The Godfather, Casablanca, Back To The Future: All Undeniable Classics That Can Be Remade
The case for remaking the untouchable: an unpopular opinion.
When asked whether he would sign off on seeing his time-traveling comedy classic receive the remake treatment, Back To The Future director Robert Zemeckis emphatically replied with an "oh, God no... That can’t happen until both [his writing partner] Bob [Gale] and I are dead. And then I’m sure they’ll do it, unless there’s a way our estates can stop it."
... And that's all he has to say, about that.
In an age when Hollywood seems to make a new Ghostbusters movie every other quarter, there are numerous remakes/reboots/re-imaginings/re-whatever-you-wanna-call-thems that are genuinely entertaining contributions to the film industry. While there may be a wave of nostalgia that hits you when remembering your adolescent self watching the original True Grit alongside John Wayne's biggest fan AKA your dad during a rainy Saturday evening, the 2010 remake which earned 10 Academy Award nominations featured incredible performances from its main trio including a stunning Best Supporting Actress nomination for then-newcomer Hailee Steinfeld.
Think back to what went through your mind during the first few moments of 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road. Did dad want to see how they updated the classic he watched a thousand times during his youth? Do you remember the unbelievable sense of adrenaline pumping through your veins as you could not help but keep your fists clenched while sweat accumulated on your brow watching a disoriented Tom Hardy run away from half-naked bald men covered in white spray paint? Did dad turn to you and say "... So is this the same as the Mel Gibson movie?"
Dean Burnett of The Guardian posits that "the prominence in our memories of our childhood entertainment may mean they are a disproportionately large aspect of our identity." We have an emotional attachment to films we like, particularly those we adored during our childhood. We can't help it, it's a completely natural attachment to have and I would never suggest someone giving up something they like in favor of something else.
What I'd like to propose is this: giving a film (beloved or not) the remake treatment is not the absolute worst idea in the world. Please bear with me as I expand on why this statement is entirely plausible despite it being tantamount to treason in many film lover circles.
The Original Isn't Going Anywhere
Seeing another actor attempt to brood as flawlessly as Humphrey Bogart did in Casablanca could be an unimaginable prospect. Is it possible to see a character as broken as a Rick Blaine possibly be re-imagined with someone like an Oscar Isaac portraying him? ... Maybe, but Bogart embodied Rick! Why not ask Lupita Nyong'o if she's willing to portray her own take on the conflicted Ilsa Lund? ... I mean, she's an amazing actress, but Ingrid Bergman was perfection, damn it!
Could Hollywood make an entirely new sweeping romantic masterpiece starring these two juggernaut performers? They sure can! The only problem stems from the little thing that makes the world go 'round: money. It's the unfortunate state of the industry when something like Shane Black's The Nice Guys, which holds a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and is adored by those who watched it, majorly under-performed financially during its cinematic run. If a film has that name brand recognition of a Casablanca, whether fans of the original go out to watch it or not, it will be on their radar despite their predetermined feelings on it.
What I've neglected to mention in this scenario, however, is even if a Casablanca remake was announced today, tomorrow or some day soon during the remainder of my life: we'll always have the original.
If Uwe Boll manages to slither his way into directing this hypothetical remake and the pairing between Isaac/Nyong'o is somehow unwatchable, I will gladly exit out of the theater after spending an unreasonable amount of money on an overpriced ticket, express my grievances with the flick to my disinterested cat, pop in the original 1942 Michael Curtiz-directed feature and weep uncontrollably when Sam plays It again.
The 1984 Ghostbusters is one of my favourite comedies of all time. I kept an open mind when I watched the 2016 remake. I did not like the remake. I did not like it at all. We still have cable and Ghostbusters (1984) is on virtually every single day and whenever I'm able to, I plop down on the couch and bask in the delivery of "If there's a steady paycheck in it, I'll believe anything you say."
The recent Back To The Future deepfake video that has been floating around superimposed Tom Holland's face on Michael J. Fox's Marty McFly while Robert Downey Jr. had the honor of his face laying atop Doc Brown's. While this impressive rendition led to numerous theories regarding the duo appearing in a possible remake, there was an (unsurprisingly) overwhelming amount of opposition to the idea with Holland himself stating he'd be uninterested in starring in a remake because "[the original] is a perfect movie."
