A nostalgia-chasing remake of a singular hit refashioned as “IP for the sake of IP” is exactly what Netflix doesn’t have to make.
The gender-swapped remake of He’s All That is both not good and the most-watched movie on Netflix today. That’s no surprise. That Netflix released a bad movie that became briefly popular is neither unusual or much of a long-term problem. I wish more folks saw Mark Waters’ last movie, the delightful Disney+ original Magic Camp, but I digress. I guess nostalgia-driven IP rules even in the streaming world. But the movie, which in a vacuum is pretty harmless, is an odd example of Netflix doing exactly what its Hollywood and streaming rivals have been doing to combat Netflix’s growing dominance. That they are doing it too says nothing positive about our streaming-centric future.
First, it’s IP for the sake of IP. She’s All That was a successful teen rom-com ($103 million on a $10 million budget in 1999) that hit right as Hollywood was briefly realizing that teens would happily show up for some reimagined and updated teen-centric variations of classic literature. She’s All That, starring Freddie Prinze Jr. and Rachel Leigh Cook (who stars as the mother in this version), was an updated high school riff on Pygmalion, just as Cruel Intentions was an updated Dangerous Liaisons, 10 Things I Hate About You was an update of The Taming of the Shrew and, of course, Clueless was an updated remake of Jane Austin’s Emma.
Nobody tried to pretend that these films, starring the likes of Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, Health Ledger and Julia Styles, were outright originals, nor did they depend on their source material for popularity. They were, whether you like each individual film or nor, fine examples of “rip-off, don’t remake.” Because they crafted their own versions of these classic books/plays, they became generational classics in their own right, with Silverstone’s Cher (for example) becoming a pop culture icon in her own right. Likewise, The Fast and the Furious (another youth-skewing breakout smash) may have been an unofficial Point Break remake, but it created iconic characters and became a $6.5 billion-grossing franchise.
Moreover, the notion of gender-swapping the picture as a way of “fixing” the 1999 film’s “problematic” elements (that its already attractive heroine gets a sexier makeover to impress a guy) ignores that plenty of folks understood the issues at play in She’s All That and were able to enjoy the film without embracing its lesser messages. As with Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast remake, Hollywood often attempts to fix gender-specific issues by “fixing” the female character rather than fixing how the male characters treat her. It doesn’t matter that Jasmine gets a power ballad in the new Aladdin if Jafar still treats her like a potential conquest, but then he’s the villain anyway.
Hollywood’s devotion to IP and brands means having to “fix” or “update” older stories and older brands for more modern sensibilities rather than make new stories or adapt newer IP. If audiences were more willing to show up for original movies and new-to-you adaptations, Hollywood wouldn’t have to bend over backward to make Tarzan “woke” or constantly worry about whether James Bond can still thrive in a constantly changing moral landscape. Hollywood could make a mega-budget Static Shock movie instead of a “But this time he’s Black!” Superman flick. The irony, of course, is that Netflix is the one place that doesn’t need to use outdated, past-their-prime or was-never-that-popular IP as a crutch.
More than any other studio, Netflix is in a position to successfully rip-off She’s All That (or just make a modern Pygmalion) without relying on cultural nostalgia connected to one “popular in its day because it was unique” adaptation. They don’t need to remake She’s All That and they certainly don’t need to fill the cast with YouTube personalities and reality television stars (all due respect to Addison Rae and Kourtney Kardashian, neither of whom exactly “shine”) as a way to garner free attention. She’s All That is, at its core, a romantic comedy, the one genre where Netflix’s original/new-to-you flicks have succeeded in filling a Hollywood vacuum and approximating the once-theatrical Hollywood variety.
Films like Set It Up, To All The Boys I’ve Loved, The Kissing Booth, Good On Paper, The Wrong Missy, Always Be My Maybe and many more are the kind of movies that once would have been “original” theatrical hits but now find an audience on Netflix and become new favorites. Three summers ago, Netflix had a “summer of love” programming slate/marketing hook right as Crazy Rich Asians was showing there was still life in the theatrically-released romantic comedy. The entire crux of Netflix’s current slate is getting folks to watch star-driven originals that they no longer bother to see in theaters. A gender-swapped She’s All That remake is what Netflix’s competitors do out of desperation.
The reason this matters is that is goes to my longtime fear about Netflix. As they get more dominant in the streaming marketplace and either more solidified in their lead or more concerned about the content-to-content performance in terms of viewership and online attention, they might turn away from the diverse/challenging fare that has allowed them to build a “what Hollywood won’t or can’t” fanbase. As we saw with the Fox network and UPN, a network that made its name on risky, unconventional and/or more diverse fare can easily decide to retreat to the mainstream (in this case more IP, less diversity save for modern updates, more nostalgia, etc.) as they chase stereotypically mainstream success.
Even Disney (partially due to casual audiences deserting theaters and seeking out comfort watches/nostalgia plays on streaming platforms) has skewed in this “familiar and nostalgic” direction (Turner and Hooch, High School Musical, Mighty Ducks, etc.) over the last few years. Again, I blame audiences. However, that rival streaming platforms are chasing media-friendly nostalgia IP revamps means that the alleged disrupters are making the same mistakes that allowed streaming and television to gain a pop culture zeitgeist upper hand against theatrical movies in the first place. Netflix, more than any other service, the one which can get 70-90 million households to watch originals like Fatherhood and Project Power, doesn’t need to make He’s All That. And yet… they did.