30 Jan

I need your perspective. When I blogged about plot in, I wrote that there were no new plots, just unique variations.  Nothing wrong with that if it provides a springboard for good storytelling.

What about a movie remake?

As a rule, I don’t like movie remakes. They “feel” lazy to me. Take a popular, moneymaking movie and film a remake. Not a prequel or a sequel. The same story.  Use younger, bright and shiny actors, better technology [don’t forget to add computer-generated images (CGI)], and you don’t have to rewrite the thing from scratch. Hire a great screenwriter to update it, put in a few twists, and rake in the bucks. Yes, I understand it’s not as easy as this, but I’m not writing a book here.

Producers of remakes have built-in attendance. There’s Joe, who goes to the remake because he loved the original and wants to see it redone no matter how badly. Then there’s Bob, who loved the original, but hates the idea of a remake, and wants to be able to tell everyone he was right.

While I won’t state that remakes never make as much money as the originals, quite a few don’t. Adjusted for inflation, the following remakes did not fare as well at the box office as the originals. The Karate Kid (1st one), Fame, Conan the Barbarian, Bad News Bears, The Amityville Horror, and Arthur. That is a small number from the selection I found.

Rumored remakes in the works are American Pie, Barbarella, The Birds, Escape from New York, Ghostbusters, Highlander (I’m not counting the TV series as a remake), and Tomb Raider.

Why? Are all the screenwriters out of ideas? I doubt it. Are the producers and backers afraid to take a chance on a new story or a new writer? Sounds a little like editors and publishers. 🙂

And this blog isn’t even covering movie treatments of hit TV shows, comic books, anime, video games, etc. Where’s the originality gone?

In the interest of full disclosure, I go to remakes pretty regularly. But, I’m always a little uneasy. When remakes are tweaked here and there, does that make them “a variation on the same plot” and thus okay? Is the deciding factor whether they are remade well enough to make money?

What do you think? Are remakes a cop-out? I’m not sure.

What remake of a movie do you think was better than the original? And remember, prequels and sequels don’t count. Movies to TV and vice versa aren’t eligible.


Posted by on January 30, 2012 in imagination, plotting, writing, writing craft



21 responses to “Conundrum

  1. Liz Fredericks

    January 30, 2012 at 6:35 AM

    My perspective? Janis, this is a tough one. I don’t watch many movies, and even fewer television programs. The movies I go to are, by general aesthetic definition, bad (e.g., sci fi, fantasy). I think, however, I tend to gravitate to these movies because they usually aren’t ‘remakes’ of my favorite books (e.g., happily ever after romance). I want to see something new if I’m going to shell out $10 (and yes, this is because I remember when it was fifty cents). Perhaps plot is the issue? I’ll happily tolerate a plot I’ve enjoyed 1000 times in a book because I can augment the story with my imagination. However, movies tend to fixate on replicating scene points, removing the potential for a viewer (reader) to make the experience hers.

  2. Janis McCurry

    January 30, 2012 at 7:06 AM

    I know! It’s a tough call. Good point. Maybe, it does come down to plot.

  3. blankenshiplouise

    January 30, 2012 at 7:40 AM

    I had occasion to watch both the original House of Wax (from the 30’s, starring Fay Wray) and the first remake from the 50’s, starring Vincent Price. There has since been a second remake — recently, starring Paris Hilton as a victim — which I have not seen yet.

    The recent remake cannot possibly be worse than the 50’s one. Much as I love Vincent Price, the plot was bowlderized to remove any of the nascent feminism of the original. Can’t have the girls be spunky or active, of course, they can only be victims. All it had going for it was Price’s lovely voice and dignified presence.

    That being said, I don’t watch many remakes. I did see Ocean’s Eleven with George Clooney and maybe the original was blow-your-mind fantastic… but Clooney’s version was pretty excellent itself.

    And I’ll pose a question: how do you feel about series reboots? Such as Batman, Star Trek or Spider-man — are they re-makes?

