Sci-fi movies have been popular from the early days of cinema and film. We only have to think about the success of the ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘The Matrix’ series to acknowledge the power of science fiction. As a literary genre, such stories and plots have captured our minds for generations. It’s hence no surprise that we’ll also be enjoying the same concepts played out on the screen before us.
However, a popular movie can only go so far and earn so much at the box office. The most popular sci-fi movies might have been huge successes, but they can’t very well be shown at the cinemas each year. At the same time, their popularity makes them a lucrative field for remakes! But—are sci-fi remakes really a good idea in general? Let’s discuss it below:
The Problem with Remakes
Many people aren’t too keen on the idea of sci-fi remakes. The original sci-fi movies are the ones they mostly grew up with, so when the concept of remakes is presented to them, they’d probably say that these producers are ruining that part of their childhood! Sounds funny, but this is true.
However, Hollywood loves to do those remakes. There could be several reasons for this, but the major ones are probably to do with safe subject matter that’s already proved its popularity; a ready audience wanting to see more of their favorite stuff; and finally, the cash that’s going to come in from the box office sales.
There are original sci-fi films that remain undisputedly superior when compared to the remakes. However, there are some remakes which are just as good or end up even miles better than the original. Then again, there are a few originals and remakes that arrive at a tie in terms of overall brilliance.
When we look at the overall offerings, sci-fi remakes are not a bad thing as long as they’re well-made and stay respectful to the original (but with a modern twist). Many remakes also have a good script and character development on top of the jaw-dropping special effects, which are definitely more advanced and realistic than they were fifty or sixty years ago. The combination could end up creating a whole new classic. Having said that, let’s check out some examples of sci-fi remakes to see whether the concept is worthwhile or not:
Where the Original was Best
Here are some examples of original classic sci-fi movies that are arguably better than the remake:
1. Planet of the Apes (original 1968; remake 2001)
The original film was shot in 1968 and directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. Blake Edwards was initially approached, but the producer chose Schaffner for the film. ‘Planet of the Apes’ was adapted from the 1963 French novel ‘La Planete des singes’ by Pierre Boulle.
The movie starred Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans, and Kim Hunter. The original film was praised when it was theatrically released and has become a movie classic.
The 2001 remake, directed by Tim Burton, was a box-office smash. However, the reviews ranged from mixed to negative. Some point out that the film, although respectful of the 1968 original, lacked storyline balance. The others see cheesy lines and bad acting by some of the cast members as the culprit.
2. The Island of Lost Souls (1932), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)
All these films were based on H.G. Wells’ novel ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’. In the 1932 original film adaptation, it starred Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi, and Kathleen Burke. Laughton played Dr. Moreau, an obsessed scientist who rules the roost on a remote island conducting surgical experiments on the animals.
The film was quite controversial during its time and was rejected three times in the UK by the board film censors due to the portrayal of animal cruelty. The film was finally given an “X” certification in 1958. The Island of Lost Souls has been critically re-appraised over the years; in fact, Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 95% rating.
“The Island of Dr. Moreau” (1977)
The 1977 update ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’, starred Burt Lancaster and Michael York. It received mixed reviews upon its original release, but the strong performances of York and Lancaster were given particular praises.
“The Island of Dr. Moreau” (1996)
The 1996 remake, starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, is the least commercially and critically successful of the three films. Most blame it on the production disaster. Kilmer demanded that the original director of the film, Richard Stanley, be dismissed. The new director, John Frankenheimer, got into fights with Kilmer. As a result, the whole production deteriorated into shambles. The script underwent many rewrites during the shooting, which rarely makes for a quality result.
3. The Day the Earth Stood Still (original movie, 1951; remake, 2008)
The original production of ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ in 1951 (based on Harry Bates’ short story “Farewell to the Master”) was released to modest box-office receipts. However, as the years passed, the film was critically re-appraised. The film’s documentary style was widely praised by critics in the US and most especially overseas. What’s more, its score by Bernard Herrman earned a Golden Globe nomination.
The 2008 Remake
The 2008 remake (starring Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly) was definitely miles away from the 1951 original, mainly due to its awe-inspiring special effects. It was also a reverse in response compared to the original. While it became a huge box-office hit, the film falls short after delivering a promising start, especially after Klaatu escapes from the clutches of the government.
4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Invasion (2007)
Both the original movie The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and the fourth remake movie Invasion (2007) are adaptations of Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers. The original film, upon its theatrical release, was largely ignored by critics. After some time, though, it garnered wide critical plaudits. Even though it was filmed almost sixty years ago, the effect is quite chilling and undoubtedly influential. That’s where the popular term “pod people” came from, which now refers to emotionless people.
The 2007 remake is remarkably distinct from the original, including the transformation of humans to aliens. Instead of the human duplicates grown from pods, the alien organism works its own menace towards the human victims within the brain. The question that arises is: where exactly are the body snatchers? The last half-hour of the film takes it downhill and eventually ends with a weak happy ending.
5. Jurassic Park (1993), Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
It would be amiss to have a discussion about sci-fi remakes and not mention the Jurassic Park franchise. Some might argue that the new Jurassic Work movies are more of a sequel, but others say they can also be counted as reboots or remakes. For the sake of brevity, we’ll only look at the original Jurassic Park movie and the latest adaptation.
Jurassic Park (1993)
This was the movie that started it all. An adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name, it struck fear into the hearts of its audience and delighted them all at once. The reception back then was positive, and the whole franchise has netted about $5 billion to date.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
While the latest film of the franchise capitalized heavily on the classic appeal of Jurassic movies, the storyline and plot fell rather flat. However, the reception was excellent, with the collections passing the billion-dollar mark. While the movie might have been a box office success, critical reviews still labeled it a somewhat average work.
