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Remakes, Reboots and the Death of Original Thought

“Stop making remakes!” That’s the battle cry of every good blogger – or so it would seem, if you spend much time lingering around most film sites. But let me tell you, nothing says “Original thought” like typing the phrase “Hollywood has run out of ideas. Why can’t they come up with anything original?” I can only imagine what would’ve happened had the Internet existed in the early ’80s, when a young director best known for making a slasher film dared to remake a Howard Hawks film. The absolute gall, right? Well, we might not have John Carpenter’s The Thing if not for that gall. Or what kind of tizzy would fire up in the blogosphere if we caught wind that someone had the balls to remake a brilliant Akira Kurosawa film – just a year after he had made it? As a western! We might not have had The Magnificent Seven.

Remakes have existed since the dawn of cinema, and many of the best films in history were themselves remakes or knock-offs of previous films. The Wizard of Oz and Ben Hur were both remakes of silent films and stand as the versions we love now. And while bloggers gnashed their teeth over the remake of The Last House on the Left, few bothered to mention that the original was a direct knock-off of the far superior Bergman film, Virgin Spring. But I won’t stand here and pretend that crapfests like Prom Night, The Omen and Bangkok Dangerous are even playing in the same league as these films; however, it is hardly fair to condemn them all, especially unreleased remakes like The Howling or A Nightmare On Elm Street, to the bottom of the heap with these failures, either.

Especially when it is entirely your fault.

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Hollywood isn’t out of ideas. Far from it. Every day original scripts are pouring in from all over the world offering new and different takes on stories and storytelling. So why aren’t they being made? Because the vast majority of you out there don’t want to see them. You see, there are two types of movie watchers in the world: There’s your general critic-style movie lover who is always on the lookout for something new and different, and then there’s the far more abundant general moviegoer, the type of person who wants to know what he’s getting the moment he sits down to watch a movie. The latter type of moviegoer doesn’t want something radically different; he wants something familiar. It’s why there are so many actors who play the same character over and over again and why most films feel formulaic: It’s what people want.

And remakes come with their own special bonuses. Not only do they come with the built-in audience of fans of the original (or the curious fan simply familiar with the title), but they also get the added benefit of lots of free press. You see, the minute one of these remakes gets announced, the blogs fire up, echo the news throughout the blogosphere and commence educating the public on the original while decrying the attempt to remake it. And who are the first people in line to see and talk about the new one? These same bloggers.

When will Hollywood stop making remakes? When you stop paying to see them and bloggers stop writing about them. But it doesn’t appear that this will happen anytime soon. After all, just check the weekly box-office totals. The bottom of the top 10 is usually littered with original films that few gave a chance to, while the top is where you’ll find most of the remakes. It’s about time we start acknowledging that the problem is with what the audience wants, not with the people giving them what they want. Original thought isn’t dead; it’s just not that profitable.

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