    • Janis McCurry

      January 30, 2012 at 8:44 AM

      My favorite Batman has been Michael Keaton’s original. His vulnerability and sadness worked with the part. Christian Bale came close but his sadness had a different kind of darkness that didn’t resonate with me.

      Star Trek started as a TV series so they don’t qualify as original movie remakes IMO, but I liked the prequel with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as young’uns better than the original William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.

  4. ramblingsfromtheleft

    January 30, 2012 at 8:18 AM

    Janis, the “do-over” is something even old Hollywood was hell-bent on exploring. Some classics have been left alone, while others are re-done, sanitized and ruined. Then there are the sequels of many popular first films … speaking of Arthur … were you ever unlucky enough to see the sequel to Arthur? Series that are done and redone, bad second movies, classic remakes (The Postman Always Rings Twice; Wuthering Heights) There have been four versions of Jane Eyre.

    It has been happening for the last 15 or 20 years on Broadway. Rap and Y Gen R&B groups using remixes of old rock ‘n roll or R&B. In every form of creative endeavor (with the happy exception of books) someone gets stuck for ideas and they recycle what worked before. It’s lazy and most of the time it falls short. TV series based on successful movies usually bomb. Mash was successful but the doctor who wrote the original book done by Robert Altman was horrified at what Gelbart and his writers did with the TV series. Not to mention how it continued to succeed and once under the direction of Alan Alda, became the Hawkye show; replete with characters that never existed in the originals.

    To follow up on the above … Ocean’s Eleven remake was a major improvement on the original, and the cartoon based series will continue to get remade … some were great like Reeves’ Superman movie series; Star Trek with Leanoard directing … Batman is a toss and who can understand The Incredible Hulk? Great topic for an avid movie-nut case like me. Oh, did I say it has never been done in books. I lie. Sherlock is being rewritten in another persona and PD James has a new book based on … you guessed it … Jane Eyre. The publishers and the widow of Robert Parker approved a writer to continue his Jesse Stone series of books. Going around the same circle, Tom Selleck and his producers have already written one and plan another TV sequel not based on the books. Some fool has begun to REWRITE a series on PBS “based” on Agatha Christie’s two dectectives. Sorry, this comment threatens to be longer than your post. Stop me before I get into the remakes of A Christmas Carol 🙂

    • Janis McCurry

      January 30, 2012 at 8:56 AM

      Riddle me this.
      I like Charleton Heston’s “Omega Man” better than Will Smith’s “I Am Legend.”

      The catch is Omega Man wasn’t the original. The book from 1954 is titled “I Am Legend.” The first movie from it was titled “The Last Man on Earth” (1964). Then came “Omega Man” in 1971. Will Smith’s “I Am Legend” (2007) is supposed to be closer to the book.

      Catch #2: Not an original movie, but from a book. Oh my!!

  5. Clarissa Southwick

    January 30, 2012 at 8:27 AM

    Great topic, Janis. I can’t think of any remakes that were better than the original. But I have always looked at it as bringing an old story to a new audience. It’s the same reason Disney lets the classics out of the vault every 20 years.

    I actually notice this more in music. I often hear my kids rocking out to a really bad cover of an old favorite. Only they think it’s a new song and I’m the one who’s got it all wrong. 🙂

    • Janis McCurry

      January 30, 2012 at 8:59 AM

      The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind are re-released periodically as well. What I like about the DIsney re-releases is they ARE the same movie. They don’t remake them. They bring the original movies to the new generations. You’ve illustrated my point. The Disney classics are not surpassed by remakes.

      I don’t much about today’s music scene, so thanks for your insight about the covers.

  6. Peggy Staggs

    January 30, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    Remake of the Birds? Say it isn’t so. Someone egomaniac is really going to take on Alfred Hitchcock? Some things just shouldn’t be done.
    I find as a rule re-makes don’t live up to the original. If the first film was successful—and if it wasn’t they wouldn’t be doing it again—people who saw the first one are vested in the way those actors portrayed the characters. And even if it has been almost 50 years since the last one there’s always someone around to point out the fact that the first one was better. Besides there are tons of stories out there waiting to be made into movies.

