What makes a good remake?

Serena Millen schools the industry on its latest audience-drawing obsession.


In recent years, there has been a trend in the film industry towards remakes. These have sometimes taken the shape of updating the casts and stories, particularly by swapping originally all-male main casts with female casts, such as in the fairly recent Ocean’s Eight, and the all-female remake of Ghostbusters. Disney in particular is currently churning out a slew of live-action remakes of classic animated films, from Mulan to The Little Mermaid. Most recently Disney’s The Lion King hit cinemas and was met with mediocre reviews, many criticising the fact that the film had nothing new or innovative to offer on the original 1994 film. From complete overhauls to animation updates, then, what is it that an audience actually want from a remake?

Remakes are not worth making unless the original franchise was successful, popular, and remains so with audiences, and thus remakes, by nature, are not judged solely as individual films, but by comparisons with their predecessors.  This introduces a problem for filmmakers as there is already a bar set for audience expectations. Studios must decide how closely they stick to the original film, and what elements must remain and which need updating, without upsetting audiences. This has, perhaps, been why many recent remakes have not received unanimous rave reviews; there will always be purists who do not like the changes, and there will also be those who welcome a change, something that is very much based on personal preference. Particularly with remakes which are made many decades after the original, there is also the issue of appealing to a new audience who may be less familiar with the originals, as well as appeasing older fans.

Judging by recent reviews, however, it does seem like audiences are keen for updates to their favourite films. The Lion King showed that simply reworking animation, no matter how impressive the new artwork is, is not enough to satisfy viewers. All-female cast films can also seem like studios are trying to bait audiences with diversity, when perhaps they should be focussing on offering new, fresh films to female leads. Indeed, all-female remake films often rely on their links to their previous films for popularity, with the result that the quality of the new release can suffer.

The new Men in Black: International was also met with a mediocre response, as the film attempted to update the cast, again by including more central female roles, but it fell short of audience expectations for a Men in Black film. Audiences are, generally, supportive of updates to films which bring them more in line with contemporary cultural values. However, this isn’t best shown by simply switching a cast. The success of films such as Black Panther show that increasing diversity in new films is just as, if not more, effective.

There is still a loyal following for remakes, comprised of original fans and those supportive of cast or style adjustments. However, it might be time for studios to stop sitting on their laurels and instead provide audiences with new and original releases which address issues such as diversity in their own right without relying on the popularity of older film franchises.