No one can deny that most movie studios in Hollywood occasionally run a little low on originality. Luckily for them, there’s over a century of classic films that can provide inspiration for new ones… in addition to already-formed characters, plots and dialogue, if need be.
So, it’s never a surprise when a remake gets the green light – this year alone, we’ve had many. Now and then, one of these remakes is pretty good. Other times, a remake is bad or just utterly pointless. Sometimes, they’re even masquerading as original films.
Join us as we count off the top five best (and bottom five worst) remakes and rip-offs from the past year.Next
1. Evil Dead (REMAKE)
With his Evil Dead, Fede Alvarez made the kind of remake that critics always hope to see but rarely get: a fresh take that, while true to the original, can stand on its own two feet. Instead of simply putting new characters in The Evil Dead‘s story, Alvarez totally revamps the tone, switching out the original film’s campy humor for relentlessly brutal, gleefully gory scares. The result is one of the most disturbing, gross and wildly entertaining horror films in recent memory.
Evil Dead is fun, scary and supremely confident. Alvarez adds some clever twists – instead of typical horndog teenagers, the kids at the center of this reboot are trying to help their friend Mia (Jane Levy) kick a nasty heroin habit, and they initially mistake her possession for withdrawal symptoms – while remaining true to the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink spirit of the original. It also earns points for never outstaying its welcome, clocking in an efficient 92 minutes.
It’s rare that a remake can bring something fresh to the table, but Evil Dead heralds the arrival of Alvarez as a bonafide talent as well as an extremely altered sense of purpose – scaring the pants off moviegoers as only the most nauseating gorefests can. It’s great, grisly fun.Previous Next
2. Iron Man 3 (RIP-OFF)
I love Iron Man 3. Originality aside, it’s a quippy, fast-paced, stylish entry in the Marvel canon that succeeded in revitalizing the Iron Man franchise after a lackluster second installment. Director Shane Black smartly injected some of his trademark dark humor, and a raucous turn from Sir Ben Kingsley only increases my affection for the film. However, Drew Pearce’s script is far from original. In particular, Iron Man 3 rips off Pixar’s The Incredibles to a surprising degree.
Villain Adrian Killian (Guy Pearce) is a bona fide clone of Syndrome – both are initially bumbling geeks who worship powerful heroes (Tony Stark/Mr. Incredible) and are deeply wounded by said heroes totally giving them the brush-off. Both Killian and Syndrome then become super-villains and take revenge on their former heroes, attempting to destroy their loved ones (Pepper Potts/Helen, Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack Parr) and imprisoning their heroes after making the world believe they are dead. Fun stuff.
There are even tragic death fake-outs in both films. In Iron Man 3, Pepper believes that Tony has died during the Mandarin’s assault on their home early in the film, then Tony thinks that he’s lost Pepper after she falls into burning wreckage during the climactic oil tanker battle. Over in The Incredibles, meanwhile, Mr. Incredible is distraught after learning that his family’s jet has been shot down, and Helen is uncertain that Mr. Incredible is alive through most of the film.
If you need even more damning evidence of the similarities, take Tony’s friend Rhodey (Don Cheadle). An African-American man with extraordinary physical finesse, Rhodey wears a super-suit and enjoys fighting crime, sometimes alongside Iron Man. Question: Sound familiar? Answer: Frozone rides again!Previous Next
3. White House Down (RIP-OFF)
Now, don’t get me wrong here – I’m not a huge fan of either of this year’s take-over-the-White-House action extravaganzas. And to be clear, both White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen are totally shameless Die Hard knock-offs. However, whether you’re viewing them both as rip-offs of that quintessential action classic or as Xeroxes of each other, I’ve got to give the edge to White House Down.
While Olympus Has Fallen boasts an R-rating and Morgan Freeman, it lacks the sense of fun that director Roland Emmerich cultivates in White House Down. Both films have absurd premises (read: the same absurd premise), but only one of them truly commits to the ridiculousness of a full-scale takeover of the White House. Stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx maintain a fun, self-aware banter throughout, and James Vanderbilt’s script offers priceless moments like POTUS yelling, “Get your hands off my Jordans,” as he beats a mercenary into submission.
The Die Hard references are frustratingly frequent but, I’ll begrudging admit, well-executed. John Cale (Tatum) even sounds like John McClane as he fights a one-man war against terrorists in a large building filled with hostages. Like McClane, he has a loved one secretly on the inside, uses elevator shafts to evade his pursuers and provides snarky one-liners. Damn it, even the white tank top is exactly the same.
