Contemporary Hollywood is indulging its fetish for remakes a lot right now. Disney has already begun its extensive series of live action remakes of classic movies. An almost unrecognizable version of Jumanji is well on its way to the big screen, with new incarnations of classics spanning everything from The Labyrinth to Scarface planned to follow in the future. And it’s not just remakes toying with the stories we love – sequels, prequels and extended universe movies are constantly adding to the lore and histories of contemporary culture’s most popular cinematic worlds.
And while it always seems great to have new ways of indulging your love for your favourite films, a lot of the new releases have been somewhat hit and miss.
This is understandable. Particularly when the original creators of a story are no longer attached to the project and new minds are trying to navigate it. But if there was ever a group of people who hold the things they love sacred, it’s pop culture nerds. And the swings that miss when it comes to these additions to beloved stories are running the risk of becoming painful.
It’s not going to be easy to replace David Bowie’s Goblin King, or Robin Williams’s Genie in Aladdin and, after Jared Leto’s Joker wasn’t received anywhere near as well as Heath Ledger’s previous incarnation, many are starting to wonder if these big risks are paying off.
That maybe some characters aren’t just risky, that they were done so perfectly the first time round that they’re off limits.
Robert Downey Junior as Tony Stark
There are few actors who have woven their own personality so deeply into their character as Robert Downey Junior has with Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies. They are equally charismatic and charming, wooing the public and press alike with a very similar quick wit, approachable demeanour and cheeky grin.
The fact that the movie was shot without a completed script, requiring basically the entire cast to test their improvisation skills, gave Downey Junior a lot of room to create the character however he wanted to. This amount of creative control over such a huge character meant that the performance was infused with a lot of the actor’s own personality. Although Downey Junior wasn’t the studio’s first choice for the part, he made it his own in such a distinct way that it’s now near impossible to imagine anyone else doing it.
Director Jon Favreau was one of Downey Junior’s biggest supporters for the part because, he said, “he found a lot of his own life experience in Tony Stark”. And it shows. The character is authentic and believable in a world that has a fairly loose relationship with reality. As one of the earliest movies in the current Marvel cinematic boom, this role was crucial not just for Robert Downey Junior or for Iron Man or even for Marvel, but for all of the superhero movies that have come since.
His absolute perfection for the part has now bled through into the comic books, where a character that previously bore at best a passing resemblance to Downey Junior is now virtually indistinguishable from him. Aside from the super suit, that is.
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia
The loss of Carrie Fisher was heartbreaking in so many ways. After a long struggle with addiction and bipolar disorder, she was in a fantastic place in her life during her final years, creating incredible art and showing off her intelligence and her sense of humour and her confidence on shows all over the world. Her reappearance in the new Star Wars movies marked a new chapter for her as an actor and for the iconic Leia Organa, now a General, as a more powerful and prolific woman than ever.
It was no secret that the latest Star Wars trilogy had big plans for Leia, as a battle-weary warrior in the rebellion and as the mother of a boy who turned to the Dark Side. The studio has carefully considered their options when it comes to rewriting her story in a way that is both respectful to Fisher’s memory and a satisfying conclusion to Leia’s saga.
There has been talk of recreating Fisher’s likeness using CGI for brief scenes that were not shot before she died, but the technology isn’t good enough to maintain a convincing performance in a key role for an entire movie. Leia was too important a character that she could ever be casually forgotten about.
But she could never be recast. Carrie Fisher has been Leia Organa of Alderaan for a full forty years. She is an icon not just of one series of movies, but of sci fi as a genre, of the popular culture of a generation. To even consider the possibility that someone else could simply step in to fill the role would be a huge mistake.
Bruce Willis John McClane
The Die Hard series has had its ups and downs over the course of the five movies released so far, but the original is undoubtedly a classic. Bruce Willis’s performance as badass protagonist John McClane at the very core of movie is surely part of the success. Simultaneously appealing to people’s sympathies as a father desperate to reunite with his kids and showing off the firepower of a highly trained soldier with an attitude.
The film was based loosely on the book Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, but the character is distinctly different between the two versions of the story. Willis’s portrayal is resilient and sardonic, blending a general disregard for authority with the kind of heroism that makes viewers want to be on his side.
