A Brief History of Unnecessary Film Remakes

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Ah, cinematic remakes. Remaking an old film isn’t a terrible idea per se — sci-fi films like The Fly and The Thing, for instance, have often benefited from more convincing special effects, while others that just didn’t work at first have occasionally been rescued by superior direction or acting the second time round. But generally, such films are few and far between, and outnumbered by the out-and-out stinkers. However, we’re not looking at either of those categories here — instead, inspired by this morning’s news that Spike Lee might be rebooting Oldboy, we’re focusing on the special Hollywood genre that’s the completely unnecessary remake. Generally, these are recreations of films that were well-loved and pretty much perfect the first time around. Here we present ten of our great cinematic head-scratchers — some of them are terrible, some of them are passable, but they’re united by the fact that there’s no reason for them to exist in the first place.

Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (aka Turkish Star Wars) (1982)

Strictly speaking, this wasn’t unnecessary — from a Turkish point of view, it was wholly necessary, as their film censorship board wasn’t letting the original Star Wars into the country. As far as the rest of the world goes, however, the idea of a reworking of George Lucas’ classic that involved splicing “borrowed” footage from the original with a karate-choppin’ (and decidedly old) Luke Skywalker and a spiky-helmeted Darth Vader wasn’t exactly the stuff of cinematic legend. It is, however, hysterically funny — if the climactic battle scene doesn’t make you giggle uncontrollably, you have a cold, cold heart.

City of Angels (1998)

Meanwhile, back to Hollywood, the only place in the world where someone could decide that it was a great idea to take Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire and turn it into a romantic comedy starring ongoing one-man Worst Performance Ever competition Nicolas Cage and the ever-saccharine Meg Ryan. Was it as bad as it sounds? Do bears shit in the woods?

Psycho (1998)

Doing a shot-for-shot remake of a classic pretty much defines the term “unnecessary.” Apparently Gus Van Sant saw the idea of reproducing Psycho as an “experiment” and came to the conclusion that “you can’t copy a film.” Right. Got it. But was it really necessary to spend $60 million — and cast Anne Heche, Rob Zombie, and Vince Vaughn — in order to work this out?

Rollerball (2002)

The remake is often predicated on an assumption that the film being remade is, y’know, far too complicated for poor simple modern audiences to understand, and as such the time is right for a new version that’s dumbed down to the point that it’s the cinematic equivalent of someone sitting in the corner drooling. Which brings us to Rollerball, a perfectly good and well-respected dystopian fable that was remade in 2002 as a non-dystopian non-fable starring LL Cool J. Unless, of course, the point was that a future in which LL Cool J gets to star in movies already constitutes a dystopia. Hmmm.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Before he made bazillions of dollars by progressively erasing any goodwill that 30-something males may retain towards their favorite childhood toys, Michael Bay helmed a studio that specialized in ill-conceived 1980s horror remakes. As with pretty much all the “modern” interpretations of vintage horror films that this remake spawned, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre expunged any conception of subtlety and replaced it with incessant brutality — Roger Ebert, bless him, called it “a contemptible film: vile, ugly and brutal.” But, as ever, Bay is laughing all the way to the bank — this got terrible reviews, and made $107 million on a $9.5 million budget.

Alfie (2004)

For all that Hollywood seems increasingly shameless as the years go by, there are some films that are sacred ground as far as remakes go — even the most rapacious studio execs know that it’s possible to go too far, and no one’s suggesting a remake of Citizen Kane starring Will Smith, for instance. However, any semblance of restraint goes out the window as soon as “foreign” films are involved. The British have been justifiably aghast over the years at the liberties Hollywood has taken with their iconic films, and this was a prime example. Remakes like this are particularly pointless as they don’t really have the goodwill towards the original to lean on — it’s unlikely that most people who went to see the new Alfie (and not many did) knew it was a remake, and judged it on its own merits, which were few indeed. (See also: Arthur, which has distinguished itself by being one of the biggest box office disasters of the year.)

The Pink Panther (2006)

Cinema buffs looked at the remake of The Pink Panther and swore to themselves that this was never, ever going to fly. After all, the original Peter Sellers film had the enduring goodwill of being one of the most-loved comedies of all time, while the new version had Steve Martin (who has a dismal track record on the remake front) and Beyoncé. And yet, it got made, and $180 million in box office receipts later, a sequel was on the way. Honestly, Hollywood is just depressing sometimes.

The Wicker Man (2006)

Occasionally, Hollywood tries the old “Hey, no one’s ever heard of the original, so no one will realize that this is a remake” trick. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work when the director of the original film is so appalled by what’s been done to his work that he publicly demands that any mention of his name is removed from the new promotional material. You’d be upset too if you’d made an overlooked masterpiece that was redone 20 years later as a godawful film starring, yes, Nicolas Cage.

The Karate Kid (2010)

This wasn’t bad, but then, that’s kind of the point — neither was the original. So why exactly did we need a new version? The answer, it seems, is that Will Smith needed a vehicle to launch his son Jaden’s film career. Rejoice, world — you get an unnecessary remake and a junior version of the world’s least interesting film star, all in one package! Flush with the success of this idea, Smith is now planning a remake of Annie as a birthday present for his daughter, or something. And probably a remake of Lassie for his dog, too.

Let Me In (2010)

And finally, here’s proof that in Hollywood, anything that’s not in English is fair game for gratuitous remaking, even if the original’s only been released a year or so before the remake gets under way. The Swedish film version of Let the Right One In was a fantastic interpretation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s decidedly unsettling novel of pubescent vampire love, deftly simplifying the plot for cinema without losing any of the book’s impact. The American film is basically a Xerox of the Swedish version, only without the funny language that makes everyone have to read subtitles — its take on the plot is pretty much identical, which makes director Matt Reeves’s claim that he was reinterpreting the book, not the Swedish film, look pretty shaky.