Back To The Future is timeless. It's one of those films you can pop in on any day of the week and you're guaranteed a good time and feeling mildly curious in seeing what a new take on the film would be does not make you a monster. Enjoy witnessing the power of love while also discussing just how perfect Holland seems to fit the role of a Marty McFly-esque character.
Worst case scenario: Uwe Boll snags another remake of a beloved classic while Tom Holland/RDJ both wake up one day forgetting how to act. 2 Back 2 Future brings together critics and fans alike in this shared universal hatred of this remake and this newly formed relationship heads to someone's backyard to screen the '80s ageless beauty on a massive projector.
Best case scenario: Film lovers are given what was initially believed to be an impossibility: a remake that manages to live up to its original. While at this alternative backyard movie night, everyone cheers hearing Doc Brown's declaration of "it's your kids, Marty, something has gotta be done about your kids!" at the end of 1985. There is a squeal of delight that immediately follows as the 2085 version loads onto the big screen starring Tom Holland's great grandson as the new Marty McFly.
Unlike the belief certain outspoken individuals share on various social media platforms whether it's asked of them or not: nobody is erasing the original film you like out of existence. A new iteration of a childhood classic does not mean it is now impossible to find that classic virtually anywhere films are present - be it in stores, online or grandma's creepy basement you haven't stepped foot in in 30 years.
Those Unfamiliar With the Original Are More Inclined to Check It Out
Ask any film buff what their favourite zombie horror film is and chances are they will include the George A. Romero 1978 cult classic Dawn of the Dead or the 2004 Zack Snyder remake that also happened to be his directorial debut. Despite the reverence held for the original, producer Eric Newman revealed gearing the remake to attract potential younger viewers who were unfamiliar with the Romero version - you know, the version that was probably beloved by the parents of the children who adore the Snyder remake. The remake went on to earn a whopping $100 million on a $26 million budget and most likely managed to tarnish that "cult" status held by the iconic original via the introduction of new viewers.
The delightful combination of sci-fi/horror has been a beloved genre for decades. The Thing (1982) from the legendary John Carpenter and the 1986 Jeff, uh, Goldblum-led The Fly are constantly mentioned as inspirations for subsequent films of the genre with filmmakers striving to capture the genius that these films hold. While both are based from their respective novella and short story, there may be those who are unaware of their original film counterparts and just how wildly different in tone something like The Thing is to The Thing from Another World. With the critically acclaimed originals releasing in the 1950s, these remakes chose to forge a different path from these original counterparts.
Imagine if Twitter existed in the 1980s and when The Fly released, undoubtedly there would've been a number of purists who would deem the remake as 'unwatchable' because it chose to divert its focus on Seth Brundle's relationship with Ronnie (Geena Davis) rather than the strict suspenseful thriller that the 1958 version is.
As someone who relentlessly adores Carpenter's take on The Thing, I am glad to live in a world where there is another version of what the allegorical "Thing" is. Do I prefer the original? I personally do not however I'm certainly glad it exists, if anything, just to solidify the love I have for the remake.
The 2019 comedy that came and went, The Hustle, was a gender-flipped remake of the 1988 beloved film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels which itself is a remake of the 1964 Marlon Brando/David Niven pairing Bedtime Story.
The 1988 Frank Oz-directed remake is a hysterical romp that many point to when discussing their favourite Steve Martin or Michael Caine roles. While Brando and Niven certainly delivered laughs in their respective original, the comedic pairing of Martin/Caine radiated hysterical chemistry. It is because of how genius Steve Martin portrays Freddy Benson that it is difficult to imagine another actor stepping into that role and yet there was! Good, Great, Grand, Wonderful Godfather Corleone himself Marlon Brando played Benson prior to and seeing him in a strictly comedic capacity is an absolute wonder to witness.
You know what movie I only recently found out was a remake? Greg Glienna directed and starred in a 1992 independent comedy entitled Meet The Parents about a mild-mannered young man named Greg who meets the parents of his fiancée Pam for the very first time. The film received no promotion, barely a budget and perished in the fiery pit of movie memory.
Three years later, Universal Studios purchased the rights to the film and developed an expanded remake with screenwriters Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg. In the year 2000, the Jay Roach-directed family comedy of the same name released in theaters starring Ben Stiller, Teri Polo and Robert De Niro and remains a movie my father quotes on a consistent basis.
