As film lovers, it’s pretty common for us to shake our heads at the idea of our favorite films being remade. It makes sense: after all, why would anybody want to see their idea of a perfect film face any sort of alterations? Yet, remakes are a constant in contemporary commercial film, often thought of by many as a mere money-making ploy (although this can be disputed). It seems like every successful film will be up for a revamp at one point or another. But are there any limitations that truly prevent a film from going through the remake machine?
In a video essay from Filmento titled “When Is A Movie Impossible To Remake?” there are three specific factors that are argued to prevent films from being successfully remade: an irreplaceable lead, a film’s perfection through specificity, and a director’s one unique vision. There are only a handful of movies that seem to remain untouched by Hollywood when it comes to the world of remakes, and these are factors that seem to always come into play. The author makes a point of trying to avoid subjectivity, but it seems that when citing examples, our own point-of-view will inevitably permeate our ideas of what “shouldn’t” be remade nonetheless.
Watch the video essay below:
The first quality listed in the essay that is said to avert a film from being remade is the presence of an irreplaceable lead. Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is used as the central example here, the character essentially being the face of the franchise. The first reason listed for this is that while Jack Sparrow can, of course, exist in later installations of Pirates, he is such a unique character that no actor besides Johnny Depp could rightfully do his portrayal justice.
This sentiment already leads into subjective territory (which the author acknowledges), but it is understandable where he is coming from—many of the most iconic roles are deeply associated with the actor who portrays them. For instance, one of the most iconic character portrayals of all time is Sylvester Stallone‘s Rocky Balboa. But while it is hard to imagine anyone else portraying it, it doesn’t make it impossible.
The other reason for this is that the character of Jack Sparrow himself is the one that holds up the franchise. While there are other interesting characters in the series worth exploring, a Pirates film without its leading crusader likely wouldn’t hold enough incentive for audiences to go see it. But it might be too soon to label the franchise as untouchable—Disney is currently in talks to potentially reboot Pirates once more in the near future.
The second quality argued to diminish a film’s remake potential is its perfection through specificity. The example cited here is Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future, said to be so elaborately specific in what it sets out to do that to alter anything would jeopardize the film’s own succinctness in narrative. In other words, there is only one specific way to tell this story. It is argued that the only way a remake of it could exist would be if it were to follow the exact same beats as the original with nothing to add, or if it were to be completely revamped but then lose its connection to the original film.
A strong point is made here in that a new Back to the Future film technically could be re-made, but it would inevitably run the risk of either being too similar to or too disconnected from the original film. This was placed in contrast with a film such as The Matrix, the premise of which allows more room for re-invention. While Back to the Future‘s sequels fared well enough, trying to reboot the series from the beginning would likely be far more difficult to carry out. But what then constitutes as a film too specific to remake? Perhaps any film that is incredibly particular to its time would fall into this category, but it would be interesting to see how these restrictions could be challenged, as well.
The third and final quality said to make a movie incredibly difficult to remake is a film where the director has a singularly unique vision. The prime example given here is Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film widely regarded for the distinct vision Kubrick sets out to achieve. The film wouldn’t be what it is if it weren’t for the director’s own artistic approach, so the only way for a new version of 2001 to ever really have the same effect would be if Kubrick himself were to have another go—which is definitely out of the realm of possibility.
This is perhaps the strongest point of all because films like 2001 are the ones that truly seem to be left alone by Hollywood. When a director so perfectly creates a film borne out of pure artistry, so much that the director’s perspective truly makes the film what it is, there is virtually no point in reviving it unless the same director will be handling the material.
Perhaps the one case in which vision-driven films can be reborn is if they are not remade, but re-imagined: such is the case with Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, a new interpretation of Dario Argento’s 1977 classic. It works because rather than trying to re-create Argento’s vision verbatim, a wholly new artistic vision is replacing another.
To conclude, the essay acknowledges that while it’s easy to get frustrated at the constant amount of recycled material we come across each year in film, it’s important to remember that this isn’t always a bad thing. And it’s true — after all, remakes have allowed us to experience so much great material. If films weren’t being remade, we might not have been blessed this year with what is arguably the best version of A Star is Born yet!
But beyond this, the truth is that many of the “original” stories we crave are actually just altered versions of stories we have heard several times before, told in a way that we have had yet to hear. There are stories in film that we never stop coming back to because of our ability to always find something new in them — and why not continue to see what these stories have to offer us?