Total Recall. Fright Night. Arthur. Followers of recent cinema trends will recognise those titles not only as popular films from the 80s and 90s, but also examples of Hollywood remakes. In modern times, it’s become a recognised trend that good ideas will eventually be recycled.
Over the past year or two, however, we’ve seen a number of remakes fail to make a splash at the box office. The original Fright Night was a relatively low-budget 1985 horror comedy starring Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowall. The 2011 remake, starring Colin Farrell and Anton Yelchin, was considerably more expensive, yet made a relatively tepid $41 million. Or look at Arthur, a 1981 Dudley Moore comedy remade as a $40 million vehicle for Russell Brand. That film barely scraped its budget back.
Then consider a much more recent example – Total Recall. A remake of a 1990 that was itself an extremely expensive picture in its day (budget: $50 or 60 million), the 2012 Total Recall, again starring Colin Farrell, cost around $125 million, yet scraped back a return of just $165 million. That’s a number that will set the film on its way to eventual profit, but it’s considerably less than the $261 million the original made more than 20 years ago (Len Wiseman, director of the Total Recall reboot, is now set to take on The Mummy franchise, too).
These high-profile remakes aside, there are others to consider, such as Straw Dogs, Let Me In and The Thing (not officially a remake, but a film which nevertheless reprised a great deal of the original film’s tone and scares). Although not box-office flops, neither were they hits, and certainly haven’t made the same impact of the films that inspired them.
So what’s going on? Have we become suspicious and bored of remakes? It doesn’t help, perhaps, that so few Hollywood remakes, reboots and belated sequels are greeted favourably by critics. Often, these critical savagings are founded, but sometimes, they’re a little over the top – The Thing and Total Recall aren’t classics, but neither are they the failures some might have you believe (on Rotten Tomatoes, the aggregate score for both of these films stands at 36 per cent and 29 per cent respectively).
While some movies are all-but critic proof, it’s likely that remakes are more susceptible to poor reviews than most; with going to the cinema proving to be so expensive, it’s possible that moviegoers are reading reviews before spending their hard-earned cash on a remake of a film they already own on Blu-ray.
It may be the case, too, that the sheer number of poor or merely competent remakes is giving the entire practice a bad reputation. Just as a slew of badly-done post-conversion 3D movies besmirched the reputation of stereo-vision movies to an extent, so dull, largely forgettable fodder such as the remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Nightmare On Elm Street and The Hitcher have left viewers wary.
This isn’t to say that good remakes don’t exist. The 2010 version of The Crazies, a revival of one of George A Romero’s lesser-known horror epics, was refreshingly well made, and featured a great starring turn from Timothy Olyphant. Not everyone will agree, but we found Zack Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead remake (another Romero film) to be a thoroughly entertaining and exciting thrill-ride, even if it did lack the sly intelligence of the 1981 film of the same name. Martin Scorsese’s The Departed was a good remake, too, though we’d argue that it took the premise of the Hong Kong thriller, Infernal Affairs, rather than remade the same film for a different audience.
Overwhelmingly, though, it seems that audiences are voting with their wallets when it comes to remade movies. And while it’s unlikely that Hollywood producers will ever abandon the practice entirely, we do wonder whether studios will ever again risk more than a hundred million dollars on bringing back a movie that was popular 20 or 30 years ago. In many cases, the response from cinema geeks online is overwhelmingly negative, and while this isn’t necessarily a reliable yardstick for a film’s future success, it probably doesn’t make the marketing department’s job any easier either.
Next year will see the release of several remakes, and one of them, in particular, could prove decisive. José Padilha’s big-budget, PG-13 remake of Paul Verhoeven’s violent 1987 classic RoboCop will appear next August. Padilha is a filmmaker of considerable talent, having made a name for himself with the action movie The Elite Squad and its 2010 sequel, The Enemy Within. With an action director of that calibre behind the camera, and actors such as Gary Oldman and Joel Kinnaman in front of it, RoboCop stands a better chance than most of being a creative and financial success.
But like so many remakes, RoboCop will have to work hard to win over a certain section of the movie going public. And with next year seeing the release of a whole slew of other remakes – among them Carrie, Evil Dead, and Oldboy – their filmmakers could face an uphill battle to win over a section of the movie-going public growing weary of seeing its favourite films trotted out for new, less violent iterations. It’s this kind of audience apathy, perhaps, which could one day see the end of the expensive Hollywood remake.
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