The 1980’s might have given us crack cocaine, HIV and the Zubaz/Fanny Pack combo, but it also gave us some of the greatest cinema of all time. I love eighties movies. If you ask me who my favorite actor is, I’ll tell you “Winona Ryder in the eighties” without missing a beat. I don’t need to tell why “Day of the Dead” or “Die Hard” kick ass— I also don’t need to tell you that “Day of the Dead” (2014) and “A Good Day to Die Hard” (2013) are embarrassments to their studios, their creative teams, and I’ll say it, The United States of America.
Hollywood’s remake fetish has yielded way more films that utterly missed the point of what made the original so beloved than works that build and improve upon what already existed. “The Droids You’re Looking For” show us that all remakes average a measly 46% on Rotten Tomatoes compared to the 78% of their originals.
But even at the kid’s table that is Hollywood remakes, Eighties Remakes are the kid who chews with his mouth open and won’t stop talking about the piece of roadkill he was playing with. According to my highly scientific two hours on Wikipedia, they average 26% on Rotten Tomatoes, compared to 70% for the films they’re remaking. 26%! That’s not “Angry Birds Movie” Bad (43%), that’s not even “Lone Ranger” Bad (31%). That’s “Jupiter Ascending” Bad, and “Jupiter Ascending” had Sean Bean as a half-human-half-bee.
Here are the top five most embarrassing eighties films that fell short of their sources, and how they stack up at the box office— as well as one that actually managed to live up to the original.
If you want to see the visual summary of this list, check out our interactive infographic, with the original and remake trailers, at the end of this post.
If slasher films are the holy symbol sign of the moral degradation of Western culture, then Jason Voorhees is the patron saint. Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween both beat him to the punch, but neither can claim the pop culture ubiquity of Mister Voorhees.
It’s pretty clever, when you think about it: chainsaws and complicated masks are expensive. Jason wears a hockey mask (six bucks at Party City), swings around a plastic machete (four bucks) and the rest of his outfit is “shirt, pants, shoes, jacket.” They built an entire franchise on a twenty-dollar costume and a whiteboard that had “BLOOD” and “TITS” circled in red.
But here’s the secret about the original Friday: It’s not that good. It was basically a remake of Halloween, replacing that movie’s pacing and brains with MORE BLOOD and MORE TITS. Can’t say they didn’t know their audience. The characters (young Kevin Bacon!) are forgettable nobodies and the ending, where Jason’s mother Pamela explains the plot of the movie (since until then it’s just been “Teens Running, Shtupping, and Dying in the Woods”), is painful.
It’s really a special effects showcase above all else, only decent in other regards by the bottom-barrel standards of the genre. It’s actually the fourth film (the hilariously named “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter,” which had a sequel out within the year) that actually has depth to its script and acting.
Things went downhill from there. I’m not going to talk about the canisters of medical waste that made up the latter entries in the franchise, just the remake. The product of Michael Bay’s company Platinum Dunes, the remake does one very cool thing: it turns Jason into a hunter. He uses hunting weapons, sets traps, does all the stuff you’d expect a guy who lived in the woods his whole life to do.
Now the bad: Jason grows marijuana and wants the kids to stay off his land. The kids aren’t even meant to be likable, instead playing the part of snobby brats that the audience wants to see die. While you could argue that the whole point of the franchise is to watch Jason butcher folk, we aren’t supposed to root for him. The kills are thrilling and lurid, but the empathy comes from the scrappy survivors trying to survive this nightmare. Take out the empathy and all you’re left with is 100 minutes of boredom and a few minutes of “oh that was cool, he killed that guy with a bear trap.”
But it isn’t even that cool. Jason’s kills have gone from explosions of gore to pretty plain. The sex scenes are… well, you have an internet connection. I’ll say that they’re pretty tame by the standards of the franchise, but they serve their purpose well enough.
Probably the reason that Friday 2009 sucked is the same reason why slashers died an ignoble death in the mid-2000s. The earliest examples of the genre (“Halloween,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Nightmare on Elm’s Street”) all did it best, and they infused the genre with something raw and intimate. The more polished and professional movies became, the less real they felt. This is probably why the only successful slashers of recent years have been the torture porn sub-genre occupied by things like Saw and Hostel— replacing fear with disgust and tension with buckets of gore.
The original Friday was cheap and poorly lit and shot, which made it feel a bit like some footage someone had taken of an actual serial killer. Meanwhile, the new Friday looks cheap and glossy in that inimitable 2009 style. The only reason that this is at the bottom is because the franchise went from trash to trash— except the eighties films were shameless fun and the remake was a confused waste of time.
