This Friday will see the release of a horror film called “Flatliners,” a movie title that should be instantly familiar to anyone who spent the ’90s trawling the shelves of their local video store in search of something — anything — to watch that weekend. Perhaps best remembered as the crusty VHS that was always sandwiched between “The Fisher King” and “Fried Green Tomatoes,” the original “Flatliners” was an asinine but atmospheric psychological horror thing that starred Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, and Billy Baldwin as foolhardy med students who start experimenting with life after death. Nothing goes wrong and they all live happily ever after.
Now, perhaps motivated by the fact that the mere act of making a movie in 2017 feels like an experiment with life after death, Hollywood is about to unleash a remake starring Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, and Kiersey Clemons. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, this new “Flatliners” is something of a chimera between a remake and a sequel. On one hand, it seems like a straightforward millennial update that’s poised to tell the exact same story as Schumacher’s film, only this time the kids try to post Instagrams from the great beyond or something (the new tagline: “Cross the line. Death will follow you back”). On the other hand, Kiefer Sutherland is reprising his role, and so there will presumably be a few scattered allusions to the events of the original.
Whichever way you slice it, the fact remains that Sony Pictures is trying to resurrect a modest hit from 27 years ago. And you can’t really blame them for going back to the well; few living writers have the genius required to think up a new horror premise that combines a sexy cast and lots of very loud noises. Of course, what’s really motivating the “Flatliners” requel is the cynical idea that modern moviegoers are total cowards — that they refuse to live a little, let alone come back from the dead — and that something can’t open on 1,000 screens if it doesn’t have at least a faint hint of brand recognition. It doesn’t get much fainter than this.
Recycling old intellectual property is hardly a new phenomenon — it’s pretty much just business as usual, these days — but “Flatliners” feels desperate on a whole new level. There’s “the bottom of the barrel,” and then there’s like… the cracks between the bottom of the barrel, those black slits filled with mushy bits of rotten wood. And that’s where this movie comes from. That doesn’t mean it can’t be great (and maybe it will be!), but it does mean that Hollywood is only growing increasingly desperate. And when you consider that ’90s nostalgia is positively correlated to present-day nihilism, it’s possible that “Flatliners” might inspire the studios to zombify even more of the mediocrities that came from Generation X. If this is truly the future that we’ve forced upon ourselves, then here are five other bad ’90s movies that Hollywood should consider remaking.
’90s nostalgia is cute and all, but there’s no denying that it can also be shortsighted and overblown, especially now that it’s become something of a cottage industry (watch MTV’s “‘90s House,’ hosted by eternal heartthrob Mario Lopez!). On the other hand, name another decade — any other decade — when a movie about Arnold Schwarzenegger getting pregnant grossed $108 million at the box office. Trick question: There aren’t any other decades; that only happened once. …So far.
However, while it’s true that Ivan Reitman’s “Junior” may have been a hit, it was also (and remains) something of a punchline. Our wallets were ready for a movie like this, but our world was not. Unlike Jacques Demy’s “A Slightly Pregnant Man” and Joan Rivers’ “Rabbit Test,” both of which hinged on a similar idea, Reitman’s opus lacked the courage to meaningfully confront the gender norms that are inherently challenged by its premise. Yes, it’s cute that the Terminator has to go to Lamaze or whatever, but there’s only so long you can laugh at jokes like that before you begin to resent the toxic masculinity that makes them funny in the first place. Of course, if you started with that resentment and worked backwards from there, things could get pretty interesting. Cast The Rock as a “pro-life” politician who’s forced to live up to his campaign promises and watch the think-pieces fly (it’s just too bad that “mother!” has already been taken as a title).
“Urban Legend” (1998)
Urban legends, by nature, are resistant to change. Exploding pop rocks, microwaved dogs, the classic “kidney heist”… these things sound too stupid to be scary, but their banality has a way of defying common sense and surviving new generations; just because they don’t happen to anybody doesn’t mean they couldn’t happen to you. And yet, the world has become a very different place over the last two decades, and the Boogeyman is a lot more tech-savvy than he used to be. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but the Jared Leto/Tara Reid/Joshua Jackson collaboration “Urban Legend” may not be as timeless as the stories that inspired it. Indeed, the film has aged so poorly that the stories themselves are starting to look a little bit worse for wear (in Trump’s America, a stolen kidney is just one less thing you have to pay for).
Fortunately for us, there’s the internet. Between catfishing, social media hacks, and fatal Tinder dates (even regular Tinder dates, to be honest), you could fuel an entire franchise of “Urban Legend 2.0” movies without even having to get creative about it. While the likes of “Pulse” and “Unfriended” have naturally conflated the digital world with supernatural terror, the online world is frightening enough as it is — why would a film like “Friend Request” choose to focus on witches when an ordinary wi-fi connection can quickly become a direct portal into hell? In an age when the words “reply all” are enough to make people cower in fear, there’s no reason why the internet shouldn’t be as scary on screen as it is in real life.
“D2: The Mighty Ducks” (1994)
Possibly the worst thing to happen to Iceland since global warming, “D2: The Mighty Ducks” is an easy movie to love, but a difficult movie to like. On one hand, its kitsch value is off the charts; on the other hand, its kitsch value is off the charts. Still, beyond the lassos and “knucklepucks” — and the sweeping national stereotypes that have always been endemic to international tournament films — the second chapter of the “Mighty Ducks” trilogy boasts a spirit of inclusiveness that could resonate with young sports fans coming of age in Trump’s America.
The Ducks are the most racially and socioeconomically diverse hockey team ever assembled; their blue line is filled with black faces, their best goalie is a girl, and their coach teaches all of his players to stick up for each other while also sticking it to the Man. Gordon Bombay may have a terrible mind for hockey (there’s a reason why the Anaheim Ducks don’t bust out the “Flying V” very often), but he has a great sense of what his country can represent to the world, and he uses that to spur his ragtag team of rookies all the way to the top. Live-action kids movies aren’t the goldmine they used to be, but a slightly aged-up riff on Disney’s greatest sports franchise could change that in a hurry.
“End of Days” (1999)
But this time it’s a documentary!
But this time it’s a documentary!
…We already used that rationale? That’s fine, there are plenty of good reasons to remake the Kevin Costner vehicle that almost sank Universal Pictures. For one thing, it’s time to see which of today’s A-list actors has the guts to drink their own pee during the first scene of a major blockbuster. For another, humanoid fish people are about to come back in a big way thanks to Guillermo del Toro and “The Shape of Water.” Most importantly, however, is the fact that “Waterworld” — once considered the most outlandish of the many post-apocalyptic epics that came out of the ’90s — is starting to feel just a little too real. While the original film left itself open for a sequel (or a requel!), and a straightforward remake could be fun, perhaps the most exciting way of exhuming this property would be to go the prequel route and tell a story about civilization’s painful transition from land to sea. We could probably use a few pointers.