The remake ended up becoming a massively surprising success at the box office leading to two theatrical sequels, inspiring a reality show and finding a home at NBC for a short-lived situational comedy.
Arguably one of the best examples of "wait, that was a remake?!" is the 2006 crime thriller that earned Martin Scorsese his first Best Director Academy Award with The Departed.
Hong Kong crime thriller Infernal Affairs was originally released in 2002 and was directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. The film received immense critical and financial acclaim spawning two sequels and an upcoming Indian remake. The base story of both films involves an officer and a gangster going undercover in each of their respective worlds. Infernal Affairs focuses on the Triad/HK Police Force while The Departed follows the Irish mob/Massachusetts State Police. When asked about the original, Scorsese revealed being a fan of its "underlying story - the way of life, the way of thinking, an attitude, and a cultural look at the world in a very enclosed society."
He went on to praise the underlying elements of Infernal Affairs that is found in the remake, however his movie ultimately differs from what was brought in the original:
"The original film, by Andrew Lau, is great – the plot, the idea, the concept of the two informers. The underlying story of trust and betrayal keep me coming back to his one... The elements remained the same [as the other film], but, well, ours became something else."
Original director Lau expressed his excitement with the remake in a 2007 interview, revealing he respected Scorsese's take and was intrigued in seeing how the remake would ultimately affect Hollywood's acceptance of more non-English speaking properties:
"I’ve never been so happy watching TV before, seeing your movie remake doing so well... This will suddenly raise the profile of the Hong Kong film-making industry... And there may be more opportunities.There’ll be more financing. But most of all, there’ll be more chances for (Hong Kong) films to achieve fame and success overseas.”
Like its Hong Kong counterpart, The Departed was beloved by critics and fans alike, earning over $290 million at the box office, winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards and having the best performance Mark Wahlberg has ever given in his oh so illustrious career:
With the initial release of The Departed in October 2006, there seemed to be an uptick in searches for the original film according to Google Trends from that year. While it may not be an exact science, there is precedent to believe when a remake is announced and released, film-goers will be intrigued to see what it is a remake of which ultimately raises interest in the original.
Whether they prefer the remake to the original is up for debate. If the property is lucky enough to be in an Infernal Affairs/Departed situation, crime fans potentially have two(!) phenomenal works to spend an afternoon double feature with.
The Remake May Even Surpass the Original
There just isn't anyone around that can play a better Dorothy. This actress embodied the doe-eyed Kansas teen who is whisked away to the Land of Oz. And you want to talk about one of the greatest gangster films of all time? Tell me one actor who you think could've played a better Tony, rising through the ranks in a world surrounded with drugs and violence?
... Wait, Judy Garland? Al Paci-Who? I'm referring to Dorothy Dwan from the 1925 silent film and Paul Muni as Tony Camonte in the pre-code version of Scarface: The Shame of a Nation.
Now here is where my real controversial statement rolls in: it is entirely possible for a remake to meet and even exceed the quality of its original predecessor. Both installments of Scarface are featured in the American Film Institute (AFI)'s list of the best gangster films. When promoting the 2001 ensemble heist film Ocean's Eleven, Julia Roberts admitted trying to watch the original 1960 Rat Pack feature twice and falling asleep during both instances. Veteran actress Angie Dickinson, who appeared in the original and had a cameo in the remake, initially believed nobody could pull off creating another Ocean's feature "but George Clooney and Brad Pitt did it, and that was wonderful."
There have been some phenomenally horrendous remakes. If I had to guess, I'd say there's probably been more flops than successes. Remember the remake of Point Break? I don't. I think my mind has pushed it aside to the depths of my subconscious and honestly, I'm a better person for it. But let's not cast aside future remakes because of the indiscretions of previous incarnations. It doesn't make Michael Mann any less of a creative talent by perfecting his craft during the development of his unsuccessful NBC pilot-turned-standalone TV movie L.A. Takedown and ultimately helming the 1995 crime classic Heat.
Can A Future Offer Be Made That We Can't Refuse?
It seems as though there's a running theme in a number of these successful remakes and that is filmmakers choosing the crime/gangster genre to potentially create an effective work - from Scarface and The Departed to Heat and Cape Fear - which has me thinking: would audiences be ready for maybe, possibly, a return of The Godfather? Based on the novel by Mario Puzo, the 1972 original Francis Ford Coppola crime epic is a masterclass example of how to do a film and do it right. Through decades upon decades of film discourse, it's largely considered to be one of the best films of all-time with many placing it as their top pick.
