LOS ANGELES — If you’re keeping score, it’s successful ‘80s remakes: 2, unsuccessful ‘80s remakes: 2.
The tally was evened up over the weekend when “Arthur” failed to click with audiences. Russell Brand’s take on the alcoholic playboy that Dudley Moore made famous in 1981 barely hung on to second place on the weekend box-office chart, behind the second week of an original bunny comedy (“Hop”) and just ahead of an original father-daughter action movie (“Hanna”), for a disappointing total of $12.6 million.
Putting aside the rather different case of hard-core genre films, the ‘80s movie remakes that could be called successful now include “Clash of the Titans” and “The Karate Kid,” while “Fame” is the other unsuccessful one. (The score doesn’t really improve when you throw in reboots of ‘80s TV shows such as “The A-Team.”)
You could pick at the creative choices made by Warner Bros. and director Jason Winer, but in analyzing the “Arthur” failure, it’s hard to avoid the remake factor. Filmmakers thought they were getting a ride inside the safe confines of a known title, which is pretty much the main rationale for a remake in the first place. They were, instead, battered by comparisons with the original.
That’s certainly the case with critics, and judging by the comments that poured in last week about the movie, many ordinary people also felt Hollywood was tinkering with something that wasn’t broken.
“The most significant changes? Dudley Moore and Sir John Gielgud have passed away, and a studio executive greenlit this misbegotten remake,” wrote one Los Angeles Times commenter. (Fun thought experiment: Would the reaction have been more generous if the new Brand comedy was pretty much the same movie but with a different title?)
It’s probably too early in the remake renaissance to draw broad conclusions — or, for that matter, for studio executives to put all of their ‘80’s remakes on ice. But it’s not too soon to wonder if the remakes that work best come from originals that were liked — but not revered. Whatever you thought about the new “Karate Kid,” you didn’t hear a lot of people talking about how Hollywood shouldn’t try to replicate the acting feats of Ralph Macchio. Ditto for Harry Hamlin and “Clash of the Titans.” (It’s also worth noting that “Arthur” was Hollywood’s first remake in recent memory of a film that targeted an upscale adult audience. It may, after this weekend, also be one of the last.)
“Footloose,” “Conan the Barbarian” and “Fright Night” loom as the next batch of ‘80s remakes. None of them are hallowed names — though among a certain set, “Footloose” comes close — and thus few risk running into the “Arthur” problem. Still, the weekend offers little evidence that familiarity could help. In fact, it looks more and more like it could hurt.