  7. Janis McCurry

    January 30, 2012 at 10:57 AM

    Yes, it comes back to Liz saying if a movie-goer sees sets and images of places and characters, it’s hard for them to back out of that concept. A reader makes up their own.

  8. Meredith Conner

    January 30, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    I love movies. If I liked the original, generally I will see the re-make. And frequently I’m not impressed, but sometimes I do like the new “take” on the original. “Silence of the Lambs” had a previous version called “Man Hunter” and I enjoyed them both. I also really enjoyed the new “Star Treck” – I loved the new twists and turns added in. I’m always willing to see what people will come up with – even if the story has been done before.
    I must admit though that the second “Conan” was really bad. However, Conan’s chest was an absolute delight throughout. For me, there’s always a bright side.

    • Liz Fredericks

      January 30, 2012 at 12:28 PM

      EXACTLY, Meredith! Taking a ‘glass is half-full’ perspective is always best. For me, the recent ‘clash of the titans’ was a painful experience except for the hero – not his acting ability or dialogue – but gracious sakes alive – you should check out his biceps.

      • Janis McCurry

        January 30, 2012 at 1:33 PM

        Obviously, this topic could be a whole ‘nother blog! 🙂

  9. Suzie Quint

    January 30, 2012 at 12:28 PM

    Some remakes work for me. FREX, I’ve never seen a bad version of the Scarlett Pimpernel (and I’ve seen at least 3 versions.) The same for the 3 Musketeers. The remake of The Haunting, however, was horrendous. (Why? Just why would they do that?) I used to think, too, that movies from books were never as good as the novel, but I can actually probably name a dozen that are better than the book (though sometimes better in a different way). FREX, Die Hard was definitely a better story as a movie than it was as a book.

    • Janis McCurry

      January 30, 2012 at 1:46 PM


      I liked all the 3 Musketeers as well with the Keifer Sutherland one the most. I felt so bad for him when Rebecca De Mornay went off the cliff. Chris O’Donnell was cute as the young D’Artagnan and Oliver Platt and Charlie Sheen were funny.

  10. Kim G.

    January 30, 2012 at 12:45 PM

    Very seldom are remakes of a great original are NEVER as good as the original. Now having said this, I do think you can use the works of an original and add different spins on it.

    I watched a show every night for seven years. I saw my favorite character’s starting to go off the deep end and I couldn’t stand it. They were doing this to his character because the show was coming to an end. Hundreds and thousands of people wrote in to stop this show from shutting down.

    Some started writing scenes for this character on Fan Fiction, that’s how I started writing. Creativity? Yes. You add a “what if” to your beloved character and create a whole new story. The original created the bones, and you add meat to those bones and create a whole other person.


  11. Janis McCurry

    January 30, 2012 at 1:52 PM

    Kim, I’ve read some good Fan Fic. It’s nice writers have that venue to explore their creativity. Thanks for bringing this up.

  12. Lynn Mapp

    January 30, 2012 at 8:11 PM

    Janis, you asked an interesting question.
    Mission Impossible was good. My husband left the theater saying that Jim Phelps was not a traitor. He was not happy.

    • Janis McCurry

      January 31, 2012 at 7:09 AM

      LOL! We invest in original characters. Peter Graves as Jim Phelps was stately, honest, and loyal.

  13. Suzie Quint

    January 30, 2012 at 10:02 PM

    I’m with your husband, Lynn. MI1 left my cold. That’s what happens when you sacrifice character to a plot twist.

  14. Mary Vine

    February 1, 2012 at 8:13 PM

    Unlike Peggy, I would like to see a remake of “Birds” even if I can’t remember a remake I liked better than the first. I’m thinking that with the growth in the techno field, this could be one great, scary movie.


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