What's Old Is New Again: Ranking The 15 Best Franchise Revivals Of Recent Years

Reviving old popular culture used to be rare, or at least not terribly common. These days, reviving TV shows and movies for one reason or another is as common as new series themselves. As we all await the return of HBO's Deadwood with the excellent Deadwood: The Movie (airing this Friday, May 31), it's time to rank the 15 best revivals of recent TV shows and movies.(You'll note some exclusions here — the CW/UPN drama Veronica Mars isn't here. Yes, there was a crowdfunded movie, but with the TV-styled revival on Hulu coming this summer, it's best to leave it off for now to see how the new show shakes out. But the movie was fine!)

15. Roseanne

At least among the sitcom revivals of the 2010s, there's been a fairly common thread in which each show directly confronts the sociopolitical problems of the present day. That, at least, is what was supposed to be the case with the revival of Roseanne that began airing on ABC just 14 months ago. Undoing the baffling ninth season, this new take on Roseanne was as loud and confrontational as the original show was, just with the added twist that Roseanne Conner, like Roseanne Barr, was all-in on Trumpism. For fans of the original show who may have praised its balance of blue-collar American and fairly progressive politics, it's a crushing disappointment. And now, Roseanne is The Conners. After Barr spewed more racist hate speech on Twitter (which she'd been doing for a while before ABC picked up the revival), she was fired from the show and her character killed off. It's an ignoble end to a show that had once been pretty enjoyable.

14. Murphy Brown

The success of ABC's Roseanne revival must have made CBS jealous. They had a popular sitcom of their own that was focused on a female lead and tackled present-day issues that had been a big hit in the late 1980s and early 1990s. So of course, they picked up a new version of Murphy Brown with most of the original cast returning. Certainly, a show set in the world of nightly news would allow for topical humor, but there's a very distinct, frustrating sense throughout the new Murphy Brown that some revivals simply should not exist. Though it's nowhere near as loudly offensive as the new Roseanne, the new Murphy Brown just feels like a desperate ploy to get high ratings. And since the single-season revival has been canceled, it's obvious how desperation doesn't always pan out in TV.

13. Arrested Development

When Netflix announced that it was reviving Arrested Development from the dead, it seemed like manna from heaven. The three-season series on Fox had been genuinely brilliant; had it truly ended in 2006, it would have gone down as perhaps the single best TV comedy of all time. But there was more show to go, premiering with a fourth season of 15 episodes in 2013. The new show...technically had the ingredients of the show, from its sprawling ensemble cast to inside-baseball Hollywood references to rapid-fire jokes and pacing. But the style of making each episode focused on a single character meant the ensemble barely shared any time together, a lot of the jokes felt lazier and more desperate than before, and episodes were overlong. A fifth season of two eight-season halves premiered in 2018 and 2019, but did so with a blip. Better to just pretend this show ended after 3 seasons.

12. 24

Part of the Fox show 24 feels novel even now. The notion of an intense TV action drama that has its episodes set in real time could lead to some exceptional and thrilling installments and storylines. But 24 was also an accidental product of its time, premiering just a couple months after the devastating attacks on September 11. When the show returned to Live Another Day in 2014, the world was a different place, and as magnetic as Kiefer Sutherland could be as secret agent Jack Bauer, the show's mix of tortuous action, melodrama, and twists felt a little flat where it had once been revolutionary. Sutherland's performance was always the show's best asset, but the new show just felt like a cover of a song best left unsung.

11. The Twilight Zone

In some ways, the basic premise and structure of The Twilight Zone is easy to revive. Since the original show premiered in 1959, there's been an anthology film and three different TV revivals, most recently on CBS All Access and hosted by executive producer Jordan Peele. An episodic genre show that indulges in shocking twists and reversals of fortune while also making social commentary, The Twilight Zone is an all-time classic. But the revivals only prove how hard it is to reclaim lightning in a bottle. The newest version looks slick, has many excellent actors involved (featuring Adam Scott, John Cho, Kumail Nanjiani, Steven Yeun, and others), but still suffers from the expectations anyone brings to The Twilight Zone. The surprising has become predictable, and the social commentary feels forced in ways it didn't originally. It's a fine effort, but not much more than that.

10. Will and Grace

Back in 1998, the NBC sitcom Will and Grace felt mildly, if not entirely, revolutionary. The show was unashamed and understandably proud about its premise: a straight woman and a gay man living as roommates in New York with their wild friends, antics ensuing once a week. Twenty years later, the show was revived after its largely successful eight-season run, and refused to shy away from its timeliness. As the world has gotten darker, scarier, and more confusing, Will and Grace is happy to indulge in its outrageous, left-leaning characters and worldview. The core four performers — Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes, and Megan Mullally — still have the chemistry that made the show work to begin with. But if there's anything holding the show back, it's the unavoidable need to be about the World We Live In Now, which is a lot less enjoyable than it was in 1998.

9. Mystery Science Theater 3000

Reviving some shows feels perfectly natural. Mystery Science Theater 3000 coming back from the dead is a textbook example. The basic setup of the show, in which characters watch bad old movies and make fun of them, could be refreshed easily. It's only surprising that it took both a crowdfunding campaign and Netflix to pull this off. Over two seasons and 18 episodes, the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 has brought back the old robots and some new human characters, played by Jonah Ray, Felicia Day, and Patton Oswalt, so they can make fun of cheesy old movies (including at least one most film fans recognize, the awful Mac and Me). It's not quite the same as the old Comedy Central show, but new MST3K is still a charming reminder of how much fun bad-movie-watching can be.

