Movie Terms That Should Be Retired

In any society, certain words take on a specific meaning that goes beyond what they were originally intended.  This usually is true within a subset of a culture, such as among groups designated by age, special interests, or occupations.  The film industry is no exception with terms like MOS, apple box, and best boy that can baffle the lay person.  However, a few words that refer to motion pictures have found their way into the common lexicon and are used far too often in the media.  These words have outlived their usefulness and should be eliminated from any further news article, criticism, and marketing of movies.


verb – to restart (a computer) by loading the operating system; boot again.
noun – an act or instance of restarting a computer.

This word, as the definition indicates, is a computer term and had no meaning prior to the advent of PCs in the home and at work.  The term was hijacked by the motion picture industry in 2005 with Batman Begins.  With four prior movies produced by Warner Bros., the last of which was an unmitigated disaster, the studio wanted everyone to know that this film was something new and unrelated to the previous series.  It’s no secret that a movie series will sometimes ignore a movie that bombed and just move on with the series as if that embarrassing entry never happened, so WB could have done that with Christopher Nolan’s film.  That wouldn’t exactly work, though, because Nolan wanted to tell the origins of Batman, something that had not been done successfully with any of the previous movies; his take would then be a prequel except for the fact that he wanted to include the Joker in his own sequel, thereby nullifying Tim Burton’s Batman.  This discontinuity would confuse the audience–how could there be two Jokers, especially with completely different origins and behaviors?  Simple, this was a new series that had nothing to do with the previous films.  But it wasn’t a remake because, while based on the same source material, it told a completely different story.  They needed a new way of explaining what they were doing–hence the cribbing from the computer world.

Audiences bought it.  They understood that the series was being “rebooted,” meaning that the old was being erased and a new “operating system” was being written in its place.  The old series still existed, but this was a different take on the Batman mythology.  The problem was that since the word “reboot” worked in this case, people began adopting it to refer to every instance of a new version of a known product.  Ang Lee’s Hulk didn’t succeed as expected, so Universal decided to release a sequel but tweak the origin story so that the way Bruce Banner becomes the titular character in the first film was ignored.  Suddenly, The Incredible Hulk became a reboot, even though it was made only five years later and opened where the first movie left off with Banner in South America.  For all intents and purposes, the second movie was a sequel, despite the opening credits changing its own mythology.  After all, other movie series have gotten away with retconning their history.  For instance, Evil Dead II completely retold the entire first movie, though conveniently left out three characters (director Sam Raimi pulled the same trick at the beginning of the third movie, Army of Darkness).  Nobody accused Raimi of “rebooting” his own movie; these were just sequels with inconsistencies.  In fact, usually when sequels change facts previously established, it’s usually just passed off as lazy filmmaking.

Now, every remake and sequel is called a reboot.  Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is made by other people because the first one was deemed a bad movie, let’s call it a reboot to distance itself from the original!  New versions of old horror movies are made and are dubbed “reboots,” even though they tell the same story as the original movies, though perhaps elaborating the story.  Even though Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street all spawned multiple sequels, their “reboots” retold their origins.  Guess what?  Those are remakes, plain and simple.  You can argue that the recent versions started the series over again, but unlike Batman Begins, they don’t do a completely different take on the material.

True reboots are:

  1. Casino Royale since it truly started the series from scratch, adapting the first James Bond book Ian Flemming wrote (the only time the book was accurately adapted for the big screen), and ignored everything that came before (though Judi Dench reprising her role as M was confusing in this context).
  2. The upcoming The Amazing Spider-man because it’s going the Batman Begins route and ignoring an established series and telling another origin story as if it’s in an alternate universe.
  3. Rise of the Planet of the Apes due to the fact that it tells the origins of how the apes took over out world but in a completely different manner than the movie it closely emulates, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes can be considered a reboot, though he called it a “reimagining“)

“Reboot” is a term that is not only incorrectly attributed to the wrong type of movies, but it is overused.  It’s now jumped ship to other types of entertainment.  Rather than use it as a catch-all for any adaptation, we need to return to using the correct terminology.


noun – a second sequel; a third installment of a book, movie, event, or other series

Some people who think they’re clever coin cutesy words, which is fine as long as it stays within their ironic origins.  Unfortunately, every now and then, words like “threequel” escape into everyday usage.  This, of course, is a bastardization of “sequel” or “prequel.”  After all, there isn’t a specific word to describe the third film in a series–though why we need one is perplexing.  What’s next, fourquel?  Fivequel?  If this makes you sick, drink Nyquil.  At one time, trilogies were all the rage, until these three-movie series decided to spawn more sequels (see Indiana Jones, Rocky, Rambo, Scream, Die Hard, etc.)  Somewhere along the way, “trilogy” begat “threequel” as the acceptable way to refer to the third film of a series.

News flash–“threequel” is no longer cute, it’s annoying.  While it’s surprising that dictionary.com included that word, at least the Consice Oxford English Dictionary came to their senses and removed that non-word from their pages.


adjective – daringly innovative; on the cutting edge.

