Remakes are big right now, especially in the horror genre. And why not? Remakes are great- you don’t have to keep continuity straight, or entice back old actors: you can just start fresh, and maybe try something new. A remake guarantees an audience who’s already emotionally invested in the story, and thus going to spend money on it. So, let’s take a look at some of the successes, the ones that beat the original box office, got sequels or expanded on the original in ways that worked, and the ones that didn’t do any of those.
Success: Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007)
One of the classics of the slasher genre, John Carpenter‘s Michael Myers and his creepy Halloween mask sliced his way into public consciousness in 1978, and has since made a worldwide total gross of $60 million, off a budget of only $300,000. In terms of franchise success, Michael’s only been beaten by Freddy, Jason and Hannibal Lecter. So in 2007, possibly inspired by the financial successes of the remakes of The Omen, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a remake of the franchise that scrapped the seven sequels and tie-in projects in favour of a fresh start was released to the public: Rob Zombie’s Halloween. The choice of Rob Zombie for director was inspired: he’d wowed horror fans with The Devil’s Rejects two years prior, and brought a wonderfully visceral version of the story to screen, tying the characters to their pasts and imbuing the whole thing with a strange sense of mysticism. And Zombie’s passion for the genre paid off: it’s opening weekend brought in over thirty million dollars, doubling its estimated budget of $15,000,000, and by the year’s end had grossed $58,267,261. And, in true proof of slasher-movie success, Zombie made a sequel in 2009.
Failure: Friday the 13th (2009)
The combination of hockey mask, machete and strong opinions on Camp Crystal Lake’s counselors has made Jason into one of horror’s highest earners, with the original franchise worth $687.1 million dollars. The original movie, released in 1980, earned over five million dollars on its opening weekend, making more than ten times its reported $550,000 budget. The first movie went on to earn a gross of $39,754,601, and spawned nine sequels (not counting the brilliant Freddy vs. Jason), two comic book series (one of which pitched him against The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface) as well as two documentaries. So it’s no wonder they wanted to remake it, and taste that success once more. 2009’s remake, starring Supernatural’s Jared Padalecki, was decent, but formulaic. A successful opening weekend of forty million (a little over double a budget of around nineteen million) lacked the final act twists of the original, and despite a total domestic gross of $65,002,019, Jason seems to have been finally laid to rest.
Draw: Amityville Horror (2005)
When it comes to haunted houses, that big old colonial in Amityville, Long Island reigns supreme. The 1979 version of The Amityville Horror grossed eighty-six million dollars, and seven sequels. Not to mention it helped cement some of the more popular haunted house tropes out there, like improbable insect infestations. The 2005 remake, starring Ryan Reynolds as paterfamilias George Lutz, has done well, making $23,507,007 on its opening weekend (earning back the estimated nineteen million dollar budget right off the bat), grossing a total of $64,233,369 as of May 2005. The remake used a much darker visual palette than the original, fitting it in with stylistic trends of the genre, and didn’t spend as much time cultivating the real-world horrors (debt and failing businesses) as the original, focusing more on the supernatural horrors of the story. While the remake’s not yet surpassed the original in terms of earning, another sequel, simply entitled Amityville is planned for release in early 2015, according comingsoon.net, so the remake’s kept interest in the story, one of the most famous ‘true hauntings’ in the world, alive.
Success: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has been lauded as one of the films that started it all (‘all’, in this case, being the slasher subgenre of horror). Leatherface doesn’t have the same easily identifiable visual iconography of Jason’s mask or Freddy’s glove, but the chain saw and the dilapidated house in the middle of nowhere have left their mark on pop culture. The 1978 slasher picked up fourteen million in video rentals along, and had a total domestic gross of$30,859,000, and four sequels, all from a reportedly modest $83,000 budget. So in 2003, they tried to catch another bottle of that particular lightning. And judging by the $80,571,655 domestic gross, not to mention the two sequels (well, one sequel and a prequel), they succeeded.
