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Remakes Failed Hard at the Box Office in 2011

We can complain all we want, rationalize, or hope for the best, but the easiest way to stop the remake assault that studios have foisted upon audiences is not to pay for it. The studio system still hasn’t found a silver bullet for killing the monster of low attendance, and 2011 might have been the worst wake-up call they could get. Movie attendance fell by 4.4% from 2010, down to the lowest level since 1995. The problematic silver lining is that foreign sales are higher, which could result in even more broadly-appealing (and “appealing” is used generously here) movies that are generic and treat dialogue like a second-class citizen.

On the losing side of the field (the one where producers aren’t having Gatorade dumped on them), are the remakes of 2011. Remakes are thought to be attractive because they come with built-in name recognition for audiences, and development has already been partially done for a story that’s already proven itself as a money-maker. For fans, they’re also infuriating because they signal both a lack of creativity coming out of an industry built on it and the potential (likely) bastardization of something we hold dear (and, yes, of course the original is still out there; it’s the principle of the thing).

So it may come as pleasant news for some to see that remakes, regardless of their quality of genre, failed spectacularly at the box office this year. It’s the kind of thing that may just deter producers from trying to trade on name recognition alone and either give up the ghost on remakes or focus a bit more on creating good entertainment from stories that have already been told. Here’s how the numbers break down:

Movie (Budget not including advertising) – Total Worldwide Gross

Source: Box Office Mojo

Arthur ($40m) – $45.7m

Conan the Barbarian ($90m) – $48.7

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark ($25m) – $31.5m

Footloose ($24m) – $62.5m

Fright Night ($30m) – $37m

The Mechanic ($40m) – $50m

Straw Dogs ($25m) – $10.3m

Using only the raw, quivering data, Conan and Straw Dogs were the only films to lose money. However, we all know that there’s more to the story than just these numbers; this is the polite version of the data. It doesn’t take into consideration the overhead for advertising and the like, or the revenue split between different producing partners. Because of that,  Arthur, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Fright Night, and The Mechanic are all undoubtedly money-losers.

The only real winner is Footloose, and its victory is a well-deserved yet moderate one. In a pack of remakes, it alone came out victorious.

Conan did not. What was supposed to be a major tentpole for Lionsgate (with sequels already in the works) tanked hard.

So what does this mean? Who knows. Every year since the year after the invention of movies, we’ve seen a handful of remakes rise up from wherever they come from. It’s not a fad; it’s a time-honored practice that has yielded some incredible films and a whole pile of terrible ones, but it’s unlikely either way that the filmmaking method will cease completely.

On the other hand, these numbers can’t have been encouraging for the decision-makers with the checkbooks. If they under-perform, and worse, if they lose money, the Hollywood Math that remakes aren’t good business may signal a slowdown of those news announcements that make us roll our eyes.

On the bright side, there were only 7 remakes last year. That’s about average, but it’s a sobering fact to remember that only a mere 2.3% (est.) of movies that come out are ones we’ve technically seen before.

Now, as Ray Subers points out, it’s really franchises and sequels we need to watch out for.

A veteran of writing about movies for nearly a decade, Scott Beggs has been the Managing Editor of Film School Rejects since 2009. Despite speculation, he is not actually Walter Mathau's grandson. See? He can't even spell his name right.

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