Bruce Willis has already talked about stepping away from the character when he no longer wants to do the kind of stunts the series is famous for, with hopes to retire McClane after the sixth movie. Although the studio hasn’t made any announcements about whether or not the series would go on without Willis, there has been discussion of a prequel movie about a young John McClane as a New York City police officer in the late ‘70s. If it was written and cast, this could work – it might even be an improvement on some of the later movies in the franchise – but it also runs of the risk of tempting the studio to reboot the series entirely.
No matter how good a prequel movie might be, the original Die Hard’s status as an action icon means that it would be a bad idea to try to do it all over again. Even if they found some way to make a movie that would be different enough from the original, using contemporary technology to improve whatever technical aspects may seem dated now, the comparisons inevitably drawn between the two would not shine a good light on a remake.
Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley
The part of the main character in Beverly Hills Cop was first offered to Mickey Rourke. When he left the project, he was replaced by Sylvester Stallone, whose involvement in the movie would’ve created a very different beast than the one we have. Stallone’s ideas for a brutal action movie packed with explosions, violence and stand offs between supercars and freight trains was considered too expensive for Paramount and he ended up pulling out just two weeks before shooting was due to start.
When the role was finally filled by Eddie Murphy, the movie gained a whole new attitude, a sense of humour and a dedication to making the best of the resources they had. It kept enough of the high speed chases and shootouts to be a solid action flick, with Stallone’s Lambourghinis and bloodbaths swapped out for Murphy’s biting wit and the kind of street smarts that could believably outsmart the characters around him.
With Murphy at the helm, the movie took on a new attitude that set it apart from the plethora of other action movies and gave it the strength to endure to this day. It was announced last summer that Eddie Murphy would be returning for Beverly Hills Cop IV in the future.
This robust personality is simultaneously what might make filmmakers want to remake the series and the reason they shouldn’t. While a reboot may get a bit of nostalgia money off the bat, attempts to recreate such genuine charisma would fall flat when compared to the original.
Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown
The mad scientist character is so entwined with the more bizarre corners of sci fi that its origins have blurred into obscurity, with everyone from the original Dr Frankenstein to Syndrome to Batman’s own Doctor Doom joining the ranks. But none have been more iconic in recent memory than Christopher Lloyd’s Emmett Lathrop Brown, Ph.D., the man who discovered the secret to time travel in Back to the Future and who continued to exploit his invention regardless of the consequences for two more films.
Doc Brown is the epitome of a mad scientist, right down to the unwashed lab coat, wild hair and general disregard for human life here his experiments are concerned. When you think about how easily this character could’ve easily blended into the masses of mad scientist stereotypes, it’s actually quite surprising that Doc has endured for so long. Believe it or not, he’s been one of pop culture’s most beloved inventors for more than thirty years.
There’s a very good reason that Doc Brown hasn’t faded into obscurity with the legions of other mad scientists who have unleashed their experiments on the world and that’s Christopher Lloyd himself. The actor has a way about him of making a lasting impression on his audience, regardless of which character he is playing. He creates eccentricity through the simplest, subtlest yet incredibly effective facial expressions and vocal quirks that no other actor has quite managed to emulate.
Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith
Some actors seem to glide so effortlessly into a character that you almost forget you’re watching someone act. From Elrond the Elf to Mitzi the drag queen to Agent Smith, Hugo Weaving is one of those actors. Of all the parts that Weaving has nailed over the years, the insidious Agent of the Matrix is one of the most iconic, as one of sci fi’s creepiest and most philosophically resonant villains.
Smith’s paradoxically angry yet emotionless character was executed perfectly, the slightest twitch of an eyebrow appearing above the Agent’s dark sunglasses conveying a glimpse of the chaos he is capable of unleashing. His deep, calm voice is chilling as he plainly explains why humanity needs to be exterminated. The way Weaving makes even the tiniest curl of a lip into a threat, in a largely expressionless face, gives the character a sense of danger that very few actors would be able to replicate. It’s a rare actor who can make walking calmly in a straight line into a terrifying action.
The transition from his cold, quiet demeanour to rapid violence is equally impressive. This is where a lot characters can lose their audience. It’s not easy to pull off the sense of still rage that is crucial to Smith’s personality during a wicked fight scene.
But Weaving does it, and you never doubt the authenticity of Smith’s actions. Plus he has one of the most memorable evil laughs in cinema history.
Despite – or perhaps because of – the way Weaving melts into the character, it would seem bizarre to have anyone else embody the stern, serious manifestation of the angry coding.
Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley
A character that redefined the way women were portrayed in the sci fi genre, Ellen Ripley is one of a rare breed of heroines who are not primarily motivated by the men in her life. She is dedicated, intelligent and dangerous when crossed. Her debut broke a tiresome mould for women on the big screen. Because of the way her character, her relationships and her behaviour was written and played, she is widely considered one of the most significant female protagonists in contemporary cinema.
Her portrayal by Sigourney Weaver has earned the actor multiple awards over the course of the franchise. The importance of Ripley as a role model and as a shift in the way that cinema treated women could never have had such a great cultural impact if it hadn’t been for the strength of Weaver’s acting. For all the brilliance of the writing and directing, if a lesser actor had undertaken the part, a bad performance could easily have spoilt not only the character but the whole series, dependent as it is on its powerful protagonist.
Though the current series is still ongoing, it is the kind of popular franchise that would be a tempting candidate for remakes, reboots and spin offs for many decades into the future. But any attempt to do it again would not have the same cultural significance of the original. It would feel like a cheap rip off that would not do justice to its source material and leave the poor actor stuck with the part forever in Weaver’s shadow.
Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa
In a series of stories that combine a heartwarming journey through the classic American dream and some wicked body shots of some of the most muscular men in Hollywood, the Rocky series have a special place in the collective heart of the USA. It is a classic rags to riches story of a young man with a dream who is prepared to work hard, play hard and punch hard to achieve it. This film has so many iconic moments in it that even people who are far too young to appreciate its cultural significance within the context of a generation, people who have no interest in boxing or sport of any kind, even people who have never seen the film and have no intention of seeing it have absorbed key aspects of the movie.
So many training montages are set to ‘Eye of the Tiger’ that it no feels somewhat odd to have one set to any other song. People scream ‘Adriaaaaan’ at random and it’s just a normal part of society. This movie is so integrated into modern American culture that to attempt to do it all again in doomed to fall short of the mark. The sheer force of the impact this film made is an anomaly in itself.
Writer and star Sylvester Stallone has everything to do with turning this film into a legend. It would be ambitious to the point of stupidity should any filmmaker attempt to replace him at the centre of the action.
Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter
Anthony Hopkins is such an accomplished actor that he would be a hard act to follow in pretty much any role he plays. He has starred in a huge collection of critically acclaimed films and TV shows and has a solid hand in the popularity of almost every one of them. He has even received a knighthood from the Queen of England for his services to the arts. His signature intensity has never been more tangible than in his 1991 performance as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.
His performance was chilling in a way that remains unique to this today, redefining murderers not as depraved monsters living on the fringes of society, but as real human beings, who can be influential and intelligent, even approachable and friendly – and who use those roundly positive traits to manipulate their victims. Hopkins managed to simultaneously play the respected, amiable physician and the twisted cannibal, and make it look effortless at the same time. Even when he wasn’t speaking, even when bound in a straightjacket with half his face covered, those mad eyes looming above the mask conveyed so much personality that it has come to be synonymous with the very nature of villainy.
Although the character has been played by other actors both before and since, it was Hopkins who made the killer into a cultural icon. 2012’s television adaptation Hannibal starring Mads Mikkelson in the part was different enough in terms of format and plot that it doesn’t invite direct comparisons very often, so it kind of gets away with it.
But Lecter, as played by Hopkins in the Silence of the Lambs storyline, won’t be improved upon.
Alan Rickman as Severus Snape
While it doesn’t seem likely that are going to be any Harry Potter remakes any time soon, the prequels are well under way and there are likely going to be a lot more spin offs in the wizarding world in the future. In the original series, Severus Snape has already died so the character wouldn’t appear in any sequels – if, for instance, they decided to make a cinematic adaptation of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The part would have to be played by a younger actor anyway if they decided at any point to explore his role in the war with Dark Wizards, which would have been most gripping for an audience during his 20s, when the loss of the love of his life forced him to challenge his perceptions of his dark master.
But so far there hasn’t been all that much information about what other stories might be revealed within the wizarding universe, aside from those kicking off with Fantastic Beasts. Depending on how long Warner Bros continues milking this cash cow, they may well decide to make movies about what the rest of the world was doing while Harry Potter was at school. If they did take this route, it’d be fair to assume that they’d drop in a cameo or two from an established character.
