I know there’s only so many good ideas out there, and filmmakers are constantly recycling the same ones over and over, but just because we have computer-generated special effects now doesn’t mean that Hollywood has to raid its back catalog of movies. Check out this link if you don’t believe me that it’s gotten out of control. (How can anyone improve “Rashomon” or “Rosemary’s Baby”?) Last year alone saw an abysmal remake of the George Cukor classic “The Women” as well as the number five movie on this list. Without further ado, behold my list of Top 10 Pointless Remakes. The following movies are so bad that they were worse than awful runners-up “The Jackal” (1997) starring Bruce Willis, Richard Gere, and Sidney Poitier, or double offender Jonathan Demme’s “The Manchurian Candidate” (2004) and “The Truth About Charlie” (a 2002 remake of 1963’s “Charade” starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn).
10. Godzilla (1998)
This Roland Emmerich/Dean Devlin moneymaker is the perfect culprit of the crime I just mentioned. The esteemed filmmaking team that brought you “Stargate,” “Independence Day,” and “The Patriot” was handed the rights to the famed Japanese monster and envisioned a fast-moving creature that blends in with its city environment—two traits completely dissimilar to what makes Godzilla an icon. What they ended up with was a lame-looking CGI lizard dinosaur left over from Spielberg’s groundbreaking “Jurassic Park,” and a theme song by Puff Daddy that ripped off Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” with the voluntary assistance of a hard-up-for-cash Jimmy Page. Did I mention that this asexual American Godzilla lays eggs in Madison Square Garden? The original 1954 “Gojira” was a reaction from a country that lived through an atomic apocalypse at the end of World War II. The 1998 “Godzilla” was a Taco Bell tie-in, featuring the restaurant’s chihuahua mascot calling, “Here, lizard, lizard, lizard.”
9. Rollerball (2002)
This soulless remake of the 1975 Norman Jewison-directed dystopian sci-fi picture starring James Caan skipped all the social commentary and went straight for jazzed-up, hyperviolent roller-derby action. And the man they brought in to head this action-heavy macho update? It was none other than the musclebound, world-renowned action superstar … Chris Klein?! Huh? Whereas the first film took place in a global corporate state in 2018, director John McTiernan’s version takes place in 2005 (Three years into the future? Huh?). LL Cool J convinces NHL hopeful Klein to join him on a rollerball team in Kazakhstan (Huh?), where the crowd likes their matches as gory as they can get them. This movie was so awful that cast member LL Cool J himself admitted that it “sucked” when he was a guest on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”
8. Psycho (1998)
Gus Van Sant’s remake of the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock suspense classic is so reviled that you probably expected it to be a bit higher on this list, didn’t you? Well, in a change of pace for the spirit of this Top 10, let me take a moment to defend this failure of a film. It may have a horribly miscast Vince Vaughn masturbating to Anne Heche through a hole in the wall and it may contain very little actual suspense, but at least it was an interesting experiment rather than a straightforward cash-grab. Van Sant really proved something with this film. Even though there were some fairly significant changes (like non-diagetic inserts of a violent storm in the famous shower scene), Van Sant tried very hard to replicate the shots and editing of Hitchcock’s original to see if it was possible to replicate the terrifying feeling of the 1960 version. $60 million later, he learned that answer: No.
7. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
The man who is currently remaking “Alice in Wonderland” with Johnny Depp right now makes the first of two appearances on this list. It’s director Tim Burton, and although he would be the first to point out that his non-musical, Depp-led movie is an adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s book and not a remake of the Gene Wilder-led 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” he would be missing the point. The fact is, he flushed all of the wonder and charm of the first movie down the toilet. When this new version was released, there was all this talk about how Depp was darker then Wilder, and isn’t that cool—but I would venture to argue against both accounts. Wilder’s seemingly warm personality at certain times made his coldness at others all the more disturbing. Depp has some funny moments, but he’s just playing “weird”—he never connects with any kid in the entire film, so the creepiness is just distant. Burton may not have put a CGI dinosaur in “Charlie,” but he is guilty of the same crime as “Godzilla”s Emmerich/Devlin team. Just because you think you can dress an old movie up in more expensive clothes doesn’t mean you should. If the story doesn’t have an inherent reason in its construction for being remade, don’t do it!
6. The Haunting (1999)
What haunts me about this mercilessly stupid remake is the time and money I spent in a theater on opening night thinking that a horror movie starring Liam Neeson, Lili Taylor, Owen Wilson, and Catherine Zeta-Jones just had to be good. But it was not to be. Jan de Bont, the director who brought you “Speed” and “Twister,” helmed this remake of the 1963 Robert Wise haunted-house tale. Usually it’s the characters who sleepwalk through a haunted house story, but in this case, it’s the actors. There’s not a convincing moment in the entire ludicrous movie, but it is semi-interesting to watch these actors slumming it, trapped in a script with laughable dialogue that recycles every cliché in the book. Poor Lili Taylor has the worst of it, forced to accept the most arbitrary of horror “rules” as the nature of the house and her place in its legacy is revealed. This is one of those movies where the main character has a moment of realization and suddenly understands what they must do to make the evil ghosts disappear (which usually amounts to a lot of yelling over loud wind noises). Taylor doesn’t do movies like this often, so I hope that she at least got paid well for it.
