Leave it to Hollywood to monetize the concept of history repeating itself. Film remakes and reboots are here to stay, whether you like it or not. They are profitable, and studios will continue to make them until they no longer make money. To dismiss remakes as formulaic money-grabs that have no place in the worldwide filmography is naive, however, as there is a great deal of creativity that can be gleaned from recreating another’s work.
The language of the remake is often misleading and confusing, which can work against the audience if employed the wrong way. The lines are beginning to blur: What differentiates a remake from a reboot? What does Spike Lee mean by “reinterpretation” in the 2013 version of Oldboy (2013)? What the heck is a ‘soft reboot?’ Often, a reuse of the original title or adding an errant “the” indicates a reboot or a soft reboot, as is the case with The Batman (2021), The Predator (2018), and Ghostbusters (2016), but this is confused by Star Trek (2009) and Halloween (2017), films that could more accurately be called pseudo-sequels. To make matters worse, remakes often use the same naming convention: Robocop (2014), Hellboy (2019), and The Mummy (2017) all have little to do with the plot and characters of their predecessors, yet share the same title. The audience has to do their own research to figure out the connection, or lack thereof, thus putting the onus on the audience to find out whether they should even be interested at all.
What damns the upsetting majority of remakes is their glaring creative bankruptcy. Spike Lee’s Oldboy is a reinterpretation in the same way Zack Snyder’s Watchmen (2006) is an adaptation: They never show an understanding of their source material. Disney’s live action remakes of their own films are perhaps the most egregious examples, banking exclusively on nostalgia rather than any semblance of creative validity. Critics are finally waking up to this with the lukewarm reception to The Lion King (2019) and Aladdin (2019), but those movies each made over a billion dollars, so rest assured, Disney likely will not stop.
The reboot, as opposed to a remake, is a concept that allows for more creative endeavours. Yet, there are far too many examples of lazy rehashings, rather than innovations: Tomb Raider (2018) is both a reboot of a film series and a remake of a video game, and it botches both in gloriously tedious fashion.
As much as many would love to hate the entire idea of the remakes and reboots, some films provide a convincing argument that there is a specific place for them in the landscape of modern cinema. Luca Guadanigno’s Suspiria (2018) takes the basic concept of the 1977 Dario Argento arthouse horror film of the same name and weaves an entirely new and beautifully disturbed vision, Guadanigno making his own mark on the property without ever leaning on his inspiration for anything more than an initial spark. A remake requires that the filmmaker both entirely understands their source material and knows that they too are crucial to the process; a remake should become as much a creation of the new filmmaker as it is an homage to the old. There are a scant few modern examples of the ideal remake, and yet movie fans hold out hope that more films like Suspiria or The Departed (2006) (Scorsese’s remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs) can impress. Even some not-so-great films can still fit the criteria: The Invisible Man (2020) puts an interesting spin on a classic tale that clearly shows a new, modern vision on the part of the filmmaker, but it fails to be a particularly thrilling thriller. It is certainly a step in the right direction, at the very least.
The integrity of the remake is hanging by a thread, but it is not condemned yet. As long as they churn out a profit, remakes will be made, and thus these should be viewed as an opportunity, rather than a sign of the end times. People will see remakes no matter what, so why not make them watchable?