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Between 'Get Out' and 'Thor', originals and sequels can coexist

With films like "Wonder Woman", "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Last Jedi" lighting up 2017, this year's sequels and reboots may've been better than the originals.

Marvel

Hollywood, eh? It's all sequels and remakes! Where's the imagination?

This year at least, it seems a fair bit of the imagination went into those very sequels and remakes. The devastating "Logan". The heartstopping "War for the Planet of the Apes". The wondrous "Wonder Woman". The uproarious "Thor: Ragnarok". The dazzling "Star Wars: The Last Jedi".

"The Last Jedi" rounds out a year of some very good blockbusters (and a lot of mediocre ones).

Disney

You don't have to be a fan of sci-fi, fantasy and geeky flicks to love these excellent films. And geeky stories have never been more popular, dominating the year's box office charts as we flock to get our fix of big-budget, effects-driven superheroics.

But that's the thing: As good as those handful of instant classics are, they're sitting atop a giant pile of sucky sequels, poorly resolved reboots and franchise filler. For every "Blade Runner 2049", there's a "Kingsman: The Golden Circle". For every "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2", there's a fifth or eighth or millionth "Transformers", "Pirates of the Caribbean" or "Fast and Furious". These substandard blockbusters block up the box office, leaving barely any space for more original movies.

Scouring the 2017 Box Office Mojo chart you'll find precious few entirely original movies such as "Get Out", "Coco" and "Girls Trip" -- all of which, incidentally, have non-white leads. The only original sci-fi blockbuster this year was notorious critical and commercial flop "Geostorm".

Wow, way to ruin it for everybody, "Geostorm".

Jordan Peele's "Get Out" got fans of original movies into theatres.

Universal

At the indie-er end of the spectrum, innovative sci-fi ideas do appear. They're just on a limited budget and tucked away from mainstream eyes, in films like "The Girl with all the Gifts", "Colossal" and "Marjorie Prime", three very different films with nuanced female leads. But be honest: how many of these smaller, wackier films have you seen -- or even heard of?

Familiar films dominate billboards and theatres to such an extent that smash hit "It" is considered some kind of out-of-nowhere success story -- even though it's a sort-of remake based on a global bestselling book by possibly the world's most famous living author.

An original story isn't intrinsically better, of course. "A Cure for Wellness", for example, was an overlong genre curio. Even adapting well-loved source material is no guarantee of a decent film: "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" was a galaxy-sized misfire, "The Dark Tower" was demolished by critics and "The Circle" circled the drain.

I so wanted "Valerian" to be good. It wasn't.

EuropaCorp

So while it doesn't look like there'll be a reduction in the number of sequels and reboots, studios do appear to have learned that they can raise the quality of these blockbusters by handing the reins to talented people. Taika Waititi and Rian Johnson, for example, elevated the form with "Thor: Ragnarok" and "The Last Jedi".

In an ideal world, fresh and intriguing voices like Johnson and Waititi would be free to go on and mix exciting, original work in between their franchise outings. Sadly neither industry nor audience seems to want to take the risk with anyone whose name isn't Christopher Nolan, who made "The Prestige" and "Interstellar" in between his "Dark Knight" flicks and this year had an original-ish hit with "Dunkirk".

And when every movie has to be past of a series, that's when we get the likes of "The Mummy" and "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword", desperately trying to launch even more unoriginal franchises. Their box office failure suggests blockbuster fans will draw the line somewhere.

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You can understand why viewers are risk-averse: a trip to the flicks ain't cheap, and although sometimes you want to gamble in the hope of being pleasantly surprised, no one can blame you for splashing your cash on characters and filmmakers you know can deliver the goods. But as blockbuster factory Disney swallows up 21st Century Fox, it looks like the vicious cycle will continue: we keep spending our money on sequels and reboots, so they keep making -- and marketing -- a slew of unoriginal films.

By contrast, sitting down to watch TV costs very little, so we're far more willing to take a punt. Yes, TV is awash with sequels and reboots from "Twin Peaks" to "Star Trek: Discovery", not to mention Marvel superheroes on seemingly every channel. But there's still a definite spark of freshness and daring on the small screen largely missing from the big screen.

The last couple of years have seen thrillingly audacious and original sci-fi including "Orphan Black", "Rick and Morty", "The Good Place" and "Killjoys". On Netflix alone you've got original works such as "3%", "The OA", "Sense8", "Dark" and "Stranger Things". Even recent adaptations -- see "Game of Thrones", "Westworld" and "The Handmaid's Tale" -- feel thrillingly unlike anything seen before.

handmaids-tale-hulu-elisabeth-moss-2.jpg

The brutal "Handmaid's Tale" was one of the most powerful things on screens big or small in 2017.

Take Five/Hulu

Not only is the small screen the place to look for imaginative and original TV shows, but increasingly it's the place to find innovative films too -- like "Okja", "The Discovery" and the mini-movies of "Black Mirror", all on Netflix.

In fact, arguably the biggest original sci-fi/fantasy movie of the year won't open in theatres. "Bright", directed by David Ayer and starring Will Smith, is a $90 million fantasy blockbuster. It debuts on 22 December on your TV, laptop or phone thanks to, you guessed it, Netflix.

So there are sparks of originality and imagination to be found even in sequels and reboots. It's not as simple as decrying blockbusters and praising original productions. But we all -- viewers and filmmakers -- could take more chances on films that aren't quite so familiar.

We've just got to use our imagination. 

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