For a few years now, I’ve wondered what would come after the dark and gritty reboot. I wondered if it would be the light and funny reboot. More franchises rebooting themselves into comedies. Then it seemed the dark and gritty reboot was here to stay, with the solution being each reboot getting more violent, with more and more of each film taking place at night. (Case in point: The Batman.)
But over the last few years, a different trend has emerged. An alternative to the reboot. The answer to my question.
Let’s call it: the multiboot.
What is a multiboot?
I’m glad you asked. In computing, a multiboot is something involving multiple operating systems on a computer and then deciding which one you want to use. I think.
But we’re here to talk about multiboots in the concept of film—and I’m excited to say I’m pretty sure I coined the concept.
A cinematic multiboot is:
A sequel in an ongoing franchise that uses the concept of a multiverse or alternate timelines to bring back characters and actors from previous continuities.
Now hold on, you’re saying. There’s no way this is enough of a trend that it deserves its own name, right?
Oof. You wish.
Let’s quickly define some sequel and reboot terms first:
Before we get deeper into the multiboot, it’s worth defining some terms: hard reboot, soft reboot, requel, corrective sequel, retquel, prequel and midquel:
- Hard reboot: A new installment in a franchise that entirely abandons the continuity that has come before it, containing original characters, plot points, homages and nods to the original, but all new actors and a fresh continuity. (Examples: Batman Begins, the 2016 Ghostbusters)
- Soft reboot: A new installment in a franchise that allows previous continuity to exist (to some extent) while introducing entirely or mostly new characters or new actors as established characters. (Examples: The Star Trek films that began in 2009, the Creed films, the Rise of the Planet of the Apes films, arguably every time a new James Bond takes the realm although that’s a franchise no one can agree on definitions for)
- Requel: A new installment set in the original continuity, containing at least one character from an original film(s) in the series while kicking off a new series focused on new characters. Requels and soft reboots often go hand-in-hand, although a soft reboot is a move for a film franchise while a requel is a name for the film itself. Plus, a soft reboot can come in the form of a prequel. (Examples: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, the aforementioned Creed)
- Corrective Sequel: A sequel that returns to the roots of a film franchise, usually after an expansion in a new direction fails. (Examples: the fifth Bourne movie, the fourth Fast & Furious movie, the fourth Ghostbusters, the fourth Halloween)
- Retquel: Both requel and corrective sequel, a retquel is a sequel that retcons previous films and serves as a direct sequel to one of the earlier films in the franchise. (Examples: Terminator: Dark Fate, the 2018 Halloween.)
- Prequel: This one probably doesn’t need to be defined, but a prequel is something that takes place before the original. It can be a soft reboot (like the aforementioned Rise of the Planet of the Apes) or it can include the same central actor or actors, as in the case of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or Red Dragon. It can also be mostly new characters but clearly set in the same continuity, i.e. The Phantom Menace or The Hobbit.
- Midquel: Okay, these almost never happen, but it’s anything that’s both sequel and prequel, i.e. The Godfather Part 2.
- Remake: This is what they did before they started rebooting. Remakes are when you take an old movie and make it into a new movie, usually without changing very much other than aesthetics and actors. Remakes are still popular for Disney movies (they turn cartoons into CGI live-action things) and foreign movies (because Americans hate subtitles.)
A multiboot can include elements of any of these, but they are their own thing, and a relatively new thing.
Okay, so what are some examples of multiboots?
Here’s a quick roundup of all the multiboots I can think of:
- Star Trek (2009)
- X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
- Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
- Doctor Strange and The Multiverse of Madness (2022)
- Spider-Man: Across the Spider Verse (2023)
- The Flash (2023)
- And an honorable mention for Loki, but we’re going to keep that out of this list because we’re focusing on movies here.
You don’t have to squint hard to see that this is a recent trend. The first two entries are both from a while ago (or what feels like a while in terms of cinematic trends), but the rest are recent and all involve tentpole superhero franchises.
But wait: what’s the point of doing a multiboot?
There are two reasons we are seeing multiboots: grabbing cash and telling good stories. So far, every multiboot has been successful at the cash grab part (wait, maybe not The Flash), with varying degrees of success in the storytelling part.
A multiboot seems to be the rising star because it gives you a fresh story that feels relevant, while flooded with nostalgia. It’s what requels have been, but with the added bonus of bringing back dead people, abandoned actors or scrapped timelines. A multiboot allows you to retain exactly what you want to retain, bring back what you wish you (or, more importantly, audiences) hadn’t lost, while resisting the once-standard hard reboot.
One more note: simply using a multiverse storyline does not make a film a multiboot. Consider Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse for an example of a non-multiboot multiverse movie. Yes, it involves a multiverse, but this multiverse does not bring any actors or previous films under its umbrella. (But yes, its sequel did, which we’ll discuss below.) And yes, Everything Everywhere All at Once doesn’t count for the same reason.
