Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: What is the worst movie remake ever made?
“Beauty and the Beast” (2017)
It was a massive hit and got mostly good reviews from other critics, so maybe this is just a personal thing, but I’d have to choose Disney’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast” remake. They took a beautiful, meaningful story and turned it into a big, dumb, overblown, soulless, CGI-heavy bore. Actually, I hate all the Disney live-action remakes. They’re just inferior versions of movies that were virtually perfect. Disney has always been way too willing to cannibalize itself. These films take that unappealing tendency to a new low. The “Beauty and the Beast” remake is the worst of a bad lot.
Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker
If the definition of “worst remake” is clear—not the one that’s the worst in absolute terms but the one in which the dropoff in artistic merit from the original is the largest—the answer is obvious: Jim McBride’s remake of “Breathless.” The original is one of the great advances in cinematic technique, form, substance, and performance; the remake is a standard-issue melodrama of an appalling vanity and banalized eroticism, made with a technique and a style that are unoriginal and virtually anonymous. It’s all the more disheartening in the light of McBride’s extraordinary first feature, “David Holzman’s Diary,” which wears its Godard influence even more explicitly and reflects an audacious imagination, an observational ardor, and a first-person intensity that live up to the homage as do few other films of the era.
“Death Wish” (2018)
The 2018 “Death Wish” is the remake I most loathe, not just because it depicts Chicago as a wasteland of guns and violence. It’s also a tone deaf piece of garbage that actually makes the original look bolder, and even less racist. At least the 1974 version knew and acknowledged some of what it was arguing, even if it made you want to punch every one of the oblivious, privileged white jackasses who made those arguments. But 2018’s refuses to even think racism is involved or really contemplate the ugliness of what we are capable of inflicting upon each other, let alone the true consequences of what it’s advocating.
Nowhere is this more clear than in the consequences of the violence in both films, both of which have a brutal home invasion as the catalyst for Paul Kersey’s vigilantism. Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey was forced to witness how his daughter was reduced to a shell of the person she was, while Bruce Willis (spoiler ahead) gets to watch his daughter lie quietly in a coma, then wake up practically the same. Bronson never even found a lead on the crazed, cartoonish lunatics who hurt them, one of whom was a very young Jeff Goldblum chewing up the scenery in the few minutes he spent on-screen. But “Death Wish” not only gives Willis the opportunity to track down the criminals who took away the manhood it’s made clear he lacks, it gives him a second chance to protect his child when one of them returns to once again invade the sanctity of his home. His daughter is never more than a damsel in distress, all her self-defense training coming to nothing, since apparently all she needs is a strong man to man up and do his manly duty. In a hoodie. Ugh.
Given the depressing frequency of American mass shootings, the timing of the 2018 release was always going to be awkward, to say the least. But it was especially tone deaf due to the Parkland shootings taking place less than a month before, which left 17 teenagers dead, and inspired others to become passionate gun control activists. The film even references the AR-15, the same gun used in the Parkland shootings. Granted, there have been plenty of terrible retreads in our era of sequels and reboots, but rarely do they have the potential to do as much damage as “Death Wish.” What does it say about us if this one ends up spawning a new franchise?
Often, remakes are bad because they’re bland, unnecessary, soulless recreations of a familiar property to drive up ticket sales. But some actually make the world worse for existing, updating the aesthetics of their source material without responsibly updating their politics accordingly. That’s never been clearer than with Eli Roth’s nasty remake of “Death Wish,” a film so tone-deaf you’d think it was Bruce Willis’ jazz harmonica. A revamp of the 1974 Charles Bronson original (itself a slightly more haunting take on grief and urban decay than its gleefully violent sequels), Roth and co. turn Paul Kersey from a Manhattan architect to a Chicago doctor played by the increasingly-sleepy Willis, who goes on a rampage of vigilante justice after his wife is killed and his daughter attacked in a home invasion in the suburbs.
It’s tough to say how much of Joe Carnahan’s original script for the remake made it into Roth’s final film, but suffice to say “Death Wish” doesn’t go down well in an era of unprecedented rates of mass shootings and a political culture that derides Chicago as a lawless war zone. Being from Chicago, I can tell you that the city has its fair share of problems, to be sure, and gun violence is an ongoing issue. But “Death Wish” is the ultimate conservative gun nut’s fantasy — a wealthy white suburban family destroyed by vile punks (clearly coded as poor, though blissfully not black) who deserve a bullet in the face for their troubles. When right-wing shock jock Mancow serves as your film’s Greek chorus, you know you’ve got problems with your film’s moral center. Even apart from its odious politics, it’s still a shoddy film — Willis sleepwalks through the whole thing, an entire subplot with Vincent D’onofrio is swept under the rug, and Kersey’s whole plan skates by on a whole lot of recklessness — but its celebration of gun culture and Stand-Your-Ground machismo leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. In the end, it’s a Facebook meme from your right-wing aunt warning of a made-up scheme by gangs to carjack you in movie form.