White House Down includes some groan-worthy moments and a predictable final third, but it does include a full-blown Obama substitute – Foxx’s President Sawyer chews Nicorette gum, courts controversy with his lack of military experience, is attempting to broker a peace deal while removing American troops from the Middle East and even shares a hair-cut with our current president. If nothing else, White House Down is the closest we’ll ever come (hopefully) to watching Obama wield a rocket-launcher.Previous Next
4. Much Ado About Nothing (REMAKE)
Joss Whedon’s seductive, low-budget take on one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays is a merry romp populated by a brilliant cast of the director’s frequent collaborators. Preserving the Bard’s still-vibrant script but setting the story within the director’s gorgeous home, Whedon makes a number of stylistic choices that keep the film visually engaging and persistently energetic. I’m hard-pressed to a remember a Shakespeare adaptation as thrilling, sexy and innovative as Much Ado About Nothing.
The entire cast is aces, but particular praise should go to Amy Acker and Fran Kranz. Acker’s Beatrice is completely winning and showcases terrific comic timing as she delivers Shakespeare’s witty dialogue. And Kranz, so great in The Cabin in the Woods, turns in a delicate, deeply affecting performance as the ruthless Claudio. Nathan Fillion also stands out as the silly, theatrical Constable Dogberry.
The dark undertones present in most of Whedon’s work do exist in Much Ado About Nothing, but the film as a whole feels as lighthearted as it does sure-footed. With all its quirky imagery and strong performances, Much Ado About Nothing is a prime example of Shakespeare done right.Previous Next
5. Carrie (REMAKE)
Whether there was any need to remake Brian de Palma’s iconic horror classic Carrie is up for debate, but Kimberley Peirce’s modern-day adaptation does provide a terrific vehicle for lead Chloe Moretz (aka Hit-Girl in the Kick-Ass series). As telekinetic outcast Carrie White, Moretz shows off her sizable dramatic chops and continues to build upon the already considerable clout she had previously gained in the horror genre from starring in Let Me In (another remake of an iconic horror flick). Julianne Moore also turns in a terrifying performance to rival Piper Laurie’s as Carrie’s religious nut of a mother. Other highlights include the modern setting (cell phones are well-utilized during the infamous shower sequence) and Judy Greer as a caring gym teacher.
The reason that Carrie doesn’t rank higher on this list is a simple sense of pointlessness that pervades the remake. Peirce never really comes up with a legitimate reason for a new Carrie (though the occasional incorporation of modern technology is cool, it doesn’t ultimately influence the story as much as it should), and the new additions don’t all sit well.
That said, Peirce’s respectful take on the story isn’t without merit. The director shoots Carrie with a more sympathetic eye, and the film’s message about the devastating effects of bullying takes on a particular poignancy given the recent, nationwide campaign to curb verbal and physical abuse between students in school. Besides, Stephen King’s tale is close enough to my heart that any film attempting to bring it to a new generation is all right in my book.
Mostly for the performances of Moretz and Moore, but also for Peirce’s diligent efforts to craft a remake true in spirit to the original, Carrie deserves a spot on this list.
In fact, speaking of the performances from Carrie, to hear a little bit from the actors themselves on what it was like making this film, be sure to check out our exclusive video interview below!
1. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (RIP-OFF)
The most (read: only) interesting part of this YA adaptation is how strikingly sticky-fingered and shoddily cobbled together it is. I had the displeasure of reviewing The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones back in August, and I fully regret those one and a half stars I gave it back then. There’s not an ounce of originality in the whole affair.
The franchise most obviously ripped off by the film is the Harry Potter series. Like Harry, protagonist Clary (Lily Collins) realizes that she has magical abilities one day and is promptly shipped off to an invisible castle populated by others of her kind. In this world, regular humans are called Mundanes, which is definitely not the same as Muggles (but totally is), and Clary casts magical runes, which are definitely not spells (but they totally are).
The love triangle from Twilight is also lifted, though less compellingly, but that’s not surprising, considering the books by Cassandra Clare that the film is based on were originally Twilight fan-fiction. From that series, the film steals vampires, werewolves and blatant misogyny. Meanwhile, twists in the final act steal from both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi for no discernible reason but do so with such mind-numbing stupidity that Clare must have been blushing in her seat. Finally, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones lifts scenes, characters and ideas from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X-Men, Ghostbusters and even Stargate.
It’s not just the worst rip-off of the year – sheer plagiarism and complete unwatchability make a serious case for The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones as the worst rip-off of the century.Previous Next
2. Man of Steel (REMAKE)
While my fellow writer Jonathan Lack loved Man of Steel almost unconditionally, I had the opposite reaction: I loathed director Zack Snyder and screenwriter David S. Goyer’s take on Superman more than any other film this year. To me, everything about Man of Steel reeked of sloppiness. From the obnoxiously booming Hans Zimmer score to the pathetic screenplay to the eye-gougingly CGI-heavy action sequences, nothing worked for me.
