Hollywood keeps making, then re-making, then re-re-making beloved franchises. But what's in it for viewers?

Photo collage featuring Avatar: The Last Airbender (2024, 2010 and the cartoon) in a recycling bin
Paramount Pictures; Nickelodeon; Netflix; Alyssa Powell/BI

If you've been feeling like you're watching the same stories again and again on television lately, it's not just you.

It's hard not to see double. In the past six months, there have been revivals of intellectual properties like "Avatar: The Last Airbender," "Percy Jackson," "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," "One Piece," and "One Day" on streaming services. With the exception of "One Piece," the anime adaptation of which has been in production since 1999, all of these shows are based on novels or television series that were first adapted as films in the 2010s.

By the numbers, many of these twice-retread adaptations — which generally have taken the form of eight-episode TV shows released in the 2020s — are often successful. Netflix's "One Piece" was picked up for a second season. "Percy Jackson" was also renewed and brought in big viewership numbers for Disney+. And on March 6, Netflix picked up "Avatar: The Last Airbender" for a second and a third season barely two weeks after its premiere, presumably allowing it to adapt the full story told in the cartoon series.

But while the numbers are there, the substance doesn't necessarily follow. For every under-the-radar critical hit like Netflix's "Scott Pilgrim Takes Off" or big-budget success story like "One Piece," there's another middling adaptation-of-an-adaptation that's inexplicably staying afloat despite glaring creative problems.

"Percy Jackson" was a hit for Disney+. But for me, the series fell flat creatively, playing too by the book at some points and undercutting its own tension in others by rushing through exposition and action. USA Today called the series "more half baked than half-blood," while The Guardian's Leila Latif wrote that the show was a letdown, despite being "an improvement on Percy's prior screen outings."

The Hollywood Reporter critic Daniel Fienberg's review captured the central tension of the adaptation, noting that the series did, without a doubt, hew much closer to its source material than the preceding films.

"Is that the same, mind you, as being a good show?" Fienberg wrote. "Only occasionally."

"Avatar: The Last Airbender" more egregiously missed the mark, struggling in its attempt to adapt the original cartoon's episodic structure into a serialized drama that's desperately trying to do something different than the original cartoon — at the expense of developing its characters.

Yet the question of what creative value these retreads actually deliver the viewer hardly seems to matter to streamers and studios these days, as they greenlight more and more of these re-remakes, undeterred. Just look at Warner Bros. Discovery, which has a "Harry Potter" TV series on the horizon in 2026. Or Lionsgate Television's upcoming "Twilight" television series, which Deadline reported will be animated.

The right IP, the logic goes, is simply too big to fail. But is that really true?

Familiar IP is comforting to viewers — and risk-averse executives

Even as we move out of the "Peak TV" era, an oversaturated market can make falling back on familiar properties appealing.

Parrot Analytics director of strategy Julia Alexander told Business Insider that since franchises already have dedicated fan bases, they can provide decision-makers with a false sense of security. The idea is that a series based on familiar, beloved IP stands a better chance at capturing part of the consumer pie than something original. And given that some of these franchises are decades old — "Avatar" premiered on Nickelodeon in 2005 — they also have an intergenerational appeal.

"There's a sense that you are going to expand the total addressable market of that show by really leaning into the nostalgia and curiosity that comes with it," Alexander said.

zuko accompanied by two fire nation soldiers in avatar, each wearing helmets
Dallas Liu as Prince Zuko in "Avatar: The Last Airbender."Robert Falconer/Netflix

That intergenerational appeal is at the forefront for some creators. "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" is already a story about parents: The titular hero spends the first season of the show trying to save his mother while also grappling with the new knowledge that his absent father is actually Poseidon, lord of the sea. Co-showrunner Jon Steinberg told BI and other reporters at a New York Comic Con 2023 roundtable ahead of the show's premiere that the show was intentionally supposed to speak to both parents and kids.

"As an adult, I think we wanted to make sure that if you're sitting there with your kid watching it, it's speaking to you in a language that your kid might not have any awareness is even being spoken, but it's loud and clear, and its jokes work a different way, and its emotional setups work a different way," Steinberg said.

Shifting the medium or tone of a story also has the potential to bring it to a larger audience, if it can also balance that with catering to longtime fans. In an interview with IGN, "Avatar: The Last Airbender" showrunner Albert Kim said that the new adaptation had to also appeal to "Game of Thrones" fans.

While those remarks generated some trepidation among "Avatar" fans, it's not too hard to see the logic — if you're going to invest in a major fantasy adaptation, you're going to hope to widen the scope. Hopefully, that doesn't come at the expense of what drew in those who originally loved the story.

Television gives more space to expand on a beloved story

After lackluster film adaptations of "Avatar" and "Percy Jackson" in the 2010s (in the case of "Avatar," lackluster is putting it mildly — the 2010 M. Night Shyamalan film holds an appalling 5% on Rotten Tomatoes) trying again on television can appeal to creators because it provides the space to tell the story "right" this time.

For Rick Riordan, the author of the "Percy Jackson" novels, and his wife Becky, who is also an executive producer on the television series, it was also an opportunity to adapt the series on their terms. (The Riordans were not involved in the 2010 films, and have publicly expressed their dislike for some of the changes the films made.)

