The mainstream horror genre is currently (still) in its remake cycle, with the remake fast becoming synonymous with the cinema-going fans opinion of the genre. However, looking at the data, is the remake really the best course of action for the big studios? And why does Hollywood insist on looking back to drive themselves forwards? Taking over from the short lived torture porn cycle and competing against the revived (but always relatively low budget – WWZ excluding) zombie genre, which has reverted back to the odd related cinema release, the vast majority of American horror that makes it into our cinema's are remakes and reimagining’s of older classics (Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and less mainstream titles (The Hills Have Eyes, When A Stranger Calls) but what has caused this?
A lack of Hollywood creativity? Low pre-production costs with basic stories and characters already created? Instant appeal and audience recognition? On top of this we have to question who are the key target audience and what are the actual demographics of those who turn up? New fans for a dying franchise (Friday 13th) or to reunite the old and the new (Texas Chainsaw 3D) in a bid to enlarge the market size?
Between 1995 and 2012, a whopping 18 year period, the horror genre had only a 4.77% market share in the US cinema market with 329 films (Source: the-numbers.com) and lay ninth in popularity, meanwhile remakes in the same period made up only 6.38% of the total source market share – taking these figures at face value means in line with the market share proportions there should have only been 21 remakes in this 18 year period. Does that seem right to you? If it doesn’t it’s because it shouldn’t, in that same period over 60 remakes have had (even limited) theatrical releases in the US, meaning a whopping 300% output value. While Europe strived for unique and original films (see the French wave of horror from the early 2000s for a fantastic example), Hollywood seemed to go the opposite direction. However, one must accept that this is not directly comparable as we lack the statistics for how many of the European horror films were granted cinema releases and what their returns were, it is merely worth keeping in mind.
Meanwhile, of the top ten grossing opening weekend horror remakes of the last 18 years, 9 were made in the last decade, with six taking over $30 million alone during that period. However what is interesting is that takings are generally consistent with the number of theatres the film was playing in although this correlation dissipates outside of the top ten. Furthermore, despite some mixed reviews The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has since been rebooted again, Halloween spawned a critically panned sequel and the Evil Dead and Friday 13th are due to have another film in the works. Thankfully however, A Nightmare on Elm Street was not greenlit to give us nightmares about how bad the 2010 version was with a sequel. Moving on from opening weekends to total gross sadly doesn’t tell us much except that big money remakes are oddly dominated by Dreamworks and Warner Bros (who put a fair few out through subsidiary New Line) who one can only assume have the financial muscle to own the major franchises and can afford the odd teen stars wages to appear. These figures are all well and good I hear you say but they still don’t explain the apparent deluge of remakes and the answer to that is every business mans (or ladies) three favourite letters: ROI – Return on Investment. Let’s take the absolute dross that was the 2006 calamity Night of the Living Dead starring Sid Haig.
Theatrically it pulled in around $215k (from a lowly 145 screens) but overall to date and internationally it is rumoured to have pulled in around $1.5m and sadly on a trip to New York a fair few years ago even I gave them my money and purchased this. I knew it was going to be low budget and a terrible movie but I still bought it. Like most film fanatics I’m weak and a sucker for my niche genre of choice but anyway, it pulled in $1.5m on a reported budget of $750k (although still quite high and we are unsure if this included marketing costs – did they even market it or let the name do the talking?) this still represents via beer mat finances a ROI of around 100%. Not too shabby I hear you say, and I’m sure the fat cat producers ended up drinking their bubbly eventually knowing that even a limited theatrical release wouldn’t affect their takings thanks to the VOD, rental and DVD market.
That is just one example however, taking the 2009 Marcus Nispel helmed Friday the 13th, this pulled in $40.5m (from 3105 screens) in the US on its opening weekend alone on a budget of just $19m, but for a horror this is still a significant outlay. Once again ignoring marketing costs which we cannot be sure of, in the USA alone this is a 213% ROI from the opening weekend alone. If the producers of NOTLD 3D were drinking Bucks Fizz, these guys were on the Dom Perignon. Friday the 13th (2009) went on to amass around $91m internationally to date and the only shock here is that it still hasn’t spawned a sequel.
