People Don't Actually Like Remakes, but Studios Keep Making Them

Remakes rarely do better than the original when it comes to profits or reviews, says a new study.
Bettina Makalintal
Brooklyn, US
July 11, 2019, 11:00am
a screenshot of tessa thompson and chris hemsworth in men in black (2019) to the left of a screenshot from the CGI Lion King (2019)
Screenshots via YouTube

Disney's live-action Aladdin came out just over a month ago. The Dumbo remake hit theaters just two months before that. Now, the newest affront to our childhood movie memories will arrive in a week: the CGI Lion King remake. Yes, movie marquees are filled with familiar titles from our childhoods from Child’s Play to Men in Black, with remakes of The Grudge, Charlie's Angels, Little Women, and Dune all scheduled for the coming year.


But despite all the investment movie studios are funneling into rebooting these legacy films, they might not be as well-received as studios might hope, according to a new analysis by betting website Casumo. The study, which was done in collaboration with SEO firm Verve Search, is called Remake My Day, and it standardized IMDB and Metacritic stores to compare ratings and profits of recent movie remakes.

The results weren't great for remakes: 91 percent scored lower with audiences than the originals, the Washington Post pointed out, and only 21 percent were more profitable. The original Dumbo, for example, scored 96 on Metacritic, while its remake holds a score of only 51. (To be fair, some movies—most notably, the recent A Star Is Born—have beat the trend by doing better than previous versions.)

If that's the case, then why do studios keep sinking money into them? Well, it turns out, the remakes still pay off, even if they don't beat the original. Despite all our complaining about its creepy genie and terrible soundtrack remixes, the live-action Aladdin was a box office hit; it has made over $900 million worldwide, making it the year's biggest movie outside the Marvel universe and proving that clearly, there's pleasure and profit to be had in the familiar. As the Post reported, there might be some confirmation bias here: Nostalgia might make people judge the original as better, but they'll still see the remake anyway.

It's been clear for a while that nostalgia drives views. Just look at the success of Stranger Things, which has proven that sentimentality for the not-too-distant past isn't just fun to watch, but it's also an easy way to sell things (welcome back, New Coke). That feeling of familiarity might also account for all those rewatches of The Office and Friends, which respectively made up 7 and 4 percent of Netflix's total streaming in 2018.

New shows rely on nostalgia in part because it reminds viewers of happier times, TV writer Norman Lear told NPR in 2016 after the announcement of the One Day At A Time remake. "Their memory of laughing with their parents when people—when families used to watch television together is very alive and well in them," Lear said. But even if it's not the family memories, remakes can drive remembrance of simpler days, when we didn't have the worries of the present, whether cultural, political, or personal. HBO's scandalous teen drama Euphoria is a buzzy original show, sure, but it's definitely not making anyone feel better about teens’ current moment in society.

And in the vast landscape of streaming in 2019—when every platform doesn't just have licensed content, but also original content—it's increasingly tough to figure out what to watch and even harder to judge what will be good, so remakes serve as a safe call. Even if people don't like them in the end, they'll still watch the remake just to compare—plus, the “hate watch” is a thing for a reason.

For everyone who's over remakes as a whole, well, we wouldn’t expect them to stop anytime soon. Luckily, there will always, endlessly, be another new Marvel superhero movie on the way.