"I'm never critical or judgmental about whether or not a movie is any good. The way I look at it, if several hundred people got together every day for a year or so -- a number of them willing to put on heavy makeup, wear clothes that weren't their own and pretend to be people other than themselves - and their whole purpose for doing all this was to entertain me, then I'm not gonna start worrying about whether or not they did a good job. The effort alone was enough to make me happy."
- George Carlin, a piece called "Roll 'Em", taken from "When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops", p106
The movie industry has been putting out a large number of remakes over the last several years. Wikipedia even had to split their list into two pages. And just for the sake of clarity here, let me offer a formal definition of a "remake". A movie remake is when you take an older movie and, using essentially the same storyline, characters, title, etc., you film a whole new version of it. For example, there was The Nutty Professor with Jerry Lewis (1963), and the remake with Eddie Murphy (1996).
Now here's the thing: I'm not here to complain about the remakes. There are thousands of other blogs you could read for that. Instead, I'd like to address some of the amusing complaints people make about remakes. Because I don't seem to share other people's full-fledged hatred of them.
So why do remakes happen in the first place? Is it because Hollywood is out of ideas? Actually, they've been largely out of ideas for many years. There's the saying that there are only "12 different scripts" in Hollywood, or something like that. This means that the far majority of movies follow the same sort of archetypes and plot. So when a remake has been made, I have to give the makers credit for at least being HONEST about who they're stealing from. For every remake, there are dozens of films whose stories and plot lines show up in movies that had already been done before. This was made all the more clear to me when I used to watch HBO late at night back in the late 80s and early 90s, and came to know that either martial arts-based action movie or a movie about a lonestar cop was invariably going to be on.
But no, the lack of ideas is not the main reason behind remakes. The main drive to make remakes is the same thing that drives any other business: money. Many people will go out to see a remake because they're familiar with the original and like it. Let's say you want to shoot a horror movie that bears some strange similarities to Nightmare on Elm St. You could release it as a new horror movie with a new title, and watch it go direct-to-video. Or you could simply change the remaining differences so that it intentially becomes a lot like Nightmare on Elm St., thus letting you call it remake, and thus rake in the people who will see a movie with Freddy Kruger on the screen.
The same goes for sequels, by the way. I've seen people whine "Why are they coming out with Saw VI? That's stupid." And I tell them, "Because they have first-hand proof that people will still buy tickets to a movie with "Saw" in the title. So they'll keep making the movies. They're smart; you're stupid." Prequels are built on the same principle.
Another reason for remakes is, as they say, "to bring a classic movie to a new audience". Unfortunately, this often means dumbing it down. As Roger Ebert has been pointing out for years, the movie industry largely caters to its biggest customer demographic: teenage males. (By the way, if you are a young male teenager reading this, please note that this is no offense to you specifically. But I'm sure you can think of many other boys your age who are dumb as bricks.) Most people these days are also conditioned to viewing movies in the way that movies and TV appear today. They feel strange watching old movies that are in black & white, have very long camera shots, have dialogue that matches the time period, use make-up and effects that look crude by 21st century standards, and so on. These people aren't going to rent an old Bela Lugosi classic. But they will see a remake that has quick camera cuts and CGI.
Are remakes always necessarily worse than the original? Not always. I don't know anybody who prefers the short and silent 1910 Wizard of Oz to the 1939 version with Judy Garland, or the 1932 Scarface to the 1983 version. That's largely because in extreme cases like this, people have seen the remake first, and are probably unaware that it was even a remake. This brings me to another thing I've noticed: the personal hatred many people express of a particular remake over the original is often the result of a subjective illusion of psychological expectation. If you love a particular film and practically grew up on it, then you develop a strong bond to it. When you go see a remake, you expect it to be like the original, and move you in the same way. Inevitably though, the remake isn't exactly like the original (which is the whole point of doing a remake in the first place: to do it differently). And since it's brand new, it's not going to feel like something you grew to love. So invariably, you won't like it. It's sort of like covers of favorite songs: if you like a particular song because it takes you back to your senior prom or some other event in your life, and you know the song note for note, then any remake of the song is going to sound "wrong" to you.
On top of that, many people harbor this delusion that they somehow own their favorite film. Continuing on the music analogy, it's like how people become a fan of a band, then grow to resent the same band if they become popular ("How dare those new-comer people listen to MY beloved band!"), or if the musicians decide they want to change their style on the next album ("How dare they want to write something different! They should be writing more of the same thing, for ME!"). Similarly, some people think that their film is "their" own film, to the point where they become enraged just hearing the news about a remake in the works.
Finally, we get to the complaint of a remake "destroying" the original. This is ludicrous. If you don't like the remake, guess what? YOU CAN STILL WATCH THE ORIGINAL! It's not like the original disappears off the face of the earth.
So in summary:
1. Remakes come out because people keep buying tickets for them. As long as remakes keep selling, they're not going to go away.
2. They're not your movies in the first place. You don't get to dictate what happens to them.
3. Remakes aren't going to be exactly like the original. That's kind of the point in doing a remake.
4. It's not like software, where the new version replaces the old one and you can't find the old one anymore. If you're not interested in a remake, then shut up and watch your DVD of the original.
[This rant was updated 5/28/13 with some additional details]