A trip to the cinema these days can give you a very familiar feeling. Half the films on show seem to be remakes, reboots, sequels or "re-imaginings," whatever they might be. And while they may be dependable money-makers -- although that isn't always certain -- these derivative cinema experiences have a lot of problems. Read on to find out some of the reasons most remakes should be avoided, both by filmgoers and filmmakers.
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Shadowing the original
Some remakes are based on very famous films -- it's unlikely that anyone who might see the 2013 Carrie remake won't have had the chance to see Brian De Palma's original, for instance. But others have the effect of drowning out the original; for many moviegoers, Spike Lee's remake of Oldboy will make it less likely that they'll see the 2003 original directed by Park Chan-wook.
Vanity and lack of confidence
The act of remaking an older film is a strange mixture of hubris and humility. On the one hand, deciding, as director Gus Van Sant did, to remake Psycho, is a statement of pride: the director has to consider himself in the same league as Hitchcock. On the other hand, copying an earlier film might suggest a sense of inferiority about a film-maker's original material.
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The wrong target
Part of the reason for this strange contradiction is that filmmakers who get the opportunity to remake a movie may choose to attempt one they really love. This can hamper their ability to bring a new perspective to the film. Sylvester Stallone's remake of Get Carter, for example, was clearly born out of a great love of the original rather than a strong new idea for retelling its story.
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Alternatively, some remakes result simply from the fact that a property has name recognition; in some cases, a remake may be required to help keep the rights for the studio. This marketing-driven approach to film-making doesn't always mean that the movie will be bad, but it's not a promising sign.
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Bizarre casting choices
As a rule, trying to do something different is good, but there are times when modern approaches to casting are puzzling. 2002's The Truth About Charlie, a remake of the 1963 film Charade, isn't bad, but it's hard to understand the process that led to Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton being cast in the roles made famous by Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. By contrast, Pete Postlethwaite is the perfect replacement for Patrick Troughton in the 2006 remake of The Omen, but the film is entirely forgettable.
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Laughable attempts at modernisation
Remaking a classic film can often involve updating its plot to a modern setting. This has its own challenges -- many pre-mobile-phone mystery or horror plots won't survive being translated to the information age. Adding in lots of pop culture references and modern music also risks making a movie seem ridiculously dated within a year or two.
A remake can often be a way of bringing a foreign film to a Western -- generally American -- audience. In some cases, this can lead to greatness; The Magnificent Seven is a cowboy-themed remake of Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, for instance. But in some cases, it can be disastrous, as in Danny and Oxide Pang's curiously murky and tone-deaf 2008 remake of their own 1999 hit Bangkok Dangerous. Christopher Nolan's 2002 remake of the 1997 Norwegian crime drama Insomnia changes the setting to Alaska, making nonsense of the film's central premise.
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The number of remakes and reboots in the film world can be baffling. Hideo Nakata's 1998 horror masterpiece Ring was remade in 2002 as The Ring, directed by Gore Verbinski. But Nakata directed both the sequel to his original film, Ring 2 (1999), and the American sequel, The Ring Two (2005), which is a sequel to the remake but not a remake of the sequel. Confused yet?
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The empty promise
While some remakes are derivative, others can be misleading. 2010's Clash of the Titans shares a few basic concepts with the 1981 original, but the two movies are otherwise completely different in feeling. This being the case, what makes the modern film Clash of the Titans rather than just an adventure film based on Greek myth? Similarly, the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid isn't about karate at all.
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The offense factor
Not to pick on Mark Wahlberg, but he has an unfortunate habit of appearing in ill-advised remakes, from The Truth About Charlie to Tim Burton's 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes. He also appeared in 2003's The Italian Job, one of the most baffling remakes in cinema history. The 1969 original is beloved in the United Kingdom and unknown outside it, meaning that the remake had no name recognition in the USA but outraged film fans in the UK. In fairness to Wahlberg, he was excellent in Martin Scorsese's The Departed, a remake of Internal Affairs (2002).
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Lightning in a bottle
There are times when a film captures the spirit of its time or introduces a bold new way of looking at a subject. Remakes can seldom recapture this: for example, the 1962 film of The Manchurian Candidate expressed anxieties about conspiracies and the Cold War, while the 2004 remake failed to capture a similar element of the Zeitgeist.
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Lack of patience
When Peter Jackson remade King Kong in 2005, over 70 years had passed since the 1933 original. Even the less-successful 1976 remake was not a recent memory. But did audiences need to see the origin story of Spider-Man retold in 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man when they had seen it only 10 years earlier in 2002's Spider-Man? Although the stories were slightly different, they retained many of the same key elements.
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You can't win
There are good remakes out there, but in many ways the form is a losing proposition for a film-maker. Stick too closely to the original, and you're simply parroting a better film. Deviate from it, and why are you using its name? The preconceptions the audience brings to a remake can be a director's biggest challenge -- but choosing an older film to remake invites them.
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