Over the last five years, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the amount of Hollywood remakes and reboots – much to the chagrin of fans (and online commenters). Nearly every week we get word of a new remake or reboot that’s in the early stages of production. Of course, not all of these projects actually make it to the big (or small) screen – NBC’s Murder She Wrote reboot (with Octavia Spencer) serves as a recently cancelled attempt to revisit a fan-favorite property. Still, many reboots and remakes do make it into production. In 2014 alone we’ll see a remake of Annie along with reboots of Godzilla and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, just to name a few – with plenty of other contentious productions scheduled for future release in the coming years, including Akira and re-remake of Scarface.
Yet, despite the proliferation of remakes and reboots, nearly all of the aforementioned in-development projects were panned immediately at the time of their announcement by fans of their respective “originals.” Unsurprisingly, no one wants to see their favorites characters tarnished in a hollow Hollywood cash grab but not all remakes and reboots are soulless attempts to exploit an established brand. Plus, even when a remake fails, it can still have a positive effect on other aspects of the original film’s legacy – most notably reigniting interest in a fading franchise.
As a result, even if you’ve been burned by an uninspired attempt at reimagining one of your favorite films or TV shows, here are several reasons Why Everybody Should Love Remakes and Reboots.
Before we get started, let’s set up a few key points and guidelines for the sake of intelligent discussion.
If you think all remakes and reboots are unnecessary, have no interest in a discussion of why they can be good (even when the movie itself is bad), and just want to see Hollywood make “original” films, skip ahead to our fifth and final point in this article.
The terms “remake” and “reboot” are often used as synonyms and presenting a concrete definition for either can result in endless semantic debate. For our purposes, we’ll be using the term “remake” to identify a standalone film that follows most (not all) of the original’s plot beats (example: Evil Dead) and we’ll use the term “reboot” to identify a film that attempts significant change for the purpose of kicking-off a new film franchise (example: Star Trek).
Remakes/Reboots (No Matter the Quality) Re-invigorate Properties & Characters
In our skepticism, we’ve set up a no-win situation for filmmakers: in order for a reboot to be accepted by fans it must a) not make significant (or even sometimes subtle) changes to the original and b) deliver an overall better movie in the process. But what if a filmmaker can offer a different take on that same premise?
Recently, José Padilha’s reboot of the RoboCop franchise drew especially intense criticism from longtime fans who deemed the film “unnecessary” and a “disgrace” to Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 feature. However, reviews and audience impressions from viewers who actually saw the film weren’t as clear cut. Reactions were decidedly mixed, but for a movie that was decried as a shameless cash grab from day one, plenty of moviegoers and critics alike actually praised Padilha’s modern take on the RoboCop premise – which traded the original’s R-Rated violence for an existential character story.
Padilha’s remake has flaws but, whether you loved it, hated it, or were mostly indifferent, it got people talking about RoboCop again – a brand that, after the original film, resulted in an underwhelming RoboCop 2, universally panned RoboCop 3, as well as two lackluster TV shows (RoboCop: The Series and RoboCop: Prime Directives). RoboCop may have been a fan-favorite staple of 1980s moviegoers (young and old) but, 25 years later, was anyone outside of die hard fans watching the original film? The answer: not many. For years, RoboCop hadn’t even been remastered for an HD release. It appeared as a standalone Blu-ray and as part of a trilogy box set but neither retail offering actually included remastered image and sound – that is until the remake finally encouraged MGM to produce a fresh Blu-ray to coincide with Padilha’s film.
Even in the worst case scenario, when a reboot or remake is a legitimate disgrace, it can encourage certain moviegoers to take a second (or first) look at the original and raise overall awareness. These days, keeping a film or TV show in the public consciousness is especially important – ensuring that publishers, streaming services, and retailers don’t drop the title from their available offerings.
Remake & Reboot Criticism Undeservedly “Sanctify” Old Films & TV Shows
Each of us has fond memories of specific films but with two or three major movie releases hitting theaters every week, more and more entertainment offerings are available to the next generation of consumers. As a result, certain cult favorite films could begin to fade into obscurity – especially since not all of them are as “perfect” as we might remember. Is Verhoeven’s RoboCop an entertaining film with more layers than most viewers expected from a story about a cyborg cop? Absolutely. Is it an untouchable classic that will hold-up for generations to come? A film that will be just as impactful to die-hard movie fans tomorrow as it was to those in 1987? Not likely.