Remakes As Good as the Original
The movies mentioned above are the reasons why sci-fi remakes might be a bad idea. However, there are remakes that just are as good or even miles better than the original. Here are a few examples:
1. Godzilla (first appearance, 1954; last appearance 2014)
The original 1954 film of the Godzilla franchise was a box-office hit in Japan. A heavily edited Americanization of the film, ‘Godzilla, King of the Monsters!’ (starring Raymond Burr) was released in both US and Japan in 1956. Like the original Godzilla, it became very popular as well and garnered critical praises.
The 2014 Godzilla
The 2014 re-imagining, directed by Gareth Edwards, was a box-office smash and received generally positive reviews. The special effects and the monster-fighting were well executed, while there’s enough human drama to keep the audiences glued to their seats. 2. The Fly (original, 1958; remake 1986)
These films were based on George Langelaan’s short story about a scientist who accidentally switched DNA’s with a fly while testing his new teleportation invention. The 1958 original of ‘The Fly’ installment was produced and directed by Kurt Newmann. It was a huge success at the box office, considering its relatively small budget. It was also critically well-favored.
The 1986 Remake
The 1986 re-imagining was an even better adaptation according to some critics. Directed by David Cronenberg and starring Jeff Goldblum, the film’s effective combination of gory, graphic creature effects and a heartbreaking love story is something that pulled the audiences. The film became a blockbuster and a critical triumph. In several ways, it was even more successful than the original. The Fly remake has somewhat become of a sci-fi classic.
3. The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971), I Am Legend (2007)
‘The Last Man on Earth’ and ‘The Omega Man’ are both adaptations of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel ‘I Am Legend’, about the last human being left after the world has been plagued with vampire-like creatures. ‘The Last Man on Earth’ starred Vincent Price. Although it wasn’t a commercial success upon its original release, the film later gained praises from the critics. Director George Romero even drew inspiration from ‘The Last Man on Earth’ as the base material for his own classic horror film ‘Night of the Living Dead’.
“The Omega Man”
The remake ‘The Omega Man’ starred Charlton Heston, and became the more well-known and popular celluloid adaptation of Matheson’s novel.
I Am Legend (2007)
There’s actually a third and latest adaptation, the 2007 box office Will Smith movie I Am Legend. Although it is pleasing to watch, it’s the least faithful film version of Matheson’s novel.
4. ‘The Thing from Another World’ (1951) and ‘The Thing’ (1982)
The 1951 movie ‘The Thing from Another World’ was based on John W. Campbell’s novella “Who Goes There?” The story is about an Air Force crew and scientists stationed inside the Arctic outpost, who try to fend off a vicious alien plant. The final work is said to be one of the greatest sci-fi films of that decade.
“The Thing” (1982)
John Carpenter took the helm for the 1982 remake and intended to make it more visually repulsive and stomach-churning. This shocked the audience as well as the critics. The remake delved into the fear and paranoia like no other else could, and as a result had highly negative reviews when it was released. At that time, people were looking for a wholesome, upbeat message like the one “E.T” gave. Eventually, though, the 1982 version gained a cult following and spawned quite a decent amount of merchandise as well.
“The Thing” (2011)
The 2011 version of ‘The Thing was directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and starred Joel Edgerton, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Ulrich Thomsen. It’s a prequel of the 1982 version but didn’t have the same success, either in the beginning or later on. The reviews were mostly negative, and the whole thing was a flop. It mostly banked on the fan following of the first two movies. While it did start out in the top ten at the box office, it only remained there for a week, with disappointing collections.
5. “The War of the Worlds” (1953) and “War of the Worlds” (2005)
“The War of the Worlds” (1953)
The original movie was titled ‘The War of the Worlds’ and loosely based on the H.G Wells novel of the same name. It won an Academy Award for its visual effects, which would have been revolutionary at the time. It was quite successful in its own right, even becoming an inspiration for other science fiction movies made after its release. In 2011, this movie was preserved at the National Film Registry in the United States Library of Congress. This is because it still remains culturally and historically significant.
“War of the Worlds” (2005)
The “War of the Worlds’ remake in 2005 was again by no other than Steven Speilberg. It was shot amidst a tight security detail so that no details would leak out before the premiere. This remake actually ended up winning three Academy Award nominations for the best sound editing, best sound mixing, and best visual effects. It’s a classic example of how advanced technology can improve the experience of an old movie concept. The 2005 movie itself had mostly positive reviews and was a success at the box office. However, it didn’t have perfect ratings.
6. 12 Monkeys, 1995 and 12 Monkeys (TV series), 2005
The 1995 version of ’12 Monkeys’ was a haunting sci-fi noir film by Terry Gilliam. It’s loosely based on and inspired by Chris Marker’s 1962 black-and-white 30-minute noir film ‘La Jetée’. The signature flair of Gilliam is obvious in the 1995 movie, which is a sharp contrast to the stark visuals of the older French version. However, the flair obviously worked, as the movie was a success and led to a very interesting TV adaptation.
12 Monkeys (TV series), 2005
The movie eventually gave rise to a Syfy TV Series around a decade after its release. This ran for four seasons, which is quite a feat for modern television. The series manages to remain faithful to the original time-loop tragedy by Marker. While it received mixed to positive reviews at first, the show blossomed as it went on. Now, it’s hailed by critics as one of the best sci-fi shows of its time.
Sci-fi remakes might have many critics, but there’s no denying that there are several brilliant works from this genre. Film is a form of art, so there’s really no harm in directors taking a certain concept further. As film technology advances, we’re also seeing more impressive visual effects than before, which probably give a whole new layer to any story. However, it must be said that remakes should remain true to the original concept and not just be for the sake of cashing in on an established success.