Hollywood seems to be on a bit of a roll with remakes these days, as if they suddenly think that they can simply redo all of their most popular old movies and rake in the cash with minimal effort. Well, it’s hard to blame them when there have been a handful of popular remakes lately that did do well at the box office.
Most remakes, however, tend to fall rather short of the mark. It’s very difficult to recreate movie magic that may have made a cult classic, especially when you take away the original cast or modernise the plot. Some remakes have failed so badly that they end up being worse than the original – even when the original is twenty years or more older.
These remakes have their own special place in a hall of fame that no one would ask to be included in. With all of the advantages of modern technology, knowledge of what made the first version a success, and in many cases an all-star cast, these films still managed to utterly fail in capturing that magic for themselves. Here are 15 times when the cast and crew would have been better off not bothering and popping the original in a DVD player instead.
15 Psycho – 1998
When Gus Van Sant set out to remake Psycho, it was difficult to see how he could screw it up. He set out to recreate this classic favourite shot by shot, simply substituting the actors and shooting in colour instead of black and white. He saw it as an experiment in trying to recapture the film perfectly. Unfortunately, the experiment failed. It has a 37% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and esteemed film critic Roger Ebert called it “pointless”. Van Sant even earned two Golden Raspberry Awards, for worst director and worst remake or sequel. One thing that this attempt demonstrated perfectly is that it does not matter how accurately you try to do a remake – it still won’t make it match up to the real thing on that virtue alone. Which is not to say that a remake can succeed on the basis of changing as much as possible, either.
14 Conan the Barbarian – 2011
This is the kind of film that really makes you scratch your head and wonder why anyone thought that this was a good idea. The original has a real cult following and is even facing a reboot with Arnold Schwarzenegger returning in his title role, so why remake it at all? Not only that, but the plot leaves a lot to be desired, without much of a storyline to speak of. This version did very badly at the box office, with most fans choosing to remain loyal to the original. Anyone else who might have been interested could not be convinced to care about the film, which was an exercise in barbaric violence and not much else. Simply put, no one wanted to see a remake. The old one was good enough. What could there possibly be to fix in a film that was seen as a perfect example of the genre?
13 Swept Away – 2002
There are films that are bad, and then there are films that are so bad they actually ruin the lives of those involved with them. The original was an Italian film from 1974 with a comedy-drama angle about a wealthy woman and the man who sailed her around getting marooned on an island together. It’s seen as a classic despite some controversies – controversies which should perhaps have been considered when deciding whether or not to do a remake. It received 5 Razzies (Worst Picture, Worst Actress, Worst Screen Couple, Worst Director, and Worst Remake or Sequel) and has just a 5% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not only that, but it is thought that it led to director Guy Ritchie and star Madonna getting divorced, and Ritchie’s career has been reeling ever since. All in all, it’s hard to see how they could have failed more spectacularly, especially since barely anyone has even seen the film.
12 The Wicker Man – 2006
I know we all love to joke about Nicolas Cage, but this film truly is an abomination. The 1973 cult classic is seen as one of the best horror movies of all time. The 2006 version is a meme. We could almost leave it at that, but let’s add some more context: it’s the unintended hilarity of the movie that made it a real laughing stock. The bizarre moments throughout the film, in which Cage chews the scenery like a true champion and freaks out in ridiculous ways, have made it infamous for all of the wrong reasons. Watch it as a comedy and it’s not half bad. Take it seriously and you might start to feel like you never want to watch another movie again. It has a 15% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and that’s even with the fact that some people will be rating it more highly thanks to the humour factor.
11 Rollerball – 2002
The 1975 version of this film was a dystopian classic depicting a gruesomely violent sport, with James Caan in the lead role. This talented character actor was replaced in the remake with… American Pie’s Chris Klein. This wasn’t the only area where the remake missed the mark. It has just a 3% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and actually was the 28th worst reviewed film of the 2000s on the site. Ten years of films makes for a lot of candidates, and it’s not exactly an honour to appear so high in the list. The production budget of $70 million turned out to be poorly invested, as the box office earnings were a mere $26 million. It’s not hard to argue that this is one remake that should never have been attempted at all. Some films just aren’t remake material, and even when they are, you have to get it right.
10 A Nightmare on Elm Street – 2010
While there are plenty of issues with remaking any film, a horror film tends to be even more problematic. Once we know all about the main “big bad," the suspense tends to be lost a little. 1984’s version saw the launch of a horror franchise that would go on to be one of the best grossing of all time, but the remake fell short in many ways. It fell short of projected earnings despite a good opening weekend, as early reviews revealed that there was not as much depth to this remake. It seems that the focus was on making sure that it all matched up visually, and not on inserting the same subversive twists that viewers loved about the original. With so much water under the bridge in the horror genre between the two movies, perhaps they simply ran out of interesting new ideas. But with so many sequels anyway, this is one franchise that didn’t need a remake.
9 Stepford Wives – 2004
The 1975 version was a moderate hit, but when Frank Oz took the helm to direct a remake, this release was more of a misfire. The cast included Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, and Glenn Close, but still failed to capture audience attentions, perhaps because it forgot about the original’s sci-fi horror themes and turned it into a campy comedy. Unfortunately, it just didn’t work, and it wasn’t even an original idea. There were signs during production that all was not well: the actors and director could not get along, leading it to fall way over budget and take in far fewer profits than expected. It does have a 31% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but it failed completely to capture the spirit that made the first movie such a favourite. Not only did it not work, but there was no way this ill-conceived rehash ever could have worked, and someone should have spotted that a lot earlier.