The makings of a multiboot
Consider these questions in understanding how a film functions as a multiboot, and how successful it was:
- Is there a multiverse in the movie? If not, the rest of these questions don’t matter and you aren’t dealing with a multiboot.
- What is the current timeline that has been disrupted into a multiverse tale? As in, what were we dealing with before the current iteration of the franchise brought a multiverse into the mix.
- What previous timelines were dug into? What previous iteration of this franchise has been brought into the fold? Or is there more than one?
- What dead or no-longer-relevant characters or actors were brought back? If we don’t see some of this, then it really isn’t a multiboot.
- How long had it been since we last saw these actors play these characters on the big screen? I like this question, although it might not matter, as people can be nostalgic for movies that happened less than a decade ago.
And then, five questions to gauge the success of the multiboot:
- Did it make money?
- What are its Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes scores?
- What is its IMDB rating?
- Does it stand on its own if you haven’t seen the previous films?
If you’re having a hard time with this, let’s consider some examples, beginning with the 2009 Star Trek, which we didn’t realize at the time was the beginning of an entirely new approach to reboots—and which doesn’t entirely follow the mold of what was to come.
Examples of Multiboots:
Star Trek (2009)
As noted above, this is an outlier for a few reasons, including the answer to question #2 below, along with the amount of time this movie was made before the current rash of multiboots. But I think it’s fair to say that it generally follows the rules, and in this case the multiboot was an original option, undone before, that allowed the film to be both prequel, sequel, and reboot all at once. Whether or not this approach satisfied the original fans is debatable, as you can see from its IMDB score.
- Is there a multiverse in the movie? Yes, but it’s as simple as diverging timelines.
- What is the current timeline that has been disrupted into a multiverse tale? That’s the thing that makes Star Trek different from the rest of this list. The Pine-as-Kirk Star Trek is the first of its new series, and it exists outside the rest of the Star Trek timeline—but multiverses are used as the justification for its existence.
- What previous timelines were dug into? Star Trek: The Original Series, plus the first six Star Trek films.
- What dead or no-longer-relevant characters or actors were brought back? There’s only one, but it’s a big one: Leonard Nimoy as Spock, who also has the honor of explaining the entire multiverse concept.
- How long had it been since we last saw these actors play these characters on the big screen? 18 years since Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Also, 18 years since Nimoy appeared in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
- Did it make money? $385.7 million against a $150 million budget.
- What is its Metacritic score? 82
- What is its Rotten Tomatoes score? 94%
- What is its IMDB rating? 6.6 (probably some toxic fandom at play, there)
- Does it stand on its own if you haven’t seen the previous films: Yes, and it might be the only movie in this list that does.
Before we move on to X-Men, let’s note that Star Trek did something the rest of the films in this list did not do: it introduced a new generation of fans to franchise’s original characters, thus expanding the fanbase. It pedaled lighter in nostalgia to keep the door open for new audiences.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
First we had X-Men: First Class, which served as a prequel reboot in the same style as Young Indiana Jones or Young Sheldon or the 2011 The Thing. Frankly, prequel reboots aren’t very popular, as they can be a little messy when people try to understand what the continuity is between the prequel and the original series. X-Men: First Class made it more muddled by having Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine as the one consistency between the two continuities, although his moment in First Class was limited to a two-word cameo.
Then we got X-Men: Days of Future Past, which put Wolverine at the center and brought the two timelines together while effectively ending one of them (although, wait, no it didn’t, as we’ll see later.)
- Is there a multiverse in the movie? Yes… kind of… it’s the time travel multiverse approach, but with two entirely different sets of actors (resulting from the previous prequel reboot.)
- What is the current timeline that has been disrupted into a multiverse tale? Well, there are two ways of looking at this—but the tired timeline was the one with Patrick Stewart as Professor X and Ian McKellan as Magneto.
- What previous timelines were dug into? This didn’t so much dig into previous timelines as it gave us a frame narrative of the original timeline, wrapped around a plot set in the rebooted timeline.
- What dead or no-longer-relevant characters or actors were brought back? We hadn’t seen Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellan (or any of their friends other than Wolverine) in their roles since X-Men: The Last Stand.
- How long had it been since we last saw these actors play these characters on the big screen? 8 years, which isn’t that long until you consider the love people had for Stewart and McKellan.
- Did it make money? Sure did. $746 million against $200 million.
- What is its Metacritic score? 75
- What is its Rotten Tomatoes score? 90%
- What is its IMDB rating? 7.9
- Does it stand on its own if you haven’t seen the previous films: Yeah, kinda. You can get something out of it. You’re just not going to care much about those Stewart scenes.