A lot of moviegoers dismiss remakes and reboots as shallow cash-grabs that sacrifice the spirit of original properties for the sake of updated CGI effects. Yet, the biggest longterm drawback in many fan-favorite films isn’t the visuals, it’s the context. It shouldn’t be a surprise that writers and directors responsible for a cult-classic like RoboCop took a premise with enduring appeal and wrapped it in thematic material that was relevant at the time of production.
Yet, times change – making certain aspects of many beloved films less impactful as our cultural focus shifts. Meaning, RoboCop (1987) is unlikely to be as impactful to a modern film buff as it was to fans back in the 1980s – while the RoboCop premise is still ripe for modern social commentary.
No doubt, classic films should be appreciated for their ability to educate us about the culture in which they were created, but it is over-reaching to assume that even the most dedicated film fans will be as impacted by the experience twenty-five years later as we were at the time of release. That’s not to take anything away from RoboCop, or any of the other beloved originals that have spurred a modern remake. They’re enjoyable films from talented filmmakers – but that doesn’t mean that they’re universally celebrated or that we should deny a fresh perspective (with updated commentary on current social issues) – one that could grant fan-favorite characters a second life (and offer the same impact on future moviegoers).
Remakes & Reboots Make “Old” Exciting for “New” Viewers
Reimagining characters isn’t even a new thing – for centuries artists have been revitalizing other people’s creations – through oral traditions, written works, and radio. Film just happens to be the most recent (and most public) medium to regularly revisit popular characters. The last five years have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of reboots and remakes but, relative to the near 100-year history of American studio filmmaking, that doesn’t mean that reinterpretations are ever going away.
Why is RoboCop or the Necronomicon any more precious than Robin Hood or Sherlock Holmes? Simply because the former were enjoyed by our generation first and the latter don’t technically belong to anyone that’s still alive? Viewers who enjoyed Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves or BBC’s Sherlock (not to mention CBS’ Elementary), among countless others, can’t really argue that re-introducing a beloved property to a new group of potential fans outright dishonors the original creation.
If a character is truly as important as fans often suggest – an “icon” with timeless depth and story potential – then that brand should have no problem weathering an underwhelming re-imagining. As suggested, it’s also worth noting that, even in the case of a failed remake, Hollywood isn’t likely to simply abandon a bankable property and will probably dust it back off somewhere down the line – for re-reboot.
It might not be easy to watch our favorite movies and TV shows get recycled through the studio system over and over again, but by accepting that future remakes and reboots are inevitable, fans don’t have to be quite as discouraged when any one particular iteration is a complete misfire. Especially since we’ve also seen plenty of remakes that actually work – when a talented director takes the original premise and delivers a film that all fans (both new and old) can appreciate.
Don’t Forget: There Are Plenty of Great Remakes & Reboots
Hollywood has churned out countless uninspired, cash grab, remakes but there are also a lot of really good ones too – films that both reinvigorated their brand and delivered a solid new chapter in a fan-favorite franchise. Fans might think that the first question a studio should ask before remaking a film or TV property is: “Should this property be remade or rebooted?” Yet, anyone familiar with the entertainment industry knows that question is never going to be a priority – as long as there is potential money to be made.
Instead, the question that really matters is: “What is an inspired approach to remaking this property?” Inventiveness is a key element that, from the very beginning, helps to separate good remakes from bad ones – as writers and filmmakers attempt to both honor what came before while also updating a beloved franchise for a new chapter. In the last ten years alone we’ve seen successful remakes or reboots in a variety of genres. After Joel Schumacher turned Tim Burton’s gothic-style Batman film franchise into a cartoony mess, Christopher Nolan reintroduced a grounded take on the character (and his villains) in Batman Begins – paving the way for record-breaking box office numbers and critical acclaim. Despite a loving fan community, the Star Trek franchise had struggled for years to regain traction among TV viewers. Instead, Paramount hired J.J. Abrams for a film relaunch – resulting in a brainy reboot that reminded casual filmgoers why Star Trek is cool (without upsetting too many die-hard fans).
Still, successful remakes aren’t limited to the last decade – and thanks to creative filmmaking, certain moviegoers might even be surprised to find out that some of their favorite “classic” films are actually remakes too.
