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Remakes That Failed To Live Up To The Original

A long time ago, a very astute person wrote that there is nothing new under the sun, and in the 2,000 years since, nothing has proven that quite as well as Hollywood's seemingly endless desire for remakes. That's not always a bad thing, either! Putting a fresh new spin on a classic idea can often result in something that's interesting in its own right, updating universal themes for a new audience.

But for every remake that stands the test of time, there's, oh, a couple dozen that completely miss the mark. From the forgettable to the downright mystifying "why would you even try this," read on for ten movie remakes that completely failed to live up to their source material.

Psycho (1998)

Over half a century after its original release, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho still stands as one of the unquestionable masterpieces of horror. From the moment of the film's most famous murder, with its screeching soundtrack and artfully horrifying shot of blood circling a shower drain—a sequence that would pave the way for the modern slasher flick and, according to a behind-the-scenes book she wrote in 1995, keep star Janet Leigh from ever taking a real-life shower again—to the final, deeply disturbing shot of Norman Bates quietly refusing to swat a fly in an effort to prove his sanity, it set the standard.

It absolutely boggles the mind, then, that anyone would try their hand at a remake of any kind, let alone one that was almost a shot-for-shot recreation of the original. And yet, in 1998, that's exactly what happened with Gus Van Sant, riding high off the Academy Award-winning success of the previous year's Good Will Hunting, filling in for Hitchcock. Unfortunately for him, the result was widely considered to be a bomb. Roger Ebert even singled it out as an example of why the very idea of a shot-for-shot remake is completely pointless.

In retrospect, it might've behooved Van Sant to stray a little further from the original and try to put his own stamp on the story of Norman Bates and his mother. On the other hand, when you consider the changes he did make—like throwing in a shot of Vince Vaughn's Norman Bates masturbating while doing some pre-murder shower peeping, putting White Zombie on the soundtrack, and adding a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the cast—it probably would've been better if he just hadn't bothered.

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

If Psycho is an example of how daunting it can be to remake one of the most highly regarded films in cinema history, then The Magnificent Seven is twice as harrowing, because it's stacked up against two classic versions of the same story. The original Magnificent Seven is itself a Western remake of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, pretty commonly regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.

To be fair, Antoine Fuqua's 2016 version did actually bring a lot to the table, including a much more diverse cast headed up by Denzel Washington that was was meant to reflect the true demographics of the Old West. At the end of the day, though, the fact that there were better versions of the story left even the critics who enjoyed Fuqua's emphasis on action over the original's dark moral ambiguity with less "wow" and more "why."

But hey, here's the good news. First, 1960's Magnificent Seven was also panned when it was released and unfavorably compared to Kurosawa's original, and its reputation grew in time, thanks largely to a truly incredible cast. It might not be likely, but it's entirely possible that could happen here. Oh, and the second bit of good news? As long as Roger Corman's Battle Beyond the Stars exists, nobody's going to think this one is the worst remake of Seven Samurai.

Death Race (2008)

Speaking of Roger Corman, we have Death Race. Taken on its own, Paul W.S. Anderson's Jason Statham vehicle—uh, pun only slightly intended—is a pretty standard action movie with a genuinely fun high concept: a near-future dystopia where a privatized prison frames a tough-as-nails race car driver so that he can compete in their three-day gladiatorial automotive combat bloodbath, which they stream live to bloodthirsty viewers across the globe.

Even when you compare it to the original, all the pieces are there. There's brutal action, a nice helping of social satire, and Jason Statham, who broke through in an action-packed car movie franchise and continues to find success in a different action packed car movie franchise—The Transporter and The Fast and the Furious, respectively—is the perfect star. The problem is that it lacks the spectacle of the original. Death Race 2000 wasn't just a satire of a society that became so desensitized to violence that they willingly shoved the elderly onto the street to be run over for points, it was a technicolor explosion of ludicrous action that ends (spoiler warning) with the main character being elected President Frankenstein. The remake, while fun, boils everything down to that same grey-beige standard that it seemed like every mid-2000s action movie was dabbling in.

