Friday, March 11, 2011

Five Remakes You Didn’t Know You Were Watching

City on Fire (1987)
& Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Originality is a tough thing to come by in any creative field, whether it is in literature, music, graphic design, fashion, illustration, or filmmaking. There are only so many genres with so many applicable plots. Lately there has been a lot of crossbreeding, resulting in unconventional combinations like the romantic-horror-comedy (Shaun of the Dead (2004)), but the odds are already working against originality. Remakes, reboots, re-imaginings, and sequels are at an all time high. If something is working you use it until it breaks and when that day finally comes you either replace it or repair it. That is exactly what Hollywrong has been doing for the past couple of decades. Unfortunately, they don’t always give credit where it is due. 

When a film is remade it usually shares many elements with its predecessor including: plot, characters, settings, maybe some dialogue, and the title. If the two versions share the same title then it is fairly obvious that the most recent one is a remake of the earlier one and any similarities are automatically understood. Sometimes two films can share the same source material, such as a novel, short story, newspaper article, etc. They aren’t necessarily a remake of each other, but they are remakes of the same story. Take True Grit (1969 & 2010) for example, two films, one title, completely different interpretations of the same material. The same thing goes for The Shining (1980 & 1997). Usually a remake is sanctioned for a particular reason. If the first was based on source material it may not have been loyal enough; if the original was very popular it may need a generational upgrade; or it could just be a personal crusade for the filmmaker involved, like Peter Jackson’s version of King Kong (2005). However, occasionally a film will be made that has a unique title, but a very familiar plot.

There have been countless times over the past few years that I have been in a movie theater, or at home, and I’ve seen a trailer for a brand new film that looks and sounds suspiciously like one that already exists. I’m not talking about common, superficial, cliché stories about teenage boys trying to lose their virginity, or bank heists and drug deals gone wrong. I’m talking about very specific types of characters reappearing in very specific types of plots. The interesting thing is that there isn’t any indication or recognition that these films are remakes of a previous work. Below is a list of five films that upon viewing, either the film itself, or just the trailer, led to the question, “Didn’t that film used to be called…?”

REAR WINDOW (1954) vs. DISTURBIA (2007)

This one is probably the most blatant of the bunch. Shia LaBeouf plays Kale, an emotionally underdeveloped kid who socks his teacher in the face after his father dies. While under house arrest for his act he takes to watching his neighbors and comes to believe that one of them is a notorious serial killer. Fifty-three years earlier Jimmy Stewart played L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries, an emotionally underdeveloped man who broke a leg getting a photograph of a car accident. Looking out the rear window of his apartment, Stewart’s voyeuristic character finds entertainment in the daily routines of his neighbor’s lives. Watching them through the windows in their apartments, Jeffries experiences all the guilty pleasures that ultimately led to the creation of reality television. One night Jeffries is woken in his wheelchair, which parked at his back window, by the sound of a woman screaming. Over the next couple of days Jeffries comes to suspect the woman’s husband of killing her.

It became widely known after the fact, especially when a lawsuit was filed against the producers of Disturbia, that the films were a little too similar. The claim that the filmmakers failed to license “It had to be Murder,” the short story that Rear Window was based on, was dismissed because of the subplots contained in Disturbia, but lets face it, subplots or not, Disturbia is an updated version of Rear Window. Acknowledging it was a remake wouldn’t have hurt it, but the film loses total credibility for it’s underhanded presentation and lack of originality. At least The Simpsons (1989) had the good nature to acknowledge their source when they parodied Rear Window in the 1994 episode, Bart of Darkness (original airdate Sept. 4th, 1994).


Even the layout of the poster is the similar. The plot: two men with opposite personalities meet and wind up spending several days on a cross-country odyssey together. Both films feature an uptight, reserved man trying to get home to his family, played by Steve Martin and Robert Downey, Jr. respectively. They are paired with their exact opposites, overweight, outgoing, fun-loving eccentrics, played by the late John Candy and Zach Galifianakis, again, respectively. Both of their characters are also loners who are embraced by their traveling companion’s family in the end. While the actions of the characters differ, the basic plot remains identical. Due Date is essentially Planes, Trains and Automobiles without the heart and head of John Hughes.

FIRST BLOOD (1982) vs. THE HUNTED (2003)

I remember seeing the trailer for The Hunted (2003) in the movie theater and thinking to myself, “Why didn’t they just call it First Blood: The Next Generation.” Honestly, a former soldier, trained to kill, suffering from PTSD, running amuck in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, who can only be reasoned with by his former trainer – who did they think they were fooling? The only difference is this time the soldier is outright killing people, but if you read David Morrell’s novel, First Blood, you’ll see that The Hunted is actually a more faithful adaptation. In this version Benicio Del Toro takes on an incarnation (Aaron Hallam) of the role made famous by Sylvester Stallone (John Rambo). Also, Tommy Lee Jones (L.T. Bonham) replaced the role of the trainer, formerly played by Richard Crenna (Trautman).

This was before the word “reboot” infested the Hollywrong lexicon and evidently Stallone hadn’t had his fill of murdering minorities in third-world countries, yet. They even used dialogue where Bonham claims that if the pursuing officers decide to apprehend Hallam without him they are going to need a good supply of body bags, which echoes Trautman’s words from First Blood, almost verbatim. Do yourself a favor and stick with First Blood. The monologue Stallone delivers at the end just goes to show that much like the character Rambo, there was a time when he was really special.


The most covert of the list, this one didn’t set in until after I had watched it. On the surface, Happy Feet (2006) looked like a unique, entertaining kids movie. Nothing could have been further from the truth. First, it wasn’t unique. Second, it wasn’t entertaining, but quite lame. Third, all right, it was a kid’s movie, but it was also written, produced, and directed by George Miller of Mad Max fame. Basically, Happy Feet is to the South Pole what Rudolf is to the North Pole. Utilizing indigenous creatures both films tell the story of a pair of popular parents who birth an abnormal son. In one film the boy’s nose glows and in the other the boy can tap dance instead of sing. Both characters are teased and ostracized by their peers, with the exception of a young female who accepts them despite their abnormalities. Feeling isolated both characters leave their respective communities; along the way one is pursued by an abominable snow monster, and the other by a leopard seal. They are both befriended by a gang of outcasts (or misfits), and in the end it is their abnormality that saves the day. George Miller would have been better off making Mad Max on Ice, at least that would have been original.


This last one actually came to my attention while doing research for this article. Up until now I thought Reservoir Dogs (1992) was Tarantino’s best effort at originality, which really isn’t saying much. Among the numerous references in his films I was under the impression that the only thing he stole was the color-coded codenames from The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974). I can’t say I was surprised when I came across this article at Movie Cultists. Follow the link for a better description and understanding, and for those of you who still keep Tarantino on a pedestal you’d be wise to follow the link at the end the Movie Cultists article. I personally wouldn’t go so far to use the word “rip-off,” but for the elitist, arrogant, “one ugly motherfucker” predator look alike: Tarantino, I’ll make an exception. 


  1. The top right photo that you have titled ‘City on Fire’ is wrong. That scene is from A Better Tomorrow 2.
    Reservoir Dogs only took the plot from City on Fire. The black-and-white suits worn by the team are taken directly from ‘A Better Tomorrow II’.

  2. Going through something so fantastic has a retouching power for the heart and mind.