While it’s not a perfect example of the multiboot—especially when compared to the four we are about to discuss—it definitely got the job done by bringing together two separate X-Men casts for an optimal story and box office.
Spider-Man: No Way Home
Now we’re in the current era. 2021 is when the multiboot descended upon us in all its glory, more or less guaranteeing that all major superhero for the foreseeable future will involve this trope. Let’s look at how they did it.
- Is there a multiverse in the movie? Oh yeah.
- What is the current timeline that has been disrupted into a multiverse tale? The MCU, specifically Tom Holland’s corner of it.
- What previous timelines were dug into? Five previous, non-MCU Spider-Man movies: the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire trilogy and the largely forgotten Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movies.
- What dead or no-longer-relevant characters or actors were brought back? There’s a whole list: Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield Spider-Man, Willem Defoe’s Green Goblin, Jamie Foxx as the guy he played, Thomas Haden Church as someone I didn’t know about, a crocodile guy, and Alfred Molina as Doc Oc.
- How long had it been since we last saw these actors play these characters on the big screen? At the longest, 19 years since Defoe had been Green Goblin. At the shortest, seven years since the last Garfield Spider-Man.
- Did it make money? Tons. 1.922 billion against 200 million.
- What is its Metacritic score? 71
- What is its Rotten Tomatoes score? 93%
- What is its IMDB rating? 8.2
- Does it stand on its own if you haven’t seen the previous ones? You can enjoy it as a fan of only the Tom Holland movies, but you’ll definitely be missing something without having seen the other five. Although I’ve never seen three out of those other five and still liked it.
Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness
Okay, so I haven’t seen this one and I don’t know that I will, but I’m doing my best to answer these questions. And even without seeing it, it’s pretty clear this is a multiboot of sorts, especially when you watch the trailer and hear a certain voice pipe up.
- Is there a multiverse in the movie? Guess so, based on the name.
- What is the current timeline that has been disrupted into a multiverse tale? The current MCU, but this time in Doctor Strange’s corner of it. (Note that he was also instrumental in No Way Home.)
- What previous timelines were dug into? This apparently introduces something called the Illuminati of Earth-838, who are alternate timeline versions of characters from X-Men, Fantastic Four, and other MCU properties.
- What dead or no-longer-relevant characters or actors were brought back? A multiverse version of Patrick Stewart’s Professor X, whose voice appeared in the trailer as a hook for viewers.
- How long had it been since we last saw these actors play these characters on the big screen? Patrick Stewart was last seen as Professor X in 2017’s Logan—which the character died in, but that was a different version.
- Did it make money? $955.8 million against somewhere around $200 million.
- What is its Metacritic score? 60
- What is its Rotten Tomatoes score? 74%
- What is its IMDB rating? 6.9
- Does it stand on its own if you haven’t seen the previous ones? From everything I’ve heard, it’s not a must-see either way.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider Verse
As discussed above, this is a sequel to a multiverse movie, but the first Spider-Verse installment really can’t be considered a multiboot. Let’s go through these questions to understand why.
- Is there a multiverse in the movie? Yes—and what makes this one separate from the rest of this list is that it’s part of a series that has been multi-versed from the beginning.
- What is the current timeline that has been disrupted into a multiverse tale? Into the Spider-Verse, which didn’t connect to the other three Spider-Man franchises (Holland, Garfield, and Maguire) previously.
- What previous timelines were dug into? All the other Spider-Man film timelines.
- What dead or no-longer-relevant characters or actors were brought back? We hear reference to Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, while seeing footage of Garfield and Maguire—and a cameo by Donald Glover, resuming his role Uncle Aaron Davis from Spider-Man: Homecoming.
- How long had it been since we last saw these actors play these characters on the big screen? Pretty darn recently, as all of this was in No Way Home, except for Glover, who was in the 2017 film Homecoming.
- Did it make money? $610.8 million (so far) against $100 million.
- What is its Metacritic score? 86
- What is its Rotten Tomatoes score? 96%
- What is its IMDB rating? 8.9
- Does it stand on its own if you haven’t seen the previous ones? This is probably the best movie on this list, with very little reliance on the live action Spider-Men. I did find the live action moments to be my least favorite parts of the movie, but it still works.
Okay, here’s another one I haven’t seen, but this is the movie that made me realize what a problem multiboots have the potential to become.
- Is there a multiverse in the movie? Yes, it sounds like it’s whatever the entire movie is.
- What is the current timeline that has been disrupted into a multiverse tale? The current Justice League franchise, which was already pretty muddled but hadn’t gone for a clear-cut multiverse story yet.
- What previous timelines were dug into? Oof. Apparently, the Tim Burton Batman movies, the George Clooney Batman movie, an un-produced Nicholas Cage Superman movie, the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, the George Reeves Superman movies, the 1984 Supergirl movie, the Adam West Batman series, and some others probably.
