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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Remake

September 20, 2016

Cinematic remakes are a fact of life and I’ve learned to embrace the good, the bad and the ugly of the remake world (The Good, the Bad & the Weird is great by the way). When it comes to these movies I’m surprised that everyone is surprised about how many there are. The art of recreating an old property is not new and will continue long after we are done complaining about the latest Ben-Hur remake.

Instead of rallying against something I can’t stop, I decided to learn as much as I could about 21st century remakes so I can be that guy at the party who cares enough to make an argument for The Fright Night remake. I also needed an excuse to share this Wicker Man clip again.

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There were 175 remakes that received wide theatrical releases (2,000 screens) in the 21st century. So, there isn’t any confusion I’m sticking with strictly remakes. For example, Ocean’s 11 (2001) is a remake of Ocean’s 11 (1960). Lately, it has been getting incredibly murky when defining the word “remake” because there are reboots (The Amazing Spider-Man), television adaptations (Starsky & Hutch) and rebootquels (Thanks Birth. Movies. Death.) flooding our movie theaters and streaming services. I am going to write solely about the remakes because if I tried to blend them all together into one post I would end up like Austin Powers.

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The average critic (Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic)/audience (IMDb) score for the movies and their sequels is a lowly 49.1%. Only 41 of the remakes have a “fresh” 60% or above critic/audience rating which means only 23% are viewed favorably. Also, it is really hard to spin-off sequels from remakes. 11 of the 175 films had sequels and only the Ocean’s and The Texas Chainsaw films were lucky enough to have a third (Ocean’s 13, Texas Chainsaw 3D). The only remake sequel to best its predecessor was Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. The sequel had the luxury of featuring The Rock but even then the return on investment was close from 324% to 303% (#bringbackBrendanFraser).

Take a look at this graph that shows how remade franchises fare against comic book franchises. For some reason, sequels to remakes almost never do better than their predecessors.

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Let’s say you run a studio that only remakes films and you want to know how the 21st century has treated you. Here is the inflated box office breakdown of the 175 theatrically released films.

  1. $151,000,000 average international box office – $60,000,000 average budget = $91,000,000 profit before including marketing expenses.
  2. The average marketing budget in 2007 was $39,000,000. So, even if you subtracted $50 million from each film you’d still have a profit of $41,000,000 and a positive ROI of 1.64% before DVD and merchandising sales.
  3. In the end, the studio would pull in around $7,175,000,000 from all their remakes. In a day and age where misfire blockbusters lose studios a lot of money it is pretty obvious why a studio would invest in a remake.
  • The reason I valued the marketing budget at $50,000,000 is to play it safe. I recently read that marketing budgets are around half a film’s budget. The average cost for each remake was $60,000,000 which should’ve resulted in a $30,000,000 marketing budget. However, with the rise of Disney and big budget marketing costs I felt $50 million was safe(ish).

Remakes may be less lucrative than 21st century reboots (Star Trek, James Bond, The Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Pan etc..) which average $414 million worldwide. However, remakes have a higher ROI (163.12>157.46) and their average budgets are much lower ($60,000,000 < $148,000,000) which means marketing expenses are not as high.

When I started looking at the theatrical return on investment (ROI) I found out some interesting things. Horror remakes and PG-rated films have the highest ROI because the budgets (sans Disney films) are lower, horror fans will watch anything and parents need to take their kids to movies. Here are the top 10.

  1. The Grudge (2004) – 1,773%
  2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) – 1,027%
  3. The Karate Kid (2010) – 797%
  4. Freaky Friday (2003) – 704%
  5. My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009) – 571%
  6. True Grit (2010) – 563% – The lone exception.
  7. Silent House (2012) – 555%
  8. Shutter (2008) – 498%
  9. Evil Dead (2013) – 473%
  10. Cinderella – (2015) – 471% 
  • True Grit is the lone exception. The $40 million budgeted film is the statistical best of the 21st century. The Karate Kid and Freaky Friday results are impressive considering they weren’t reactive, critically lauded or big budgeted.

The remakes that have been box office disappointments haven’t followed trends or were released at the tail end of the particular craze. There was no momentum behind them and were pretty much unnecessary (sans Solaris). I really don’t see a world where Willard, Around the World in 80 Days, Rollerball, The Invasion, Poseidon, Ben-Hur, Arthur, Conan, Alfie, The Truth About Charlie and Straw Dogs were wise investments. The films just couldn’t make the jump forward in time and no matter the A-list crew or big name directors they underwhelmed and lost money.

The large number of 21st century remakes weren’t made because people loved remakes. A lot of the movies were produced because there were some trendsetters that kick-started a craze.

  1. The Ring (2002) – Gore Verbinski’s film was incredibly popular ($333 million worldwide) and was voted one of the 21st century’s best horror films. However, its success ushered in a whole lot of bad. Starting with the massively popular and incredibly timed The Grudge that made $238 million (with inflation) on a $12.7 million budget. These two films were blockbusters and were responsible for seven years worth of terrible but lucrative Asian horror remakes. Here are the films: The Ring 2, Dark Water, Pulse, The Grudge 2, The Uninvited, One Missed Call, Shutter, Mirrors, and The Eye.
  2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) – It may be a boring retread of a classic but it was very influential. The $12.4 million budgeted remake collected $139 million at the worldwide box office and ushered in a whole lot of big money makers that were mostly bad. I believe the success directly/indirectly inspired studios to remake every horror property they could get their hands on: The Exorcist, Dawn of the Dead, The Fog, The Amityville Horror, House of Wax, Black Christmas, When a Strange Calls, The Wicker Man, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, The Omen, The Hills Have Eyes, The Hills Have Eyes 2, The Hitcher, The Invasion, Halloween, Prom Night, The Stepfather, Sorority Row, Halloween 2, Friday the 13th, The Last House on the Left, My Bloody Valentine, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Crazies, Evil Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D, Carrie
  3. Alice in Wonderland (2010) Alice in Wonderland made over a billion dollars worldwide and ushered in a plethora of expertly made and widely successful Disney remakes. Here they are: Maleficent, Cinderella, Alice Through the Looking Glass, The Jungle Book and Pete’s Dragon (watch it!!!!). With Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Cruella and Dumbo on the way.

