ust when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse…”
“Hollywood… are you fucking high right now? Are you fucked in the head? Is nothing sacred?”
“WHY?! WHY?! NOOOOOO!”
That’s right, Hollywood is remaking The Exorcist. Since the news came the day after it was announced Will Smith and Kevin Hart will be remaking beloved ’80s comedy Planes, Trains And Automobiles, the Internet seems to have taken it pretty hard. Everyone knows remakes are awful, and everyone wants to be the first to cry about it. What’s next? A CGI Citizen Kane?! The Godfather with women?! Gone With The Wind without the racism?! Everything that was ever good once should be left alone forever and remakes only ever prove just how dumb Hollywood really is.
And yet, the remakes still keep coming… Although some of the release dates have now skipped, 2020 has queued up remakes of Mulan, The Secret Garden, Dune, West Side Story, Pinocchio and Candyman. Last year saw more than a dozen do-overs crowding cinema screens including The Lion King, Hellboy and Pet Sematary. Some were good, some were bad, but all were an important part of what Hollywood has always done – telling the same story in different ways.
In 2004, literary critic Christopher Booker wrote a landmark book called The Seven Basic Plots, arguing that all stories are actually identical – one of seven simple structures that repeat across Greek myths, world religions, classic literature, movies and TV. In one chapter he spends ages drawing comparative lines between the ancient Thracian legend of Orpheus and The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, but you can get the gist by tracing the narrative roots of any one of your favourite films.
The Exorcist and Planes, Trains And Automobiles don’t exist in a vacuum, and hundreds of other horrors and comedies came before and after they turned up – putting them in the middle of a vast, shifting web of interconnected movies that are being endlessly made and remade.
When the silent classic The Great Train Robbery came out in 1903, critics moaned that they’d seen the same story in other films already. Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai was remade into The Magnificent Seven (twice), Battle Beyond The Stars and A Bug’s Life. The Sound Of Music was a remake of a 1956 German movie called Die Trapp-Familie. Ben Hur, The Maltese Falcon, Scarface and The Wizard Of Oz were all direct remakes of earlier movies. And that’s not even counting the franchises and sequels that are all basically retreading the same ground in a slightly different way. Where was all the righteous online anger when the trailer for The Batman dropped? How many times can we watch Bruce Wayne put on a rubber suit and pretend we’re watching something original? Can you really get angry about an Exorcist remake and still go and watch James Bond do the exact same thing he’s been doing in 26 other films?
Of course not, and it’s perfectly okay to enjoy watching different takes on the stories we like the best. Believe it or not, some remakes are actually better than the originals anyway. The Thing (1982) is better than The Thing From Another World (1951). The Departed (2006) is better than Infernal Affairs (2002). Dredd (2012) beats Judge Dredd (1995). The new King Kong tops the black and white version. Fede Álvarez’ did a better job with Evil Dead than Sam Raimi. The 2014 Robocop was great, and so was the 1998 Godzilla and the new Day The Earth Stood Still with Keanu Reeves. The US Office is better than the British version.
Before you start reaching for your keyboard angrily to defend Ricky Gervais or black and white Japanese monsters, think about why it matters so much to you. Whether you’re canonising a classic to keep it safe, preserve your own feelings of nostalgia or convince the world that your opinion is more worthy than everyone else’s, all you’re really doing is keeping other people from enjoying different things to you.
The Exorcist was amazing when it came out in 1973, and it’s still amazing now – but it will be almost 50 years old by the time the remake is finally made, which should give a new director more than enough breathing room to tell the same story in a fresh way. Planes, Trains And Automobiles is still one of the sweetest, funniest comedies ever made, but at its heart it’s basically just a road movie about two mismatched guys trying to get somewhere – surely there’s room for another spin? Open up to the idea that a remake could add something rather than taking something away and you might just surprise yourself.
More importantly though, it doesn’t matter if they are both awful. A lot of remakes are rubbish but not one of them has ever ruined the original. Next time you find yourself screaming into the Internet because Hollywood has decided to remake something else you used to love, just rewatch that instead. It’s happened before and it’ll definitely happen again.