2009’s remake of “Fame” was aptly described by late critic Roger Ebert, who called it “sanitized and dumbed down.” This film was, for me, the epitome of the “don’t mess with a good thing” philosophy. Why tamper with it when the original was so lively and of-the-era? Outside of the 1980s (the decade of the original film), the new “Fame” felt flat. It didn’t have the same oomph and razzle-dazzle found in the earlier version, directed by Alan Parker. The original even won an Oscar for Best Original Music Score (also titled “Fame”); whereas the 2009 version floundered, and was nowhere near cracking the Academy nominations. However, of its few redeeming qualities, there were welcome faces in the cast: Megan Mullally, Bebe Neuwirth, and Debbie Allen (who also appeared in the original).
I am tempted to go with the 2015 “Point Break” remake because it exemplifies everything bad about remakes, including why they almost never work — you can never recreate the alchemy of the right script in the hands of the right filmmaker, with the right actors all working together. But 2015 “Point Break” is so astoundingly stupid it becomes its own thing, so my choice for the worst remake of all time is “Footloose”.
Did you even remember that “Footloose” was remade? It was! In 2011! That’s recent! The thing about bad remakes is that they are, for the most part, memorably bad. But the “Footloose” remake is so bland, so thoroughly mediocre, that it is entirely forgettable. It’s not so stupid it’s funny, it’s not so puzzling it becomes a curiosity, it’s not so bad it’s good. It’s the cinematic equivalent of beige. I guarantee you will win your pub trivia night if you can recall even one person who starred in it. Remakes are generally not a good idea — unless you’re an accountant–but the ones that fail, which again, is most of them, usually fail in interesting ways that can be worth discussing. There is no possible discussion to be had about the “Footloose” remake. It is impossible to have an opinion on this movie beyond “It exists?” In conclusion: Please, by the gods old and new, don’t ever remake “Road House.”
“The Mummy” (2017)
I’m not sure I can say any remake is objectively “the worst,” but the first remake that came to mind was the 2017 version of “The Mummy,” starring Tom Cruise. We got a movie in which the villain was an undead femme fatale, Tom Cruise dies and comes back to life, and Russell Crowe devours scenery as a giant purple Cockney-speaking monster, and none of it was really all that fun. Which is a shame! I’d have loved to see a monster movie remake that’s less focused on CGI and more focused on having a grand time. The only truly good thing I can say about it is that I once sat behind three people on the same plane who were watching this movie at the same time but 2-3 minutes ahead of each other, and the experience was so surreal and riveting that I kind of want to re-watch it again myself.
When considering the worst remake ever made, aside from films I frankly haven’t bothered to watch, a significant factor is not only the quality of the film but the gap between it and the original. For example, it’s not as though the original “Prom Night” was much of a classic, no matter how terrible its PG-13 remake was. On the other hand, when it comes to my pick, Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho,” here’s an infamous new version of one of the greatest thrillers of all time directed by the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock. Made as a shot-for-shot remake, this film could have been looked at as a wild experiment if it hadn’t been such a mainstream disaster.
Seemingly made for no other reason by Van Sant aside from being in the mood to set fire to all the acclaim he had been steadily building, it’s hard to find anything of note in this frustrating feature. The actors were indeed game to give this a shot, but nothing clicks in the same way the original was able to grab audiences. Most notably, Vince Vaughn may be one of Van Sant’s most experimental choices up until he decided to make “Gerry.” I’m all for exploring the range of the man, but he’s most certainly out of place here, compared to the birdlike presence of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. And that’s just one of the many elements that feel entirely out of place in a film that may look like the original, but lacks all the tension and other brilliant qualities.
Not keeping track of today’s random 90s nostalgia, I don’t know if it’s supposedly cool to like Van Sant’s “Psycho” now or not, but I know it feels like the apex of what the worst remake can truly look like.
Contrary to a big section of the viewing public, one that has way too much unfiltered Twitter power, I’m the kind of person that never lets a remake, good or bad, erase the existence of the original that came before it. We wouldn’t have Victor Fleming’s “The Wizard of Oz” or William Wyler’s “Ben-Hur” without latitude and open-mindedness.
I brought those two mentalities to Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho” 21 years ago. I tipped my hat at the ambition, hell, the balls, of attempting a shot-for-shot remake of one of the most technically intricate films of all time. Hitchcock’s mise en scene is rightly legendary and we found out why by the failure of Van Sant’s imitation. Even with a perfect blueprint to follow, nothing about it looks natural or moves fluidly in this modernized and colorized production. The superficial splashes here and there end up garish for the sake of looking garish. The acting is equally as silly and embarrassing. I can’t name a good performance from the many mismatched casting choices. Even with a bomb like this, I still say any movie is fair game for remakes, but, man, some things just shouldn’t be attempted.
