Hollywood remakes motion pictures for essentially one reason — their money-making potential. Some remakes perform quite well financially, but most fail to meet their expectations. Often helping to heighten those expectations is the stature of the original movie. The more fans a film has, all the more reason there is not to revisit it years later. Although the list grows shorter every year, most of our best-loved movies have generally been left untouched. Rather, it’s remakes of mediocre, obscure or even bad pictures that more frequently lead moviegoers to ask, “Why in the world did they go there?” Actually, filmmakers’ reasons for doing so are sound. Titles in the horror genre, for instance, are routinely revisited since there are only so many ways to scare people, as well as for their franchise possibilities. If Hollywood were willing to widen its horizons and peruse other genres for remakes, it could easily identify several movies from the past that, while intriguing at the time, haven’t stood the test of time, or were good but could’ve been better. In addition, there are many classic motion pictures that have through no fault of their own become dated and could benefit from an update. So, as a recommendation, here are five films, crossing decades and genres, that studios might want to take a look at instead of dumping many millions of dollars into the latest sure thing.
5. Flash Gordon (1980)
It was a good idea at the time, and it’s even a somewhat good movie in retrospect. At least it isn’t bad, certainly not as bad as you may remember, if you do remember it, and that’s the film’s problem — few people today have any memory of this early superhero movie at all. It arrived on the scene several years before today’s superhero genre came into being, and to be frank, the plot is kind of ridiculous. A New York Jets football player, played by Playgirl model Sam J. Jones, voyages to the planet Mongo with some friends to take on the evil villain Ming the Merciless, saving Earth in the process. Produced by the late, great Dino De Laurentiis, it bears the impressive ornateness typical of his films, yet its deliberate campiness flies in the face of that. And to top it off, this odd movie features an ambitious musical score by the rock group Queen. Critics were kind, but Flash Gordon did terrible box office, at least in the U.S.; it was a huge hit in Great Britain. With the kind of budget devoted to superhero movies today, a remake could succeed, provided someone more substantive than a male centerfold model portrays the title character. Playing the story straight would help, although audiences today would be more attuned to camp. How about a score by a respected rock ensemble like, say, Pearl Jam? It could even lead to a new superhero franchise, although it has to be acknowledged that we may have enough of those already.
4. The Lost Weekend (1945)
It’s a rare but persistent phenomenon — a movie, once well-regarded, falls victim to the passage of time. People no longer watch it, even while they still reference its popular moments and catchphrases. Eventually, what’s referenced becomes disconnected from its source entirely, and that’s when the movie deserves to be remade. This is especially so in the case of The Lost Weekend, which was never just a cliché. The movie’s certainly not without its memorable scenes — the writer played by Ray Milland wandering around New York City seeking to pawn his typewriter but having no luck because all the shops are closed for Yom Kippur, or the drunken hallucination he has of a bat attacking a mouse. But a remake needn’t be so specific. The film, a haunting look at the vortex of alcoholism, is especially notable for showing how the many enablers surrounding Milland’s character make it that much harder for him to get back on the wagon. American moviegoers haven’t been treated to a serious look at addiction since 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas, which gained Nicolas Cage an Academy Award for Best Actor. A remake wouldn’t even necessarily have to focus on alcoholism — how about a tongue-in-cheek look at someone so addicted to social media and their smartphone that they’ve lost all touch with their family and friends? It could be the beginning of an entirely new genre called cyber-noir. Just a thought.
3. 12 Angry Men (1957)
This classic courtroom drama actually has been remade many times over, for television, for the Broadway stage, in countless community theater productions, even filmmakers in India have given it a go. Hollywood has avoided it. A case of leaving well enough alone? Sidney Lumet’s directorial debut is still widely considered among the best of its genre ever made, and it would be difficult to improve upon it, but there are other reasons for revisiting a quality motion picture. The original film, about consensus building in a jury room during a murder trial, may have its timeless qualities, but the story could certainly make for an intriguing updating. The many ways in which American society has changed since the mid-1950s are reflected in both the nature of crime and the methods by which punishment is meted out in our criminal justice system. The dynamics on display among 12 angry men (and women) forced to reach a unanimous verdict would also be considerably different. But it’s hard to imagine today’s commercially minded filmmakers lining up to shoot a picture that takes place entirely in one room (opening up the picture to include several flashbacks of the crime would only dilute the story’s impact). And too, in a Hollywood where so many movies are made today, scheduling 12 actors — one lead performer, for the Henry Fonda part, and several character actors — to show up to the same place for even a few weeks could be a logistical challenge.
2. Save the Tiger (1973)
The fate of this film is one shared by many. Popular at the time — it even earned its star, Jack Lemmon, an Oscar — this timely drama about the malaise afflicting not just its lead character but America as a whole ultimately faded because it was too timely. Harry Stoner (Lemmon) heads a dying business, doesn’t understand the younger generation (they don’t understand him either), worries that the country he fought to preserve in World War II has lost its bearings and wears bad suits (1973, remember). Save the Tiger perfectly caught the mood of many Americans of that era, but as soon as the moment had passed so too did any memory of the film. And while Lemmon’s performance stands up well, the movie’s mawkish indulgences don’t (at one point Harry attempts to play baseball with some Little Leaguers and they tell him to get lost). But this is why motion pictures should be remade. The feeling in the country today is certainly analogous to 1973, albeit for different reasons. Harry could work in a moribund industry like newspapers, or a scandalized one such as investment banking. He could be played by George Clooney, who already seems determined to appear in variations on Save the Tiger anyway, or Kevin Spacey, who has long considered Lemmon his professional mentor. And audiences would stay away from the remake in droves because it would be so depressing, but that doesn’t mean such an effort couldn’t be worthwhile.
1. Dune (1984)
How could any legitimate fan of science fiction not wish to see a remake of this legendary train wreck? Even a halfway decent rendition should be enough to erase its memory from most moviegoers’ minds. A little back story – efforts to film Frank Herbert’s 1965 book began in 1971, with the first party to own the rights dying before the project could get off the ground. A second undertaking, in 1975, involved the unlikely cast of Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, Gloria Swanson, Orson Welles and Herve Villechaize, among others, with a score by Pink Floyd and production design by the French illustrator Moebius, but the money dried up. The director Ridley Scott signed on in 1979, only to drop out for personal reasons; he went on to make the classic science fiction film Blade Runner instead. That left David Lynch, a filmmaker who had never heard of Dune and had previously shown no interest in sci-fi, to pick up the pieces in 1983. Lynch’s version (with music by the band Toto) was labeled the worst movie of 1984 by several critics, and the director quickly disassociated himself from the project, refusing to talk about it to this very day. Clearly, any filmmaker brave, or foolish, enough to take on Dune today is going to have to find a way to wipe the slate clean. The distance of decades could help in that regard, and shouldn’t render the source work any less vital either. There are actually development rumors of a Dune remake slated for release in 2014. But as Dune fans know all too well, a lot can happen in a few short years.