Sidenote: There are other influences (The Sixth Sense, 28 Days Later, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) but I feel these three films put studios into plaid remake overdrive.

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I love that three films were directly/indirectly responsible for 43 of the 175 (24%) 21st century theatrically released remakes. The numbers peaked in 2005 with 20 and dropped to five in 2015.

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The Asian and classic horror remakes have run their course and now Disney is the biggest game in town. Disney has transformed its remake game since the 1990s and they’ve moved to a very intelligent system. They don’t remake random films (Ben-Hur, Poseidon) or have to worry about changing something from R to PG-13 (Robocop, Total Recall) to make more international money. They are digging deep in their back catalog and making bank (Around the World in 80 Days excluded). I appreciate that they hire big name directors and A-list stars and they seemingly care about making good films that make them really good money. I guarantee that Beauty & the Beast will clear a billion worldwide and Ewan McGregor’s French accent will confuse everyone.

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Remakes don’t always have to follow trends or be pushed into existence. In the 21st century amazing directors like Martin Scorsese (The Departed), David Fincher (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Spike Lee (Oldboy), Tony Scott (Man on Fire), Cameron Crowe (Vanilla Sky), Jonathan Demme (The Truth About Charlie), John McTiernan (Rollerball), Tim Burton (Planet of the Apes, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory), Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book), Steven Spielberg (War of the Worlds), Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Solaris), Christopher Nolan (Insomnia), Peter Jackson (King Kong) and the Coen brothers (True Grit, Ladykillers) have tackled remakes and the results are spectacular when done right (The Departed, True Grit) or awesomely bad when botched (Rollerball, Oldboy). There is something neat about watching a great director remake a film they love. I’m sure there are directors who want the payday but the 10 best critic/audience rated remakes have been exceptionally made.

  1. The Departed (2006) – 87.3
  2. True Grit (2010) – 84.3
  3. The Jungle Book (2016) – 83
  4. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) – 81
  5. 3:10 to Yuma (2007) – 81
  6. Insomnia (2002) – 80.6
  7. Let Me In (2010) – 79.6
  8. Hairspray (2007) – 79.6
  9. King Kong (2005) – 79
  10. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) – 78.3
  • Only one of these films (The Jungle Book) falls under the reactive remake system I talked about above. Disney is crushing it.

I love when a remake succeeds because it feels sneaky. The creators have found a way to tell the same story twice and get people to spend their hard-earned money on something they’ve already watched. It almost seems like an uphill battle because many of the copied films are beloved and there is zero chance they can match the originals endearing qualities. The creators need to tell the same story, with the same beats, but make it different enough to not be Gus Van Sant’s ridiculous Psycho remake. I really felt for the Ghostbusters remake/reboot/whateverboot because director Paul Feig had to appease irrational die-hard fans and forge a new path. Ghostbusters could never become its own thing because it also had to be the old thing. Thus, we were left with a movie that really wanted to have fun but was handcuffed to cameos, familiar ghouls and locations. If you are interested check out this great episode of the Empire podcast that features Feig breaking down the production.

It is ridiculous but understandable that foreign films need an English remake. I normally begrudge these creations but I respect when they are done right (The Ring, The Departed, Let Me In) and not cynical cash grabs.  I am even more impressed when remakes like Evil Dead and Dawn of the Dead overcome their cult predecessors and are actually pretty good. Adam Sandler’s films Just Go with It, Mr. Deeds and The Longest Yard crushed the box office ($231 million average) and succeeded despite having terrible reviews and zero superheroes. I’d wager the majority of the people who went to the films didn’t even know they were remakes and simply wanted to relax and embrace Adam Sandler’s lucrative and familiar antics. Some may call it lazy but I call it sneaky (listen to our Sandler podcast).

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I understand the complaints against remakes but they won’t change anything. The movie industry follows trends and if something is successful they will make a lot of it. I think the reason why remakes are getting so much buzz now is because Ghostbusters, Ben Hur, Alice Through the Looking Glass and The Huntsman: Winter’s War underperformed and made less than their predecessors. Some of these films were total cash grabs or plagued by online hate that sparked a whole lot of press. There are always several big budget movies that tank every year, but after the massive box office of 2015 people are freaking out about the oddness of the 2016 summer season.

Remakes aren’t going anywhere so you might as well understand them. I’d like to say that they are Hollywood being unoriginal. However, that means for all of cinemas existence filmmakers and studios have been lazy. On the whole it is harder to make a good remake than it is a bad one So, I’ve embraced the random few like The Thing, The Fly, The Departed, True Grit and Invasion of the Body Snatchers that rise above the rest and become classics in their own right.

 

 

 

 

 

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. John Leavengood permalink
    September 20, 2016 4:10 pm

    Any remake with Nic Cage in a bear suit doing a run-by punch-in-the-face of a woman gets my vote. haha

  2. John Leavengood permalink
    September 21, 2016 7:41 pm

    Would you consider The Blair Witch (2016) to be sort of a remake, despite also being a direct sequel, given its content? And, if so, do you embrace it?

    • September 21, 2016 7:44 pm

      It is a rebootquel. It continues the same story but introduces new characters. Zero embracing.

  3. John Leavengood permalink
    September 21, 2016 7:42 pm

    I really LOVED the King Kong remake…a lot!

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