Over the last few years, there has been a significant increase of remakes in the American film industry and I am certainly not the first to take notice. There are countless articles on the internet and in the media about the influx of remakes; some people love them, others hate them, but one thing remains constant—recognition of the money factor. The obvious answer as to why Hollywood is remaking, rebooting, and recycling material on a mass scale relates to our unsure economy and to the safety net appeal of built-in audiences. Looking at the box office numbers of remakes, we can see that the public, more often than not, embraces these films and are excited to see a “new” take on some of their favorite characters, and/or the continuation of their stories. Although these films are popular, they unfortunately aid in the erosion of our culture, and could even change our already disappointing film industry for the worse.
Remakes and adaptations are nothing new. In fact, some of our culture’s most celebrated films, including classics and those we study in film history classes, are not originals. One of the most famous of such movies is The Maltese Falcon from 1941. This is the version we know and love, yet it is the third film adaptation of the original novel written by Dashiell Hammett. And when most people search for the film version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, they go for the film starring Spencer Tracy, which is actually the second film adaptation. Another successful remake is John Sturges The Magnificent Seven from 1960 which is simply a rehashing of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. The Birdcage from 1996 is a remake of the equally delightful La Cage aux Folles made in France in 1978. The list goes on.
The point is that remakes are not necessarily a bad thing. Taking something older and putting a modern spin on it can be enriching for both the material and for culture. Perhaps an old film’s content is still relevant to the current times and the filmmakers are attempting to comment on our society by reviving the story. Or maybe the filmmakers love the original so much they want to pay homage to it, to bring it to new audiences that may not have looked for it on the shelves of their video stores or through Netflix. These are perfectly valid reasons to remake a film. So what makes the remakes of today different, and why is the subject causing such concerns amongst critics and bloggers alike? The difference is that the number of remakes getting a green light from studios continues to increase, allowing these films to completely dominate our box office.
Take a look at the top 10 grossing American films of 2011 and you will see that they are not originals. They are sequels of franchises based off of books or comics, sequels to other films, and remakes. Original stories did not make the cut, and if you continue to look further down the list you will recognize many of the titles, not necessarily because you have seen these films, but because you are familiar with the original film, comic, novel, or franchise. This last year, Hollywood released a record high of remakes totaling at 27. Twenty-seven may not seem like a large number considering the total number of films released last year (approximately 214), but in comparison to our film industry’s past, we can see that the production of remakes is a continually growing trend with no end in sight.
Some films that are listed to be remade include Poltergeist, Overboard, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Why? Are these movies calling out to be brought back to us based on cultural relevance? Are they classics that deserve tribute? Were the ideas behind them so far ahead of their times that the filmmaking techniques of their day could not do the material justice? The answer to all of these questions is no, but based on the box office numbers of recent years, we can count on people going to see them anyway. This is what brings us to the undenible truth about remakes and what they mean for us as a society: The very fact that Americans are going to the theaters in droves to see these movies rather than something new points more to our stagnant culture than Hollywood greed.
Hollywood is a business. Movies are made to make money. So as long as films continue to fill theater seats by sacrificing artistic integrity for explosions, original ideas for the same trite narratives, and new characters for reinventions of old ones, we will continue to see movies that we have seen before. Producers will continue to pass on scripts by new writers with innovative material. And if you aren’t already bored to tears, you soon will be. Well, you should be anyway. So we can complain all we want about how Hollywood no longer values art or creativity, but the reality is they don’t have to as long as we don’t. If you would like to see something new, stop going to see what you have seen before. Instead of going to the multiplex, go find a theater that plays independent and/or foreign films. It’s one of the safest risks you can possibly take, and who knows? You may even like it.