sFar away, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story didn’t find an audience that snuck and flicked its fingers on its way to movie theaters. There are a lot of reasons. Major pandemic related to a specific global pandemic. But one explanation that is still offered is that viewers are simply tired of the re-production – which is not entirely wrong. Hollywood still has no qualms about bringing back its old franchises, of course. But as the impending returns of The Matrix, Scream, Top Gun, Indiana Jones, Hocus Pocus, and Legally Blonde show, a fashionable way to cash in on venerable intellectual property is to hire as many original cast members as possible. Pick up where you left off. complements in ; New editions are out.
Reproductions, lest we forget, were once central to the movie scene – hardly more famous or infamous than a new theatrical production of an old play. When The Maltese Falcon was released in 1940, it was the third adaptation of the same book in a decade. Some like it hot? Pinched from a 1951 German farce, which was in turn pinched from a 1935 French play. The 1956 Hitchcock classic The Man Who Knew Too Much? A complete steal of the 1934 Hitchcock classic, The Man Who Knew Too Much.
However, it’s easy to see why the remake is notorious, especially if we go back to the early 2000s, AKA The Time Just Before Every Mainstream Film was a superhero. This was the period when studios seemed to be giving the green light to remake it every week. Freaky Friday, The Italian Job, Ocean’s Eleven, The Ladykillers, King Kong… These are all titles that evoke previous decades. Total Recall and Clash of the Titans also appeared as new releases in the early 2000s. Anyone complaining about Hollywood’s lack of ideas didn’t have to look far for examples.
The trend was especially evident in the horror world. In the 2000s, studios took over their big-name scary movie franchises by retelling stories from the beginning. And so, one by one, we’ve got reboots of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead, The Fog, Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street – not to mention an English remake of such J – Horror hits like The Ring, The Grudge, and Dark Water.
Something has changed since then. Despite the Back to Basics title, Halloween released in 2018 was a sequel, not a remake: The filmmakers made sure to reassure viewers that they saw Michael Myers and Laurie Strode as those who attacked each other 40 years ago. A similar principle applies to Nia DaCosta’s Candyman, which came out this year, and David Blue Garcia’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which comes out next year. Meanwhile, Halloween 2018 director David Gordon Green is said to be working on a remake of The Exorcist. Initially announced as a remake, it is now being promoted as a “direct sequel”.
Technology may be important here: it’s hard to sell a remake when the original, often superior show, of the same plot can be streamed at the touch of a button. But more importantly, the industry is realizing that it’s not intellectual property that matters, but emotional ownership. Today’s possessive fans deeply resent any suggestion that their favorite films might be outdated, so if you want to win their hearts and minds, you have to pay due respect to the films in question. Consider how warm Ghostbusters: Afterlife was compared to Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters movies in 2016. It’s true that the social media content poured into Feig’s female-only version escalated with misogyny, but Feig didn’t help matters by Writing characters from 80’s movies on his own. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is less true to Evan Reitman’s original chaotic spirit than 2016’s Ghostbusters, but since it features Venkman and the gang, fans haven’t disputed it.
The influence of Marvel and Star Wars can be discovered in all of this, too. Both of these Disney-owned franchises have shown that it is foolish to try to reset a fantasy world. Fans pay as much for connections between films as they pay for the films themselves. Home Sweet Home Alone includes a character from the 1990s in Home Alone, so it’s officially a sequel, not a remake.
Not that remanufacturing is completely gone. But for now, the remake is unlikely to be a glass kettle in the studio from the artistic statement of the prestigious author: Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, Spielberg’s West Side Story and Guillermo del Toro Nightmare Alley are all cases where the personal vision of the new director is major selling point.
Other than that, the new version has moved from the big screen to the small screen. There’s a Lee Child’s Jack Reacher and David Nicholls TV series for a day on the way — and no one is complaining that they might taint their memories of the movie versions in question. Perhaps the Netflix mini-series West Side Story was the way to go.