The Top 5 Rules For Movie Remakes

Published 5 years ago by , Updated June 25th, 2014 at 11:32 am,

fright night The Top 5 Rules For Movie Remakes

This article was prompted by news that Sony is looking for writers to do a new version of the campy 1985 horror flick Fright Night, an idea that readers of Screen Rant might be surprised to hear I’m not against.

For the most part, I despise Hollywood’s habit of remaking past films. Sure sometimes it works (The Departed, Ocean’s 11, The Thomas Crown Affair, Scarface), but for the vast majority it doesn’t (Planet of the Apes, The Poseiden Adventure, The Pink Panther, Point of No Return, Sabrina, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, etc., etc., etc.), and is just a blatant and often creatively bankrupt attempt at cashing in on the name of some past, well-known movie.

So having said that, when is it okay to remake a film? If it’s done well, I don’t have a problem with remakes of original films that meet any of the following criteria:

1. Stories in the public domain that have already had multiple movie remakes done.

Movies based on classic stories like The Three Musketeers, Dracula, Frankenstein, etc. These have been remade so many times already that you can’t really logically argue against another one, and sometimes a newer version turns out to be quite good.

2. The original is terribly dated in either setting or pacing and style.

In this category you’ll find movies like Ocean’s 11 and The Thomas Crown Affair. I’ve watched both the original versions and the remakes and while I’m no fan of the seizure-inducing, quick-cut filming style used in so many movies today, the pacing in some movies from the late 60′s/early 70′s was so slow that it could put you in a coma.

3. The original is not terribly well known or beloved.

Let me start off by saying that there is a special place reserved in Hell for the person that ever gets a remake of Casablanca produced. Some movies should just be off limits. Period. Movies that are a part of the fabric of the history of cinema should just be left alone, if for no other reason than because they have withstood the test of time and are still considered excellent and extremely enjoyable today. In addition to Casablanca I would add It’s a Wonderful Life, 12 Angry Men, The Maltese Falcon (yes, I know the Humphrey Bogart version is a remake, but let’s leave it alone now, shall we?) and of course, Citizen Kane. There are many others, but you get the gist.

4. The remake does in fact bring something new while respecting the original.

Here we have movies like Cape Fear, The Magnificent Seven and The Thing. Each of these was a remake that brought something fresh to the original story, whether in concept or execution.

5. The original was basically pretty cheesy or tongue-in-check in tone and most folks wouldn’t care if it was remade.

Little Shop of Horrors and even Eight Legged Freaks as a new twist on the classic giant-ant movie Them. This is the category where I think a remake of Fright Night fits: It was pretty campy and didn’t take itself too seriously and while it was a fun movie, I don’t think it falls under “untouchable” status. In the right hands it could be quite good, but that’s certainly no guarantee.

So from now on when I rant against some remake, you’ll know that it doesn’t fall under any of the five rules listed above. icon smile The Top 5 Rules For Movie Remakes

What do you think… are there any other criteria under which it’s ok to remake a movie?

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  1. I think rule #4 is of primary importance, although I’d disagree that The Italian Job is up to the bar you have raised for it there.

  2. Was the original better? I have to admit I’ve only seen the recent version, which I thought was pretty good in an “Ocean’s 11″ sort of way.


  3. The original is fun, and the Brits consider it to be a real classic, but the remake struck me as very bland and not about anything.

  4. You might want to consider naming the first catagory the “Public Domain” group ;)

  5. The original “The Italian Job” Is infinitely better than the remake. I mean don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the remake, its not altogether terrible, but I’m afraid the original is better in pretty much every way.

  6. I’ve deferred to the wisdom of my visitors and removed “The Italian Job” from the above post. :-)


  7. I like my wordy, longer title better. ;-)

    Great suggestion, though!


  8. “Sony is looking for writers to do a new version of the campy 1985 horror flick Fright Night”

    See this is the problem i think. There’s not a writer or director saying “hey, i think i have an interesting way to tell this story” or “I have a cool interpretation for this story”. Instead a movie company says “hey, lets remake this movie. Now how are we gonna make it different?”.

  9. Of course… that’s one of my major issues with remakes and the motivations behind them, but in this case (Fright Night) for some reason it’s not bugging me.


  10. All very good suggestions that Hollywood will never ever understand or implement.

    I posted it over at my site Vic!