- What dead or no-longer-relevant characters or actors were brought back? Michael Keaton as Batman, George Clooney as Batman, and a bunch of dead people whose CGI likenesses are being used without their consent. (We really need a law for this.)
- How long had it been since we last saw these actors play these characters on the big screen? In the case of George Reeves, something like 70 years. Decades for most of the others.
- Did it make money? Barely. $247 million against approximately $200 million.
- What is its Metacritic score? 56
- What is its Rotten Tomatoes score? 64%
- What is its IMDB rating? 7.2
- Does it stand on its own if you haven’t seen the previous ones? It sounds like it’s just not a good movie. The Flash seems to be the multiboot at its worst, pedaling on nostalgia and the CGI exploitation of dead people while phoning in the story itself. (And I heard the CGI is bad too.)
Deadpool and Loki. Deadpool is so metafictional that I don’t know you could say it’s as simple as a multiboot, although there is a bunch of time travel and it sounds like the third one has a resurrected Wolverine in it. And Loki because while it did bring back the dead Loki, it’s a television show that isn’t motivated by the same cash-grabbing nostalgia as the rest of this list.
I do think we should also note that crossover films like Freddy vs. Jason and Alien vs. Predator are not multiboots, as they are examples of separate IPs being woven together, usually non-canonically. They’re probably best considered crossover retquels.
So, what’s next for the multiboot?
It’s hard to know if multiboots are here to stay, considering the failure of The Flash. Although, wait a minute. Since when do movie studios learn the right lesson from their failures? And is The Flash a failure because it’s a multiboot, or because it’s a bad multiboot? And if Across the Spider-Verse could succeed in the same month as The Flash… yeah, they’re here to stay.
So yeah, whether you want it or not, here are the franchises we can expect to see multibooted:
- Terminator: So far, Terminator has done every possible version of the sequel—but we haven’t yet seen two of the timelines collide into one another. And it’s certainly possible, what with Linda Hamilton killing robots in one version while Christian Bale is traipsing around in another and there’s yet another with Emila Clarke in it. The thing is, I don’t think anyone is begging for Bale to reprise his John Connor, so we are probably safe on this one.
- James Bond: I can’t see Bond going for the multiverse approach—but we’ll always have the codename theory.
- The Hulk: This is one that seems feasible. Bring back Edward Norton!
- Hellboy: The latest Hellboy failed. Maybe we need two Hellboys? The Hellboy from Stranger Things teams up with the Hellboy from Sons of Anarchy?
- Evil Dead: They hard-rebooted this one in 2013, dropping Bruce Campbell and a sense of humor. Maybe it’s time for Bruce to show up in the next cinematic Evil Dead, as the original Ash?
- Mad Max: Mel Gibson AND Tom Hardy. No one wants this and it seems below George Miller, but sure, it could happen.
- Ghosbusters: I don’t think anyone wants this either, as Ghostbusters fans mostly didn’t care for the rebooted Ghostbusters, so then they corrective sequeled their way back into the original timeline.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: I wouldn’t mind this one, honestly. Bring back Corey Feldman and the big costumes from the early 90s!
- Planet of the Apes: A CGI Charlton Heston fighting Andy Serkis and his damn dirty apes? Seems possible, especially with the space travel and time travel elements. Also, they could bring back Mark Wahlberg from that terrible Tim Burton one.
- The Mummy: There are so many versions of The Mummy to choose from, but audiences really just want to see Brendan Fraser back, right? They could do a corrective sequel… or he could multiverse his way into a sequel to the Tom Cruise Mummy?
- The Jack Ryan films: Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, Chris Pine and Jim from the Office team up for a movie no one wants.
- King Kong and Godzilla: I have no idea what the continuity is at this point in these movies, but sure, this could happen.
- Scream: Scream has always been founded in a certain form of metafictional realism, but perhaps the metafiction could trump the realism and we could get a meta-multiboot where the original killers are 100% back because they climbed through a wormhole. Or maybe Jamie Kennedy slips through the fabric between multiverses? Yes, these are bad ideas.
- The Lord of the Rings: This would suck.
- The Godfather: A de-aged DeNiro and de-aged Pacino find themselves lost in contemporary New York City to pull off one last murder.
- Every Disney movie: I’m sure we’ll get some sort of Beauty and the Seven Dwarves Meet Jafar multiboot, because it would make money.
- The Poltergeist: I don’t know if this will be the one to do it, but one of these horror franchises that had a hard reboot or remake will end up with a multiboot.
So really, what’s next for the multiboot?
I predict we’ll see Disney milk this new approach for all its worth, as they figure out how to get all the properties they’re acquiring crammed into one narrative. Meanwhile, what I’d like to see is more of what we got with The Batman: strong, standalone films that aren’t concerned with promoting a larger IP or dragging dead continuities under their tent.
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