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SYFY WIRE Debate Club

Debate Club: The worst sci-fi and horror remakes

By Tim Grierson & Will Leitch
Debate Club: Worst remakes

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

Last week, we celebrated the best genre remakes, paying tribute to the filmmakers who were gutsy (and innovative) enough to come up with fresh spins on beloved movies.

Well, sometimes that daring doesn’t pay off... which brings us to this week’s list. No doubt, these five films meant to be great. (In some cases, the ambition is palpable.) But for any number of reasons, the results were calamitous. You’re far better off sticking with the original.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

05. The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

After the success of his low-budget 2005 horror film The Exorcism of Emily Rose, director Scott Derrickson landed what could have been a big-deal studio picture: a remake of the classic 1951 sci-fi drama The Day the Earth Stood Still.

In this version, Keanu Reeves plays Klaatu, the alien arrived on Earth who has an important message for humanity. (And be honest, Keanu’s sereneness is sorta perfect in the role of an unemotional extra-terrestrial.) But unlike the original, which was smart and socially conscious, the new Earth (which featured a strong supporting cast that included Jennifer Connelly and Jon Hamm) is too concerned with asses-in-the-seats spectacle and ponderous emoting. The film was a modest hit, which allowed Derrickson to move on to much better genre flicks like Sinister and Doctor Strange

04. The Wicker Man (2006)

The original Wicker Man is a seductive, almost impossibly mysterious goth horror film that is considered by many one of the best horror films of all time. Neil LaBute’s remake is... not that.

We’re not quite sure what LaBute was going for here, but as much as we enjoy a good Nicolas Cage freak-out, the minute he cast Cage, the director likely lost whatever delicate balance he was trying to strike. You know it’s a bad sign when even Cage, today, says it’s “absurd.” Still: Cinema had always been waiting to watch Nicolas Cage punch a woman in the face while wearing a bear suit.

Psycho 1998, Vince Vaughn

03. Psycho (1998)

It’s still not entirely clear what Gus Van Sant — who was riding high after Good Will Hunting and had his pick of projects — was thinking here.

A remake of Psycho, not a great idea, but maybe he’ll make it his own? Except it’s a shot-for-shot remake? Except there are strange adds, like the sound of Norman Bates pleasuring himself? What’s going on here?

Fortunately for Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Julianne Moore, and Viggo Mortensen, not enough people saw this fiasco for it to have much of a negative effect on them, but 20 years later, the mystery of this project is still baffling.

Planet of the Apes (2001)

02. Planet of the Apes (2001)

The Charlton Heston Planet of the Apes series is iconic, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t room for improvements and a modern sensibility. Happily, that’s what happened in 2011 when Rise of the Planet of the Apes kick-started a savvy, emotional prequel trilogy. Sadly, before then, Tim Burton got his dirty paws on the franchise, resulting in this lifeless remake that starred Mark Wahlberg as an astronaut who lands on a distant world run by talking animals. (Guess what, though? It’s... our planet.)

2001’s Planet of the Apes is what a big belly-flop of a studio film looks like. Every idea is uninspired. Every casting choice backfires. Every frame of this abomination will make you want to blow the whole thing up.

Godzilla (1998)

01. Godzilla (1998)

Egads. The movie that Roger Ebert said was “like attending a satanic ritual in St. Peter’s Basilica” — and not only because there was an unlikable character based on him — isn’t just the worst Godzilla movie; it’s the worst Roland Emmerich movie, and that’s saying something.

Nonsensical from start to finish, and cheesy in all the bad ways a Godzilla movie can be but none of the good ones, this one is a wreck, a movie so bad that it killed the franchise for another decade. The good news is that the movie is so poorly lit that you can barely make out the monster, for which the big green guy is probably thankful: He wouldn’t want you to see him like this.

Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.