A Discussion of Sequels and Remakes – By Matt Singer

From January to July there are roughly twenty-five
weekends. Each weekend there are anywhere between one and three major Hollywood releases. And in that time there have been nine remakes, nine sequels, and three films based on television shows. There are at least three more remakes and no less than thirteen more sequels planned for 2004 alone. Movie theaters are drowning in these things.

The phenomenon of repackaging old material in movies is as old as the cinema. Once audiences began
to tire of the simple films of actual events and moved
into narratives, many of the earliest hits were based
on the successful plays of the era. The main reason
was the same then as it is now hoping to cash-in on
an existing, proven audience. Remakes appeared in the silent era as well in at least a couple instances; the
Italian film Quo Vadis? was made twice in the silent
era alone.

Those who try to validate the artistic merit of
remakes will tell you that good stories are good
stories, and there is value in each era using those
raw narrative materials in a unique way that reflects
its own sensibilities. And perhaps there is; there
are certainly some important, famous, or successful
remakes. Everyone knows His Girl Friday (1940), the
Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell as one of the funniest
screwball comedies of its era. But it was a remake of
The Front Page, made just nine years earlier. You’ll
also find several other remakes over the decades; one
by Billy Wilder starring Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau
is a surprising treat. Wilder’s Front Page is wildly
different from Howard Hawks’ Friday, but both work on
their own as satisfying films.

So why, then, was the Coen Brothers’ remake of The
Ladykillers such a dud? Why couldn’t Frank Oz make
something good out of The Stepford Wives? Why didn’t
I have the time of my life at Dirty Dancing Havana
Nights? Well the last one is probably not a difficult
question to answer.

All these remakes were bombs of varying degrees.
Both of the most widely discussed flops of the year –
The Alamo ($22 million in grosses on a $100 million
budget) and Around the World in 80 Days ($22 million
against a $110 million budget) – were remakes of
earlier films. Surely at this point the belief that
remakes mean audience recognition and an eagerness to head to the box office is sullied if not completely
destroyed. Coincidentally, both The Alamo and Around
The World were products of Disney, who in recent years
have found it in their interest to remake or sequelize
their most cherished properties in a blatant attempt
to wring fresh cash from old cows. Did the world need
a straight to video sequel to Cinderella? Are we better for it?

The only true hit of the 2004’s remakes so far is
Zack Snyder’s take on George Romero’s Dawn of the
Dead. It followed the huge success of last year’s
remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which raked in $80 million on a budget under $10 million. Horror seems to be one genre where remakes to tend to succeed; consider the massive success of 2002’s The Ring, based on the Japanese film Ringu. Perhaps that has something to do with the horror audience – largely teenagers – and their less-than-discriminating taste. Most horror crowds are in it for the gore and the scares (one area in which filmmaking is always improving) not for the plots or the characters.

The rest of 2004 includes Jonathan Demme – who
recently remade the classic Charade as the flimsy The
Truth About Charlie – taking on The Manchurian
Candidate, and Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez in the
American version of Shall We Dance? We’ll see how
they fare.