Hollywood has never been more gunshy about kickstarting a new intellectual property. Curiously, this is not an entirely new phenomenon. Fifty or sixty years ago if you were a writer working on an original script, that was a sign you were struggling in the industry. The real money was in adaptations of major novels. Occasionally also there would be big money thrown at a remake of an old silent-era movie, such as what happened with The Ten Commandments. What we’re seeing now is merely a new take on that old era, albeit taken to an extreme.
In between the “studio” era of Hollywood’s early years and the current “franchise/reboot” era of today was the “auteur” era of cinema, with writer-directors who developed films from their own singular vision. This was the era of big, high concept films, of quirky sci-fi films, and even of adaptations that were done with a director’s unique style overlaying the project.
The days of giving a director 70-120mm to make a passion project is all but dead. Now, Hollywood runs screaming from a movie with a title unfamiliar to audiences. If you have an idea, you better find a way to make it work within the framework of an intellectual property that’s already been done by the studio, even if done poorly.
That doesn’t mean all remakes, reboots, or sequels are bad. A good movie is a good movie no matter its source material (or lack thereof). The same is true of a bad movie. With that being said, there are some movies that might be worth revisiting, whose names are familiar to audiences and whose properties have enough panache to get a foot in the door with potential ticket-buyers…
1. Running Man (Remake)
Originally a Stephen King novel, Running Man was first adapted into an 80s action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s exactly the kind of oddball premise and style that would never be made today if not for the name attached to it. In 1987 the movie was sold mostly as an Arnold project, and not so much a King adaptation. Today, in light of the success of IT and the less-spectacular success of Pet Semetary and Dr. Sleep, a new version could sell itself as a more faithful adaptation of the original novel.
Take away the name Steven King or the title Running Man and you’re left with a seemingly run of the mill dystopian future thriller, the kind of white noise idea that would never get off the ground. Today, in the “brand! brand! brand!” era of movie making, a new version of Running Man can be greenlit, and maybe even be a hit.
2. Flight of the Navigator (Sequel)
Originally made as an attempt to cash-in on E.T., Flight of the Navigator ended up carving its own niche as a science fiction story. It never achieved the financial success of E.T. nor has it persisted in culture the way other sci-fi films of the 80s have done, but those who remember it do so fondly and regard the film today as a mostly forgotten cult classic.
There’s still some gold to mine with the brand, however. Flight of the Navigator is one of those movies that thirty-somethings will say “Oh yeah, I remember that…” while really only recalling the title. Perhaps a straight-remake would be prudent but since the original dealt with a form of time travel and ended somewhat openly, a sequel set thirty-five or so years later (in the present day) might be a great way to draw from the nostalgia well and take the brand in a new direction all at once.
3. The Neverending Story (Remake)
Few 80’s kid’s movies have endured as icons of the decade better than The Neverending Story. If you don’t think so, check out how many YouTube hits this climactic Stranger Things 3 moment has…
Yeah. There’s still milk in that teet.
The original movie was an ambitious production, being the most expensive film produced outside the United States. Its special effects were, maybe not groundbreaking, but certainly effective and memorable. The film only covered the first half of the first novel, and though sequels were produced which adapted more of the source material, they failed to strike a nerve with western audiences the way the first had done. Time has passed and the film’s cult status has only grown; a remake, if done faithfully and lovingly, could be a big earner at the box office.
4. The Wizard of Oz (Streaming Reboot Series)
The original Wizard of Oz movie is an adaptation that has so ingrained itself in our culture it has far surpassed the importance of the book series from which it spawned. That being said, it has been eighty years since it released and other than a mostly-forgotten (but delightfully bizarre) Return to Oz sequel in the 80’s, the franchise has been mostly untouched.
Oz has a lot going for it. Most importantly is the name recognition. Second to that is the sheer number of books in the series. Fourteen novels were written plus several other side stories and other addendum-like works. There’s enough Oz material to mine for a long-running TV series (one that only barely would overlap with the content of the ubiquitous film) if a streaming giant like Amazon or Netflix or Disney+ was so inclined.
5. Legend (Remake)
Sometimes a movie gets remade because enough time passed that the film’s simple, high-concept premise can be re-told to new audiences without anyone feeling like they were cheated out of ten dollars for a movie ticket to see a movie that’s already well-known. When done right you get something like The Coen Brothers’ True Grit.
On the other hand…
Legend, however, is a movie that deserves to be remade for a number of good reasons. For one, its got a great, simple, premise with a timeless, fantasy setting. For another, the studio cut and the director’s cut were wildly different, creating competing versions to watch on home video, making for a confusing marketplace. Most importantly, the movie is mostly forgotten, despite having a stellar cast, featuring Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, and the incredible Tim Curry.
The make up effects on the Lord of Darkness remain stunning thirty-five years later, but everything else around the movie could do with an updated version. And with the cult-like popularity of the film (in light of the beloved director’s cut), it just might do what the original could not (make a profit).
6. E.T. (Sequel)
Yeah I know: This is near-blasphemy to suggest, but hear me out.
E.T. had a run in theaters like no other movie before it. For sixteen weeks the film held the #1 spot at the box office. That’s a record that still stands today and as Hollywood has evolved from a “summer is king” model to “tentpoles spread out all year long” formula, it’s a record that’s unlikely to be broken ever again. Nevertheless, the film has never had a sequel, or any real “franchising” done to it in order to better ensure the film remains in the public consciousness years after the fact.
E.T. is arguably Steven Spielberg’s greatest work but it’s far down on the list of his most well-known films today. Compared to Indiana Jones, Jaws, or Jurassic Park, E.T. is an anomaly. It’s a film that broke every conceivable box office record and then, once it was done, sort of stopped being important.
What it needs is another story.
The last thing E.T. needs is a remake. The first is an absolutely perfect film and deserves to be watched by children every generation. What a sequel could do is re-introduce that story to a new generation without stepping on the toes of the original. It seems like a foolhardy idea to mess with perfection but I equate it to Toy Story 3, which seemed like a movie no one asked for and no one needed but once we got, everyone wondered how we could have lived without it.
If Spielberg has the passion for returning to the beloved world of The Extra Terrestrial, then I’m all for it, just as I would be for any new take on any other movie on this list.