In Defense of Remakes

by | Sep 8th, 2011 | 3:03PM | Filed under: In My Humble Opinion, Movies

To “death” and “taxes” we can add a third certainty: If you mention news of an upcoming remake of a beloved classic (or even not-so-classic) movie, the Interwebs will erupt with cries of “Nooo! Why??? It’s gonna suck! Hollywood is out of ideas!”

We saw it a few weeks ago when zillions of folks rose up in righteous indignation over the idea of a new Dirty Dancing remake, which they’d have you believe is somehow a desecration of Patrick Swayze’s still-warm grave.

Around the same time, I was chatting with a film-loving child of the gritty ’70s and early ’80s who has no interest in movies about dancing teenagers. However, he was bemoaning the upcoming Straw Dogs remake and rumors of a new Escape from New York.

So this week (just as Baz Luhrmann begins shooting his new Great Gatsby starring Leo DiCaprio), I’m here to take the opposing position–not exactly in favor of remakes but in defense of them. Or at least a shruggingly principled stance of “eh, so what?”

1) No One is Going to Break Into Your Home and Confiscate Your Old Movies

You’ll still have them. And over time quality will win out. After all the initial hype and chat-room indignation, bad remakes fade away and cable TV goes back to showing the originals. Remember the Harrison Ford Sabrina? No? And how often do you say, “Hey let’s watch Gus Van Sant’s Psycho instead of Hitchcock’s?”

2) Remakes Overall Aren’t Any Worse than Most New Movies–We Just Notice Them More

Sure there are some really bad remakes (for example, the awful Nic Cage version of the absolutely brilliant 1973 original Wicker Man), but there are a lot of really bad movies out there in general.

And quite a few remakes are–like most movies in general–okay. Maybe not better than the original, but not unwatchable, either. (Case in point: The Russell Brand Arthur, which I find just as amusing as the beloved Dudley Moore version.)

It seems to us remakes are often bad because we pay a more attention to them. I’m sure Lionsgate didn’t mind all the anti-Dirty Dancing remake backlash one bit. It guarantees folks will be following and arguing about the remake right up to its release date–what more could a publicity department ask for?

3) Hollywood Hasn’t Run Out of New Ideas, but Viewers Don’t Embrace Originality as Much as We Think We Do

There are tons of really great, original scripts floating around Hollywood and believe it or not, studios would love to produce them. And there are truly original, amazing films being released in theaters and on home video every month. So sure it’d be great if some of the production money being spent on remakes instead went to original scripts.

But at the end of the day it’s a business, and especially during rough economic times, studios stick with the better odds and therefore with known properties with name recognition. Studios embrace remakes because their posters are pre-sold with a high-awareness brand name. And they know we’ll show up for them. Last year seven of the top ten highest-grossing films at the box office were sequels, remakes, or adaptations of pop-culture properties. So far this year nine of them are.

If you want to see studios make and promote better, more original films, you have to give them a financial incentive, show them there’s an audience for such quality. Go see good movies.

4) Films About Teenagers are Made for Teenagers

A familiar complaint about remakes from both critics and viewers is they take cheesy, fluffy (or cool, kick-butt) films we snuck into when we were 16 and re-gussy them up with hip-hop bells and whistles and flashy epileptic editing to make them appealing to–sputter-gasp!–16-year-olds today. And we all know that anything teenagers today watch, wear, or listen to is never as good as the cheesy fluff we were into 20-30 years ago.

News flash: Teenagers don’t want to wear their parents’ hand-me-downs. Heck, they wouldn’t be caught dead with last year’s phone, pop-star, or Trapper Keeper let alone a 25-year-old movie that still gets their mothers a little flushed or makes their fathers pump their fists. In fact, I believe the standard critical response from a teenager to such things is, “Ewwwwww.”

5) And Finally, Not All Remakes Suck

Some films now considered Hollywood classics were themselves remakes of earlier films, including His Girl Friday, Ben Hur, A Star is Born, and An Affair to Remember. And beloved Westerns The Magnificent Seven and A Fistful of Dollars were, of course, remakes of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai movies.