  11. All very good rules. I’m glad you made this post since ScreenRant was one of the first places I heard about an Enter the Dragon remake… which I’m also glad that you strongly disagreed with the idea. To Hell with those people trying to ruin “classics”!

  12. Hi Vic

    Just wondering what you think when the star of a former 80s hit franchise wants to revive it, as in Steve Guttenberg, who wants to star/direct Police Academy 8 AND star in Three Men 3? What rule would that fall under?

  13. @Mike Hebert

    Don’t know that qualifies as a remake – more like the current trend of doing a sequel 20 years after the previous one (Indy 4, Die Hard 4).


  14. Hey Vic,

    Here's something I wrote back in 2007 I called the “4 Rules For Making A Remake”

    1) The original has to have a good story
    I know that sounds too simple to even mention here, but you’d be surprised. What would be the point of remaking “Freddy Got Fingered”? Story is the base foundation of everything, if the original didn’t have it… then don’t bother.

    2) Majority of current audience hasn’t seen the original
    This is a big one to me. The strongest argument for doing a remake (to me anyway) is to bring a great story to a modern audience that otherwise wouldn’t have seen it. Yes, they could always go to the Blockbuster and rent it… but there is no debate that most people don’t do that… so why not bring it to them? That being the case, it makes no sense to do a remake if most of the current movie going audience has seen the original. Films like Godfather, Star Wars ect. have been seen by most people (although the number is dwindling now finally) so you wouldn’t be bringing them anything they haven’t already seen for the most part.

    3) Original has to be at least 20 years old
    I think before a film should be considered for a remake, a legitimate buffer of time between when the original came out, and when you propose to do the remake. This rule is related to rule #2, but if no one saw a great movie that was just out 13 years ago… then chances are you should just leave it alone for a few more years before remaking it.

    4) The story would benefit from a modern telling
    You have to adapt material moving it from one era to another. The question is can that adaption be made into a modern context, or in the same context but benefit from modern filmmaking techniques and technologies? For example, could the story of Ocean’s Eleven benefit be transporting it into a modern casino context? YES. Or Lord of the Rings. Could it benefit changing mediums from animated to live action utilizing today’s technology to enhance the storytelling? Obviously YES. On the other hand, a film like “The Three Amigos” shouldn’t be remade (yet) because the story as it is and the context in which it was told wouldn’t benefit from an update at all. Undoubtedly at some point it WILL… but not right now, even though it’s more than 20 years old, is a hilarious story and SADLY most people today haven’t seen it.

    I think if a film meets these 4 criteria then it’s a prime candidate to be remade… hopefully for the better. Earlier today I wrote that the Hellraiser remake seems to be back on. To me, it meets all the above “rules” and therefore a good one to do. Does that mean it will WORK? Obviously not… but it does mean it’s worth the try.

  15. A lot of those rules are certainly being broken these days, eh? And thanks for stopping by, John. :)

  16. Vic,

    I agree with the above article. I will add an expanded version of what I have said on some of the Spider-Man 4 threads: that there is a difference (in my mind) between a reboot and a remake. I tend to be more open towards reboots.

    I define a remake as simply redoing a popular picture (like so many of the examples above Oceans 11, The Thomas Crown Affair, etc.)… it may lead to a franchise unlike the first one (hello Oceans 12 and 13), but it starts as just redoing a film. You may even change significant aspects (it might be a re-imagining). Remakes have been around since Hollywood began making films.

    REBOOTS I define as having more to do with a property or franchise (Star Trek, Batman, Incredible Hulk all come to mind as deserving of the term). They don't have to retread any previous material. They may. They may not. Reboots are done for several reasons. I think there are four big ones and most of the examples I cite can fall under more than one of these categories:

    1. To restart a franchise where too much time has passed to make a sequel with original cast members (Superman Returns). Incidentally, this one, along with Incredible Hulk falls under the sub-category of “Re-quel” as it does not retell the origin of the character. It comes sometime after the events of Superman 2.

    2. To try again to create a successful film franchise from a bankable character/property after a failed attempt (The Incredible Hulk).

    3. To update a struggling franchise for newer audiences because current storytelling feels played out and needs a new direction (Star Trek)

    4. To reinvigorate a property that has plenty of story potential but has for whatever reason stagnated in its present form. This is the current line of thought behind the Spider-Man 4 reboot. The line of thought is accurate, but is the time table a little off? We'll see.

    Spider-Man 3 came out in 2007. Spiderman 4 (Reboot) is slated for 2011. That is only four years for a full on reboot. Batman Begins waited twice that long to reboot after Batman Robin.