America is funny. Surrounded on either side by oceans with neighbors nowhere near it in terms of military or economic strength, the mainland hasn’t been invaded in two centuries. Even if an attempt was made, it would be hopelessly outclassed by the juggernaut that is the American naval presence. If somehow the navy was taken out, then the invader would face hundreds of thousands of American servicemen, not to mention millions of firearm owners. It’s not likely to happen, is what I’m saying.
But it has and will remain a fear of Americans of being invaded, of having their freedoms yanked from them by a marauding neighbor. Thus, “Red Dawn,” a movie where the Soviet Union successfully invades the United States. They get the better of the largest military and the best intelligence network in the world, but are stopped cold by… a few high school students out in the woods. It’s not quite as insane as it sounds if you haven’t seen it, but it’s pretty close.
But hey, at least the Soviets were a superpower. In the absence of a suitable real world baddy (and because they didn’t want to alienate the Chinese market), the remake went with North Korea as the villains. Now, North Korea is a pretty terrible place— but most of their awfulness is directed at their own people. Their foreign policy is that of grandstanding and threats, they don’t secretly harbor plans of world domination. They’re also a sixth of the size of the US, checked by powerful neighbors on every side, and a total economic failure with a regime propped up solely by cruelty. I don’t care how bad the recession is, the premise somehow makes the infamously silly plot of the original even dumber. How do you make Red Dawn, a movie synonymous with stupid plots, stupider? That’s incredible.
Beyond that, “Red Dawn” (the original) actually had some bite to it. It’s a grim movie, where the teenage protagonists murder prisoners and one another before being butchered themselves. Even a heroic militia for a noble cause still has to commit atrocities, that’s just the way war is. The premise is idiotic, but the film’s treatment of it isn’t. The remake totally loses this— it’s just an infantile shoot-the-baddies fantasy with disturbing real-life overtones.
One thing I love about eighties movies, even bad ones like Red Dawn, is their sincerity. They rarely had shades of grey, and because of that there was an optimism to them. Heroes were heroes, villains were villains, endings were happy, stories were clean. There was an innocence to the original Red Dawn, like it really wanted to tell a story about the bravery and power of the American spirit.
Fast forward 28 years, and any story that isn’t ironic or subversive is crap that isn’t trying. Red Dawn 2012 is definitely the latter— in lieu of having a new idea or even taking aim at the insanity of the original, it just tries to ape it. The original Red Dawn belongs in a museum, but the new Red Dawn belongs in a morgue.
I may be a little partisan here, because I looove the original “Robocop.” The story of Alex Murphy being slaughtered by crime bosses and returning as a mechanical ass-kicker has almost everything I might want in a film. It’s got an amazing title (“What’s Robocop about? Coming of age in Regency England? No, you fool, it’s about a COP who is also a ROBO[t]!”), a great sense of style, an actually compelling and well-told plot, badass action scenes, good villains, everything. It even has something to say about capitalism, corporate greed, the duty of law enforcement in modern society, even religion and the mechanization of labor. When it comes to eighties action flicks, you really can’t do much better unless your name is John McClane and you aren’t on this list.
There was real potential in a Robocop remake. A lot changes in thirty years, but in an age of a militarized police department and rapidly advancing technology, Robocop’s social concerns feel fresher than ever. Making the whole thing to be about drone warfare was topical and gutsy, the new Robocop suit was a slick update to the bulky original and the whole thing really does feel cyberpunky and chrome (because everything is chrome in the future).
I’m not sure who watches Robocop, though, and goes “that was good, but I wish it wasn’t funny, had no soul, replaced its bloody and entertaining action scenes with forgettable CGI puppet shows, and reduced its multi-faceted satire to ‘drones are bad, corporations are bad.’” Director Jose Padhillo claims to be a huge fan, but maybe he only saw the movie on an airplane or something.
The original Robocop lost everything when he was killed and brought back, and that gave the film a profound sadness as echoes of the man he once was drive a machine to seek humanity. The new Robocop remembers himself, his family, everything— he didn’t have his old identity erased so he could become Robocop, he’s just a dude with a lot of prosthetics.
The deliciously evil Clarence Boddicker from the original (who tortured and maimed Alex Murphy) is replaced with some forgettable wiseguy, removing the main emotional thrust of the film too. Pretty much everything fun or interesting is sucked out, too, leaving us with only a cold and sterile CGI shoot-out that has only vague aspirations of a brain. Paul Verhoeven was deeply critical of American society in the original, but that came from a place of gory idealism and optimism. After all, Robocop rediscovers his humanity by film’s end.
The new Robocop is just cynical and cold, like everything else. The original “Robocop” feels weird and unique even compared to other similar films, whereas the new one is just another sci-fi action film.
Robocop 2014 isn’t awful, but it’s somehow worse than that: it’s forgettable. Unlike the other movies on this list, it’s a letdown because it wasn’t doomed from the start. It had potential, and it squandered it.
A tip to the team behind the new Conan: when Schwarzenegger declared that what was best in life was to crush your enemies, to see them driven before you and to hear the lamentations of their women, he wasn’t talking about your audience.
The Arnold-tastic eighties film isn’t perfect. At release, it was criticized for being a mindless bloodbath, Schwarzenegger’s acting is about what you’d expect (accent aside, Arnie always seemed like he was gargling marbles during his scenes) and, aside from a few legendary quotes, there’s not much to the script. This all misses the point. Conan is a lot less like the original stories and a lot more like Beowulf or similar: an invincible superman slaughtering his way to fame and glory.
The film is at odds with modern morality but that’s the point— Conan is a savage man for a savage world. The film’s not as brainless as one might expect with its fair share of Nietzschean and individualist philosophy. Arnold, in his most roided up form, looked like a G.I. Joe that came to life and that made him the perfect choice for the hyper-masculine role he was playing.
It wouldn’t take much to do it again. Get someone imposing to play Conan: check. Jason Momoa lacks Arnold’s size but he definitely has a vicious presence as an actor. Keep the story simple: check. Conan’s parents are dead, he wants to mess up the guy who did it, guy who did it wants a Magic Thing to destroy the world, they fight a lot. Make sure it’s full of balls-to-the-wall action: check. Sword fights, horseback chases, disembowelments, lots of pixelated gore.
So why is this number one? Because they screwed pretty much all of it up. Jason Momoa was fun as a badass war leader in Game of Thrones, but he looked awkward and clumsy when asked to perform his own stunts. The story is simple, but to the point of clichéd banality with none of the philosophical underpinnings of the original. And the violence lacks any sort of weight or substance. I’ve seen more exciting battles between cats on Facebook.
Unlike the other entries, I don’t really think there’s no real reason that a good Conan movie can’t be made in the 2010s. It’s a film more dependent on a memorable aesthetic than any big or experimental ideas. The original Conan had an energetic director, a classic soundtrack, a charismatic lead, and a great sense of style. Lots of modern films have that… Conan 2011 does not.
Even among these remakes, I despise Conan 2011. There’s really no reason for it to exist. It’s like a made-for-TV shlock movie with a famous name attached to it. They had the formula for a good Conan movie in front of them, but they forgot the most important element: talent.
I honestly don’t have that much tosay about the original “Footloose,” because it pretty much does all the talking you need. It’s a movie about a town where dancing is illegal (not quite “Red Dawn” ridiculous, and in fact based on an actual law passed in a small Oklahoma town) and a nostril-flaring, confetti-ejaculating kid named Ren (Kevin Bacon!) who is here to teach the old fuddy-duddies in town about the powers of rhythm and music.
It’s nothing amazing, buoyed by the star power of its lead and a surprisingly nuanced turn from John Lithgow as the town’s preacher and de facto leader. It’s mostly remembered for the scene of Bacon dancing alone in a warehouse to Kenny Loggins and the scene of Ren’s love interest Ariel getting the stuffing beaten out of her by her abusive ex-boyfriend (that might be the most “eighties movie” sentence I could possibly write.)
Footloose isn’t really about dancing, though— it’s about the inhumanities youths are subjected to by their elders in the name of protecting them. In that sense, it’s a little more like a nineties movie, filled with youthful idealism and “up-yours-old-man” rebelliousness.
The new Footloose is the exact same thing, honestly. It’s an actual remake, not an amalgamation (like “Friday the 13th”), a cash-in (like “Red Dawn” or “Conan”) or a reinvention (like “Robocop”). Same plot, mostly the same scenes, many of the same songs. It’s quite similar, but it does one thing very right: the creators of the new Footloose actually watched the old one and figured out why people liked it.
For a movie best remembered for dancing, the original Footloose has like three scenes of it. This one has way more, paring down the character beats (which is smart since they don’t have Kevin Bacon or John Lithgow on hand) for DANCE NUMBERS! They didn’t replace the conservative Christian town elders with, like, Muslims or North Koreans or something. The elders are actually made more sympathetic, portrayed as pure in intentions but flawed in practice. It’s still about kids stifling under the gentle tyranny of adults who refuse to take their emotions seriously.
Okay, so it isn’t exactly Ibsen— but it’s a fun and charming movie, updating the aesthetic without sacrificing the tone. If you like one Footloose, you’ll like the other. Better than the rest of the crap on this list.
Check out this interactive infographic we created with Visme below. Click on the buttons to view the original and remake trailers:
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