One of the best films of 2010 was the Coen Brothers’ True Grit–not only is it a stronger film than the 1968 John Wayne version (and a much richer adaptation of Charles Portis’ excellent novel), but yep, Jeff Bridges is a better Rooster Cogburn than the Duke was.

And last year’s The Karate Kid with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan is also an excellent remake, one that follows the original almost note for note, hits all the same high points, but also brings integrity and solid characterization and storytelling to the familiar tale. A few years ago we were all sure J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot was going to stink. It didn’t–in fact, it soared.

Nor are all horror remakes exploitative cash grabs. Last year’s Let Me In turned out just as chilling and even more pleasingly dark than the terrific Swedish original. The 2010 version of The Crazies is a much better film than George Romero’s 1973 original.

I love the new version of Piranha, and last month’s Fright Night is a decent successor to the 1985 cult fave. And best of all is Zack Snyder’s 2004 Dawn of the Dead–we can debate whether or not it’s superior to Romero’s original, but it’s certainly a masterful horror achievement all on its own.

Other remakes that not only didn’t suck, but also are among my favorite films of the past decade include 3:10 to Yuma, Ocean’s Eleven, and The Departed.

And then there’s John Carpenter’s 1981 remake The Thing, a film rightfully cherished by the same sci-fi horror geeks so upset about the possibility of of Carpenter’s Escape from New York being remade.

Of course, the remake of Carpenter’s remake of The Thing hits theaters next month. *


* Vicky rightly pointed out in the comments that this is not actually a remake of The Thing, but a prequel. Thus messing up my oh-so clever-clever ending. D’oh.


Agree? Disagree? And what are some of your favorite remakes?


Remakes available at redbox:

Hollywood remakes of foreign films at redbox:

36 Responses to “In Defense of Remakes”

  1. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on September 12, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    Jenn ol’ pal, I’m here every week telling you about great new movies in theaters and on DVD, LOL. This wasn’t the place for that, wasn’t room for it.

    But since you asked, I’d say right now my favorite films of the year so far are WIN WIN, THE TREE OF LIFE, DRIVE, MONEYBALL, ANOTHER EARTH, BELLFLOWER, THE FUTURE, TERRI, MEEK’S CUTOFF, CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS, RANGO, and JANE EYRE.


    And as far as big summer movies, I liked CRAZY, STUPID LOVE and CAPTAIN AMERICA plenty. X-MEN and THOR both have good stuff, I enjoyed KUNG FU PANDA 2, laughed a lot at BRIDESMAIDS.

    Plus there are so many more that I like well enough or find interesting, entertaining, or surprising and worth watching.

  2. Lawrence Smith
    Posted on September 13, 2011 at 7:09 am

    I saw the original movie, True Grit, when it first came out, read the book, and saw the remake. I think the remake was truer to the book. To be honest, I didn’t think it was possible that anyone could be Rooster but “the Duke”, but Bridges pulled it off. I still missed Robert Duvall as Lucky Ned Pepper and the original kid that thought he was a chicken. If you hadn’t seen the original the remake would stand as a Academy Award for winner for Bridges. I thought the actress that played Mattie Ross was more believable than Kim Darby as a young teenager. Other moments I missed was the scene where Rooster shoots the rat.

  3. Lawrence Smith
    Posted on September 13, 2011 at 7:14 am

    Oh, I said other moments, Glen Campbell saving Rooster and Mattie while dying in the original I liked better in the original. Saved my life twice and once when he was dead is a line I liked from the original.

  4. Bill
    Posted on September 13, 2011 at 8:50 am

    You must be smoking crack if you think Jeff Bridges was a better Rooster Cogburn than John Wayne. While Bridges did a good job with the part, John Wayne was perfect for it. Although I have never read the book, both entities of the film said their version was authentic.

    Personally, I could care less since I have seen both versions but never read the book. We’ve had three viewings of the original since the remake came out. I guess I had a better memory of the original True Grit with John Wayne because I came away from the remake thinking that, although I liked it, it was not nearly as good as the original.

    Others that saw the remake, loved it. One thought it was far better than the original UNTIL he saw the original again. I thought it was amusing how he loved the authentic vocabulary used in those days and felt that made the remake better than the original. He was quite surprised to have the same feeling about the original when he saw it a couple of weeks ago and admitted he hadn’t seen it since it was first released. He left with a renewed respect for the original and had certainly changed his mind about which version was better.