There are reasons to remake a film. Maybe the first versions didn’t quite get it right, and you’ve figured out the problem (like John Huston and “The Maltese Falcon”). Maybe you have access to better special effects, or a brand-new take on the material (or both, like David Cronenberg and “The Fly,” and John Carpenter and “The Thing”).
But, seriously, why would Gus Van Sant remake “Psycho,” which is arguably — and I’m happy to argue it — Hitchcock’s most perfect film? Joseph Stefano’s original script already got the story right. You’re not going to improve on the visuals, apart from no longer needing to blur the nudity. And you can never re-create the absolute shock of experiencing what was, at the time, an astonishing revolution in narrative.
Yes, you’re bringing on a new cast, but giving Vince Vaughn a chance at a great part isn’t nearly enough of a reason for a re-do. (Nor is that the rating system now gives us a chance to actually see Norman mister-bating.) Anthony Perkins’ performance isn’t just perfect – it’s already been immortalized. Cinema isn’t theater, where work disappears immediately into the ether. It’s preserved, and forever accessible.
Oh, I can imagine how this project began. It’s late at night. The air is heavy with smoke and the dining room table scarred with the rings of wet glasses.
“You know what would be an interesting idea,” Van Sant asks some admiring disciples. “You take the script of a classic movie. You film that script again, word for word. And then you see how doing that – but this time in color, this time with different actors – changes things. Disrupts it. Yeah, as a purely formal experiment, that would be a terribly interesting idea.”
Yes, indeed. Too bad it wasn’t left at that.
Now, please, can someone stop Mel Gibson from remaking “The Wild Bunch”?
There are so many terrible remakes, but the worst ones are perhaps not the absolute horror shows like the 2017 ”Mummy” or the 2013 “Carrie,” which are laughable in their atrocity, but the ones that take films that were genuinely interesting in their particular take on issues beyond their plot and forget about those larger themes to focus exclusively on the narrative, doing even a poor job at that.
Exhibit A is the 2014 “RoboCop.” Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 original was a violent sci-fi action thriller that was actually much more than the sum of its parts, functioning as a brilliant critique of the corporate ethos of the Reagan era, presaging a world that – actually – appears to be closer to coming to pass than we realized, back then. The 2014 remake is mostly just plot, and a busy one at that, with poor Joel Kinnaman but a poor substitute for Peter Weller, and everyone else flailing around doing their best to accept the paycheck with minimal embarrassment. To twist a quote from Verhoeven’s movie: “I won’t buy that for a dollar.”
Norman Jewison’s 1975 “Rollerball” isn’t necessarily a masterpiece, but it’s a damn good film that packs quite the corporate, post-capitalist critique in its ’70s retro-future bloodbath, which harkens back to some of the decade’s most alluring dystopian visions (e.g. “Mad Max,” “THX 1138,” “Soylent Green,” “Zardoz,” etc.). However, John McTiernan’s 2002 remake is nothing short of a disaster. Stripped of almost all stinging socio-economic commentary, seemingly cast with an 8-year-old’s sense of “cool” on the mind, and designed by someone who clearly didn’t realize the 21st century had begun, the “Rollerball” remake is an absolute joke. Half of the time you feel like you’re watching an even worse version of Disney Channel’s “Brink!”— which clearly had a greater influence on the movie than the original–and the other half of the time you’re just trying to come to terms with how petulant, unenjoyable, and empty it truly is.
As a horror fan, I’m sadly used to terrible remakes to the extent that I can usually find something to like about most of them, from Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” to the super-rough “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and even the ghastly “Friday The 13th,” which featured a marijuana-farming Jason Voorhees who operates within a sophisticated system of underground tunnels (okay, maybe not that one).
The one horror remake I absolutely cannot abide by, however, is last year’s dull, uninspired, and often infuriating take on “Suspiria,” from Luca Guadagnino. It has nothing to do with holding Dario Argento’s original in high regard either, since that film is arguably more style than substance. Remakes should either completely redo what the original did or pay homage to it in some clever way. The new “Suspiria” does neither.
Its color palette is resolutely beige, which instantly robs it of the original’s lurid, garish power. The witches are very obviously witches from the outset, meaning there’s no suspense or intrigue. A supposedly feminist story revolves entirely around the perspective of a (boring, one-dimensional) male character. The setting, hinting at Nazi Germany throughout, adds nothing and is borderline offensive. Thom Yorke’s score is this wailing, miserable thing that interrupts supposedly important moments.
And, most egregiously of all, “Suspiria” 2018 has precisely zero scares save for one early on which sees a dancer’s bones breaking in gruesome close-up. Everything is so dark it’s often hard to tell what’s even going on. Even Tilda Swinton doing her Tilda Swinton thing can’t save it. Oh, and the dancing is really terrible too.
Q: What is the best movie currently playing in theaters?
A: “The Souvenir”