I don’t automatically hate remakes. Most of you know that I love the 2009 Friday The 13th (probably because it feels more like an organic extension of the franchise made by people who love it rather than a head-to-toe studio revamping). I also really liked a lot about Evil Dead last year. While it certainly “felt” more like a remake tun F13, the makeup and gore were outstanding and its 2nd and 3rd acts did the trick for me, especially when watching it with an audience.
Incidentally, it looks like it turned a profit. At the very least I don’t think it lost money with a worldwide gross of almost $100M on a $17M budget (with a promotional campaign that probably cost about the same). Going back a decade the American version of The Ring, the 2003 Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the 2004 Dawn Of The Dead all generated handsome profits and helped kick off a remake boom whose aftershocks are still being felt today. But, like aftershocks, the rumblings have been growing softer and softer to the point where now they seem downright faint.
That’s not to say that studios (and indies, to be fair) aren’t generating remakes at the same steady clip they’ve been maintaining over the past 10 years, but audiences sure do seem to be growing weary of them. Carrie did *okay*, but certainly wasn’t the hit it needed to be. The latest version of The Thing was a money loser. Fright Night managed to overcome its impressive roster of talent in a plunge to the bottom of the box office. Granted, the fact that those movies range from “not great” to “terrible” surely has something to do with it, but audiences are more ready than ever to reject these films.
One of the issues is that the properties currently being remade (or that have yet to be re-approached) fall into sort of an undesirable valley. The originals are either untouchably good (Carrie, OldBoy and the upcoming Poltergeist) or obscure enough (also OldBoy) to undercut the brand recognition that fuels the studios’ fondness for these endeavors. Which has me wondering, what’s the point of it all now?
The film industry is one giant game of “let’s not get fired.” Risk isn’t encouraged. Ambitious decisions that end in failure are obviously punished, but so are ambitious decisions that end in success. There are more than a few execs that lost their jobs somewhere between saying “yes” to a project and that project becoming an unexpected success. The business has always been like this but increasing vertical integration and a crumbling home video market have exacerbated it. That’s one of the reasons remakes are so prevalent, the fact that there’s a brand being exploited exists as a shield. It seems like the right thing to do. Even when things don’t work out there’s less finger pointing because it was the “right call at the time.”*
But is that still the case? Evil Dead aside I can’t think of a recent studio horror remake that’s been an unmitigated success. At this point most of them seem to lose money theatrically with little hope of recouping later on given the dwindling nature of physical media and the modest royalty rates of streaming platforms. Artistically many of them are completely bankrupt, teetering between safe decisions in the name of brand maintenance and milquetoast updating for modern audiences, so there’s no real incentive for anyone to “discover” them after that opening weekend window has passed.
I’m sure we’re all lucky that I don’t actually run a studio. There are many aspects of the business that I’m sure I’m completely ignorant of (evidence of this may be apparent in this very article). But if I did run a studio I would think twice before seeking these kinds of properties out right about now. I’m not sure they make the safe shields they used to, and we may just be at the end of an era. Which, all things considered, may not be such a bad thing.
*If you’ve ever played Blackjack you know how truly annoying this phrase is.