Gender-Swap Remakes: Another Unoriginal Idea

gender-swapAs Oceans 8 nears release, Yahoo! has an article titled Going ‘Overboard’: Hollywood’s glut of gender-swap remakes. What are they saying?

From the polarizing “Ghostbusters” remake to the controversy over female versions of James Bond and Doctor Who, Hollywood’s proclivity for gender-swapped retreads is among its most enduring and contentious.

Hardly an enduring trend, though I agree that remakes in general are. Remaking a film is always contentious.

The trend — seen as empowering or annoying, depending on who you ask — is getting fresh attention with “Ocean’s 8” due for release on Friday, “Overboard” still in theaters and “What Men Want” coming out in January.

Oceans 8 is an all female remake of Oceans 11, a decent remake of an old (1960) “Rat Pack” movie that had 2 sequels that I haven’t seen but were not as well received. Unless I hear it’s good, I doubt I’ll see it. Overboard was a crappy 1987 film; I doubt I’ll bother with the remake. What Women Want was a fun film starring Mel Gibson. If I hear the remake is good, I’ll probably see it on video.

The new “Overboard” swapped Goldie Hawn from the 1987 comedy for Eugenio Derbez and Kurt Russell for Anna Faris, and has grossed a healthy $70 million worldwide on an estimated $12 million budget. But it was disliked by the vast majority of critics, according to online reviews collator Rotten Tomatoes, which dismissed it as a “remake that fails to clear the fairly low bar set by the original.”

And ultimately, that is the mark of a good remake: either it must surpass the original, or be just as good and deliver a compelling difference. Is gender swapping a compelling difference? I’d say that depends on the story. Clearly, it did not help Ghostbusters.

There’s nothing new in Hollywood, and gender-swapping has been popular since Howard Hawks cast Rosalind Russell for “His Girl Friday” (1940) in a part played by a man in the source movie, “The Front Page” (1931). A slew of female-led remakes followed — from “The Incredible Shrinking Woman” (1981) and “The Next Karate Kid” (1994) to “American Psycho II: All American Girl” (2002) but were largely seen as pale imitations.

The only ones I’ve seen is The Incredible Shrinking Woman, which sucked and The Next Karate Kid, which was worse than the sequel to the original.

“Ghostbusters” (2016) could well be studied in future film history classes for the bizarre backlash it received from the legion of “ghostbros” who swore lifelong loyalty to the 1984 original. Much of the criticism was grounded in straightforward misogyny — with a certain kind of male moviegoer scandalized both by the presumption of a remake and by the very idea of women trying to be funny.

Bullshit. The criticism was grounded in the fact that the film was a poor remake of a classic film that people loved. I have yet to see this film, though it’s been on my list to watch for some time, precisely because of ridiculous defenses like this. If you disagree with criticisms of a film, explain why you think they’re wrong instead of name calling and smearing fans of the original.

With two months to go until its release, its trailer had become the ninth most-disliked YouTube video in history, with over one million users down-voting it into oblivion.

I have seen the trailer, and I must agree it was terrible. The second trailer did look a little better.

Various entertainment media estimated the eventual losses for Sony and its partners at somewhere in the $55-75 million region, despite the film garnering mainly positive reviews.

This was a case where critics and real people were in major disagreement. On Rotten Tomatoes, critics gave it a 73% fresh score, while audiences rated it 52%, rotten. When critics are that out of line with real people, something smells funny.

The fact that these movies keep coming out despite the missteps is a sign of progress and a “minor miracle,” according to Kelly Konda, of the We Minored in Film entertainment blog. “This used to be a one-and-done ordeal… However, with ‘Ghostbusters,’ Hollywood took a big swing on a female-led project, and didn’t overreact to its failure,” he wrote.

The fact that the film was “female-led” should not be the salient point here, unless it was the reason why it failed. Not learning from a failure is foolish, especially if it cost you $75,000,000.

The premise of “What Women Want” (2000) — Mel Gibson as a marketing executive who is suddenly able to hear women’s thoughts — lends itself more obviously to a gender-flipped remake than most.

It could, if done right.

Taraji P. Henson, who does the honors in “What Men Want” (2019), told AFP at the recent CinemaCon industry gathering in Las Vegas her role was an empowering statement for women, but also a learning experience. “You kind of just brush it off as ‘men like sex, eating and farting.’ I was like, ‘How are they going to make this interesting?'” said the “Empire” and “Hidden Figures” star.

Ugh. Comments like that don’t make me want to see the film.

“But then I read the script and I’m like, ‘Wow, men are really insecure about their looks, just like women!’ I think that’s going to be great, for women to see that.”

Um, no, most men aren’t insecure about their looks ‘just like women’. If that is a focus of the script, I’m not hopeful. Too bad, because I really liked the original.

Some Hollywood watchers have argued that while female-flipping may seem progressive, in reality it militates against those really fighting pay inequality, harassment and other forms of sexism.

It’s not progressive. Like remakes in general, it is lazy.

“Even though I can get excited for a movie like ‘Ocean’s 8’… at the end of the day it still seems to signify that women’s movies still need some sort of male appeal to get made,” said Hazel Cills of female-focused pop culture website Jezebel.

I can’t get excited for Oceans 8.

“A gender-swapped movie implies that women aren’t important enough to get their own, original stories, and thus must piggy-back on franchises helmed by men that have already proven to be successful.”

It implies that Hollywood is looking for a hook to bring in an audience. People are tired of remakes, so now, it’s a remake with a twist. But it’s still a remake.

Bullock admitted that initially she “honestly didn’t think it would work, or get made” while Blanchett agreed that, a few short years ago, such a project would have been out of the question.

And yet, as the author of this article pointed out, gender bent remakes have been made since the 40’s. Don’t think they would make a female led action film? What about Aeon Flux, Ultra Violet, Lucy, and Ghost in the Shell? What about the first 4 Alien films. What about the Terminator films? Even an all female action film is nothing new. Look at Annihilation.

“The thing that stuck with me about ‘Hunger Games’ was the impact it had on girls seeing a protagonist like that, that they could relate to,” Ross said.

The thing that stuck with me about the Hunger Games was that it was a fairly good movie.

“I was with a friend one night and we were talking about this, and I realized that there had never been this kind of ensemble. There had been a lot of male versions of this. There had never been this kickass ensemble of women coming together like this.”

And then Annihilation beat you to it. Well, I hope that in all of your excitement to make a film with ‘this kind of ensemble’, you still remembered to make it good.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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