Sort of An A-List: Remake Variations

By Sean Collier

December 9, 2008

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What with the unnecessary, Keanu-saddled remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still out later this week, I thought it'd be as good an idea as any to do a Best Remakes A-List. For the most part, these films are maligned, and rightfully so; there's an inescapable pretension involved with taking a classic, seminal work, and thinking you can somehow improve it. But still, there had to be enough decent efforts to fill a column, right? Seriously – I only list six movies here.

The remake explosion of the past decade has commonly been attributed to "Hollywood running out of ideas." There is certainly ample evidence to back up this statement - one need only take a look at the yearly box office champs over the past two decades. Eight of the ten '90s champs were original concepts – movies that were not part of a franchise, sequels, or remakes. (No, The Lion King does not count as a Hamlet remake.) Since 1999, however, every box office winner has been part of a franchise (either Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek, or Mission: Impossible.)

To make the no-new-ideas claim is something of an oversimplification, though - there are plenty of new ideas, some good, some bad. There's a nation full of aspiring screenwriters all too happy to show you their fresh, edgy script. It's not that Hollywood got less creative – it's that the studios started taking fewer and fewer risks. A remake has a huge built in audience – devotees of the original or the franchise, and the million comic book guys who will buy a ticket just to more eloquently decry the film.


However, while remakes have become the biggest tickets around over the past ten years, they are nothing new by any stretch. As soon as there were films, people made them again, predating the studio system itself. Filmmakers love films, and have never been able to resist putting their stamp on a beloved story. Furthermore, the variety of remakes is much greater than many people realize, and the motivation behind calling a mulligan on a film or series varies widely.

Accordingly, it occurred to me that "remakes" as a category for an A-List was actually far too broad. So this week, I thought I'd break down the many faces of the remake, while providing an A-List example of each. Each one of these categories could probably have its own best-of, so when I mine this column for ideas down the road, pretend like I'm not just stealing an old idea. (A little remake humor, there.)

With yet another humble appeal to always Netflix the original first, The-A List presents Remake Variations.

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