8. Gilmore Girls

The passage of time can make some show revivals a bit more challenging than others, but that wasn't the case for Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. Despite that title, the Netflix revival (they did specialize in these revivals for a while) isn't a full-season return to Stars Hollow with mother and daughter Lorelai and Rory Gilmore (Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel). Instead, it's a series of four films set at different seasons in the year as we see what's changed in the Gilmores' lives, and the lives of those around them. Seeing Graham and Bledel rattling off the fast-paced dialogue from Amy Sherman-Palladino once more is plenty charming, even if it's still not quite the same as watching the show in its early years. It feels a bit fan service-y, but then, aren't all these revivals a form of fan service?

7. Futurama

When Fox canceled Futurama in 2003, it was a heartbreaking example of how the tides had turned at the network; though it came from Simpsons creator Matt Groening, the show about a doofy young man from 1999 who accidentally gets cryogenically frozen and wakes up in the year 3000 just never caught on. But repeats on Adult Swim kept it alive, so eventually the show was revived as a series of films before being brought back as a TV show on Comedy Central. Eventually, the show aired seven overall seasons (including one comprised of the four films, each of which could be divided in four "episodes"), ending in 2013. Futurama was darker, weirder, and more genre-heavy by the time it shifted to Comedy Central, staying true to its oddball charm to the very end, balancing a sweet romance with dark commentary about humanity.

6. Whose Line is it Anyway?

Sometimes, the best revivals don't change a thing. When Whose Line Is It Anyway? returned to the airwaves in 2013, after six years off the air from its time on ABC, there was one notable difference. Instead of being hosted by Drew Carey, the show is now emceed by comedian Aisha Tyler. But many of the stalwarts of the improvisatory variety show, in which performers play different improv games with suggestions from audience members, are still there. Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie, and Wayne Brady are still all regulars, with the fourth seat being a revolving door. Your mileage on improv may vary, but for improv fans, Whose Line remains as funny as it ever was all these years later.

5. Doctor Who

When Doctor Who was revived by the BBC in 2005, the world of science-fiction TV was a bit different than it was when the previous iteration went off the air in 1989. There were new Star Wars and Star Trek films and, in the latter case, TV shows. By now, shows like Battlestar Galactica had proved sci-fi could be more than the delightfully goofy and cheesy show that had delighted children in the 1960s and 1970s. BBC's updated version was goofy — the humanoid alien Doctor still fends off the clunky, chunky Daleks — but also a lot more mature and intelligent. Over the last 13 seasons, the show has cycled through a handful of Doctors, from Christopher Eccleston to the first woman Doctor, Jodie Whittaker. It's had some ups and downs, but Doctor Who's revival is light-years beyond its predecessor.

4. Twin Peaks

Back in 1990, it was entirely insane to think that a major television network gave David Lynch relatively free rein to make a show that would reflect his avant-garde worldview. And while Twin Peaks was not entirely a David Lynch affair — he wasn't the only director or writer — it was an arresting, creepy, compelling genre piece that captured the attention of the nation, if briefly. It is perhaps even crazier to imagine that Lynch was willing to revive the show (and yes, this writer would say it's a TV show, not a movie) for an 18-episode sequel subtitled The Return on Showtime. Twin Peaks: The Return was even more baffling and unforgettable than its predecessor, as FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) was possessed by an evil spirit, and...well, to describe it would take a few thousand words and ruin what made it so special. It's truly remarkable that this revival, in any form, ever existed.

3. Star Wars

From a financial standpoint, it's almost surprising that we didn't get a new Star Wars trilogy earlier than 2015. Whatever your opinions of the prequels directed by George Lucas, they were all very popular at the worldwide box office (two of them were the highest-grossing films of their respective years in the U.S.). But it took until Disney bought Lucasfilm that a revival trilogy was mounted beginning with The Force Awakens. The conclusion of the trilogy is on the way this December, as The Rise of Skywalker brings director JJ Abrams back to the fold (after Rian Johnson directed the excellent The Last Jedi in 2017). Frankly, if it wasn't for the very hit-or-miss spin-off films Rogue One and Solo, this entry might be even higher on the list. While it's always possible this will end on a downer note, the 2015 and 2017 entries proved that new directors and actors can breathe new life into a galaxy far, far away.

2. Rocky/Creed

Depending on how you look at it, there have been a few revivals of the Rocky franchise. In 2006, Sylvester Stallone once again starred as the Philadelphia boxer in Rocky Balboa, a decent look into the character's life as an older man. But it wasn't until 2015 that director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan were able to inject an unexpected and very welcome energy into this world with Creed. Focusing on the son of the late Apollo Creed, Creed revealed hidden depths in the franchise by positioning Rocky as the trainer, and the young Creed as the new hero. Creed II was less creatively successful — Stallone, notably, co-wrote the sequel but not the 2015 film — but Jordan's innate star quality is an unequivocal boost to this series.

1. Deadwood

It's still hard to believe that Deadwood: The Movie even exists. After the show was canceled by HBO in 2006, the overriding assumption was that it would never return. The detailed sets were dismantled, David Milch went on to create two different HBO dramas that failed to get a second season, and most of the cast members went onto other projects that would take up their time. But the stars aligned, and now we have this wonderful return to Deadwood. Set in 1889, as the villainous George Hearst returns to threaten the livelihood of some of our characters once more, Deadwood: The Movie is a fine and delicate balance between fan service (big and small; to the latter point, keep a weather eye out for a brief, wordless cameo from an actor who once worked on the show), and telling the right story about these characters. Al Swearengen is suffering through a debilitating illness, Marshal Seth Bullock is shocked to see his old flame Alma again, and Calamity Jane struggles with her feelings for whorehouse mistress Joanie Stubbs. Just about every character is back, and gets at least one good moment or two. Plus, it's hard to imagine a revival on this list that has a better last line than this one. It's a hell of a thing.