Hollywood has gradually jumped on the remake bandwagon since its humble beginnings a century ago, but it has gotten far worse in recent years, particularly with the horror revolution of the past decade. Practically every foreign fear film that was a hit overseas has become fodder for American do-overs. The explosion of superhero franchises has also been prompting prequels and reboots galore. And the Eighties revival in pop culture throughout the last decade has spurred re-imaginings of many movies from that era (including, inexplicably, Arthur). It’s gotten to be too much, and it needs to stop, especially when the budgets climb too high. (Thankfully the Yellow Submarine remake was aborted. That was a horrendous idea.)
I worked in New York then Hollywood, first as a script reader and later as director of development for a small production company, at various points between 1989 and 1992. I read plenty of interesting, original scripts that came through various channels. Some of them caught the executives’ attention, many did not. Most did not get made. Hollywood has gotten increasingly lazy because they believe that people are sheep and just want what is familiar to them. In some cases that is true — and the continued success of many franchises proves this — but many people also love discovering new things. Instead of remaking an old vampire movie from the Eighties, or even earlier, why not come up with a new idea? How many horror novels are there out there that could be adapted for the screen? How many other fantasy characters could be brought to cinematic life? And how many lesser known gems are there waiting to be discovered?
Many people will think I am oversimplifying the matter and reiterating old ideas, and obviously a new release like Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes shows that the familiar dressed up in new clothes will still excite our collective imagination. But the economic realities that Hollywood is facing — a global recession, a dwindling home video market, an overabundance of movies, music and books for consumers to pick from — means that executives need to be smarter about the creative and economic choices that they make. At least the new Fright Night and the unnecessary Spy Kids 4 were made on lower budgets, so they will probably break even on video. But that money could have spent on something fresher. Case in point: the controversial drama The Help rose to #1 in it second weekend with only a 21% drop in business.
The idea of spending more to make more is an old one. It is often true, but sometimes an original idea that costs less can still rake in a bundle. A movie like The Help or (ironically) a series like the Paranormal Activity franchise is proof of that. Word of mouth is just as important as marquis advertising, and it costs a lot less. That can help scare up more box office rather than scare it away.