Whether we like it or not, we are living in the age of the remake. What once was old is now new as movies, television, and music reboot, reimagine, and redo things from the not-too-distant past.
At the movies, the 80’s and 90’s are coming back to the silver screen. The Poltergeist remake and the Mad Max and Jurassic Park reboots are currently in theaters and the nostalgia train will keep on chugging with a new entry in the Vacation and Terminator franchises.
A remake of a beloved film can certainly surprise, but for the most part they’re futile attempts to get butts in theater seats. While there are obvious films that should never be remade-Jaws, The Godfather, Back to the Future, Psycho (oh, wait…) – here are five that also should have “hands off” written all over them (a few are, sadly, in actual development).
LETHAL WEAPON (1987)
The Lethal Weapon brand is low-hanging fruit – the buddy cop action comedy is still as popular as ever (as last year’s Ride Along and The Heat proved). You can’t remake perfection, and the combination of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, as the suicidal Sgt. Martin Riggs and strait-laced family man Sgt. Roger Murtaugh, respectively, was lightning in a bottle. The chemistry between these two has been unmatched, and it’s a guarantee that whoever steps in their shoes would pale in comparison.
Another plus with the series (especially the first sequel) was its emphasis on stunt-heavy action and practical effects, the type of filmmaking that hardly exists anymore (Mad Max: Fury Road has become the exception to the rule). You can always make a buddy-cop action film; just don’t call it Lethal Weapon.
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951)
Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel (with a script co-written by crime novelist Raymond Chandler) is my all-time favorite of his films. After the success of last year’s Gone Girl, David Fincher and Ben Affleck announced they would re-team to bring the remake to the screen. While this is tempting (Fincher is, in my opinion, the modern heir apparent to the Master of Suspense), so much would get lost in a modern retelling. Train is pure, concentrated Hitchcock and proved just how deft he was in combining suspense with pitch black comedy. The dangerous dance between tennis pro Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and Robert Walker’s twisted momma’s boy Bruno (a villain for the ages and a nice precursor to Psycho‘s Norman Bates) is brilliantly handled by Hitchcock. The film is as perfect as they get and even got its own parody with Danny DeVito’s Throw Momma from the Train. What more is there to say?
Correct, Brian De Palma’s cult classic was in fact a remake of Howard Hawks’ gangster film of the same name (loosely based on Al Capone). But it was De Palma’s film, with its profane and violent Oliver Stone script and iconic Al Pacino performance as Tony Montana, which became part of pop culture history – thus making any plans for a remake a fool’s errand, pure and simple. Yet one has been in the works for what seems like an eternity, with the latest iteration taking place in Los Angeles instead of Florida. Like Hawks’ film before it, De Palma’s version was widely criticized for its over-the-top violence (who could forget the infamous chainsaw scene?), drug use, and language. At a time where we’ve literally seen it all in film and television, a new version would seem downright quaint in comparison.
In an age where a woman’s role in society and debates over pay equality are being reassessed, it would be quite tempting to remake Sydney Pollack’s comedy masterpiece about an out-of-work actor who fabricates a new identity as a woman in order to land a job. Dustin Hoffman is perfect as Dorothy Michaels née Michael Dorsey, while Larry Gelbart’s script beautifully balances the humor and social drama that comes with Dorsey’s decision. The film was already a tricky high-wire act when released early in the “Me” Decade, with subject matter that would have been seen as revolutionary to say the least. With audiences getting more and more sophisticated by the minute, it might be a tad more difficult to accept Dorsey’s predicament minus the snickers. Besides, Tootsie is great the way it is, and for a generation that knows Hoffman only from Meet the Fockers, experiencing him in Tootsie would be quite the revelation.
BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)
What is with remaking every single John Carpenter film? One was pretty good (Assault on Precinct 13), while the rest (The Fog, Halloween, The Thing) were utterly forgettable.
Recently, it was announced that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would headline a new version of this cult hit. A part of me died as I was reminded of what ol’ Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) used to say: “What the hell?” Why would anyone want to remake Big Trouble in Little China? In a strange way, the film was of its time as well as slightly ahead. A glorious mix of action, comedy, and fantasy, Carpenter’s film mixed elements of the Western (his favorite genre) with touches of Eastern mysticism. Russell is unforgettable as trucker Burton, a sort of blue collar Indiana Jones who gets sucked into a kidnapping ploy involving legendary sorcerer Lo Pan (James Hong).
Like most of Carpenter’s film, China was a big bust when released in the summer of ’86. It’s as nutty and entertaining as it was back then, and it’s highly unlikely a modern remake would replicate its uniqueness. The only cold comfort I get from the news is that another Carpenter fave, Escape from New York, has been languishing in development hell for ages. One hopes China joins it.