"From the very earliest conversations we had with Fox and with Disney, we were pretty adamant that television was the right format," the writer told Business Insider. "That with eight episodes, with a broader canvas, we could tell the story of an entire novel much better than we could do with a two-hour feature film."

percy jackson in the disney plus live action show, crouching behind a crate and intently holding a gleaming golden sword
Walker Scobell as Percy Jackson in Disney+'s "Percy Jackson and the Olympians."Disney+

Alexander, the streaming analyst, has a personal theory: A television series demands greater time and attention investment from fans than a feature film, and could keep viewers on a platform longer after watching.

If a fan has watched eight hours of a television show, that time sink might incentivize them to seek out other related series on the same platform — especially if they start auto-playing as what's recommended to watch next. After you watch the live-action "Avatar," you can dive back into all three seasons of the original series, or the sequel series "The Legend of Korra" (I did both).

That kind of thinking explains why Netflix is trying to become the home of all things "One Piece" after the success of its live-action adaptation. The platform will be streaming the new season of the anime, adding existing seasons to its catalog, and even producing its own original, separate anime adaptation of Eiichiro Oda's manga.

That means that eventually, there will likely be three separate adaptations of the main "One Piece" continuity on Netflix: the original anime, the live-action adaptation, and the streamer's new anime adaptation — and that doesn't even include the assorted "One Piece" movies and specials on the platform.

the straw hat pirates in the one piece anime, a crowd of people in brightly colored clothing. monkey d. luffy is in the foreground, a young man with a red vest, straw hat, and wide smile
The "One Piece" anime series has been running since 1999 — just two years fewer than Oda's manga, which began serializing in 1997.Toei Animation

All of this matters when it comes down to potentially increasing the LTV — lifetime value — of a customer, keeping them on the platform for longer, and ideally decreasing churn (essentially, the rate of unsubscribing) among a particular audience base.

Not all of these adaptations are good — but there's a reason certain ones succeed

Both "Percy Jackson" and "Avatar" had the difficult task of becoming the definitive adaptation of their source material after film adaptations that fell short of fan expectations. While certain failures did lead to positive changes in the re-remakes — Netflix's live-action "Avatar" features an Asian and Indigenous cast after whitewashing in the 2010 film, for example — both shows feel plagued by warring impulses to deliver on fans' expectations for redemption while also producing something new.

"Scott Pilgrim Takes Off" and "One Piece" don't have the same problem.

Edgar Wright's "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World," while a box-office flop, is a cult classic and genuinely good movie. The "One Piece" anime, like Oda's original manga, is beloved in its own right and will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year. When it comes to rebooting these properties in a new medium, there's nothing to salvage, because previous versions weren't bad — and while the showrunners had the pressure of living up to something good, they weren't tied up in something to beat. (It's worth noting that both Bryan Lee O'Malley, the author of the "Scott Pilgrim" comics, and Eiichiro Oda, the author of "One Piece," were involved in each respective adaptation).

Netflix's "Scott Pilgrim Takes Off," the lowest-profile show from this cohort, was good because it had the courage to blow up its original story. An eight-episode anime series produced by acclaimed Japanese studio Science Saru, it's a transformative take on O'Malley's original comics that embraces the weirdness that made the source material so good in the first place, without trying to be too precious about preserving what's on the page. Its action sequences sing in animation, and the show's writing makes good use of the longer runtime by actually developing characters rather than recreating prior setpieces or plotlines. It was one of Netflix's best-reviewed shows of 2023.

iñaki godoy as luffy in netflix's one piece. he's stretching out his cheek, demonstrating that he can stretch like rubber, and grinning widely
Iñaki Godoy as Luffy in Netflix's "One Piece."Netflix

Even the live-action "One Piece" managed to vastly exceed expectations, bucking the trend of largely terrible anime-to-live-action adaptations that simply will not quit. The series was successful not just because it embraced the inherent silliness of the manga, but because that silliness just works so damn well on-screen, infused into a pretty adept serialized structure that covered the franchise's arc.

This isn't to say that these showrunners don't feel trepidation to iterate on something successful. "One Piece" co-showrunner Matt Owens told Deadline that he knew the live-action series would have to contend with fans' adoration for the original series, as well as apprehension about live-action anime adaptations in general.

"I didn't sleep for two days before release because I didn't know what to expect with this labor of love that has been such a big part of my life," Owens told Deadline. "And also I'm a peasant so I was expecting the worst anyway."

scott pilgrim in the anime, surrounded by his friends, and ramona's assorted exes in the background in the middle of a crater
Scott Pilgrim, his friends, and his antagonists, in "Scott Pilgrim Takes Off."Netflix

O'Malley, who is a co-showrunner on "Scott Pilgrim Takes Off," told BI and other reporters at New York Comic Con that for years, he didn't think revisiting "Scott Pilgrim" on screen made sense. But when he began to spitball ideas for a new series with co-showrunner BenDavid Grabinski, things started to click.

"We didn't make any choices that were just for the hell of it," Grabinski told BI at NYCC. "There were emotional reasons why we were doing this version of the story. There were narrative reasons, and we just felt very strongly that this was the most satisfying, and surprising, and entertaining thing we could do."

Ultimately, if Hollywood is determined to keep making these re-remakes, future showrunners would do well to take note. And for the executives greenlighting them, maybe redemption isn't the right path — it's much more effective to create something new with familiar stories than try to rectify the mistakes of the past.

Read the original article on Business Insider