Movie remakes in Hollywood: When is the best time to remake a movie?

As I sat curled up in the not-so-luxurious movie theater seat convincing myself that Pennywise would in fact not peel his way out of my shower drain and kill me, something clicked: in the novel/movie It (2017), Pennywise reappears every 27 years. My butter-coated fingers opened my Google app and found out that the original It movie came out in 1990…27 years ago. As the kids say, I was shook. I was also impressed that Hollywood cranked out this movie in time to fit the narrative of the novel.

It wasn’t a coincidence that producers in Hollywood decided to remake this movie exactly 27 years later. I got to thinking, however, what’s the protocol for other movie remakes, if there is any at all? When does a movie qualify for a remake? When does a movie become outdated? Why do we remake movies at all?

I know that’s a lot to take in, but bare with me. First, let’s understand why movies are remade at all. I chatted with Amos Stailey-Young, a film studies professor at the University of Iowa, who currently teaches a class surrounding digital imaging technology in films. He mentioned that there are actually a lot of upsides to remakes: first of all, remakes are typically of popular movies that people already know and love. You already have a sea of fans that are familiar with your characters and your plot – you don’t have to necessarily start at square one. Because you already have this audience established, you don’t have to spend as much in marketing and advertising. Financially, it’s a good and cheap investment. It’s a safe bet in a time where Hollywood doesn’t want to take financial risks.

Another reason movies get remade is because studios will lose their licensing if they don’t actively make movies. Take the Spider-Man movies, for example. I loved the Toby Maguire version as a kid, and was a little taken aback when it was announced that there would be a new version, The Amazing Spider-Man, only eight years since the original Spider-Man came out. And then not only five years later did another Spider-Man movie come out, this time being Spider-Man: Homecoming. This was the result of the tug-of-war game between Marvel and Sony. Marvel sold the feature rights for Spider-Man to Sony for $7 million in 1999, and since then Marvel has been trying to loosen Sony’s grip on the franchise. What this means is that Sony maintains “creative control, marketing and distribution,” while Marvel produces the movies.

And then of course, there’s the fact that digital imaging technology in film has drastically improved in the past two decades. I mean, can you imagine showing your grandparents (who grew up staring at radios before they got black-and-white televisions) one of the Transformers movies? Or perhaps Avatar? With more realistic green screens and CGI today, it’s easy to see why people want to see their favorite stories get remade into newer adaptations with better special effects.

So now that we better understand that, let’s think about the when: when do movies become outdated, if at all? I scavenged around the internet to find anything I could, and came up mostly empty-handed. That was, until I found a trend. I found that many popular movies get remade roughly around the 30-year-anniversary mark. Annie and Ghostbusters were remade 32 years after the original debut. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Nightmare On Elm Street films fell between 26 and 29 years after the originals. The outliers, Carrie and Psycho, were remade 37 years after the original, however, that isn’t that too far off from the 30-year-anniversary mark.

You may be thinking “What’s so special about 30 years?” Honestly, nothing. What is special though, is what happened during those 30 years that created this generational gap between movies. What happened in the last 30 years that made movies back then so vastly different from movies now? The answer is simple: CGI, also known as computer-generated-imagery.

CGI was invented in the early 70’s, however movies that used CGI weren’t massive successes just yet. It wasn’t until 1991 that there were two films released with heavy CGI that were major box office successes: Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park.  Jurassic Park was a real turning point because it combined live action with CGI that actually looked realistic.

Nowadays, it’s a safe bet to say that most likely all movies use CGI. We’ve become so accustomed to these new technologies that it’s almost cringe-worthy to watch older movies, which leads me into another possible reason we remake movies: because the old ones become just too unbearable to sit through.

It gets to a certain extent, though – are there lines that shouldn’t be crossed? Movies that shouldn’t be remade? Professor Stailey-Young thinks so, as I’m sure most people would agree.

“You risk losing the charm.”

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