Why ’80s Movie Remakes Are (Usually) A Bad Idea

Of the three ’80s remakes opening this weekend, only About Last Night really did well. And yet, Hollywood can’t seem to shake its appetite for re-creating past hits.

Norman Jean Roy / Universal Pictures

Matt Kennedy / Screen Gems

Kerry Hayes / Columbia Pictures and MGM Pictures

 

(From left) Alex Pettyfer and Gabriella Wilde in Endless Love, Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant in About Last Night, and Joel Kinnaman in RoboCop

It was a very ’80s weekend, with three remakes of Reagan-era films opening at the box office: the sci-fi action flick RoboCop (which debuted on Wednesday), a remake of the 1987 blockbuster; the swoon-y romance Endless Love, a remake of the 1981 Brooke Shields vehicle; and the romantic comedy About Last Night, a remake of the 1986 Brat Pack-adjacent rom-com with Rob Lowe and Demi Moore.

Only one of those films, however, could call itself even a modest success — calling into question why Hollywood keeps pursuing remakes of ’80s movies.

About Last Night opened in second place (behind The LEGO Movie, a true runaway hit now in its second weekend), with an estimated $27 million for Friday to Sunday, more than double its reported $12.5 million budget. Like the 1986 film, the one-night-stand-that-becomes-a-tentative-relationship storyline is based on the 1974 David Mamet play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, but this time, the roles were recast with African-American actors, including major rising star Kevin Hart. Once more disproving the lie that audiences aren’t interested in films with predominantly black casts, the movie is on track to turn a tidy profit. That said, it will still be a struggle to surpass the $87.1 million total gross of the 1986 original (when adjusted for inflation).

The picture isn’t nearly as bright for Endless Love, which clearly lost the Valentine’s Day date movie sweepstakes, grossing an estimated $13.4 million for fifth place. With movie theaters taking roughly 50% of total ticket sales, a film generally needs to double its production budget to begin moving into the black — and that’s without accounting for marketing costs. (And anyone who has watched television in the past month knows Universal did not slack on advertising for this remake.) So, there is barely a chance Endless Love will make enough money to earn back its reported $20 million budget, or come near the 1981 original’s $93.7 million adjusted gross.

RoboCop, meanwhile, has earned just $26.4 million in the U.S. since Wednesday, a bleak figure for a film that cost $100 million to make. The film’s foreign grosses appear to be softening the blow — since opening on Feb. 6 in many territories, it’s pulled in roughly $69.9 million overseas. But consider that the 1987 RoboCop — regarded as a sci-fi classic today — cost approximately $26.5 million to make in 2014 dollars, and earned $114.1 million in adjusted gross.

That kind of success is the underlying reason any of these remakes exist at all. Hollywood studios keep combing over lucrative properties from its recent history on the assumption that past success is a clear barometer for future success. But in practice, that is rarely the case.

3. When adjusting for inflation, remakes of films from the ’80s rarely do better than the original film at the box office — in fact, they usually do significantly worse.

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed / Via boxofficemojo.com

Even a major hit like 2010’s The Karate Kid still did not do better at the box office than the 1984 original. Only when the original film was a flop (like My Bloody Valentine) does its remake stand a fighting chance of besting it at the box office — but that’s usually a grim victory.

There are other types of remakes that do fare well at the box office, usually when the original film is old enough to have left the public consciousness (like Ocean’s 11, The Mummy, War of the Worlds, and You’ve Got Mail), or remakes of foreign films that did not make an impact in the U.S. (like The Departed, The Ring, and Three Men and a Baby).

But so far, the 1980s have proven to be mostly barren territory for Hollywood remakes. Audiences could be too familiar with the originals, or perhaps the remakes lack a sense of true reinvention. Whatever the reason, if studios must insist upon a diet of remakes, it would be wise to look elsewhere for their meals.

Here are the estimated top 10 box office figures for Friday to Sunday, courtesy of Box Office Mojo:

1. The LEGO Movie — $48.8 million
2. About Last Night* — $27 million
3. RoboCop* — $21.5 million
4. The Monuments Men — $15 million
5. Endless Love* — $13.4 million
6. Ride Along — $8.8 million
7. Winter’s Tale* — $7.8 million
8. Frozen — $5.9 million
9. Lone Survivor — $4.1 million
10. That Awkward Moment — $3.3 million

*Opening weekend

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