So two examples from the top to the bottom of the revenue stream both (all be it eventually) providing healthy ROI and neither earning rave reviews to put it mildly. Although, I do enjoy the Friday the 13th remake despite what other people say. So famous remakes sell regardless of critics reviews, they have a built in-fan base, a recognisable brand in the most case and best of all they have that curiosity factor to pick up the stragglers and late adopters who will rent or buy rather than go initially to the cinema.
Not all remakes are of films known by pop culture and the mainstream, what about the little obscure films that hasn’t been incorporated into pop-culture or the mainstream I hear you say. Looking at the very teen-orientated and almost a ‘I know what you did last summer’ homage Sorority Row (apparently not based on ‘I Know..’ but House on Sorority Row) and also the watered down When A Stranger Calls and the disappointing Black Xmas (its spelt Christmas people!). I would look at Prom Night too but I am trying to forget that travesty of film. Surely these attempts were not profitable, even if Sorority Row is a guilty pleasure.
Comparing them against non-remakes isn't infallible however, as it negates the influence of previous trends from 04-05 and 07-08 which would have been an influence in the financing and decision making of which films to pursue. However, certain low budget films (and larger budget) ones can be rushed out and these things often come in waves (torture porn, J-horror etc.). Not to mention the competition would still have this problem and have to appeal in the same climate.
Also please note that I will be avoiding Horror-Comedy due to the innate broader appeal making it less comparable and will be using actual takings as opposed to inflated. As this will be direct year comparisons this should be accurate.
What we can see from the limited (and I admit rough) data is that generally, studios could expect and saw remakes yield a higher return than original film, however, original films Hostel (2006) and Drag me to hell (2009) out grossed all except My Bloody Valentine 3-D with Hostel smashing all other returns thanks to a low budget, strong support and of course being released at the right time for the "torture porn" trend to kick in.
Interestingly all films researched made a profit eventually but while Hostel pulled in $19.5m on its opening weekend on US soil, providing an instant return and no doubt confirming a sequel would be made, fellow original and gore high film Turistas generated only $3.5m in its opening weekend, and little over $7 during its entire theatre run proving a costly investment and leaving producers dependent on the international market and subsequent VOD/DVD market if they were to get their money back. A big risk, but thankfully one Fox could absorb but maybe not one many smaller players could.
So, as expected its clear that the remake trend is big business simply because it minimises risk and boosts return, but for Horror to push boundaries and evolve we need the original screenplays that thankfully Europe is creating and for those American companies willing to take the risk, as proven by Hostel, Saw and so on, the rewards can far outweigh a remake in terms of both return and franchise opportunities. That leaves one last question - is it artistically right to constantly remake and reimagine and how far will Hollywood take it? When will we see the first remake of a remake? Although to be fair with the Texas Chainsaw franchise on it's third cycle, Friday the 13th due for another relaunch and no doubt after the critical panning the latest Nightmare of Elm street received I expect Freddy to be launched again in the next five years, if only to keep the franchise in peoples minds. Oh and for all the hates of The Thing prequel, I personally think you have missed the point and this is a rare occasion where Hollywood got it right. John Carpenter's The Thing (itself based on the fifties movie) was ripe for an explanation or loose origin companion and Van Heijningen Jnrs attempt was true to Carpenters original vision and did not try to appeal to a new demographic or chase the dollar although it's only crime (and foolish marketing idea) was to trade off the same name as Carpenter's film resulting in confusion and often being labelled a remake when in fact it is a clear prequel.
My own personal opinion is that this hoo-hah about remakes is over-blown, for every 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' there is a 'Maniac', for every 'Prom Night' there is a 'Piranha 3D', and it appears that it is more about the integrity and skill of the crew (is it any coincidence both of those two positive remakes have Alexandre Aja involved) and these films can bring something new to the equation such as 'The Hills Have Eyes' remake and the remake can bring forgotten films to the publics attention, such as 'When A Stranger Calls', although to be fair with this example the remake needs to be and thankfully has been forgotten.. Before I turn into an Aja fanboy I will leave it there but what are your thoughts on the remake boom? Are there any films that deserve to be remade or should just be left alone? How long can Hollywood keep this up?
Midlands Movies Marek