Whats with all the Remakes and Throwbacks?

By: Amanda Ray

January 6, 2011

family watching television

It seems like remakes and throwbacks are everywhere now – just turn on the TV, go to the movie theater, or walk down a store aisle and you can find new takes on some old favorites.
Movies, TV shows, video games, and even soft drinks are providing blasts from the past. Remember the movie Red Dawn? Or do you have fond memories of playing Tecmo Bowl®or how Pepsi tasted back in the day? Whether you are old enough to remember these things or not, you have a chance to experience them now in remade forms.

So, what is behind this trend? According to Jon Kerbaugh, senior academic director of the Media Arts & Animation department at The Art Institute of Las Vegas, there are a couple major factors behind the latest wave of remakes and throwbacks.

“One is revenue,” he says. “The generation that grew up on the originals is now the money-making generation and it is much easier for this generation, or any generation for that matter, to access media or culture that propagate feelings of nostalgia. … They will spend to get it.”

Another factor, Kerbaugh says, is the potential of duplicating the success of the original products or productions. Media and marketing executives can look back at the pattern of success of these products and attempt to duplicate that success by reintroducing an old icon.

“There aren’t any remakes of the TV shows we don’t remember,” he offers. The shows that get a second life “dominated prime-time viewing and helped shape the culture that we were entrenched in.” 

Of course, remaking products – especially movies – isn’t new. But currently, remakes are taking over the movie screens.

In 2010, at least three dozen movie remakes are expected to hit the big screen. So far this year, we’ve seen the second coming of Zeus and company in a remake of fantasy film Clash of the Titans and Freddy came back in a redo of slasher classic A Nightmare on Elm Street. This summer has featured a 1980s showdown with remakes of movie The Karate Kid and TV show The A-Team. 

And movie marquees aren’t the only things showing some familiar titles. In recent years, television has also been bombarded with spin-offs and remakes of old shows, including 90210, Melrose Place, Bionic Woman, and Knight Rider, There’s also buzz about possible remakes of 1970s cop shows The Rockford Files and Charlie’s Angels, which was made into a movie in 2000 followed by a sequel in 2003.

Dusty Crocker, an instructor of Design at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh Online Division and the creative director of Crocker Associates, says advertisers and producers are reintroducing products that can appeal to a demographic comprised of 18-to-34-year-olds who are culturally savvy to the point that they understand and appreciate entertainment from the 1960s through the 1990s.

“Events for which they should have no frame of reference are well known to them from [TV shows] Gunsmoke to I Dream of Jeannie to Who's the Boss,” he explains. “They are equally likely to have an appreciation for Frank Sinatra or The Beatles or the Eagles as they are for Shakira or Jay-Z. What you are seeing are advertisers and producers playing to this complex demographic.”

With all the nods to the past, many are asking: Is Hollywood running out of ideas?

Although there are plenty of original ideas still out there, Crocker says technology has created a vacuum that is not being filled by the number of content creators in the marketplace.

“Therefore, a solution is to recycle successful content from the past,” he says. “Providers are hungry for creators of content. This is why design and communication [school] programs are bursting at the seams. The need is creating demand in the marketplace.”

Remakes are not limited to films and TV shows. Available on Xbox 360, Tecmo Bowl® Throwback is a remake of the Tecmo Super Bowl football video game and offers gamers the same rules and gameplay as the original but with new high-definition 3-D graphics.

According to Kerbaugh, Tecmo Bowl® Throwback is a good example of how audience members and gamers appreciate retro themes, but also want the visuals, options, and performance of the latest technology. “Younger generations demand so much from technology that to take that away from them is to take away their interest,” he says.

Meanwhile, the soft drink industry also experienced a retro revival. Pepsi-Cola North America Beverages introduced last year the Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback line of products inspired by the 1960s and 1970s when the beverages contained real sugar vs. the high-fructose corn syrup used to sweeten them today. The throwbacks, which also had retro-looking packaging, were available for a limited time.

Consumers today have access to a broad history of media content and products, according to Michael Baker, an instructor in the Media Arts & Animation department of The Art Institute of Las Vegas. Some content creators might think it is easier to remake a product or production that already has an audience and fan base.

“The palette of options for content creators is massive now and they have the ability to leverage an existing work that people are familiar with rather than produce an original work that would need to be established,” he says.

Kerbaugh says taking on a remake might actually offer more pitfalls and hurdles because people already know the basic storyline and have seen it played out before.

“As a filmmaker or game developer, you’re delving into a formula which has been proven to work yet you are running the risk of alienating a legion of fans if the remake flops,” he offers.

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By: Amanda Ray

January 6, 2011

animation design media arts red dawn remakes of movies