017 - a new Blade Runner and a new Star Wars. And that's just this year. We're still in a gap between new Mission Impossible films, Jurassic Park films, James Bond films and Star Trek reboots.
The top 50 films of 1992 contained just four sequels (Home Alone 2, Batman Returns, Lethal Weapon 3, Alien 3) and the single concession to cinema of a bygone age is Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven - a film which has gone on to be recognised as one of the best Westerns ever made.
There have always been sequels and franchises. Right from the dawn of cinema. You could argue that Charlie Chaplin and his silent one-reel predecessors set that precedent. More modern part-works are also in this year's top 50; a second LEGO film, Fifty Shades sequel, John Wick sequel, Despicable Me second-sequel and an Annabelle prequel which is, technically, a prequel to a prequel which was a spin-off. I don't mind those. Those aren't the problem.
I know it's been pat for a long time to complain about the number of sequels, remakes and reboots filling the multiplexes, but I think we're currently living through a more curious time than that. Studios seem to no longer be interested in giving young people movies of their own. The upcoming generation of film fans and filmmakers don't have the Spielbergs, Lucases and Scotts that we did. Wait, they literally do have those guys, decades past their prime, but they don't have their own commercial auteurs. Scanning that top 50, only Edgar Wright, Jordan Peele and Christopher Nolan stand out as directors with distinct, current voices.
It felt liberating to reject Alien Covenant and the only thing slightly intriguing to me about Blade Runner 2049 is the involvement of director Denis Villeneuve. Perhaps it will be good. Perhaps this winter's Star Wars sequel from Rian Johnson will be good. I'd honestly rather just see a new Villeneuve or Johnson movie which wasn't bagged down by the burdens of decades-old franchises, though.