    • They’re not waiting 20 years again. After TDKR warner bros. is going to wait maybe 2-3 years and then start development on a batman reboot

    • Speaking of Batman Begins, where does that movie go in your criteria for reboots, because I think that one fits in with all four reasons you listed.

  17. 12 angry men was remade. I haven't seen the old version but the new one was still a good movie.

    • The remake of 12 Angry Men is the exact same as the original except that its in color, it’s set in the 90′s and some of the jurors are black. Apart from those things it’s the same thing scene for scene.

  18. You've hit the nail on the head with how I feel about remakes: when they're appropriate, when they're not.

    I don't want to see a remake of Fright Night, however. Fright Night was the first film that got me into horror cinema. It eased me into a genre I otherwise wouldn't have touched.

  19. With all respect….
    There is only one rule for making a remake.
    Love for the original and making the remake cuz you love the new story/settings…. not cuz of money.
    Carpenter loved the og story “Who goes there” that's why he made The Thing.
    Cronnenberg loved the science aspectss of The Fy remake script and could see it fit in his body morphin world , same with History of Violence…(it's a comic)
    There is only one rule for every flick in production, remake or not, make it cuz you love it not cuz of the bucks…which nowadays is almost never the case…

  20. Here are my remake rules

    1. Dont make them

    2. Dont make them

    3. Dont make them

    4. Dont make them

    5. Dont make them

    The only acceptable remakes are The Fly and The Thing.

    I didnt realise The Departed was a remake? Was it a foreign film?

  21. Yes but why cant other people come up with ideas and suggestions? Sorry the writer and directors work for the studios. If my boss comes to me and say hey I got an idea for you… Im not going to say no way you already make enough money, I didn't think of it so im not going to do it…

    If it goes against a morale standard or a law that is different. However there is nothing wrong with a studio going hey we own this lets remake it.

  22. 1. Well how do you get to a point where we have already had multiple movie remakes done, unless you do a remake? ;)

    2. This is a topic that garners a very fine line. I dont care how many times you do Little Women…. the pace will be to slow for me… How do you define a slow meticulous thought provoking film? My wife would fall asleep yet I am wide eyed. Some of the newer movies are like that.

    3. Bah.. anything anytime should be remade if it brings entertainment value. Do I want to see The Maltese Falcon remade every year? Not really but hey some one might. And you will ALWAYS find someone that thinks their movie is well known and beloved.

    4. Define new? Could this be the way the actor portrays the character? The cinematic value? The sound/music?

    5. Another “people wouldn't care”… someone somewhere would care. While it may not be the screaming masses someone would not want the remake, see #3.

    A Reboot/Remake should be open to anything at anytime. No one will know if it is better (in any or all aspects) then the “original” until it is made. If you dont like it or are against it the simple thing to do is not see it or support it.

    To tell me I cant make a better Casablanca is telling me I cant act/direct/produce/script (whatever the part) better or on par with the original..which I may have not liked to begin with.

    Don't tell me what I cant do…. ;)

    • Remaking Casablanca or Its a Wonderful Life would be a sin against humanity!

  23. Go watch the original. Then come back here and thank me for telling you to do so. :)


  24. Just posing a question… has anyone ever re-made a sequel? I would like to see some wacko out there table a re-make of “Back to the Future-Part II.” (Not Part I or III, just part II). In case you're thinking it Star Wars I, II, III, IV, V & VI don't count.

  25. Rule number two is really good, but I think you should consider the life style of the year it was make. A good example is the planet of the apes. The original was really good and climax was really important because in the 60, people were all afraid of a nuclear holocaust. But today it not our priority of concern and people have to invent another excuse that never take. And I say that no remake should be allowed if the movie is lest then 50 year old.

  26. I actually enjoyed both movies but I agree, the original was better.

  27. What about The Time Machine? I really enjoyed the Rod Taylor version and was looking forward to the remake, and even though the remake was OK, I found it to be lacking something that the original had.

  28. In response to rule 3, 20 years sound good for domestic remakes (i.e, Hollywood remaking a Hollywood flick), but I do think there needs to be some leeway for foreign films.

    I'm actually not a big fan of Hollywood snatching up foreign films and remaking them, but I fully understand why it's done, which relates back to your rule #2. I say five years for a foreign remake.

  29. “Requel” is a fantastic term. I'm totally stealing it. ;)