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Term used in serial fiction
The Godzilla film franchise, which began in 1954, has been rebooted numerous times. Pictured here is a promotional image from Godzilla Raids Again (1955).
The term is thought to originate from the computing term reboot, meaning to restart a computer system. The first known use of reboot applied to an entertainment franchise was in a 1994 Usenet posting.
Say you've had 187 issues of 'The Incredible Hulk' and you decide you're going to introduce a new Issue 1. You pretend like those first 187 issues never happened, and you start the story from the beginning and the slate is wiped clean, and no one blinks.
One of the reasons they do that is after 10 years of telling the same story, it gets stale and times change. So we did the cinematic equivalent of a reboot, and by doing that, setting it at the beginning, you're instantly distancing yourself from anything that's come before.
Reboots cut out non-essential elements associated with a pre-established franchise and start it anew, distilling it down to the core elements that made the source material popular. For audiences, reboots allow easier entry for newcomers unfamiliar with earlier titles in a series.
In comic books, a long-running title may have its continuity erased to start over from the beginning, enabling writers to redefine characters and open up new story opportunities, allowing the title to bring in new readers. Comic books sometimes use an in-universe explanation for a reboot, such as merging parallel worlds and timelines together, or destroying a fictional universe and recreating it from the beginning.
With reboots, filmmakers revamp and reinvigorate a film series to attract new fans and stimulate revenue. A reboot can renew interest in a series that has grown stale. Reboots act as a safe project for a studio, since a reboot with an established fanbase is less risky (in terms of expected profit) than an entirely original work, while at the same time allowing the studio to explore new demographics. Reboots also allow directors and producers to cast a new set of younger actors for the familiar roles of a film series to attract a younger audience. Unlike a remake, however, a reboot often presupposes a working familiarity on the part of the audience with the original work.
In television, a reboot of a TV show can be a return to production after cancellation or a long hiatus, but is also understood to mean a remake of an older series.
A related concept is retooling, used to describe a series that substantially changes its premise while keeping some of the core characters while the series is still running, usually in an effort to forestall cancellation.
Reboots are common in the video game industry. Reboots in video games are used to refresh the storyline and elements of the game and to take advantage of technology and features not available at the time of earlier entries.