Whether it's Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or even Ghostbusters, some series have become deeply ingrained in pop culture consciousness, making their return almost inevitable. However, for a neglected movie, second chances are rare. And the future of the entire Small Soldiers franchise depends on where a mysterious project goes.
Released in 1998 and headlined by noted names such as Phil Hartman, Kirsten Dunst and Tommy Lee Jones, Small Soldiers was a sci-fi comedy about artificially intelligent toys going to war in a suburban neighborhood. Directed by Joe Dante, renowned for his work on the Gremlins movies, the film received mixed reviews and struggled to establish a clear identity. Described as too intense for kids and not quite edgy enough for its intended older audiences, Small Soldiers faded into obscurity, mainly survived by its merchandising and through nostalgic retrospectives. Eventually, the series saw signs of a revival in June 2023 when a concept for a new game, Small Soldiers: War for the Nekron, debuted on YouTube, sparking speculation about a potential resurgence after more than two decades.
Why Small Soldiers Needs a Reboot
Although remembered as a curiosity and a product of pure '90s nostalgia, Small Soldiers always seemed destined for something greater, as Joe Dante himself suggested in an interview. With fast food campaigns, a line of action figures and extensive merchandising, it's surprising that Small Soldiers never expanded beyond a single movie. While many were initially confounded and even frightened by its creepy imagery, drawing comparisons to the Child's Play series, the film was more akin to a spiritual sequel to Gremlins -- a dark comedy with more heart and humor than many gave it credit for.
As a spoof of commercialization and toy lines like G.I. Joe, Small Soldiers captured Dante's signature chaotic B-movie style, featuring miniature critters wreaking havoc. Despite being hindered by the need for merchandise and younger audience appeal, the film showcased the heart and humor reminiscent of Gremlins. Featuring colorful characters, such as the peaceful Gorgonites and warmongering Commando Elites, a dark sense of humor with its commentary on childhood playthings like G.I. Joe, and an impressive use of practical effects, Small Soldiers reflected much of what made Gremlins a classic. As a movie, Small Soldiers may not have received full appreciation upon its release, but it is evident that time has changed that perception. Small Soldiers: War for the Nekron's trailer makes a case for a comeback as it gains traction and audiences reflect on Dante's underappreciated comedy, especially in the wake of other self-aware toy-themed films like the Barbie movie.
War for the Nekron Could Deliver on a Long-Anticipated Follow-Up
After ending with the ominous quote, "I know some rebels in South America who are gonna find these toys... very entertaining," the question lingered on whether audiences would ever see the return of the Gorgonites and Commando Elites. Although rumors circulated about Justin Lin's Toymageddon being a reboot, the Small Soldiers franchise saw little activity or notable interest until Comadran Studios released their proof-of-concept trailer. Utilizing Unreal Engine 5 and promising to push the boundaries of cinematic storytelling, this reimagining of Small Soldiers could be the franchise's only chance at a revival and the opportunity to find the audience it sought with little else slated for the series after 25 years.
Unfortunately, ambitious films like Small Soldiers don't always receive appreciation or live up to their intended potential. Small Soldiers, with its strange characters, enjoyably creepy toy-based comedy and creature feature charm, deserves more than to be neglected as a morbid curiosity. The reasons behind Comadran Studios' decision to revisit Small Soldiers after over two decades and their plans for its reimagined premise remain a mystery. However, Small Soldiers: War for the Nekron is the shot in the arm the series needs to continue this toy story and realize the unrealized potential it always had.