Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.
It's a self-evident answer, but why do studios remake good movies? When a film is beloved, of course, it's natural (and greedy) to try to do it again, but then you're just setting yourself up for failure: everybody loves the original, so you're almost always destined to fail.
Why not instead remake a bad movie — or, better yet, redo a movie that could have been good but, because of the execution, didn't quite work out?
That's the idea behind this week's Debate Club. We're selecting five (well, six) films from the '90s with killer premises that ended up being disappointing. The groundwork has already been laid out for these potentially terrific projects — this time, the filmmakers just have to make sure not to screw it up.
The Lawnmower Man (1992)
There is something very fitting, and very '90s, about a movie that attempted to predict the future of technology but ended up looking like a bad Dire Straits video. A sort of Flowers for Algernon with virtual reality, The Lawnmower Man is known almost solely for being the sort of embarrassing "cyberspace" dystopian future movie the '90s produced with regularity. But! The idea of technology making someone into a super-intelligent, dangerous being who turns against his creators is hardly a terrible one.
Make this into an artificial-intelligence thriller and you might have something. You do need to update the CGI, though.
Dante’s Peak/Volcano (1997)
The great irony of the infamous Dueling Volcano Eruption movies is that, well, they were both rather mediocre.
But come on: A volcano-attack movie really shouldn't be that difficult. You could go the Shin Godzilla route and do a "How would governments respond to a cataclysmic event?" film. Or you could just go full apocalypse with a climate change subtext. Either way, if you're tempted to have a scene in which a dog is outrunning lava, avoid the temptation.
Strange Days (1995)
This Kathryn Bigelow misfire remains timely: a go-for-broke Ralph Fiennes plays Lenny, a futuristic dealer who specializes in selling SQUIDs, a product that transmits other people's memories straight into your brain. But after the police secretly kill a politically-conscious musician — and Lenny obtains a copy of the memory — this two-bit hustler is on the run for his life.
Strange Days anticipates VR and social media — it's like a Philip K. Dick yarn that the sci-fi master never got around to writing. Unfortunately, the film's plot starts to run out of gas as its story becomes more convoluted. But in the age of Black Lives Matter and virtual experience, Strange Days has the raw materials for a great movie
Tank Girl (1995)
Lori Petty — a fascinating actress uninterested in playing the Hollywood game — was an excellent choice to play the lead in an adaptation of the British comic, and this female-driven production had the opportunity to be something special.
Unfortunately, the studio got involved and sliced it to bits. The movie still has its defenders, but it'd be fun to see someone like a Patty Jenkins or Michelle MacLaren take a shot at it. Studio heads certainly couldn’t argue there isn't an audience for it this time, like they did last time.
Last Action Hero (1993)
1993’s would-be summer blockbuster starred Arnold Schwarzenegger as Jack Slater, a Schwarzenegger-esque action hero beloved by Danny (Austin O’Brien), an impressionable young moviegoer. But when Danny goes to see the latest Slater feature, a weird thing happens: he gets sucked into the movie, becoming Jack’s unexpected co-star.
Last Action Hero was a critical dud and a commercial disappointment, easily bested by that summer’s groundbreaking Jurassic Park, but its meta-commentary on action movies seems very 2019. (Schwarzenegger actually plays Schwarzenegger in Last Action Hero, who is the actor who plays Jack Slater in the movie-within-the-movie.) The original film wasn't smart, funny, or clever enough, but imagine what Phil Lord and Chris Miller could do with this.