Failure: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
Unlike others on this list, the original Nightmare on Elm Street movie had a slower start, failing to make back its estimated $1,800,000 budget on its first weekend. But word of mouth works wonders, and Freddy Krueger climbed to the higher echelons of horror movie villains. The first movie’s total domestic gross was $25,504,513, and from the horrors of Elm Street’s charming, pastel-toned came six sequels, a crossover with Friday the 13th, a TV series, tie-in comics, and video games. 2010’s remake saw Robert Englund passing the iconic glove to Jackie Earle Haley, and it performed well enough at the box office, making almost thirty-three million on opening weekend and gathering a total domestic gross of $63,075,011, and the Freddy Krueger that appeared in 2011’s Mortal Kombat video game was clearly derived, image wise, from the one Haley had portrayed. But while it was technically skilled and ripe with excellent special effects, it weakened iconic final girl Nancy, and failed to scare the viewers in a lasting manner, so there are no plans for a sequel.
Success: The Ring (2002)
A definite sign of remake success is when the remake can reach a new audience. If a remake can wake a new audience up to an entire new avenue of cinema, than it’s a runaway success. So The Ring the American version of Japan’s Ringu, not only terrified a new range of people, but also helped kick-off an interest in the American market for Japanese horror movies. The Japanese movies were a wild success, to the point of having two streams of sequels, one where Ringu was followed by Rasen, Sadako 3D and Sadako 3D 2, and the other followed by Ring 2 and the prequel Ring 0. The American version hasn’t quite enjoyed that degree of success, but has a total domestic gross of $129,128,133, and has both a sequel, 2005’s The Ring Two, and a short film, Rings, which acted as a bridge between the first and second movies.
Success: Black Christmas (2006)
A Canadian cult classic, 1974’s Black Christmas was based either on urban legends or a series of murders in Quebec, depending on who you ask, and was also released under the name Silent Night, Evil Night. It’s considered a classic of the genre, and earned over four million dollars off a budget of $686,000 Canadian, so it’s no surprise that there was attempt to remake it. 2006’s remake was a success, netting over three million on its opening weekend and pulling in a domestic gross of $16,273,581.
Failure: The Omen (2006)
Sometimes a remake is doomed to fail, not because of any inherent flaws in itself, but because the material its adapting is unassailably iconic. The 2006 version of The Omen, was caught in this trap, its skilled cast, gimmick release date (June 6th, 2006, or 6/6/6) and a budget of around $25,000,000 were simply unable to compete with Gregory Peck’s dawning horror about his son. So while it couldn’t beat the original’s gross (making $54,607,383 in comparison to 1976’s $60,922,980), it was a decent film, just hopelessly overshadowed.
Success: My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009)
Another Canadian hit, 1981’s My Bloody Valentine told the story of a little mining town finally recovering from a tragedy at the local mine and holding a Valentine’s Day dance. The film earned a domestic gross of $5,672,031 million, which was respectable enough for a movie in the eighties. The remake kept reasonably faithful to the story, and embraced with open arms the latest 3D technology. The results were impressively gory, and alongside grossed out audiences, it grossed $51,545,952 domestically, making it a success.
Failure: The Wicker Man (2006)
A quick tip: don’t mention the 2006 version of The Wicker Man to horror fans. It’s a beehive you don’t want to disturb. Cinefantastique called the 1973 The Wicker Man ‘the Citizen Kane of horror’, a title it truly deserved, for the masterful way it drew the viewer in and built tension with its chilling exploration of culture clash. The remake threw out the careful mythology and the sense of idyllic community that the original had fostered, much to its detriment. The film was a flop, with a domestic gross of twenty-three million, which would be nothing to sniff at, except the budget was reportedly around $40 million. On the other hand, it did give the internet a meme of Nicolas Cage shouting about bees, so even the darkest cloud has a slight glimmer of light.