It can be easy to hate on the current state of Hollywood and the endless stream of remakes, reboots, and seemingly unnecessary sequels. But there’s also room for redemption in Hollywood’s fascination with nostalgia and its penchant for remakes. Here are just a few of the pros and cons.
Anyone who complains that Hollywood is running out of ideas forgets that the theatrical landscape has always been flooded with a series of remakes. Even Shakespeare, often regarded as the singular genius of Western civilization, wrote plays that were far from original. The ever-famous Romeo and Juliet, for example, was a remake of Arthur Brooke’s 1562 poem “The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet.” We’ve since seen many interesting adaptations of this story, including Baz Lhurman’s 1996 film.
If you need any more convincing, James Gunn, writer and director of Guardians of the Galaxy, has written a similar defense of Hollywood remakes, with many more notable examples.
Still, there are more fundamental, philosophical concerns when considering Hollywood remakes. For one, remakes are a healthy reminder that all art should be a process rather than a product. And art doesn’t always need to be successful—it simply exists for its own sake, and that’s fine.
At the same time, of course, many would argue that Hollywood remakes are exactly the opposite, favoring the product (and its revenue) over the process. Hollywood is an industry, after all, and remakes are often seen as an easy cash cow. Pro or con? That probably depends on which side of the screen you’re on. We’ll leave the verdict up to you.
Beyond these factors, nostalgia plays an important role in how we view Hollywood remakes. With nostalgia, we idealize the past, feeling that nothing can ever be as good as it once was. Sometimes we have a predisposition to think that a sequel or remake can never quite live up to the original.
But idealizing the past can also be dangerous. Thinking only about the positive, we forget that every age has its struggles. Writing for BuzzFeed, Alison Willmore argues that movies such as La La Land reveal the privilege of Hollywood nostalgia: it “isn’t just about being in love with the past—it’s about who gets to see themselves in it.” Superhero movies also illustrate this problem. With all the remakes of Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, there’s been little room for female heroes and actors of color—until recently.
These problems of privilege and diversity are at the heart of many Hollywood films and their remakes. By telling the same stories over and over again, remakes can suppress the diversity of new stories while keeping bloated franchise dynasties alive well after their prime. At the same time, however, remakes offer a chance to bring in more diverse writers and actors while giving them an established platform to grow.
Looking at the latest releases on Rotten Tomatoes, there seems to be little originality (and even less hope) for Hollywood summer blockbusters. There’s Transformers: The Last Knight and The Mummy (both at 16%), the latest Pirates of the Caribbean (29%), and even Pixar’s Cars 3 (which is a new low at 55%). With the remake of the 1990 Flatliners coming out in several months, along with the remake of Stephen King’s IT, what can we expect?
It’s not all bad, of course, and we have plenty of great remakes, reboots, and sequels to balance out the mediocre. After their inconsistent prequels, the latest Star Wars films hold plenty of promise. The Force Awakens was particularly successful, both as a sequel and somewhat of a reboot (considering its plot is nearly identical to A New Hope)—and we’re definitely looking forward to The Last Jedi. In the meantime, we can enjoy Showtime’s revival of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, which has shown us how the best sequels often combine the best elements of their predecessors and pushes them to new (strange and beautiful) heights.
All of these factors aside, it’s safe to say that audiences often want remakes. Who wouldn’t want to see their favorite old film with some of their new favorite actors, the latest special effects, a director with greater creative control, or simply a bigger budget? While some may fail, the best remakes help us to figure out what makes a great film great—or simply what we, as a society, want to see when we go to the movies.
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