Hooray for remakes!
Put “Worst Movie Remakes” into a search engine and you’ll get pages of websites devoted to the topic.
You’ll see all sorts of derogatory comments:
“Of the many crimes foisted upon humanity by the faceless filmmaking syndicate known as Hollywood, perhaps none are as loathsome as the subpar remake.”—Movieline“Our cinemas seem to be blighted with remakes these days …”
“…please stop ruining the great horror movies of the past.”
So, why would Hollywood keeping making remakes?
Well, a really common answer to “Why?” is “the money, honey”. 🙂 That Godzilla movie? $55 million opening weekend in the US, eventual US gross of $136 million. That was on a budget (according to the IMDB page) of $130 million. That’s just the US gross…it made money overseas, money on home video, and so on.
The Wicker Man remake, though? Maybe not so much…$40 million budget, US gross of $23 million.
The fact is that audiences like familiarity. It’s sort of like going to your high school reunion…you want to see those people again, even though you might have hated them (or not even remember some of them).
Producers like it, too. Nobody knows why a particular movie makes money, really. It’s always a risk. You want to pitch a movie in Hollywood? You’d better be able to say “It’s like [insert blockbuster here] meets [insert second blockbuster here]”.
Oh, truly original movies get made…but they may be financed by the director’s family. Sometimes a studio will back an unprecedented plot…but there is usually some other reason for it. Maybe the script has a lot of buzz, or you’re willing to let the moviemaker have a vanity project every once in awhile, as long as they churn out the bread-and-butter predictables on a regular basis.
So, audiences always hate remakes, right?
I always look for the other side, I want to turn the popular notions over and see what’s hiding underneath.
Some of the most beloved movies of all time are, themselves, remakes. They may make such an impression that people don’t even realize they are remakes…they think they are the originals.
Critics may love them, high-schoolers quote them, Oscar give them the gold…and yes, they may make money, too. 🙂
The next time you hear about the latest Hollywood remake, I want you to think about the following examples of that much maligned group. Who knows? Put away the prejudice and you may be saying…
“Hooray for remakes!”
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
The defining movie of the entire film noir genre, any time a doll walks into a gumshoe’s office, it’s a nod to John Huston’s directorial debut. Humphrey Bogart owns the screen as Sam Spade; other stars include Mary Astor as Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo, and the inimitable Elisha Cook, Jr. as the “gunsel”, Wilmer Cook. Sidney Greenstreet, who would re-team with Bogart and Lorre in the following year’s Casablanca, makes a memorable first film appearance.
It is indeed “the stuff that dreams are made of”.
Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Greenstreet), and Best Writing (John Huston). It loses Best Picture to How Green Was My Valley.
Warner Brothers had made Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel twice before. In 1931, Ricardo Cortez had played Sam Spade. In 1936, Bette Davis starred in the loose adaptation, Satan Met a Lady. When John Huston, son of Walter, wanted to take another shot at it, it was a low risk proposition for the company, and might make Walter happy. It became one of the most memorable, imitated movies of all time.
Taking it too far:
The 1975 comedy, The Black Bird, starring George Segal.
Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
Olympic swimmer (5 gold medals) Johnny Weissmuller became a star as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ immortal jungle lord, Tarzan. While he doesn’t actually say, “Me Tarzan, you Jane”, his portrayal became most people’s image of the English lord raised by “apes”. Few people realize that in the first novel, Tarzan is quite articulate (at least, after he learns a language…or two). The movie owes no small part of its success to Maureen O’Sullivan’s daring portrayal of Jane Porter. The movie would be followed by sequels and other Tarzans, and Weissmuller would star as Jungle Jim in sixteen movies. Even today, there is a campaign to get the chimp (or one of the chimps, technically) who played Cheetah (who is still alive) a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
This was the ninth (!) Tarzan movie. In 1918 (six years after the first publication of the story by Edgar Rice Burroughs), a silent version had starred Elmo Lincoln. While Tarzan was already a successful movie series, most people today are unaware of any of the pre-1932 pictures.
Taking it too far:
Bo Derek’s 1981 version, Tarzan, The Ape Man
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more.”
Is there a more beloved movie in cinematic history? While it was seen by some as an over-bloated version of a classic book series at its release, it really became a part of America’s childhood with regular television showings starting in the mid-1950s.
Brilliant re-casting (they wanted Shirley Temple as Dorothy and W.C. Fields as the Wizard) brought us characterizations that have been parodied over and over again.
It may be safe to assume that most Americans could quote more lines from this movie (“I’ll get you, my pretty…and your little dog, too”) than they could name amendments in the Bill of Rights.
It won for Best Original Score and Original Song (for “Over the Rainbow”, which was almost cut because it slowed down the action too much), and was nominated for Art Direction, Special Effects, Cinematography, and Best Picture.
Oz was the Harry Potter of its day, with people anxiously awaiting the next book in the series, reading clubs, and so on. It had also had success in the theatre, which was another interest of author L. Frank Baum. It first came to the screen in 1910, in a version based partly on the successful stage musical…no mean trick for a silent movie. In 1914, Baum himself produced and wrote His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz. In 1925, Oliver Hardy (of Laurel and Hardy fame) played the Tin Woodman (sort of…this was not a faithful adaptation) , although this was more of a star vehicle for Larry Semon (who sort of played The Scarecrow). In 1939, a budget of three million dollars was seen as huge, and fans questioned the casting of Bert Lahr (a well-known comedian at the time) as The Cowardly Lion. Silent Oz movies
Taking it too far:
Return to Oz, Disney’s less-than-well-received, noisy 1985 version
Does all this mean that we should anticipate the next Hollywood do-over with optimistic anticipation? No, it will probably be awful. But, maybe, just maybe, it will be worth seeing…and become a classic in its own right.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.