From the beginning, the film industry has revelled in reheating its past and serving it up again and again and again. Great film-makers from John Ford to Kon Ichikawa have remade their own films and sometimes that exercise has expanded or embellished on an original.

There are literal remakes and sequels, franchises such as James Bond and Tora-san and countless instances where someone has tweaked a box-office success to produce, in all likelihood, a pale imitation.

The box-office behemoths of 2007 might cause the cynically inclined to conclude there's nothing new under the sun or, if there is, it's not being pursued in such film hubs as Los Angeles, Paris, Mumbai and Seoul. It was a calendar of the re-Bourne that included not necessarily better, but certainly high earning, new instalments: Spider-Man 3 ($890m worldwide), Shrek The Third ($795m), Taxi 4 ($61m), Pokemon ($42m), Mr Bean's Holiday ($224.5m) and Die Hard 4.0 ($382m) to examine just the tip of the iceberg.

Philosopher George Santayana remarked famously that "those who do not learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them". Unfortunately, he never told us what would befall those who repeated the successes of a bygone time.

There's a strong argument that a retread of any sort cannot be better than its inspiration. There may be the odd exception, but by definition a second outing is reliant on the goodwill generated by the original and would not exist without it. And that's virtually impossible to surpass.

Highly popular films, whether one starts with Titanic or Gone With The Wind, share little beyond a very large audience. Other than popularity, there's little that united Amelie ($174m worldwide) with Happy Feet ($384m) or My Big Fat Greek Wedding ($369m). None of the films provide a formula that would guarantee large crowds or a blueprint for success and none were expected to have the degree of success they ultimately attained.

Over the years countless studies have attempted to predict box office using tangible elements culled from popular movies. They've dissected information using themes, cast, creative participants and the like and while some insist they've identified predictive trends, none have been embraced as the industry blueprint.

The effort to bottle what people like is a Faustian pursuit. Talent unquestionably has to convince itself that audiences will respond to the good-natured antics of the $253m-grossing Wild Hogs or the personal struggles of the iconographic Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose (which generated more than $81m), or financiers would never step up to the plate. But they cannot tell you to the dollar how they will fare at the box office.

The numbers don't add up

Predictive models do not know the other films that will be playing at the multiplex, the competitive show times, what might be happening in the news to help or hinder an audience, the weather or the emotional state of the individuals viewing the picture. In other words, they cannot embrace statistically the most significant factors that will ultimately determine the size of the crowd.

Films are an emotional experience and people have favourites that remind them of friends, key moments in their lives and assorted celebrations. That cannot be codified in the way one can analyse a favourite breakfast cereal or toothpaste.

What is to be learned from the success of a sequel or remake is negligible, and the apt observations one can glean from 300's robust $456m take or Babel's $135m gross or even the $113m box office of Arthur And The Invisibles also has limitations.

Perhaps the only thing one can say with certainty is that all successful films must have an element of risk, for without it there can be no reward; without it many will find their holiday stockings stuffed with coal.