With the release of Ben-Hur this week in the UK it certainly looks like Hollywood has run out of ideas. It seems that the major studios are only making sequels and remakes these days.
This is borne out by the box office numbers over the last couple of years. In 2015, 7 out of the top 10 films were either sequels or remakes and out of the remaining 3 films 2 are based on books.
To be fair to this phenomenon it has been around for a long time, an excellent example of this is Godzilla. Films including Godzilla in any form have been remade an incredible number of times (arguably 30 or more depending on who you listen to). It just seems that recently it has been more obvious than ever.
From a fans point of view these remakes can be incredibly distressing. A recent illustration of this distress is the 2016 Ghostbusters movie. When this film was announced the internet went into meltdown. There was so much love for the original that the idea of remaking it was wrong on every level. (A lot of the reported hate was aimed at the fact that it was a female led remake but as far as this author is concerned the hate spread much further than just that).
Having watched the movie I felt that although it stole liberally from the original (it’s a remake so I’d be surprised if it didn’t) but it was a serviceable movie (that is only my opinion and I acknowledge that a lot of people did not like it) and it did make some money, not much but some.
And this is why, from a studio point of view these films are made….for the money. To come up with a brand new original idea is very difficult these days. So many stories have been told and a truly original story can either come with a lot of cost in terms of the amount of writers hired or are just hard to come by. Studios much prefer to work from existing properties or brands.
These properties have instant recognition with the public either through having heard of it or through more potent force nostalgia.
To have a public aware of their product is a fantastic power the studios have. Using Ghostbusters as the example, the brand not only had the two original movies but a popular song in the 80s and many cartoons and books. This means that a lot of people are aware of this product and means that a new movie with the name Ghostbusters on it would be well known by a lot of people. These people, whether they hate it or not, will be interested in news of a new movie and most of them will watch it to see whether it is good or bad.
Studios look to these properties with recognition rather than picking original movies that are more difficult to sell to the distributors.
This brings us back to Ben Hur. The most famous version is the 1959 Ben-Hur starring Charlton Heston. It was a massive film of its age. With the impressive practical effects and the sheer effort to make, meant that people wanted to see this epic. It made at least four times its budget and is one of only three films to win 11 Oscars (point to note – this was also a remake of an earlier Ben-Hur).
These factors make ‘Ben-Hur’ a massively recognisable brand to film fans and a lot of the general public. Studios will use this knowledge of their brand to sell their new version of Ben-Hur. Packing it with recognisable and beloved actors such as Morgan Freeman and Toby Kebbell also adds to the appeal of this brotherly revenge movie.
Another reason why the new Ben-Hur may also bring in crowds is surprisingly opposite to my previous argument. It has recently to my attention that due to the Charlton Heston being made in the 50s a whole generation of people in their 20s or younger may not have heard of the 50s movie (I know it’s shocking). This means that the studio must not just rely on the nostalgia factor from people who have seen or heard of the Charlton Heston version but must also improve their marketing to hit a new generation.
In some rare case studios can almost make films based on a brand to keep hold of the rights to that brand. Some deals that studios have mean that they must make a film of these products before a certain time or the rights for that product revert back to the original owner. Most recently this has been evident in the comic book movie genre with the Fantastic Four brand.
I’m not saying that their aren’t excellent original stories out there. Already films this year have included ‘The Nice Guys’, ‘Midnight Special’ and many more. But these films are becoming increasingly hard to find in cinemas with Studios putting their financial and marketing backing behind the more likely monetary successes that are remakes or sequels.
Luckily for people who like original movies there are places such as Netflix or Amazon who do have a wide array of choice to watch them. Unfortunately if you want an original feature at your local multiplex this may start to become incredibly hard to find with all the sequels and remakes taking up the cinema screens.
Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures