Rebecca 2.0: What's Behind Hollywood's Remake Mania?

Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier in 'Rebecca,' 1940/Image by UnitedArtists
Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier in 'Rebecca,' 1940/Image by UnitedArtists

Remaking vintage films is Hollywood’s equivalent of shopping in your own closet: It’s a cheap and low-risk, high-reward exercise that can sometimes yield a long-neglected classic piece primed to make it back into regular rotation. Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” (based on the Daphne Du Maurier novel), is the latest treasured heirloom to be pulled from Hollywood's vault and polished up for contemporary audiences. Though the 1940 Best Picture winner isn’t always mentioned as essential viewing for new initiates into the Hitchcock oeuvre, news of this remake is already causing a stir among Hitchcock fans, still bewildered by Gus Van Sant’s ill-advised “Psycho” reboot.

Their concerns are understandable. But anyone tempted to launch a digital attack on the production might want to consider holding their fire. This project is top loaded with promising elements, beginning with director Nikolaj Arcel, the audacious Danish filmmaker who directed the Oscar-nominated “A Royal Affair” and wrote the Swedish version of  “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” His facility with aristocratic manners combined with his experience plumbing the depths of human depravity make him a near-perfect fit for Du Maurier’s gothic tale of a young woman who marries a wealthy widower whose servants harbor a sinister obsession with his ex-wife.

Here's a question too seldom asked before embarking on any remake: Why this and why now? In this case, the answer is fairly simple: The narrative takes more twists and turns than a DNA strand and, most importantly, it’s populated with morally ambiguous female characters including a sexually adventuresome femme fatale and a victimized heroine who unleashes her inner woman warrior halfway through the story. Boiled down to its essence, Rebecca hits many of the same female empowerment notes that have driven packs of women to repeat viewings of “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and even “Hunger Games.” Rebecca remains a riveting mystery wrapped inside an epic romance with populist appeal to spare. So it’s kind of astounding that it’s taken some seventy-three years for this rich source material to make its way back onto the silver screen.

Whatever the case may be, Hollywood is in the midst of a remake binge that shows no signs of slowing down (or avoiding slaughtering some of cinema’s sacred cows) anytime soon. Here’s our handpicked assortment of the revivals in the works most likely to induce dread or delight in the months to come.

Mark your calendars:

Brian De Palma did an admirable job capturing adolescent angst and fierce mother-daughter tension in his 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s bestseller. But director Kimberly Peirce brought a visceral intensity to teen torment in “Boys Don’t Cry” and her version seems poised to deliver a heightened complexity to the story’s sexual undertones. Bonus points for casting Julianne Moore as Carrie’s puritanical rage-aholic mom.

This camp classic pulled a bait and switch, introducing moviegoers to Jane Fonda as a gun-toting sex goddess in skintight spandex. She then made an abrupt one-eighty from pinup to political provocateur and Oscar-winning actress. We’re already straining to imagine how director Nicolas Winding Refn will translate this sexy sudsy piece of sci-fi kitsch into the naturalistic minimalism he brought to “Drive.”

Keep expectations low and hope for the best:

Romancing the Stone
Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler have about as much flinty firepower as a soggy book of matches, making them an odd choice to re-create the combative chemistry between Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in this ‘80s romantic adventure.

This modern remake of the 1983 retooling of the 1932 gangster film faces an uphill climb (over a mountain of cocaine) to re-create the manic menace embodied in Al Pacino’s performance in the definitive ’83 version.