    I have a feeling you have never seen the original or not in a long time and forgot how good it was. There is the possibility that you saw the original, for the first time, AFTER seeing the remake, and that would certainly skew your feelings for either movie.

  5. Christina
    Posted on September 13, 2011 at 9:21 am

    I am not a movie purist so I am not compelled to watch old or original movies. When the recent “True Grit” came out, I really wanted to see it but have absolutely no interest in seeing the John Wayne version (even at the near bullying of my father to do so). Years ago when the Gary Sinise/John Malkovich version of “Of Mice and Men” came out, I saw it never having seen an older version or read the book. I LOVED this movie. An older family friend insisted I watch the version (original?) with Lon Chaney Jr. & Burgess Meredith. It was torture for me. So had this movie not been remade, I would not have experienced this wonderful story.

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Posted on September 13, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    I loved both remakes of “True Grit” and “Karate Kid” I thought the western was true to the book and “Karate Kid” updated was a great way to bring home a message to today’s kids about violence.
    The above article mentions “epileptic editing” to make remakes more acceptable to teens today. I really wouldn’t know. I have petit mal epilepy. There are many types, including the one I have known as “abscence seizures”. Imagine yourself going through your day and suddenly, regardless of activity, you freeze. You can’t move. You can’t talk. You’re aware that something’s not right and when the seizure is finished, you’re confused about what you were doing when it happened. Mine are controlled by medication, thank God. Personally, I am not aware of any type of epilepsy that occurs during editing. I could be wrong but; if you’ve ever had a seizure of any kind, you would never use the word as an adjective. Edit your adjectives, please?

  6. Gina
    Posted on September 13, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    I’m a teenager and I still love the originals. Cheaper by the dozen, yours mine and ours, and the parent trap were all better before Hollywood added a more ‘modern’ twist. I also LOVE Dirty Dancing and Footloose. I’m not looking forward to the ‘improvements’ that will be made to them now.

  7. Jamie
    Posted on September 13, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    The true difference with the “good” remakes and the ones that everyone is up-in-arms about is the time difference between original & re-make.
    Example: Dirty Dancing is still watched by the generation before me and after. It’s a far cry from a re-make of a 1968 movie. Far fewer people will have seen the original True Grit, not to mention that it was really well done, making it an acceptable re-make. It’s one thing to make a story based on the same story-line, like You’ve Got Mail vs The Shop Around the Corner. At least it isn’t using the exact same name and character story lines, like Fame and Footloose

  8. Marilyn Davis
    Posted on September 13, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    I am looking for the TV Series of Grizzly Adams with Dan Haggerty.
    Seems it came out on VCR but not on DVD; any suggestions?
    Thank you . Marilyn Davis

  9. agustin lopez
    Posted on September 14, 2011 at 10:40 am

    im not against re make.. buy remake a movie when the movie mark a generation with the music,itwas the stories but in hand with the music that marked that era ,yes im against them…example…i dont want to see a remake of saturday night fever,grease,footloose,dirty dancing etc etc…you can remake a action,comedy,terror movie and do it better… but a musical movie.. not!!(excuse my english)

  10. Judy Perry
    Posted on September 14, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    The way that the previews for Footloose, that it talks more about the wreck that had happened to Ariel’s brother. I saw the remake of Karate Kid and didn’t really like it to much, Ralph Macchio seemed better at wanting to learn. As for True Grit, I probably seen the original with John Wayne but obviously don’t remember it. But Jeff Bridges was really good. He’s an original, to start off with. Remember Starman? I wonder if they’ll remake Pretty In Pink, The Breakfast Club, and St. Elmo’s Fire? Now those will probably really be tough to redo. Haven’t even thought about Dirty Dancing. But I would really love to see what they’ve done to Fright Night. That had both the Corey’s? No, that was The Lost Boys. The part 2 didn’t even have Corey Haim in it. The Texas Chainsaw Massecre(ms) was really good. The Arthur movie, the original with Dudley Moore was great, Russel Brand was horrible in it. Not a lick of sence. Let Me In was good and probably need to see the original to see about my feelings about that one. Well, I guess that’s all I got for this subject.