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(Re)Making Money

by Haley Fritz

Photo Courtesy of Facebook

Beauty and the Beast in live action. Batman played by Ben Affleck. Ghostbusters with an all-female cast. Dreaded by fans and critics alike, little ignites more controversy in the film industry than the remake.

Moviegoers everywhere demand to know whether Hollywood will ever make a successful, imaginative rehashing of their favorite films, or whether the remake is doomed for a lifetime of disappointment.

This summer, there was little surprise when the new Ghostbusters film—which attracted criticism from everyone, including online trolls and the original cast—flopped in the box office. Despite its star-studded lineup of brilliant female comics (Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig, to name just two), the new Ghostbusters was doomed from the start, thanks to the cult following entertained by its predecessor.

Few, however, could have anticipated that the Ghostbusters remake would bring film criticism to such a disturbing low. Attacks on its cast quickly became both personal and political, especially in the case of Leslie Jones. The only black actress in the movie’s lead quartet, Jones fell prey to victimization for her six-foot build, and was even subject to vicious, racist comparisons to the gorilla Harambe.

The bitter reception of Ghostbusters raises many questions about the validity of remakes in the film industry. Most remakes, like Ghostbusters, appear to be almost universally hated by fans of the original.

“I usually end up going to see [the remake] if I like the original…but I usually go into it with a critical mind,” said Erin Tichenor (CAS ’19)

Ironically, however, there are certain categories of remakes we tend to overlook in our sour observations of this genre. For example, the mostly-male demographic that harassed Ghostbusters into box office failure is arguably the same one thriving off the newest superhero releases.

This contradiction suggests that the question of interest with remakes has less to do with the movies themselves, and more to do with the attitudes of acceptance of their fanbases.

The superhero genre is particularly notorious for releasing the same films over and over again. Many of these remakes—such as Man of Steel (2013)—received no better reviews than Ghostbusters did. Instead, what sets them apart from the crowd is, frankly, their considerable earning potential.

"When movies become so big that they can make $200 million in a single weekend like The Avengers did, everyone in the film industry is going to want to get in on making comic-book movies," actor-turned-director James Franco (who appeared alongside Toby Maguire in the Spiderman franchise) wrote in a review for Vice.

Coincidentally, Disney purchased Marvel Studios—which continues to release Avengers sequels and other superhero remakes—in 2009. Recently, Disney has also taken on a slew of live-action remakes of its classic animated fairytales, with Beauty and the Beast slated for release in 2017.

Admittedly, the artistic spin that Disney has been giving its live-action fairytales conveys hints of creative potential for the genre. Those who saw Cinderella in 2015 might argue that Disney’s latest version of the story brought a darker perspective to the classic children’s story, dramatizing the abuse of Cinderella’s stepfamily and incorporating more elements of the original Brothers’ Grimm.

Yet on the other hand, these stories have already been retold countless times in countless different ways. Between revamping Cinderella and exhausting the Avengers series, the studio’s knack for remakes raises concerns that the Disney magic we all grew up on is running dry.

And Disney isn’t the only culprit. One of the latest Warner Bros. releases, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is a remake in more ways than one: it is both the ninth movie set in the world of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, and loosely based on her spinoff book of the same name.

For fans who ask why the world needs another Harry Potter movie, Fantastic Beasts offers the same answer as The Avengers: money. Variety estimates that Fantastic Beasts will open at $200 million in global sales. Film remakes may make fans whine, groan and rage-tweet—but with profits like that, the genre probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

The remake tends more toward an exhibition of corporate greed than a form of high art, and our expectations for the genre should remain as low as the art itself.

The fact of the matter is that movies like Cinderella, Fantastic Beasts and The Avengers don’t intend to win Oscars for their originality. Instead, they exist purely as money-making machines for the major movie studios that release them.

As long as studios continue to rake in sales from remakes, the genre will live to see another day.

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