When the “Red Dawn” remake was announced four years ago, it seemed like an odd choice. The original was released in 1984 during the Cold War and is very much a product of the early Reagan era when the Russians still seemed to be a threat. As it turns out, the new version (which hits theaters this week) does have modern relevance, though not so much that in 30 years we’ll see it as an iconic representation of its time.
Remakes aren’t always a terrible thing, but they especially seem unnecessary with films that are, like “Red Dawn,” so fitted to a period. Below we present ten era-defining movies where an update didn’t make much sense. Some of the second incarnations, however, at least made an effort to find contemporary reason for existence.
One of the most prominent works of its time and genre, this 1932 crime film loosely based on the life of Al Capone is a primary representation of cinema from the era of the Depression, Prohibition and the height of organized crime in Chicago. Brian De Palma’s 1983 remake, which changed the period and location, was a classic in its own right. It’s as much of its time -- with its cocaine-fueled plot and incorporation of current events -- as Howard Hawks’ film was of its own.
This classic monster movie features an iconic giant ape that could do damage in any time period. In 1933, however, the Depression era provided a number of ingredients suited to the film’s plot, including a desperate unemployed woman and adventurers looking to make it rich with unbelievable attractions, which are hard to imagine translating to other decades. That’s probably why Peter Jackson’s 2005 version went for the same setting (though his remake didn’t exude all the era-defining characteristics of the original, most notably the subtexts of race and xenophobia). Earlier, the 1976 remake went for an updated setting, tying the expedition to the interests of an oil company. While the film has its problems, the change in year is surprisingly one of the things that works.
‘Mr. Deeds Goes to Town’
Most of Frank Capra’s films are era-defining (though he did remake two of his own movies down the road), yet this 1936 comedy, based on a short story by Clarence Budington Kelland, is probably his most time-stamped work with its relevance to the Depression and response to the New Deal. Somehow, Adam Sandler ended up in a 2002 remake that had no relevance to anything, lacking both substantial context and subtext for a story of a small-town yokel who inherits a huge fortune.
‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’
So many science fiction films of the 1950s were very much of and for their time, featuring themes informed by the Cold War and the nuclear age. In 1951, just six years after the first atomic weapons were dropped on Japan, and as hydrogen bombs and nuclear energy were still being developed, this film arrived with a warning from a space alien about man’s dangerous dabblings in atomic power. The 2008 remake appropriately focused on humanity’s damage to the environment as its self-inflicted threat, but this wasn’t as much of a time-defining issue as the fear of atomic apocalypse was 60 years ago.
‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’
By the time of its release in 1956, McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare were in decline. But this science-fiction horror film about aliens invading via clones will always be tied to the notion that “pod people” refer to Communists. Never mind that author Jack Finney, who wrote the 1955 source novel, nor the filmmakers, intended either to deliver an anti-Communist or an anti-McCarthyism message. The film has been remade three times. In 1978, it reflected the paranoia of the post-Watergate period and dealt with the rising self-help craze. In 1993, AIDS could be seen as a source for subtext. And the recent 2007 version made very little effort to find contemporary relevance.
‘The Manchurian Candidate’
The 1962 original, based on a 1959 novel, is about Communists using mind control to manipulate a Korean War hero. It’s one of the most significant thrillers of the Cold War era, though its greatest relevance to the period wasn’t immediate. In fact, some think the film might have influenced the assassinations of JFK and others that followed later in the decade. A 2004 remake was acclaimed for its surprisingly fitting update involving the Gulf War, the military industrial complex and the idea of puppet politicians, but it’s not hardly era-defining.
‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’
Not only was this 1967 drama groundbreaking in its treatment of interracial relationships, the film arrived on the heels of <em>Loving v. Virginia </em>and the Supreme Court ruling that it was illegal to restrict race-based marriages in the United States. Nearly forty years later, a remake with the racial roles reversed was not as substantially relevant, but its comedy did nonetheless mine from the fact that social acceptance of interracial couples isn’t at 100 percent.
Released in 1971 and based on a novel from the same year, this blaxploitation action detective film is one of the primary examples of the genre and has remained one of its biggest hits. Also, it’s era-defining soundtrack is one of the most famous of all time. Technically, the 2000 film of the same name is a combination sequel/spin-off/remake that has very little representational significance to its setting or time of release.
‘The Stepford Wives’
Clearly the 1975 original, based on the Ira Levin novel, is a satire for the women’s movement of the time. Slightly akin to the Body Snatchers films, here we have a town in which all the wives are being replaced by domestic lookalike robots in order to keep feminist influences at bay. A 2004 remake, may seem to have greater relevance now that we’ve seen the popularity of series like “Desperate Housewives” and “The Real Housewives of...,” but at the time it didn’t have much significance to the era.
While the 1984 original wasn’t a response to any real cultural move to ban music and dancing from U.S. communities, the film did represent a contemporary clash of values and the rise of influence of MTV on American youth. Mostly, though, it’s a product of a period when soundtracks could rule the record charts. The plot came off as even more antiquated in the 2011 remake, and doesn’t have much relevance of any kind to the present era.
Earlier on Moviefone: