With cinema-goers being treated to at least 40 sequels and remakes this year, it is evident that money talks louder than creativity. But a continuation of a pre-existing timeline is likely more insidious than an attempt to restart it.
The late critic Roger Ebert noted “no movie executive has ever been fired for green-lighting a sequel,” as the average sequel rakes in eight times the box office earnings of an original.
Such good odds of financial success make them safe bets, but ‘safe’ sequels are essentially repeats—they rely on similar plots and similar jokes, all resulting in two hours of formulaic nostalgia. Think about Transformers or Independence Day: Resurgence if you need any proof of that.
Obviously, there are exceptions, the Star Wars of the world, but they’re rarely sequels: they’re sagas, where a story has been developed before the first installment even hits the screen, often adapted from already successful books or comics.
Remakes have greater creative potential, but also present a larger risk of being soul-crushingly awful. Remaking something just because it was popular is a safe way of manufacturing garbage, à la 2016’s Ben-Hur and Point Break.
There is nothing creative about merely modernising an existing story, or even just its visual effects, such a waste of time often highlighting why the original is so admired. Instead, a good remake needs to have a reason, and be taken as an opportunity to do something different with the property.
John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing worked because it focused on different elements of its short story source material to the 1951 original; the 2011 version, which at times plays like a shot-for-shot remake of Carpenter’s masterpiece, was unsurprisingly a critical and commercial flop. There is no excuse for such lazy filmmaking.
This idea applies to both types of film. If you don’t understand the appeal of the movie you are remaking, or are just a studio stooge airdropped in to fast-track a sequel, then even attempting something different loses all meaning. Real success comes from the passion behind a project, resulting in something that both resonates with and excites fans.
It won’t work out every time; the commendable attempt at an all-female Ghostbusters remake suffered more from terrible writing than from being a careless cash-grab. But such misfires are a world away from the terrors of Zoolander 2 and Ice Age 5 which seemingly exist only to prove the existence of the creative vacuum currently enveloping Hollywood.