Now to start off no one can say that remakes and sequels are a new thing - it's a notion that has been around for almost a hundred years. The first example of either (that I could find) being 1916's Fall of a Nation (a sequel to the of 1915 film Birth of a Nation).
But lately (perhaps over the last 15 years or so), they have come not only to full fruition and thus extremely noticeable as a trend - but also they seem to be getting made left, right and center. Now why is that? Why is that it's only recently that it's become so popular to remake or make a sequel out of something?
Well let's start with remakes...
The earliest remake (again, that I could find - I apologize if I've overlooked something) is 1919's Marked Men (a remake of the 1916 film The Three Godfathers) but around that time not that many films were being made in general (certainly when compared to how many get made nowadays) and thus even fewer were remakes. And chances are at the time (and for a couple of decades after that) people didn't know that if a movie was a remake of another, and even if they did they probably didn't care.
But fast forward to the 21st century and the number of remakes done and in development (or even in the idea stage) has skyrocketed. Most recently it's been the horror genre that's been targeted for this. The reason for this is threefold; horror movies are popular in general (even if they suck), they're relatively cheap to make (certainly in comparison to the almost guaranteed return at the box office) and they come with a built in audience who love the originals. So in that respect it's understandable why studios would do this.
The cast of Halloween then and now
But the trouble lies in the ease of making these horror remakes, and how pretty much every time they make a profit on them - it seems to have gone to the studio's heads. It seems now that little effort and creativity go into them because they know they can make money even if they don't strive for top-notch quality.
Remember when we had masterpieces of horror that marked their place in cinema history of all-time greats? The Shining, The Thing (which was a remake, by the way. See - it can be done), Rosemary's Baby, Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs....the list goes on and on.
I know I'm focusing on horror a lot here but it proves my point. Just as a glimpse, and to illustrate what I mean, here is a list of just some of the horror remakes so far in the 21st century.
- The Amityville Horror
- Black Christmas
- Dark Water
- Dawn of the Dead
- The Grudge
- The Hills Have Eyes
- The Omen
- One Missed Call
- The Ring
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
And that's just a small percentage of the bigger picture so far, and it doesn't even touch the projects still in development/idea stage like A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Birds, Rob Zombie's sequel to his horrible version of Halloween and even a remake of Child's Play is being talked about.
The Fog: The (creepy) original and the (lame) remake
The term "going back to the well" doesn't even begin to cover it...
And then we have sequels...
Sequels are just as tempting for studios to make oh so flippantly as they do, particularly if the first one made a ton of money. Although even if a film didn't, they seem to make them anyway just on the hope the sequel will do better. But again the trouble is the studios make sequels because they're easy, plus they have name recognition right off the bat.
Some sequels are indeed made because the original truly warranted one, some are originally planned to be made as part of a story arc (i.e. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings), but a lot of the time they are just made plainly for the sake of it. To make money on a pretty much automatic basis - that's expected; the movie business is after all a business, is it not?
Speed and (the unnecessary) Speed 2
But as a film fan it's really disheartening to see Hollywood go back to the well so often with sequels and remakes. They do have a couple of advantages, such as introducing new generations to classic films (although chances are they'll now accept the remake or sequel as canon) and perhaps stimulating audiences who may have let the originals slip from their mind to go watch those again - but for the most part film fans know that these are remakes and it kind of takes the magic out of the whole thing when you can tell they're just making these movies purely for money's sake.
Now I'm not saying all sequels and remakes are a bad idea; history has shown they can be done really well with just as much time and effort put into them as originals, resulting in a truly quality film (sometimes, but not always, superior to the originals) - Ocean's Eleven, Scarface, Cape Fear, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Manchurian Candidate, Evil Dead II, Aliens, Back To The Future Part II, The Godfather Part II and X2: X-Men United, to name but a few.
Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien and the amazing sequel Aliens
And I'm also not saying that sequels and remakes are the only things that get made nowadays. The sheer number of movies in general that get put out now means that more original work is getting put out than unoriginal - but it's just the sequels and remakes get the limelight because of the aforementioned name recognition and high profile nature of a lot of them.
But even so there are still too many being made, certainly too many of those that are just made for the sake of making money, riding on the coat-tails of the originals.