If they chose to have Snape drop into a gathering of Dark Wizards, for instance, it wouldn’t be the first time that they’ve had to recast a character due to their original actor’s death – Richard Harris played Professor Dumbledore two films before he passed away and Michael Gambon took over from the third movie onwards. But then they didn’t have the choice to cut the character out. Dumbledore was integral to the rest of the series.
A Snape cameo would probably be tempting for filmmakers. He was one of the most complex and, at times, moving characters in the entire series. His tragic life of heartbreak and attempted redemption is a gripping subplot that could definitely merit further exploration.
But it wouldn’t be necessary in any spin off movies. Alan Rickman was so perfect for the role that it wouldn’t make sense to try to shoehorn in another actor, no matter how much they looked, sounded or behaved like him.
Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones
Since 1981, Dr Henry “Indiana” Jones has turned the social reputation of archaeologists from the nerdy bookworm stereotype afforded most academics into badass bounty hunters who single handedly battle Nazis and walk out the other side with a swagger, the crack of a whip and barely a scratch on him. Part of what makes the character so appealing is undoubtedly down to the effortless cool that Harrison Ford brings to, well, most of his roles. Jones has been repeatedly voted one of the coolest characters in popular culture and trying to fill those shoes is not going to be easy.
Right now, it doesn’t look like there are going to be remakes any time soon. In fact, it has been confirmed that there will be a fifth film in the current series released in 2020, with Steven Spielberg returning to direct and Ford reprising his role as the lead. So we’re safe for another few years.
But a remake of this giant cash cow of a movie series is so appealing to studios that they’ve already been talking about it – for a full two years. There were rumours taken very seriously indeed that they’d reboot the series with none other that our very own Star-Lord, Chris Pratt, in Ford’s role. While the idea didn’t really get off the ground, Pratt didn’t necessarily deny that he’d be interested, going so far as to describe the part as an “awesome opportunity” should it ever arise. And, to be fair, he looks pretty good in the costume.
But he looks good in the way an impressive cosplayer looks good – you can tell he’s not really Harrison Ford.
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine
After nine films over the course of seventeen years as the iconic superhero, Hugh Jackman is Wolverine. He’s even made cameos in video games, when a chunk of the audience might not have noticed if a good voice actor had played the part instead. He moves like Wolverine, he grunts like Wolverine, he kicks ass like Wolverine. He has been Wolverine for longer than some comic book fans have been alive. There are teenagers out there who have grown up knowing only Hugh Jackman as the face of Wolverine who are itching to see Logan as they reach maturity at the same time the Wolverine series finally got a rating that let it fulfil its dark potential.
Plenty of superheroes have been recreated by different actors multiple times within Jackman’s tenure as Wolverine as different studios and directors and actors try to find the best way to represent those characters on screen. Some might argue that there are plenty of improvements that can be made to the Wolverine movies. There is a lot of incredible material in the comics that didn’t make it onto the screen because the movies were stuck with a PG rating for so long, for instance. Certainly there are actors out there who fit the original description of Wolverine as a relatively short man better than Hugh Jackman.
But the longevity of Jackman as Wolverine would make any attempt to improve on the original seem like a fan film, no matter how impressive the story or budget or effects, if was made any time soon. Perhaps in a few decades, when Wolverine has evolved enough in the comics that he and Hugh Jackman are distinctly different entities, when there are a few generations’ worth of new stories to tell, there might be room for another go. But any filmmaker who jumps into it too soon is destined to flop.
Any other character played by Robin Williams
Alright, so there is no escaping some Robin Williams remakes at this point, but hopefully they won’t be compared too closely to the originals. Jumanji looks like it’s going to be different enough that there won’t be room for a direct character comparison and hopefully the change from animation to live action in Aladdin will create a decent amount of distance between the two Genies. But filmmakers need to start carefully considering the shoes they expect actors to fill when it comes to Williams’s characters. There were rumours floating around last year that Jonah Hill was going to star in a remake of Mrs Doubtfire, which would’ve had no hope of living up to the original.
Frankly, Williams’s energy and pure, unadulterated comedic talent remains unrivalled by today’s wealth of actors and comedians. Williams has left more gold on the cutting room floor of his movies than most people will produce in a lifetime. While it might be a nice idea to introduce the stories he made popular to a new generation, it’s unlikely that they’ll be done as well a second time round. His shoes are just too big to fill, no matter how much nostalgia money might make it to the box office.
Luckily, most of his movies are timeless enough that a new generation will still appreciate them, even if they don’t understand all the fashion choices made in the ‘80s.