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The Truth Behind Hollywood's
Remake Obsession

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While It May Seem Like Hollywood Is Making More Remakes Than Ever, Films Like Ghostbusters And Jurassic World Are Actually Part Of A Trend That Goes Back Decades


By Mike Sallustio
Modern Times Magazine

June 27, 2016 — “Can’t they come up with anything original anymore?”

It’s the most common gripe you’ll hear from moviegoers in this new “Remake Age” we supposedly live in—that every film is either a remake, reboot, soft reboot, re-quel or whatever clever word the industry can come up with to describe basically the same thing.

This hasn’t stopped people from going to the theaters mind you. Despite all the complaining over Chris Pratt riding his motorcycle with his pack of raptor pets, Jurassic World still opened to the tune of $650 million. Yet, it is not likely that all blockbuster remakes will be as lucky, and the rage finally met critical mass with the release of the new Ghostbusters trailer. On YouTube, the trailers consistently receive an overwhelming amount of negative reviews.

James Rolf, of Cinemassacre, released a six-and-a-half minute video of all the reasons why he refuses to devote any time to reviewing the film, which is six and a half minutes longer than most people spend not devoting time to something.

So why now? Why this film? Listen to some and they’ll tell you Hollywood has run out of ideas, but there’s evidence to show the number of remakes have actually gone down in past few years, according to writer and producer Stephen Follows.

Perhaps the truth is being eclipsed by the enormous success of contemporary films like The Jungle Book and Jurassic World, but the fact is Hollywood has never had a lack of remakes in the theaters. If you really take a look back at film history, you’ll find that remakes are more of a Hollywood tradition than a modern phenomenon.

It’s no surprise that filmmaking is a business that can’t help but try to capitalize on a sure thing. For decades, the American film industry has been looking to successes overseas and bringing them stateside. You’re probably familiar with some. Most people know that The Birdcage is a remake of the French film La Cage Aux Folles, but few know that Three Men and a Baby, 12 Monkeys, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, The Toy, and Unfaithful are American remakes as well. Even the James Cameron/Arnold Schwarzenegger classic True Lies is a remake of French film La Totale.

Both Big and Scent of a Woman are based on Italian films and after seeing Chris Nolan’s Memento and Inception, you might think that his similarly titled film, Insomnia is also an original idea, but it’s actually a remake of a Norwegian film of the same name.

If we want to discuss specific eras, let’s not forget that span of time between 2002 and 2006 when every horror movie needed a croaking or creeping young girl with long black hair. Both The Ring and The Grudge series started as remakes of Japanese horror films.

You might be saying, sure, of course we take from foreign countries, but this is different than the remakes we have now. These are more examples of the U.S. bringing foreign stories to the states and repackaging them to an English speaking audience. But the U.S. has consistently made remakes of past American films as well. Films like Cruel Intentions, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, You’ve Got Mail, Gone in 60 Seconds, I Am Legend, Angels in the Outfield, and Major Payne are just a few. Hell, Heat is a Michael Mann remake—of his own earlier movie!

Some of our U.S. films are so popular they’ve been remade multiple times. Down to Earth is known as a remake of Warren Beatty film Heaven Can Wait, but that was also a remake of the 1941 film Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Death Takes a Holiday has a titular remake that, in turn, begat a third iteration, Meet Joe Black. But no film is has probably been remade more than Brewster’s Millions with a total of six remakes with one on the way entitled Brewster’s Billions.

One of the biggest gripes against the new Ghostbusters film is that remakes, especially ones that take the same name as their predecessors, confuse audiences and steal attention away from better versions. This is simply not true.

The original Red Dawn, for the time being, can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that it still remains the more recognized version. That’s because no matter how many Hemsworths they can throw into a remake, the better version always seems to rise to the top. In fact, some films are so well received they completely erase the memory of any other version of the film.

If you mention Scarface at a party you will inevitably be forced to listen to someone’s horrible Tony Montana impression. What you won’t hear is a Paul Muni impression, because no one remembers the 1932 version. Similarly, The Maltese Falcon was a film from 1931 that no one cares about because of the classic created a decade later starring Humphrey Bogart. Others include Father of the Bride, Meet the Parents, and The Bourne Identity, all of which are based on earlier versions that few remember.

Then there are the films that have managed to coexist in the same timeline without cataclysmic paradox. Say what you will about the Steven Soderbergh remake of Ocean’s Eleven, but it’s probably a better film in terms of execution that the original. But you know what? People love Old Blue Eyes and the rest of the gang, so the original isn’t going anywhere. That’s because both versions bring separate things to the same story. Cape Fear is another example. One is a classic starring Robert Mitchum, the other is a film that surprises casual filmgoers when they find out it was directed by Martin Scorsese.

What this all teaches us is that audiences don’t necessarily suffer from short-term memory loss when it comes to film. Rather, like anyone in the world we gravitate to the things we enjoy. If the new Ghostbusters film does manage to steal any thunder away from the original, it won’t be because its atrociousness will somehow sully the classic’s good name. If such a feat is even possible, it will be because it connects with audiences on a different level or it manages to be just plain better.  

Perhaps it’s not a “Remake Age” we need to blame, but an unfortunate side effect of the Information Age. Remakes will always be a part of the film world as long as audiences want to pay to watch updated and reimagined time-tested stories. This has always been the case, just as there have always been those who want to protect their darlings. With the internet acting as the ultimate bullhorn, people can now vocalize this with far more efficiency, making the creation of remakes seem far more widespread and dire than they actually are.
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