Check out the list below (just to highlight a few):
- John Carpenter’s 1982 horror film, The Thing – a remake of Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks’ 1951 The Thing from Another World (based on John W. Campbell’s novel Who Goes There?)
- Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven in 2001 – a remake of Lewis Milestone’s Ocean’s Eleven from 1960.
- David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) – a remake of Kurt Neumann’s The Fly (1958).
- Martin Scorsese’s 1991 thriller, Cape Fear – a remake of J. Lee Thompson’s Cape Fear from 1962 (based on John D. MacDonald’s book The Executioners)
- Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey from Duwayne Dunham – a remake of Fletcher Markle’s The Incredible Journey from 1963 (based on the novel by Sheila Burnford).
- Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983) – a remake of Howard Hawks’ Scarface from 1932.
The internet has given us unprecedented access to film productions, allowing us to scrutinizing every minor detail of an upcoming remake, months before it hits theaters. For that reason, it’s become convenient to forget that some of our favorite remakes also took major risks and broke significantly from celebrated originals – drastically changing key characters and story details in an effort to update the premise for modern audiences. Who are we to determine whether a remake is “necessary” or not? Since remakes and reboots aren’t going anywhere, do we really want filmmakers trying to make a “better” version of the same film? Why not celebrate directors and writers for taking risks, trying something different, even if it means they fall short from time to time?
Unless of course, we just want Hollywood to stop bothering with rehashing old stories – and give us something new.
Forget Remakes and Reboots: What Happened to Originality?
Surprise! Studios are already churning out hundreds of entirely original movies every single year – most moviegoers just don’t bother to seek them out. In fact, annually, after the Academy Award nominees are announced, studios re-release several of the most-celebrated of these original films back into theaters, so that moviegoers who passed on them during their original run have a second chance? Yet, most moviegoers still don’t bother to see them – and that’s only a tiny slice of the numerous, high quality, and original films that are released each and every year.
After two months in theaters, Spike Jonze’ buzz-worthy awards contender Her, arguably one of the most original and ambitious screenplays in years, has made (worldwide) $5 million less than RoboCop did (domestic) in its first week. To be clear, as of the time of this writing, Her took in $23 million globally over 9 weeks, while RoboCop has made $30 million alone in the United States over 5 days (that number jumps to a $100 million total if you include global ticket sales). Obviously, these numbers aren’t entirely cut and dry: Her cost significantly less to make (meaning it will easily turn a profit) but was advertised less and available in less theaters (due to limited demand) – while RoboCop still has work to do before it recoups both production and marketing costs.
No doubt, knowledgable movie lovers support indie, foreign, and experimental films but it’s hard to blame Hollywood for its interest in revitalizing existing brands – since the studios and producers that green light remakes are also financing a lot of these original films too (original films that only a very small portion of potential moviegoers are actually seeing). In fact, if it wasn’t for a handful of blockbuster studio remakes and reboots, those studios and producers might not even have the money to take risks on original films. Without a doubt, failed remakes also lose studios money from time to time but, if it wasn’t for the risks taken in Batman Begins, which led to over $2.5 billion at the global box office over three films, a Warner Bros. distributed movie like Her might not have been made, or at the very least, given nearly as much exposure.
It might be a hard pill to swallow but even moviegoers that hate seeing their favorite franchises regurgitated through Hollywood still have reason (at least as a necessary evil) to support the idea of remakes and reboots.
Understandably, we all have soft spots for our favorite movies, TV shows, and entertainment franchises – and there’s plenty of cause to be skeptical when a new remake or reboot is first announced. Yet, for every Rollerball (2002) – that’s both a box office and critical failure, theres a Dredd (2012) – a creative revitalization, or a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) – a forgivable box office smash that adds money to a studio’s indie project coffer.
Not all (if many) remakes or reboots will ever be able to replace the fond memories and experiences that we’ve had with their respective originals; yet, that doesn’t mean that, with the right direction, every remake or reboot has to be viewed as corrupting the legacy of a beloved franchise. Even the lousy ones are an opportunity for fans to draw attention to their preferred iteration – a reminder to support the film or TV show by encouraging others to check it out or purchasing an updated retail copy.
When all else fails: Remember, the time between reboots and remakes has become shorter than ever (with only five years between the release of Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man). Not to mention, more than a handful of film properties have already seen re-remakes – so, even if Hollywood completely ruined one of your sanctified childhood favorites, maybe they’ll get it right next time… in a few years.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future editorials as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.
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