Weirdly enough, this version inspired a knockoff called Death Racers from the Asylum—you know, the low-budget film studio behind stuff like Transmorphers and Sharknado—that starred the Insane Clown Posse and Raven, the pro wrestler. It wasn't what you'd call good by any stretch, but it probably marks the first time that an Asylum knockoff has felt closer to the original than the big-budget remake.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)

On paper, the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake should've become a cult film classic, at least among horror nerds. It's got a screenplay written by James Gunn when he was at the midpoint of transitioning from the obscurity of Troma Films to making massive hits like Guardians of the Galaxy, and it was the directorial debut for Zack Snyder, serving as the movie that would propel him to huge projects like 300 and DC's Man of Steel. It even had the timing right, coming right when the zombie revival (ha-ha!) was at full steam, hitting theaters the same year as Shaun of the Dead.

And yet, their take on George Romero's classic doesn't really feel like the all-star team-up of genre films or Rosetta Stone for some of the biggest hits in Hollywood today. It's not bad, and if you're a fan of Gunn and Snyder (and the living dead) it's worth seeing, if only to watch some of their signature storytelling tricks in action before they had the chance to show them on a much grander stage. At the same time, it never quite gets past "pretty good" and pretty good won't get you out of the shadow of the original, especially when that original essentially defined the genre.

One thing we will give it, though: that one part with the the zombie baby (zombaby?) is quite literally the best thing Snyder has ever done.

Clash of the Titans (2010)

For a generation of moviegoers, 1981's Clash of the Titans was the definitive big-screen adaptation of Greek mythology. It's full of lavish set pieces that pit Perseus against Medusa and the Kraken, all brought to life with stop-motion special effects from Ray Harryhausen.

The 2010 remake, on the other hand... well, look. Be honest. Before you started reading this, did you even remember that there was a 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans that starred the dude from Avatar? And now that you do remember it, can you actually remember anything about it? If we're going to be completely real with each other, the only thing we remembered was that it was originally planned to be the first part of a trilogy that—thanks to the sequel's disappointing box office—never actually got around to its third act. Then again, that might be cheating; what big-budget special effects spectacular in 2010 wasn't designed to kick off a new franchise?

Oh wait, there's one more memorable thing about this one: the posters—which we remind you were for a movie called Clash of the Titans—originally had the tagline "Titans Will Clash." That's one of those things that's so ridiculously stupid that it kind of loops back around to being genius.

Fright Night (2011)

In all honesty, the Fright Night remake is actually pretty great. Not only does it manage to preserve the tone of the original and strike a solid balance between comedy and jump-scare vampire horror, the changes that it makes to update the action actually work. While the original featured Roddy McDowall as a late-night local TV horror host, that's an occupation that sadly no longer existed by 2011, and recasting the role with David Tennant as a Criss Angel-esque magician who plays up his stagecraft as actual demonic powers. It's a fun twist that makes the remake seem fresh.

But that might be the problem. The original Fright Night succeeds as a cult classic partly because it's a little rough around the edges. It's McDowall's old-school scenery chewing and the kids' unpolished, occasionally whiny acting that makes the movie feel like one of those late-night horror movies that the film's riffing on. The contrast between that setup and a genuinely chilling villain with great special effects is where the magic is.

Comparatively, the remake is just a little too slick, a little too polished to capture that same feeling. Because of that, it's never going to supplant the original—but it does make for a pretty good double feature.

The Karate Kid (2010)

If there's one movie on this list that absolutely should have had a remake, The Karate Kid is it. As iconic as the 1984 original might be, with Daniel-San learning to defend himself by busting his ass at household chores—almost certainly a stealth plot by filmmakers to get impressionable kids to volunteer to wash cars and sweep floors in hopes of unlocking devastating martial arts techniques—it's also very much a product of its era. Updating it just makes sense, because if movies have taught us anything, it's that every generation has kids that are just really, really into seeing people get kicked in the face.

But what should've been an elegant crane kick wound up tripping over its own feet and tumbling down a hill of irrelevance. In theory, a movie that teams up Jackie Chan and Taraji P. Henson is something we'd want to see immediately, but this one, for all it had going for it, was derailed from the second it was announced by a single question: doesn't Jackie Chan do kung fu, not karate? The movie even acknowledges this, but for its entire 140 minute runtime, a single question hangs over the entire project: why not just call it The Kung Fu Kid instead? 

