Movie Remake vs. Reboot: What's the Difference?

New takes on films like 'Road House' have led people to wonder: Is it a remake, a reboot, or just a bad idea?

Jake Gyllenhaal stars in (another) 'Road House' (2024).
Jake Gyllenhaal stars in (another) 'Road House' (2024). / Laura Radford/Prime Video

Road House, which premieres on Amazon Prime on March 21, will reintroduce audiences to Dalton, a bar bouncer with a philosophical bent originally played by Patrick Swayze in the 1989 film of the same name. (The 2024 version stars Jake Gyllenhaal.) Fans of the cult classic argue it will be difficult for the production to capture the sleazy ‘80s charm of the original and that a remake isn’t needed.

But is it a remake? Or is it a reboot? Or something else entirely? As Hollywood continues to lean heavily on established intellectual properties for its movies—though in the case of Road House, “intellectual” might be a bit of a stretch—these industry terms have grown slightly confusing. Prequels, sequels, legacy sequels, reimaginings, and even rebootquels can be difficult to define. With more new incarnations of films and series like Frasier, Harry Potter, and Highlander hitting screens, here's a guide to how the lexicon of these do-overs shakes out.

Remake vs. Reboot

Of the various terms for treading familiar cinematic ground, remake and reboot are probably the two most common—and the most difficult to separate from one another. In broad terms, a remake is a film in which most of the same events, characters, and plot points from an earlier film are repurposed. In each iteration of A Star Is Born (1937, 1954, 1976, and 2018), for example, a troubled entertainer struggles to cope with the envy that accompanies the success of his partner. In 2005’s King Kong, Peter Jackson devotes modern effects technology to tell largely the same story of a giant ape who suffers in captivity that was seen in the 1933 original. If a remake is virtually identical to its predecessor, as in the case of 1998’s misbegotten Psycho, the appropriate phrase for it would be shot-for-shot remake.

Remakes don’t have to be slavishly devoted to their predecessors, and character names and settings don’t always echo earlier incarnations. In Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983), Al Pacino portrays a Cuban immigrant named Tony Montana who conquers organized crime in Miami. In the 1932 version with Paul Muni, the protagonist is Tony Camonte, an Italian immigrant who thrives in the Chicago underworld.

A reboot, on the other hand, can maintain very little vestigial elements of the film that inspired it, taking only a bare minimum to proceed in a different direction. The most common example would be the comic book reboot, which usually keeps only characters and settings culled from the original source material. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), starring Andrew Garfield, is not a remake of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) with Tobey Maguire. It’s rebooting the Spider-Man universe, which was reinvented again with Tom Holland’s turn in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Reboots carry brand recognition, which is why studios rely so heavily on them. At the time, the Garfield Spider-Man films were viewed as box office disappointments, but Sony executives correctly believed Spider-Man himself remained popular.

The strategy can also make economic sense: The Amazing Spider-Man was less costly to produce than a theoretical Spider-Man 4, which would have carried the ballooning production costs needed to retain the talent from the original Raimi trilogy.





A new incarnation of a film that uses several of the same plot points, characters, and setting.

King Kong (2005)


A film that shares elements (and possibly continuity) with a predecessor but can differ in major ways; often an attempt to spin multiple films out of a premise.

Creed (2015)


A follow-up that largely uses the same actors and situations that picks up where the previous film left off.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Legacy Sequel

A belated sequel that acknowledges existing continuity while introducing new characters.

Top Gun: Maverick (2022)


An alternative term for remake; may also be used when little else but a plot or theme remains from the original.

The Lion King (2019)

A reboot can also differ from a remake in one additional, crucial way: Reboot implies that a franchise is being reworked and updated in the hopes of churning out additional installments. For example, 20th Century Fox rebooted the Planet of the Apes franchise with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which led to sequels. (A fourth entry is due this year.)

