Are film remakes and sequels crashing originality and becoming the new thing on the big screen?

The action film Gravity - image courtesy of Ryan Soguilon on flickr

The action film Gravity – image courtesy of Ryan Soguilon on flickr

Looking back at 2013 cinema-wise, two were the major hits that stood out and amazed critics and audiences. On one hand, Gravity, a film of original daring vision, provoked dithyrambic comments on its visual FX and the lead characters’ (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) performances making it a favourite in this year’s Oscars. On the other hand, Iron Man 3, the third part of the Marvel’s homonymous collection, is the top grossing film of 2013 with its profit reaching $408,992,272, according to www.the-numbers.com.

By looking at these two examples, it makes one wonder whether it is the original screenplay or the successful re-creation of an existing story that makes a film a big hit. And furthermore, are remakes and sequels the easiest solution for making money, sacrificing originality and imagination?

Eddie Ivermee, a witty Australian blogger, calls the growing phenomenon of remakes and sequels “sequel-itis”. Thus, he is talking about a disease that has spread out in the last years and continues to do so. Like every coin has two sides, the avalanche of sequels and remakes is not only due to the laziness of the Hollywood masterminds, but we, the audience, play a key role in this.

As Eddie shrewdly observes, “Whilst it would be somewhat justifiable to solely blame Hollywood executives for their ever-growing lazy outlook, blame for the scourge of remakes/sequels must sadly fall equally onto cinema going audiences who blazingly support these films upon release.”

Blaming the laziness is the most convenient and obvious conclusion to come to. However, one should look at the numbers to fully

Paranormal Activity, image courtesy of Andrés Fevrier on flickr

Paranormal Activity, image courtesy of Andrés Fevrier on flickr

understand the concept behind Eddie’s words. Let’s see for example one of the most successful movies in the horror genre. Paranormal Activity, initially released in 2009, holds the first spot in the list of the most profitable movies based on return of investment (RoI) which has reached the incredible percentage of 12,889%, according to www.boxofficemojo.com. This means that with an average budget of $15,000, this film managed to generate approximately $193,355,800 in the worldwide market.

In the following four years, the ‘paranormal activity’ brand was extended with three more products. However, it is not the laziness that justifies the profitability of these three next sequels, as they were similarly successful achieving a 2,473% RoI and with the latest Paranormal Activity reaching a 911% RoI. It is the warm-blooded audience that has a share in the justification of this phenomenon.

Opposing the hammering sequel-its, Jordan Griffiths the excellent horror hound blogger shares his opinion. “Fear is universal and no discerner of age and an experience both oft avoided and excitedly pursued, so if a horror movie scares or shocks us shouldn’t it be considered a success no matter its origins? Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and The Thing (1982) are remakes that taught us paranoia and subversion are threats the human race reacts violently to no matter the time or cause, Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Evil Dead II (1987) are sequels that remain two of the most beloved horror films of all time and Scre4m (2011) and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) enthusiastically and successfully exist as dissections of the series that precede them and their subsequent effects on popular culture”.

So in the case of horror films, which is a genre with a great number of sequels and remakes being massively released each year, is it a reality or an ideal to fight for the lost originality? Jordan explains, “If the fear, or threat, is no longer present or in the forefront of people’s thoughts, or if it is but the original still retains its power, a horror remake or sequel is as unnecessary as logic in a David Lynch film (see Carrie, Halloween, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre); if however a talented creative team can re-introduce an old favourite to both a new and existing audience because it again has the possibility to terrify, I say good luck”.

Considering the two ways of thinking explained above, is it Eddie’s belief the one to hang on to, that “those on the inside should decide to look for that film that looks to shake things up and mess with the formula, the film like Gravity that could fly or fail. For this to happen audiences too will have to be shaken out of their comfort zone and be willing to lean away from the next Marvel jaunt”?

Or is Jordan right when he says “if we wanted every film to be completely and utterly original, then actors would star in only one and directors have very short filmographies; it’s a ludicrous and unachievable, although quite honourable, ideal” ?

No matter the answer, I quote Eddie “Do we really need a sequel to It’s a Wonderful Life”?

Many thanks to Eddie and Jordan from jordanandeddie for their help and their great quotes.

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Comments
15 Responses to “Are film remakes and sequels crashing originality and becoming the new thing on the big screen?”
  1. Marinos Politis says:

    One way or another it’s always about originality… even a remake or a sequel MUST have originality in order to be great just like New Nightmare, the Friday the 13th remake which covered what the original lacked (which is having Jason from the begiining) and others… but remakes like Carrie, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street and sequels like Paranormal Activity number “I’ve lost count already”, Saw number “Jigsaw is dead already so stop the bloody franchise” and so on are just “pickpockets” fo the horror fans’ purses…

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    • maria kriva says:

      Haha agreed! It’s one thing producing an amazing remake/sequel and a completely different issue to take it to far by creating endless stories. Originality has become really rare.

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  2. thycriticman says:

    I agree about remakes, and I am starting to really despise them. With sequels on the other hand, I welcome them in some cases. Superhero films having sequels just makes perfect sense to me. And a sequel can still be original, taking characters in unique directions. That aside, original films are usually gems these days. Have yet to watch “Gravity”, but currently viewing “Her”, and it is phenomenal.

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    • maria kriva says:

      It’s funny because sometimes these days you get a remake and then you get sequels of the remake and it just gets really confusing. 🙂 I think that also remakes can be quite entertaining if well-made. Evil Dead is an example of a decent remake. When it comes to sequels, I usually enjoy them as long as they can follow the quality of the original story. Unfortunately, in horror films, sequels tend to be a nightmare. 😛

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      • thycriticman says:

        You are right! Evil Dead was good. It put its own spin on the original, and was just a lot of fun to watch. Oh yes, horror films have a very bad track record with sequels. I cannot lie, I get excited when I hear movies that I really like are going to have a sequel. But than it is followed by a sharp, “This may suck” feeling…..

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  3. Great piece Maria, its awesome to see it come together finally! Maybe when the last Resident Evil film comes out this year I’ll alter my opinion slightly, ha, I can’t really be super excited for that and frown upon other upcoming sequels.
    Regards, Jordan

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  4. Great food for though indeed. As an original enthousiast i should say i despise remakes, but i’m afraid that’s not the case…
    I believe that the reason why people usually don’t like remakes is hidden behind the magical term: “first impression”. “First impression” is something that is very difficult to overcome, even if that impression is mediocre. So even if a movie is good enough as a movie itself, its really hard to be compared to the original, because people like the easiness of the already known and loved product. So, in my opinion, we will never really know if a remake is good or bad (except for some extreme cases of awfulness or massive improvement).
    Sequels on the other hand should be considered as new products and judged for what they are, not what the prequel was.

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    • maria kriva says:

      I agree! I’ll just add, that sometimes remakes should also be considered as new products, take Evil Dead for example. The newest version of 2013, is completely different from the 1981 one, and it should be seen as different because everything in it is different…technology used, visual FX, sound, image. So when the time difference is so huge, it’ s more fair to see the remakes as different products, as well! 🙂

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