5. The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
The most recent movie on this list recently inspired a long, impassioned defense on this very website from a sitegoer who was offended by my (and a contributor’s) critique of this brainless remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic. He writes: “This movie makes several important points about humans as a species.” I would challenge that Robert Wise’s original makes several of these points, while the remake dances around them and throws a bunch of trending issues at the wall to see if any of them will stick. These include global warming, aggressive U.S. foreign policy, and the Iraq War. In 1951, Wise trusted that audiences had the patience to sit through philosophical discussions about the nature of humanity. That’s what is compelling about this “warning to Earth” setup in the first place. 2008 director Scott Derrickson should have had a little more faith in his audience—merely mentioning these issues without context or actual discussion doesn’t merit the label of a topical film. It’s like Jamie Lee Curtis said to her dim-witted boyfriend Kevin Kline in “A Fish Called Wanda” after this comment he made, defending his smarts: “Apes don’t read philosophy!”
“Yes they do, Otto. They just don’t understand it.”
4. The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)
The third film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ mad-scientist novel is one of those legendary trainwrecks that has to be seen to be believed. Strike that—actually—it doesn’t really have to be seen. Even a steely-eyed filmgoer, standing at attention for the film’s 100-minute running time prepared for maximum Marlon Brando goofiness, will still find it hard to enjoy this giddy turd. One big problem—not enough crazed Brando. Oh, but when he is onscreen, it’s magic: wearing an ice bucket for a hat, covering his face in white pancake makeup, explaining the piano to his shocking little animal-human mutant creations. It almost feels like he’s improvising nonsense in every scene he’s in. The torch is then passed to hammy ham ham-ham Val Kilmer, who has not one iota of consistency to his performance, which exists only for him to try and out-weird Brando. David Thewlis is screwed, though. He gets the most screen time and the dullest character around, playing the straight man to all this lunacy. If director John Frankenheimer had really gone with this campy vibe, we wouldn’t have to wade through the ponderous “lessons” of the story. But he probably didn’t realize how ridiculous this all was until it was too late.
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Tobe Hooper’s 1974 low-budget underdog had very little gore, but terrified all the same. Michael Bay produced this uber-violent, uninspired remake, which did well enough at the box office to kick off a whole slew of classic 1970s horror remakes, including “Dawn of the Dead,” “The Hills Have Eyes,” “The Amityville Horror,” “The Omen,” “Halloween,” and coming out next month, again from producer Michael Bay—“Friday the 13th.” That distinction alone makes it one of the worst remakes of all time. Additionally, this is supposed to take place in 1973, but the documentary vibe of the original is replaced by that familiar high-gloss treatment that’s supposed to look grimy. Jessica Biel and her fellow actors don’t seem to have any idea of what time period they’re supposed to be in, acting less like 70s-era teenagers than the kids on “That ‘70s Show.” Another stupid move: Director Marcus Nispel explains why Leatherface wears a mask. He has a skin disease. Wow. Great nugget of detail. Thanks for turning a legendary Ed Gein-like psychopath into a little kid with a skin disease. Really Scary.
2. Planet of the Apes (2001)
Burton strikes again! The number one film on my Worst Twist Endings Top 10 (even Burton himself admitted he didn’t understand it!) didn’t quite make it to number one on the worst remakes list. For the sake of this list, we’ll skip the final reel travesty of Ape-raham Lincoln and dwell instead on the rest of this crappy remake. Mark Wahlberg is so wooden in this movie that he makes Charlton Heston look like Laurence Olivier. The dialogue is so corny, it’s a wonder actors like Helena Bonham Carter and Paul Giamatti were able to deliver them with a straight face. As far as plot movement, Wahlberg escapes from one band of apes to get involved with another, and it’s back and forth, back and forth. Will he or won’t he with the nice ape lady (Bonham Carter) who thinks human slaves should be treated better? And what of former model Estella Warren? Did Burton hope her beauty would hide the fact that she couldn’t act? Tim Roth does his best to be menacing under all that ape makeup and prosthetics, but it’s all for nothing. There’s just no reason to care about anything on this “Planet.”
1. City of Angels (1998)
That late-1990s “Touched by an Angel” craze produced a lot of trite bullshit (1996’s “Michael” starring John Travolta as a boozing, dancing angel full of unexpected wisdom comes to mind), but none so offensive as this made-to-be-mediocre Meg Ryan-Nicolas Cage fantasy romance. What makes this failure so complete is that “City of Angels” is based on 1987’s “Wings of Desire,” a melancholy mediation on nothing less than the meaning of life and love, directed with stunning visual flair by Wim Wenders. It’s also an exploration of the soul of Berlin, as it follows the angels’ work of observing and listening to the thoughts of the city’s citizens. “City of Angels,” on the other hand, is typical Hollywood self-involved soap-opera bullshit. It’s not about the full sweep of human emotion or history at all. It takes one simple element from “Wings”—an angel who falls in love with a woman. But he’d better hurry because she just got a marriage proposal! To stop this development, he turns human to be with her. Just then, (SPOILER ALERT!) she closes her eyes on a bike and is nailed by a logging truck. But she’s ready to accept death—she’s not afraid of the nearing angels as she dies. Oh, cruel fate! It sucks to be dead, but at least we have the angels. The angels will make everything alright. I feel so much better. Please stop playing that goddamn Goo Goo Dolls song now.