What Happened to Creativity? Taking Aim at Movie Remakes

February 5, 2015

Insomnia, The Departed, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: most of us know these works, but not that they were all great foreign films before being remade in the U.S. Annie and True Grit, believe it or not, were American classics long before Hollywood decided to update them for the 21st century.

Remakes have become increasingly common in past decade, and while the movies I just cited are noteworthy, they also act as Trojan horses to a scourge of mediocre films that Hollywood has had the gall to re-do.

Production companies think some American classics should be remade because they are outdated, or that only by rehashing foreign films in English with American actors they can expose the common man to otherwise inaccessible greats. They believe updating old classics is a valorous challenge. They are wrong. These companies are profiteering off someone else’s talent and it’s unacceptable.

Both remakes of foreign films and old domestic movies rarely outshine the original material, and usually only taint its reputation. RoboCop was one of the biggest disappointments of 2014, despite the critical acclaim of its predecessor. I wish Dinner for Schmucks had bombed in 2010, as it did no justice to the French classic Le Dinner de Cons, and wasted the colossal talents of Oscar-nominated Steve Carrell.

So why are the same old stories to be recycled? It’s a business decision: the brand is already established. While the name The Imitation Game wouldn’t initially catch everyone’s attention, Godzilla certainly would. This pleases stockholders who value safe profits over originality. They look at the past successes of Karate Kid and The Ring, and think they have found a money-making formula. Even though these aren’t bad films, they are the exception. The principle of reusing plotlines should not be standard practice in the industry.

Looking at last year’s best performing movies can be depressing: sequels and remakes are everywhere. Mockingjay Part I was 2014’s best performing film, and it’s a good flick, but it was stretched thin over two movies to double profits. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was terrible, but still squeezed its way to 12th place in  the box office—not too bad for a rip-off of Batman Forever. The abysmal Godzilla came in at 13th place.

There is still some hope, though. Guardians of the Galaxy clocked in at second place, and The Lego Movie came in at a respectable fourth. Some original movies do find their way to the top, but the general rule seems to be that most of these spots are reserved for movies like Transformers 4 (sixth) and TMNT (15th).

Movies should be broadening our imagination and bedazzling us with stories we haven’t heard before. It’s these novel stories that make films like The Sixth Sense so memorable. Directors and producers can change some details in a remake, but none of us will be surprised when King Kong dies. Expensive CGI and well-known actors shouldn’t be used as a substitute for a good story.

House of Cards is one of the rare examples where the remake equates its predecessor, succeeding mostly thanks to Kevin Spacey’s brilliant performance. The Usual Suspects and American Beauty already established him as an actor, and despite the epic failure that was Superman Returns, Kevin Spacey didn’t need House of Cards to revamp his career. It’s a great show but the BBC version is equally great. Remaking a series that is already great is a waste of resources and talent.

Our intelligence is being insulted when movies like Oldboy are released, since it is clearly insinuated that we aren’t capable of watching a movie with subtitles. We shouldn’t be adapting to the lowest denominator by remaking these films; instead, we should be pushing everyone to watch what gave the movie its name in the first place by giving no alternative.

Thousands of movie scripts are written each year, and some with great potential are  refused and replaced by movies that have already been produced. I can’t help but wonder what Christopher Nolan would have created if it hadn’t been Insomnia, or what David Fincher would have directed if it wasn’t The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Brilliance is being wasted on movies we can already watch.

We should be demanding originality from our movies. I don’t want to watch another remake of Spiderman to hear Uncle Ben say, “With great power comes great responsibility” for the third time. It’s already happening, though. You probably (and hopefully) missed it, but The Thing was remade for the third time in 2011. We need to put a stop to this practice and ignore these movies before remakes become the status quo. Karate Kid was the exception, not the general rule, and we need to prove it to them.


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