You’d think remaking a movie might be easy. I mean, it’s technically been done before; you can easily see what worked and what didn’t, what mistakes to avoid, and ways you can improve upon the original. Right? Yes, technically, but most movie reboots suck ass anyways. Here are eight reasons why we should probably leave the past in the past.
1) You Have Less Talent than the Original Cast and Crew
The first reason movie reboots suck is probably the most obvious, and that is you’re not as good as the first guy. It’s hard to see, even harder to admit, but if you’re a crappier director than the original movie’s director, your remake is going to be crappier than the original movie. Even if you’re fine, are your actors worse then the original’s actors? Well, then, you’re still probably screwed. Do you think Underworld’s Len Wiseman is half the director that Paul Verhoeven was when he made Total Recall in 1990? Of course not. And while I think we can all agree that Colin Farrell is a better actor in general than Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arnold has charisma, while Farrell can far too easily transform into a generically bland protagonist in the wrong hands, which is why last year’s Total Recall remake was such crap. And don’t even get me started on Clash of the Titans’ Sam Worthington.
2) You Have Nothing to Add
Even if you’re talented, that doesn’t mean your reboot will work. If you’re remaking a pretty good film — or relaunching a popular movie franchise — then you need to give some people a reason to see it, especially if the original is only a decade old. The Amazing Spider-Man had this problem. While the movie was fine, director Marc Webb never added anything of note to Spidey’s origin story, and the result was a movie that wasn’t worse than Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, not better, just… slightly different. Admittedly, this doesn’t mean the remake failed entirely, it just failed to make a compelling argument for why anyone should see it instead of just renting the original. Most people think having a bigger budget and a shit-ton of CG is all the reason anyone would possibly need to see a remake, which is patently untrue. The Day the Earth Stood Still and Clash of the Titans remakes upped the special effects considerably over their predecessors, and both were still pale imitations of their original.
3) You Have Something to Add, But It Sucks
Of course, most directors have plenty to add to their remakes and reboots, but seldom do they add anything worthwhile. Clash of the Titans added a completely nonsensical “freedom from the gods” plotline which did nothing but confuse and irritate audiences; The Day the Earth Stood Still added a heavy-handed environmental message that weighed down the already inferior film. Tim Burton added his Tim Burton-y-ness to Planet of the Apes, and we all know how that turned out. But there’s no better example of a director adding nothing but garbage to a remake than Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla, which actually took Godzilla off-screen for a lengthy portion of the movie to film Lil’ Godzilla Babies, i.e., the world’s shittiest Jurassic Park rip-off. Yes, Roland, that's what people want to see when they go to a Godzilla movie. Non-giant monsters.
4) The Original Was Too Good
Reboot and remake directors could save themselves a lot of trouble if they just asked themselves, “Does this movie actually benefit from being remade?” If the answer is no, then chances are it's because the movies is still pretty damn good. Planet of the Apes is a classic, and while it’s dated in many ways, you’re never going to knock the original off DVD shelves — you only chance is to reboot it in a vastly different fashion, keeping the monkeys more monkey-like, a la Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The original The Day the Earth Stood Still is another scifi classic; anyone would be hard-pressed to make a movie that lived up the original. Sure, Godzilla, being a special effects movie at heart, could always stand to be remade with better, more modern special effects — but this is something Japan is already doing regularly, and quite effectively. There are plenty of terrible movies out there that could be good with a few changes — those are the ones you should be remaking.
5) The Original Was a Product of Its Time
Some movies only work in the time they were created. Think about if The Goonies were made today. A group of kids allowed that much autonomy would seem like the height of parental neglect nowadays, but in the ‘80s, it was normal. Watchmen — which the movie version tried to remake in cinematic form — is so intrinsically tied to the ‘80s that even setting the movie in the ‘80s wasn’t enough, because people no longer have that particular mindset, and thus the story loses much of its impact. The most garish example of someone making a movie that should have stayed in the past is Red Dawn. The original was made during the Cold War, during a surge of patriotism, paranoia and conservative values; people wanted to see kids gun down a bunch of evil Communists back then. Remaking the movie today, and setting it in the present, makes the kids look like psychopaths and the movie look insane for pretending the North Koreans have enough troops to invade American suburbs across the country. Red Dawn made sense in the ‘80s, and it's total nonsense in any other time period.
6) By Broadening Its Appeal You’re Losing What Makes It Special
A lot of movies are remade because the originals are cult movies, which means they’re popular among a small group of people, and studios think they can smooth out the edges and give them mass appeal. This is why we hear announcements about a new Escape from New York and Oldboy, and why we’re getting a new Carrie, Evil Dead and Robocop. But when studios do this, they often manage to destroy those unique characteristics that gave those movies their cult appeal in the first place. Someone thought they could set Red Dawn in the present and more people would like it, which was obviously not the case. Obviously, the original Godzilla is a Japanese movie (even with the insertion of Raymond Burr into the America release); when Emmerich dropped that, he removed one of the things that makes Godzilla so unique (we’ll see how the next American Godzilla remake handles it). One of the best things about the original Clash of the Titans was Ray Harryhausen’s amazing stop-motion special effects; Hollywood thought that they could replace ‘em with CG monsters and that’s all audiences needed or want, but it turns out there are tons of movies with CG monsters and without those Harryhausen effects, Clash doesn’t have a lot to offer.
7) You Are Too Slavishly Devoted to the Original
It seems weird to list this as a reason, when most of the reason reboots tend to suck is because people stray too far from the original, but you can still not go far enough. This is technically a sub-category of reason #2 (nothing to add) but it's worth mentioning because this often affects good directors. Superman Returns — which I know is technically a sequel to the first two Superman movies, but in all honesty is almost a straight remake of the first Superman movie — has this problem; its so slavishly devoted to the ‘70s movies that it keeps things that are now hackneyed and terrible, like Lex’s goofy real estate plan, his bumbling assistants, a distinct lack of punching, etc. Now, while these elements were tied to the comic book movie sensibility of the ‘70s, they certainly don’t work nowadays, and no one actually wanted them except Singer. He may have added a deadbeat Super-dad storyline — which was was another plot element no one but Singer wanted, unfortunately — but for the most part, Singer forgot to update the movie at all.
8) You Are Insane
See Nic Cage’s The Wicker Man for details.