Another example: The heist comedy Ocean’s Eleven (2001) is a remake of 1960’s Ocean’s 11, with George Clooney stepping in for Frank Sinatra as charming criminal Danny Ocean. It led to the sequels Ocean’s Twelve (2004) and Ocean’s Thirteen (2007), and it also had a reboot in Ocean’s Eight (2008), which featured a predominantly new cast that existed in the same continuity as the remake trilogy. Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) is Danny’s sister.

Sometimes a film can appear to be a remake but is actually just a new adaptation of source material. Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women (2019) was not a remake of earlier incarnations: All were based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott. Should anyone dare to offer up a new film version of The Godfather, they could argue they’re merely adapting the Mario Puzo novel, not remaking the 1972 Francis Ford Coppola film. (Good luck with that.)

Keep in mind these terms can be subjective. Generally speaking, however, a remake is examining a story through a new lens and as though it were happening for the first time; a reboot looks to restart a property and may (or may not) observe the canon or the earlier film or films.

Reboot vs. Sequel vs. Legacy Sequel

As mentioned, a reboot can carve out a new path while still maintaining the continuity of the film or films it’s channeling. In 2015’s Creed, Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis Creed, the son of Apollo Creed, the original adversary of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in 1976’s Rocky. Balboa appears in Creed, and direct reference is made to events in the Stallone series. But Balboa is a supporting character and Adonis is the face of the franchise going forward, which is why the reboot label applies. It’s not Rocky VII. (By 2023’s Creed III, Balboa is gone entirely, which could represent a fully realized reboot.)

Sequels are clear continuations of a franchise with the same characters in the same narrative. Anything with a number after the title is likely a sequel. Sometimes, films can appear to be remakes or reboots but wind up being labeled stealth sequels or prequels instead, as viewers of the 2011 incarnation of the seeming remake of The Thing can tell you. (In the interest of avoiding spoilers, we won’t.) Sometimes these are called “requels.”

It gets trickier to classify movies that acknowledge existing continuity but don’t attach themselves to the point where the term sequel is warranted. The Bourne Legacy (2012) attempted to craft a new espionage franchise for fans of Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne films, but with Jeremy Renner as the new lead. Damon didn’t appear but Bourne did, in photographs and via dialogue. As such, it’s more (attempted) reboot than sequel.

Sequel or reboot could apply to Blade Runner 2049 (2017), which relegates Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard to supporting status but maintains the dystopian world seen in the 1982 original. Top Gun: Maverick (2022) is a sequel to 1986’s Top Gun, though some dubbed it a reboot owing to its new cast of hotshot pilots and the 36 years that passed between the films. Movies that blur these lines have also been dubbed soft reboots, legacy sequels, or, more obnoxiously, rebootquels.

Other times, the term reboot or even sequel may be minimized because filmmakers don’t like the negative connotation it can bring. Both Tom Hardy and George Miller preferred that their 2015 film, Mad Max: Fury Road, be called a “revisit” of the Mad Max franchise.

Remakes vs. Reimaginings

Remakes and reimaginings offer another pernicious bit of confusion, are often transposed. Some believe reimagining is a term for a remake that makes one major alteration to the original, like taking an animated film and turning it into live-action. (See: the various Disney efforts to turn their cartoon catalog characters into real actors.)

Which brings us back to Road House. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Dalton, but the action has been transferred from a dusty saloon in Missouri to a humid watering hole in the Florida Keys. Dalton is an ex-UFC fighter, an occupation that didn’t even exist at the time of the 1989 original. So is it a remake or reboot?

Amazon describes it as a “reimagining,” which makes sense. The films appear to have similar structures but may not have enough in common to warrant the remake label. And since Road House wasn't really a franchise (most choose to ignore the Swayze-deficient 2006 straight-to-DVD sequel), reboot isn't quite a fit, either. If audiences learn that Dalton is a surname and Gyllenhaal’s character is related to Swayze’s, however, it could be a soft reboot or legacy sequel. These terms may matter more to studio executives. Audiences, after all, only care for one label: whether or not it’s entertaining.

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