For kids who grew to love him in that '90s martial arts boom that came after Rumble in the Bronx made him an international superstar, it seemed impossible to believe that there would be a time when we wouldn't be getting a new Jackie Chan movie every year, and even more impossible to think that there would be one that would be completely uninteresting. And yet, here we are, with a 2010 Karate Kid remake that, at least as of 2014, apparently still has a sequel in the works.

King Kong (2005)

1933's King Kong is one of the single most iconic films of all time, but it's fair to say that it's not exactly flawless. If nothing else, the 70 years after its original release saw plenty of new developments in the art of filmmaking that could be used to enhance the story's epic scale. And hey, if there's one thing we can agree on, it's that everybody wanted to see an extended sequence of a giant gorilla ice skating while falling in love.

Wait, no, sorry. Got the notes mixed up here. Nobody. Nobody wanted to see that.

Okay, so maybe that's an exaggeration. Thanks largely to the fact that director Peter Jackson was riding high on the massive success of the Lord of the Rings movies—and the undeniable and eternal appeal of movies where giant apes punch dinosaurs—King Kong actually was a hit. Sure, it's over three hours long and could use a little trimming, but it's got a solid cast, some good-looking effects, and was clearly a passion project for Jackson rather than a cynical cash-in. At the end of the day, though, it doesn't stand on its own like the original did, and just ends up feeling like a weird little speed bump sandwiched between two trilogies about hobbits.

RoboCop (2014)

Here's the thing about the RoboCop remake: it's not bad. In fact, if you're a fan of the original RoboCop who hasn't seen it, we'd be willing to bet that it's actually a whole lot better than you think it is.

The major complaint about José Padilha's version is that it took the hard R satire of Paul Verhoeven's original and dumbed it down to a more audience-friendly PG-13 action romp. That's fair, but at the same time, there's something kind of brilliant about a movie that's literally making RoboCop more palatable having a scene where a corporate executive talks about how they need to redesign RoboCop to be more audience-friendly so that they can make violence an easier sell to the American public. It manages to be a RoboCop that looks like it was made in an Apple Store while simultaneously being a satire of the mindset that would make such a thing.

But even though it cut out the gory piece-by-piece murder of Alex Murphy in favor of a bloodless car bomb, the action isn't where RoboCop 2K14 fails to live up to the original; it's the satire. Verhoeven's RoboCop might be an undeniable product of the '80s, but in the three decades since it first hit theaters, its satirical focus on corporate greed, privatizing public services, and the way that crime trickles down from the highest levels have remained incredibly relevant. A compromised version of RoboCop, even one that makes the most of its compromises, isn't going to live up.

Thirteen Ghosts (2001)

Most of the movie remakes on this list fail because they're trying to recreate the great things about a great movie, and wind up just flat-out not being as good. Thirteen Ghosts on the other hand, doesn't have that problem—the 1960 original isn't exactly a high point for the medium. It's cheesy, it's goofy, it's barely even frightening. 

But it is spectacular, in a very literal sense of the word. Director William Castle was famed for "enhancing" his movies with increasingly ludicrous gimmicks. 1961's Homicidal, for instance—a movie that on its own merits was reviewed as being better than Psycho—featured a 45-second "Fright Break" where moviegoers who were too scared to see the climax were offered a refund if they followed a yellow path to the "Coward's Corner" outside, and 1959's House on Haunted Hill introduced "Emergo," where a skeleton on a string would be flown over the heads of the audience. Electrified seats, cardboard axes, claiming to be able to switch a movie to an alternate ending that did not actually exist based on a live audience's vote—that was Castle's stock in trade, and it's what made his movies so memorable, even if the quality was... well, let's say "lacking." 

13 Ghosts had a pretty simple trick—a red and blue lens that would allow viewers to "remove" the ghosts from their experience if they were too terrified—but its 2001 remake did nothing of the sort, in favor of presenting a straightforward horror flick about a "Black Zodiac" of ghosts with complicated origin stories that were never even referenced in the movie itself. Listen: if you're not willing to literally throw a dead body at the audience in order to get their attention, then don't bother remaking a William Castle movie.