You gotta love movie marketing.  Advertising a film is difficult, which is why movie posters all tend to look alike.  Marketers have the choice of either selling the actors or the concept of the movie.  If the film doesn’t have a major movie star to draw in an audience, then it has to try to make the plot stand out from the crowd.  The best way is to make it seem like this film is unlike anything seen before, even though everyone knows that Hollywood has no originality.  This lack of originality not only applies to the stories told but how those stories are sold.  Marketers are eager to jump on  a bandwagon and use a term that has no real meaning but sounds good, such as “edgy.”  This word implies that there’s a little danger involved, that the movies to which it applies are somehow “on the edge” of some creative expanse.  It also drums up visions of handheld character dramas that are more powerful than the average Hollywood pablum.  The problem is that it seems like every movie is described as “edgy” to the point that the word is meaningless (it’s hard to take it seriously when Fraggle Rock, Hot Wheels, and Zac Efron are described as edgy).  Look at these lists of supposed edgy movies and it’s apparent that it’s one of those descriptors that means anything the person using it wants:

  1. Edgy Movies You Might Not Have Seen (but should)
  2. Really Edgy Films That You May Not See In Mainstream Cinema
  3. Ari’s Edgy Movies
  4. 45 Movies – Dark, Smart, Edgy


adjective – 1) consisting of, containing, or resembling grit;  sandy; or 2) resolute and courageous; plucky.

Like “edgy,” people everywhere want to describe their movies as “gritty.”  Perhaps this is the antithesis of  traditional slick and glossy Hollywood fare, but it sounds like the negative fell into a sandbox.  Urban Dictionary puts it succinctly as “harsh, coarse, rough and unrefined, as in film depictions that portray life as it truly is, without false distortions, stylization, or idealisations.”  So essentially, a gritty movie is one that depicts reality.  That certain describes the movies on these lists:

  1. 12 Gritty Movies and Three to Offset the First Group
  2. Dirty Frank’s Gritty Movies
  3. Top 10 Raw and Gritty Films
  4. Listal’s gritty movie list

Based on many movies on those sites, the term “drama” could easily apply, except that movie studios do not want to market their films as drama; they have to be another genre like suspense thriller, biopics, historical epics, coming-of-age, etc.  Even better if you can combine genres, so you end up with science fiction western, comedy horror, or gangster musical.  Best yet if you can throw in a vague adjective that can apply to any movie.

To say that “gritty” is overused is an understatement.  It has been applied to everything from Spider-man to Snow White to Judge Dredd to documentaries to housewives to Indian films to Ghostbusters knockoffs.  One movie actually has been called both edgy and gritty.  That must be quite an accomplishment!

Leave it to Cracked to make fun of both “gritty” and “reboots.”


noun – a film that is or has the potential to be part of a series and lends itself to merchandising

This term began life as a way to describe a chain of restaurants (such as McDonalds) or other businesses that sold its name to local owners who agreed to run the establishment under corporate guidelines.  Somehow “franchise” now means a movie series.  The reason this term is objectionable is that it’s cynical and regards a movie as a product rather than a work of art.  Of course, you can argue that most movies that become an entire series do not qualify as art (at least the sequels), but the point is that by treating films in a purely business sense detracts from their creative elements.  The writers, directors, actors, cinematographers, production designers, editors, and the dozens of other craftsmen (and even certain producers) who work on a given film put a lot of their creativity and energy into making the motion picture as entertaining as possible.  Sure, many times they fail–but it’s easier to discount their artistry if their work is shrugged off as product, like assembly line workers building appliances.  Of course, this is exactly how movie studio execs look at it; they put together funding that can top $200 million and expect a greater return.  A film’s quality is just one more thing to market since a positive quote from a critic can be put in TV ads while good word of mouth from the audience can translate into ticket sales, but it really doesn’t matter to those in charge.  What matters is how much money can be garnered from a project.  If a movie has potential for sequels, no matter how bad or nonsensical, then that’s what a studio will put into production.

The odd thing is, this blasé way of looking at movies should work against the studios.  It would seem that the audience wants to be fooled into thinking that the studios believe that their material is somehow holy, but the general public has embraced the term “franchise” based on how often the word is used:

  1. The Greatest Movie Franchises of All Time
  2. The Most Lucrative Movie Franchises
  3. Top 25 Movie Franchises of All Time
  4. The Most Valuable Movie Franchises of All Time
  5. The Numbers list of movie franchises

Can’t we come up with a better word to describe movie series that doesn’t sound so cold and heartless?  A series of sequels can be considered more than just a money-making device, can’t they?

*all definitions were taken from dictionary.com

copyright © 2011 FilmVerse


5 comments on “Movie Terms That Should Be Retired

  1. Dredd and Punisher: War Zone were also reboots.

  2. […] Star Trek of 2009 (which was the 10th film spawned from the TV show). The difference between that franchise and most other TV-shows-turned-movies is that it retains original cast members and is in continuity […]

  3. Brilliant reasons why certain words shouldn’t change meanings to suit the movies. I think edgy is the strangest one for me as that has a slightly different meaning where I am from so I couldn’t relate that to cinema.

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