Last spring, in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill drew decidedly mixed responses for playing roles immortalized decades ago by Michael Keaton and Christopher Reeve. This summer’s Ghostbusters remake unhinged fanatics who slimed its four female stars for daring to rejigger classic characters played back in the day by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson and Harold Ramis. Meanwhile, Jared Leto in Suicide Squad didn’t exactly obliterate anyone’s cherished memories of Jack Nicholson’s campy villainy, let alone Heath Ledger’s brilliant shape-shifting performance in the Joker role.
Daring to mess with viewers’ childhood and teen nostalgia is one hell of an uphill battle. Look no further than Johnny Depp (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Chloe Grace Moretz (Carrie), Russell Brand (Arthur), Vince Vaughn (Psycho), Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith (The Karate Kid), Keanu Reeves (The Day the Earth Stood Still), Mark Wahlberg (the 2011 version of Planet of the Apes), Adam Sandler (Mr. Deeds) or the entire casts of those Footloose and Point Break remakes. So why do stars take on famous roles done to perfection by others?
Sometimes they actually outshine their predecessors. We’ll take Heather Ledger’s approach to the Joker over Jack Nicholson’s any day. But the blindness that can come with a runaway ego is another, perhaps more common reason for accepting remake roles. Some actors simply convince themselves that they can do the part so much better than that guy or gal from a previous generation.
If an actor is new, starving or ready to swing for the fences, why wouldn’t they take on the first quixotic remake to cross their path?
Another reason: Never underestimate the rush when a movie studio backs up a Brink’s truck into the star’s driveway, making a big-money offer—especially if the role in quest offers the potential for sequels and spinoffs. We’re guessing Ben Affleck isn’t playing Batman for chump change and, besides, if his relationship with Warner Bros. and DC Comics makes it any easier for him to direct passion projects like the ’20s era crime saga Live by Night, we’d say Affleck is crazy like a fox. Of course, if an actor is relatively new, starving or even doing just fine but ready to swing for the fences, why wouldn’t they take on the first quixotic remake to cross their path?
Take Alden Ehrenreich, who got attention in Beautiful Creatures and even more for the Coens’ Hail, Caesar! If inheriting Harrison Ford’s cocky space hero role in his own upcoming Star Wars spinoff packs the potential to turn the 26-year-old into a brand new movie star—something we sorely need—may the Force be with him. If Chris Pratt, stepping into another of Harrison Ford’s legacy roles, makes his mark in the next Indiana Jones installment, he’s well on his way to becoming the franchise star of his era, what with his ongoing gigs in both Guardians of the Galaxy and the Jurassic Park movie series.
Meanwhile, Disney is going full steam on a further-adventures-of-Mary Poppins musical starring Emily Blunt and Hamilton creator-star Lin-Manuel Miranda. We’re fans of both actors, but it will take more than a spoonful of sugar to make that medicine go down with die-hard fans for whom Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke are the once and future Mary and Bert. Personally, we’re pulling for Blunt and Miranda to feed the birds—not the sharks.