Many flip flop between whether the first Godfather is the superior take on the Corleone family or the second is and, despite the third installment of the trilogy being widely regarded as the least effective out of the three, every installment earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination with the first two winning the acclaimed award. So why touch it? To that I say: why not?
There is nothing that can be said or done that will tarnish the legacy of The Godfather. Has the reception of the third one caused fans to suddenly end their devotion with just how flawless those first two films are? Does the absence of Tom Hagen diminish the complexity Robert Duvall brought to that role? Despite one's views on that third film, it still delivered the iconically iconic line that truly manages to sum up the tragic character of Michael Corleone as portrayed by the legendary Al Pacino in 12 words:
And you know what? With how worldly elements like statistics work, there probably are those out in the universe who not only adore The Godfather Part III, they may just view it as their favourite of the bunch! To that I say: Godspeed, my friend. You are certainly a more interesting person than I am, I can tell you that much. Going back to that discussion on statistics... There are human beings out there that genuinely dislike The Godfather. They've seen it, they understand the adoration many hold for it and it just isn't their thing. To that I say: that's completely okay as well! IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT.
A common thread in many remakes remain them being an adaptation of a previous novel, short story etc. As mentioned, both versions of The Thing and The Fly were based on their respective works and the 1959 historical epic Ben-Hur was a remake of the 1925 silent film which itself was an adaptation of the Lew Wallace novel.
While a direct remake or continuation of Coppola's The Godfather that follows whatever canon he brought to fruition is always a possibility, a future filmmaker reading through and dissecting the original Puzo novel may decide they can be a voice in bringing about another iteration of this novel onto the big screen.
Whether we necessarily "need" this concept is certainly a question, however did we really "need" Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Was a 21 Jump Street film adaptation needed without Johnny Depp starring in it? Couldn't we just have been happy with Jodie Foster's brilliant performance in Freaky Friday? Did the next generation of film fans need to see Lindsay Lohan play twins in The Parent Trap? Was there anyone really clamoring for a 3:10 To Yuma remake? I wonder where the noir genre would be without 1941's remake of The Maltese Falcon? Can you imagine your life without Nicolas Cage crying out "HOW'D IT GET BURNED?!" in The Wicker Man remake?
I always rejected the idea of "nobody asked for X movie therefore don't make it." Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo is perfection in a bottle yet the debate remains whether the Sergio Leone unofficial remake A Fistful of Dollars manages to top it.
Remakes Have Been Given a Bad Name
The issue is not that remakes are inherently bad, rather, it's that bad remakes are made. And do you know what is one of the most difficult jobs one can find on this here planet Earth? Trying to make a good movie.
Think back to a simpler time when 12 year old you and your childhood friends thought it'd be a great idea if you filmed yourselves in a scene that melded together the Harrison Ford Cinematic Universe with Friend A playing Han Solo while Friend B transported onto the Millennium Falcon somehow as Indiana Jones and the dialogue was incomprehensible and the acting was stiff, the music would've been hit with an immediate copyright strike and it overall just made no logistical sense whatsoever... Yet at the time you thought "man, I better have my Oscar speech ready." So what I would tell my adolescent self is: while you genuinely think you have a top-shelf picture on your hands, you truly do not. It's horrible. Terrible. Sashay away and never return.
Filmmakers never go into a project hoping it fails. Rarely (if ever) do they pray to the Movie Gods "O Holy Kubrick, please ensure my movie performs horribly at the box office and everyone wishes they ceased to exist following their watch of it!"
The 450th iteration of The Invisible Man recently hit theaters starring Elisabeth Moss and it has managed to earn over $120 million at the box office thus far. What's more shocking than this impressive number? It is a genuinely fantastically entertaining thriller! Is it a flawless execution of its original source material? Is it worthy of the benevolent name that is the Man of Invisibility? Whether it is or isn't is something I'm personally not concerned with.
Did I enjoy it? Was it a thrill ride? Do I hope another iteration of this character comes out in the future that could possibly be better than what Leigh Whannell brought to his version? To this I say: Yes Drill Sergeant!