Is the new remake of “Ben-Hur” a disaster? Let’s call it a big mistake, and it’s one that illustrates the key principal of bad movie remakes: To really earn a place on the scroll of shame, a remake almost has to risk tarnishing the reputation of a movie we love. (Bad remakes of mixed-bag films, like “The Hitcher” or “Total Recall” or “Rollerball,” don’t matter as much.) With that in mind, here’s my list of the 10 worst movie remakes:
Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures
10. The Pink Panther (2006)
The idea seems to be that Inspector Clouseau, with that flibbertigibbet French accent of his (a joke that was genuinely funny in 1963), is one wild and crazy guy. But the hit-or-miss beauty of the original “Pink Panther” films is that Peter Sellers played Clouseau as an unconscious bumbler who created chaos entirely by accident, whereas everything about Steve Martin is clipped and purposeful. The chaos is now diagrammed and italicized, which is why it just sits there.
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
9. Footloose (2011)
Okay, let’s not pretend that this is a remake of a good movie. The 1984 “Footloose” is a preposterous movie — an Age of Reagan teen-kitsch potboiler in which the morality of the ’50s (in the form of a preacher who wants to ban rock and roll dancing) is both demonized and treated as repression-lite nostalgia. Yet the movie is such a quintessential relic of its era that its very absurdity is fun, and the soundtrack, of course, justifies it all. (Let’s hear it for the boy, and for the delectable pop of the ’80s.) Craig Brewer, who directed the remake, is a gifted filmmaker (he made the brilliant “Hustle & Flow”), but his folly is to treat every moment of this pablum as if it were a sacred text. The result isn’t just preposterous, it’s stifling: kitsch that never cuts loose.
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
8. The Stepford Wives (2004)
The original, made in 1975, was a pastel domestic sci-fi horror movie rooted in male paranoia, but with a note of deadpan black comedy at its center: In the picturesque town of Stepford, Conn., the rise of women’s liberation has led the husbands to replace their wives with slavish fembots, each of whom acts out the role of the “perfect” suburban spouse. The joke actually looks more resonant now (it’s not just about reactionary men; it’s about how the role of the housewife dies hard), but the remake was built around a dubious decision to kick the satire over-the-top. The women are still replicants, only now it’s the entire “straight” community that seems to be made of synthetic skin and fake feelings, a joke that wears you down with its klutzoid campiness.
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures/Dreamworks Pictures
7. Straw Dogs (2011)
How do you remake Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 art-house-meets-grindhouse revenge film — one of the most notoriously nasty and politically incorrect movies ever made — in an era of highly evolved feminist scruples? By taking out the complex savagery that made the movie work in the first place. James Marsden, as a candy-apple Ivy League wimp in laceless designer sneakers who has to save himself and his wife (Kate Bosworth) from a bunch of goons (led by Alexander Skarsgard as Bosworth’s Southern-fried Christian-redneck ex), is way out of his depth, and so is the movie, which wants to be violent and civilized, bloody and saintly, Peckinpah intense and prime-time safe, at the same time.
Courtesy of Screen Gems
6. City of Angels (1998)
There have probably been worse ideas in the history of movies than remaking Wim Wenders’ 1987 angels-walk-among-us Berlin fantasia “Wings of Desire.” But you’d have to work hard to think of one. Nicolas Cage, as an angel who wanders the earth ushering the dying into heaven, seems to be suffering the early onset of post-Oscar histrionics, though in this case his overacting is oddly quiet; it’s all about the velvet-puppy-dog stare. Cage has to relinquish his angel status if he wants to be with Meg Ryan (as a heart surgeon who loses a patient and gets spun into a crisis of faith), and the movie is all glazed woozy compassion, with a syrupy sentimentality that can clog your arteries.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
5. Get Carter (2000)
If you want to see how the influence of the New Hollywood of the ’70s extended across the pond, check out “Get Carter,” the enticingly black-hearted 1971 British underworld thriller in which Michael Caine — in one of his great performances — plays a gangster who returns to his hometown to get to the bottom of his brother’s death. Do not check out the Sylvester Stallone remake, which reduces Caine’s highly precise odyssey of menace to a synthetic pile of car chases and slathered-on “atmosphere.”
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
4. Depressingly Bad, Borderline Interchangeable Remakes of Horror Films
Oh, the horror! When lists of dreadful remakes are compiled, they inevitably include one or two (or three) horror revamps, and the point that’s always made is that the remakes are an outrage, an unholy sacrilege. Well, maybe they are, but really, who can tell these glossy bloody pulp insults apart? And who would even want to bother trying? The remake of “Halloween.” The remake of “Friday the 13th.” The remake of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” The remakes of “Prom Night,” “Black Christmas,” “The Hills Have Eyes,” and “Last House on the Left.” The (first) remake of “Godzilla.” The remake of “The Thing.” All cruddy and impersonal and numbing and entirely unnecessary. Remaking “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” was like remaking the “Citizen Kane” of horror dementia — but yes, they did it (in 2003). And then they did it again (in 2013). You can call it blasphemy, and you wouldn’t be wrong, but it was really just one more barbarically pointless horror revamp that gave new meaning to the word “cannibalization.”
Courtesy of New Line Cinema/Warner Bros./Paramount/Dimensions/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
3. Bad News Bears (2005)
The movies we remember most fondly tend to channel something indelible about the time in which they were made, and Michael Ritchie’s satirical baseball comedy “The Bad News Bears,” about a Southern California Little League team comprised of the worst players around, nails the transitional moment that was 1976. Essentially, the Bears are baby versions of the counterculture — scruffy, non-athletic, humane — but after a while they’re battling to be competitors, too. Welcome to the end of the rebellion! The original is a raucous classic of geek misbehavior, but Richard Linklater’s remake is the oddest movie of his career, because it has no point of view. At all. None. The counterculture spirit is gone, with very little to take its place, and we’re left with a lot of limp jokes that look like they came out of the worst comedy of … well, 1976.
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
2. Arthur (2011)
The original was a light romantic comedy, made in the era when Liza Minnelli was still a chick-flick movie star, that was built around the slovenly charisma of Dudley Moore as an unapologetic playboy drunk. Russell Brand was supposed to be the heir to Moore’s sozzled madness — another foppish British wastrel whose onscreen dissolution echoed tales of his off-screen misbehavior. Instead, the remake of “Arthur” turned out to be the movie in which the whole world discovered why Russell Brand was not meant to be a movie star: The first time you hear him, he’s funny, but he delivers every single line — always — with the exact same blitzed inflection, the same tedious solipsistic sing-song cockney yammer. He’s like a machine of foppish vanity, which is why he, and the movie, turned out to be insufferable.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
1. Psycho (1998)
Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot, line-for-line, inflection-for-inflection facsimile of Hitchcock’s slasher-shock masterpiece is a remake that was instantly and universally reviled, yet it’s worth noting just what an audacious project it was. It was like a science-fiction experiment: If enough care is taken in the lab, can a classic old movie literally be recreated? The answer turned out to be no, and the movie itself stands as the Frankenstein’s monster of remakes. It walks, it talks, it kind of looks like something alive — but really, it’s an undead thing. That said, there was an undeniable element of value to what Van Sant did. Now, no one ever has to try it again.