The remake of The Karate Kid surprised many Hollywood insiders–worn down by under-performing overly hyped films (Robin Hood, Sex and the City, Killers) and the audience's reluctance to shell out upwards of $17 for gimmicky 3D summer releases–by ringing up an impressive $56mil over the weekend.
Kid's ancillary victim was the box office blahs, which have recently decimated movie earnings. Over the past month, the big new pictures — Robin Hood, Shrek Forever After, Sex and the City 2, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Get Him to the Greek, Killers — have opened well below the industry's predictions, leading to an acute case of movie malaise. Would ticket revenue, which had boomed while other sectors of the economy languished, ever perk up again? The answer is yes, and now. For the first week in the past five, a new picture actually exceeded expectations. The morning-line savants, who had forecast an opening for The Karate Kid in the $27 million to $35 million range, got a devastating crane-kick to their conventional wisdom.
Sadly, The A-Team, another 80s remake, performed well below expectations. Despite mixed-to-poor reviews, vitriolic word of mouth and meager opening weekend numbers ($26mil), folks seem too polite to call this thing a bomb. The A-Team was reportedly filmed for $100mil and only earned $26mil? Yeah, sorry, but the audiences have spoken with their avoidance; the film is an oven roasted turkey. I screened both films–on the same day–expecting nothing, and I got plenty of it. (Disclosure: In both cases I think the source material is satisfying in a it's-on-cable-and-I'm-folding-laundry kind of way; I wouldn't count either as a great love.)
It seems whenever Hollywood scores a surprising remake hit or a spectacular remake bomb, oddly enough the response tends to be the same: "Why won't they come up with anything original?" A satisfying and/or successful remake, such as 2001's Ocean's 11 or the recent Star Trek reboot causes critics to wax poetically about a mythical time–usually 25 years earlier–where films were much better and the popcorn was cheaper. However, when a remake fails, like the recent Taking of Pelham 123, critics' musings shift from the dulcet, "What did I ever do to deserve this?" to the fist shaking anguish of, "What did I do to deserve this?" In either case the message is the same: stuff was better before and stuff is terrible now.
In looking at the roster of purported remakes: The Incredible Mr. Limpet, Footloose, Red Dawn and Sharky's Machine, I have mixed feelings. With the exception of Sharky's Machine–one of my favorite movies of all time–I am not sure what ideas need further development beyond the scope of the originals. That said, each possible remake (save Sharky's Machine) has the potential for intriguing contemporary cultural analysis if the material is afforded that opportunity, which mostly likely it won't. Sharky's Machine is a fascinating, gritty thriller, which effectively serves as a snapshot of crime, corruption and racial dynamics in late 70s Atlanta. While it doesn't really warrant a remake, I won't lie: I really am thrilled the actor I always dreamed would midwife the project–Mark Wahlberg–is in fact doing so!
I am neither a remake apologist nor a remake enthusiast–I understand the seduction of rehabbing forgotten treasures and giving them a new life. In frustrating and demoralizing economic times, movies can provide an outlet for escapism, for those who can afford to escape, but they also reflect yearnings that are often too cheesy to publicly admit.
The Karate Kid succeeded because it tapped into the current wave of 80s nostalgia in a poignant and reverent manner. As for The A-Team, with its action for action's sake and outlaws shown behaving with glorious impunity–well I think we've probably all had enough of that.