As a lifelong comic-book fan, I adore Superman. His integrity, heroism and status as a symbol of American military power allow him to rise above all other heroes in terms of cultural significance. When Man of Steel flew into theaters, I was thrilled at the possibility that the character might get a faithful, big-budgeted, genuinely cool film adaptation that would signal a bright new future for Superman at the movies. What a damnable shame that the movie turned into such a trainwreck. I still can’t figure out how so much went so wrong.
Superman always stood for protecting America’s best interests. The fallacy of Goyer’s script is that he tries to universalize the character, having him completely destroy Metropolis (an eternal symbol of American glory) to serve the best interests of the planet as a whole. Perhaps Goyer’s Superman is what America deserves after decades of meddling abroad. After all, the character is almost like the next type of military drone in Man of Steel; he soars around, destroying buildings, killing innocents (whether he means to or not) and then flat-out murdering. It’s tricky not to see the similarities. There’s nothing patriotic about him, and while that may be part of Goyer’s half-stated point, it’s just not Superman.
The script itself is completely atrocious, cramming in far too much exposition without ever giving Superman the most basic of things, like a personality or some basic wit. Even the Hulk had better lines in The Avengers. None of the battles, large though they are, have a human cost, and so, to my horror, I found myself yawning even as skyscrapers collapsed on top of fleeing Americans.
The original Superman films and the comics were about the actual Man of Steel. Man of Steel is about Snyder and Goyer playing with action figures in a very expensive sandbox. Superman has charisma. Superman has integrity. Superman is a patriot. And perhaps most importantly: Superman. Does. Not. Kill.
Man of Steel is the worst remake on this list because it gets everything wrong about its source material, from the stakes to the tone to the character himself. It makes my heart ache just thinking about all the squandered promise.Previous Next
3. R.I.P.D. (RIP-OFF)
While it’s nowhere near as prolific as The Mortal Instruments, R.I.P.D. does ape the Men in Black franchise quite spectacularly. Ryan Reynolds plays Will Smith’s young, brash agent role as a carbon copy, breaking all the rules until one mistake lands him in a strange, bureaucratic office overseen by a sarcastic, female Rip Torn wannabee.
The pitch for R.I.P.D. must have literally been, “It’s Men in Black, but they’re dead.” Reynolds’s Will Smith knock-off is partnered with a curmudgeonly older agent (Jeff Bridges, playing Tommy Lee Jones’s part with even more crustiness) and tasked with taking down supernatural beings. Predictably loopy chase scenes ensue, but the Men in Black references don’t stop there. Old cars, ridiculous weaponry, pointless bantering and a “Come on, guys, let’s go save the world” hook all factor in to R.I.P.D.‘s plot.
It was dead on arrival at the box-office, and for good reason – moviegoers were smart enough to see this rip-off for what it was and turn it down. In an ironic twist, R.I.P.D. will get its just desserts in 2015, when DreamWorks Animation releases B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations, which is literally just an animated version of R.I.P.D. for kids. And who ever said there were no happy endings in Hollywood?Previous Next
4. Romeo and Juliet (REMAKE)
It seems that whenever a film studio needs to make a quick buck, dragging out the Bard for another cinematic retread is just instinctual. This remake of Romeo and Juliet offers no reason for its existence and seems entirely calculated. Leads Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth are decent in their roles, but there’s a sense of lifelessness to the proceedings that makes Romeo and Juliet a chore to watch.
Additionally, Romeo and Juliet thinks it’s being original by canning Shakespeare’s traditional dialogue in favor of more palatable modern English, but all the change actually does is alienate the sole audience of these adaptations – Shakespeare enthusiasts who enjoy hearing current actors take on the Bard’s romantic language.
Remakes that add something to the original, whether it be great performances, innovative direction or altered setting, are occasionally worth making. Romeo and Juliet offers none of the above – mercifully, it flopped as much at the box office as it did with critics, so maybe studios will think twice next time.Previous Next
5. Oblivion (RIP-OFF)
This Tom Cruise sci-fi action extravaganza is exhaustingly generic, blatantly lifting and blending the plots of Moon and WALL-E. It doesn’t quite work, maybe because Cruise is nowhere near as good an actor as Sam Rockwell or maybe because he’s nowhere near as cute and cuddly as WALL-E.
The result is a middling, been-there-done-that sci-fi flick that’s deficient on almost every level. The minds behind Oblivion can’t even come up with an original antagonist – robot supervisor Sally (voiced by Melissa Leo) is a second-rate knock-off of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
As director Joseph Kosinski intended Oblivion as an homage to classic sci-fi movies, I’m inclined to let him off for the other instances of thievery, but I’ll list the obvious ones for your viewing (dis?)pleasure: Independence Day, Planet of the Apes, The Matrix and Dune.
Well, that’s our list of the best and worst remakes and rip-offs from this past year. Did we miss any, or do you disagree with our picks? Sound off in the comments section!Previous