Hollywood's Remake Factory: Is Nothing Sacred?
At a screening in New York City last week, one coming attraction looked so ridiculous, so utterly bizarre and confounding in its tone and delivery, that one audience member actually let loose an audible "No!" when the title was flashed at the end.
That preview was for an upcoming remake of "Footloose," the campy, melodramatic rock musical from the 1980s. This new version is only the latest addition to the seemingly endless line of studio remakes and reboots, which have left many audience members scratching their heads, but seem to entice film executives to the point where every property is fair game.
What audience is this "Footloose" remake actually for? Have older fans of the film been waiting on baited breath for a fresh new look at a Kevin Bacon pop classic? Is a new interpretation of the classic even remotely necessary?
That's not really the point, says Mike Fleming, the film editor of Deadline, a prominent film business blog. The point is: we already know the name. And that's half the battle.
"Studios are fixated on the idea of pre-sold or recognizable brands," Fleming told HuffPost. "And sometimes they rely too much on those brands. But it's still much easier to make a buck on."
And it's the power of already-established brands -- what studio execs refer to as "brand equity" -- that drives the staggering number of film remakes and reboots currently into development.
Fleming doesn't feel there's anything wrong with rebooting something like "Footloose" or, in the same vein, "Dirty Dancing" -- currently on the slate for 2013, to be directed by Kenny Ortega -- for a new generation.
"I think a lot of people have great memories of certain films," Fleming says. "But then if you go back and watch them ... they're old films now, you know? They don't hold up. So why not bring a film like this back?"
For older audiences, the title already means something to them (for better or worse, depending on your personal "Footloose" opinion), and for younger audiences, it's simply a new dance film about hot teenagers at a time when campy musical things are in vogue. A brand like "Footloose" has already been tested, and that's much more appealing to studios than an original concept.
At a time when "Hollywood's dream factory," as the Guardian put it at the beginning of this year, is "beset by spiralling marketing costs and a pinched bottom line," studios are retreating even farther into the land of remakes and recognizable brands.
Right now, at least 30 remakes of 1980s films are currently in some stage of production, as well as countless other action and comic book reboots. According to the slate available on IMDBPro (subscription required) pretty much all of Stephen King's back catalogue is about to get remade, with new versions of "Carrie," "It" and "Pet Semetary" in the works.
A remake of the ridiculous-slash-brilliant early 90s surfing bank robbers movie, "Point Break," was recently announced (to the dismay of its many fans) as were new versions of "Total Recall," "Robocop" and "Top Gun." Then there's the recent "Planet of the Apes" and "Tron" reboots, and both "Spiderman" and "Superman" are about to receive further makeovers just a few years after they were first revived.
In 2010, only four of the top 10 grossing films were even marginally original properties -- Christopher Nolan's mind-bending "Inception" and the animated "Tangled," "How To Train Your Dragon," and "Despicable Me." The rest were sequels or remakes of already tested brands. And if we're being honest, out of all the "original" films, only "Inception" was not adapted from a book or classic fable.
This weekend another dust-off of a classic film hit theaters. "Straw Dogs," the 1971 Sam Peckinpah thriller starring Dustin Hoffman, was one of the most controversial films of its time. Now a new version, directed by Rod Lurie and starring a very-not-Dustin-Hoffman actor, James Marsden, even uses the original film's poster image in its marketing materials.
This new "Dogs" garnered middling reviews, with most critics agreeing that the subtlety and art of Peckinpah's film has been glossed over, replaced with a modern cinema sheen. Rather than shedding any new light on this particular story, the film seems to be an example of Hollywood simply jumping on a popular genre -- the torturous thrills of the "Saw" series come to mind -- and finding an older film that fit the bill.
The film tanked, earning just $5 million, with a per-theater average of about $2,100.
Marsden, speaking with Moviefone last week, said that the only thing you need to think about when making a film -- remake or not -- is that it's good.
"If you make a good film, all is forgiven," he said, but then added: "It depends on the movie, I guess. If you are remaking 'Gone with the Wind,' you have your work cut out for you."
Which is an interesting thought: What's stopping a studio from remaking "Gone With The Wind," or any other classic film for that matter? Why not just take the entire American Film Institute list of the 100 Greatest Films Of All Time and go down the list, one by one? The Weinsteins recently garnered attention after they mentioned an interest in producing "Shakespeare in Love 2;" perhaps we've only seen the beginning of what Hollywood is willing to remake.
"I can't imagine anyone would remake 'The Godfather,' " said Deadline's Fleming. "But if they thought they could make a buck, I suppose it could happen."
"Godfather 3-D" starring Zac Efron and Robert Pattinson, anyone?
Then again, judging from the reactions to "Straw Dogs," and even the disappointing response to the reboot of "Conan the Barbarian," which also faired poorly at the box office, perhaps studios will take Marsden's advice to heart: if you're going to remake a classic, at least try to make it good.
Otherwise it's going to vanish faster than you can say "Kramer Vs. Kramer 2: The Explosioning."