8 Fame – 2009
When it was originally released, Fame was a huge hit. It perfectly captured the cinematic zeitgeist of the early 1980s, and had a soundtrack to match. But remaking this kind of film is not just a case of recording new voices and putting together a new twist on the choreography – something that no one seemed to realise while making it. The new version watered down the problems that the characters faced and filled the time with more singing and dancing, which unfortunately was not enough to distract from the plot holes and the lack of believable characters. There’s no reason to empathise with these characters when they are not fleshed out in any way, and seem more like spoilt teenagers than people upholding a worthy cause. It totally missed the mark, and that fact is made even more obvious by the fact that the original still stands up to scrutiny today.
7 Clash of the Titans – 2010
When Sam Worthington stepped into the main role for the remade Clash of the Titans, he reportedly demanded a lot of changes that took it further and further from the original version. Giving in to the demands of an actor isn’t usually a sign of good things to come, and indeed the script ended up very lacking in any kind of substance. It didn’t manage to score any Razzies despite some nominations, but the main criticism cinema-goers had was the addition of 3D effects. These were rather lazily and poorly added on in post-production to try to get in on the trend, and actually added very little to the experience, leaving audiences disappointed. The box office results were nonetheless good enough to convince studios to release a sequel, which was even more poorly received. It seems that some people just don’t learn, although hopefully we have now seen the last of the franchise.
6 Total Recall – 2012
The problem with remaking an Arnold Schwarzenegger movies is that there is no one quite like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Colin Farrell, while he may have his own charms, is probably about as far from Arnold as you can get, so his casting was a curious choice. This classic sci-fi was released in 1990, so only 22 years had passed between the original and the remake – nowhere near enough time for people to have forgotten about it or stopped watching it. They tried to put a new spin on the plot, but unfortunately this simplified things far too much and took away some of the intricacy that was the appeal of the original – and also made the characters a little less human and fleshed out. It went on to do poorly at the box office and only just turned a profit when international sales were taken into account, with negative reactions from critics and audiences.
5 The Wolfman – 2010
While the first film by this name came out in the 1920s, the really great film to claim it was from the 1940s. It seemed reasonable, then, that 2010 was around the right time for a remake. Unfortunately, some poor choices were made; despite casting Anthony Hopkins, Benicio del Toro, and Emily Blunt, there was a lack of good acting on show throughout the whole piece. There was hardly any suspense, as it became more of a cheesy romance than a horror movie, and had a few anticlimactic moments that served only to underpin the film with a sense of unintended humour. Dry and predictable, it was not the kind of classic horror movie people expected to see. Even when it seemed that all of the right elements were there, this one landed very far off the mark. You could even question whether the director realised it was supposed to be a horror movie at all.
4 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – 2005
There’s one thing you have to understand about this film, which saw Johnny Depp taking on a very creepy persona as Willy Wonka. It really doesn’t matter how good it was, or how well he created the character. Whether you like his take on Wonka or not, it’s all irrelevant. And why? Because Gene Wilder had already nailed the role in 1971, to the point that it could never be topped. All the CGI and modern technique in the world couldn’t make up for the magic and charm that the original film boasted. It is also worth noting that when people praise the 2005 version, they often talk about the sets, the costumes, and the effects – but all of that is incidental compared with the way the surreal world of the first film blended with realism to make it seem just normal enough to really happen – but crazy if it did.
3 Annie – 2014
Here’s another case of a musical being given a modern twist – that was absolutely and totally uncalled for. In a clear attempt to be “cool” and “street," the studio opted to forgo the normal backstory of the Broadway musical and turned Annie into a girl from the Bronx, even changing her race – and her iconic hair colour, which has always been red. The plot was clunky as a result of the changes, and there was a clear prioritisation of star power over suitability for roles. The mess that was the final product boasted far too much auto-tune and nonsense, and had lost the charm and realism that once touched viewers’ hearts in the 1982 version. More to the point, people weren’t interested, and it has quickly become one of those legendarily bad movies that very few people have actually seen. You probably didn’t even remember it happened until reading this article.
2 Footloose – 2011
Once again, a film about teens who end up dancing for their freedom, fighting against the oppression of adults who don’t want them to have fun. And once again, an 80s classic, this time with Kevin Bacon in the starring role. And, once again, a film brought into the 21st century with a remake as bland and powerless as anything you could ever watch. MTV was behind this remake, which tore the original’s point and storyline to shreds in favour of sub-par acting and a cast that could not force you to empathise with them no matter how hard they tried. When is Hollywood going to realise that musicals just aren’t a good choice for remakes? You can’t go back and recapture something that was so iconic in being part and parcel of the era it originated in. The 80s are gone, and we can’t bring that magic back by recasting and modernising the story.
1 Ghostbusters – 2016
So, what have we learned from the entries above? There’s no point in making a remake if you change too many things for the sake of trying to make it cool and modern, if it stars an iconic actor who won’t be in the remake, if it was very much a product of its era, and if it has something of a cult following. Check, check, check, and check for Ghostbusters. The remake may have only recently been released, but even before the first trailer was out, audiences were already up in arms about the gender-bend casting and the attempts to make it fly better with a modern setting. It has a fair score on Rotten Tomatoes, but that’s not the point. The point is that the original was already perfect – so why bother? It’s simply a shame that the sequel we all wanted, with the original cast, never managed to come to fruition.