Some movies are remade because they're beloved classics ripe for modernization. Others get the reboot treatment because they're forgotten cult favorites that were ahead of their times and might now flourish in a world ready for their stories. And then some movies get remade because it probably seemed easy enough to update the trappings and context around the core story without doing any actual real creative work.
It's unclear just what the producers of the new "Flatliners" remake set out to do, but the end result sure seems like they were operating with that third principle in mind. Cynicism is a serious accusation in a creative industry, but the remake of the 1990 Kiefer Sutherland quasi-medical thriller certainly doesn't seem like it was made with a new point of view or much urgency to reintroduce the original message to audiences nearly 30 years later. And distributor Sony Pictures clearly felt the same way about marketing the movie, as the studio pulled the plug on nearly all promo including national advertising and press screenings.
Not that Sony had much of a choice: director Niels Arden Oplev's movie, which this time around stars Ellen Page and Kiersey Clemons, with a cameo by Sutherland, was just straight up bad. There were few critics screenings, and once reviews did get posted, they were universally awful; right now, "Flatliners" has a pristine zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes, perfect in its awfulness. That will stand as the movie's biggest accomplishment, because "Flatliners" flatlined at the box office, drawing in just $6.7 million in its opening weekend -- and in wide release, to boot.
Between the terrible reviews, minuscule promotion, and the fact that no one really wanted to see a remake of a forgettable drama from 27 years ago, it was easy to tell that "Flatliners" would be a flop. But it's usually easy to predict an epic flop. What's getting harder and harder to do these days is know with any certainty that any movie not part of the "Star Wars" and Marvel universes will be a big success.
Look at "American Made," the latest action flick from Tom Cruise. While "The Mummy" was a giant failure, this one had all the trappings of a hit: A great performance from Cruise, lots of action, a well-known director, a solid soundtrack, and advertisements filled with cocaine. It even had a mid-80s period setting, which is all the rage right now thanks to "It" and "Stranger Things." And yet, the movie premiered to just over $17 million, hardly the stuff of a vintage Cruise hit.
Technically, that makes the movie the weekend box office winner, but that doesn't mean much in this context: "It" barely missed the mark with $17 million in its third weekend, while the "Kingsman" sequel also took in that much in its second weekend.
It's more evidence that big movie stars don't sell movies anymore. "Kingsman" had a whole Walk of Fame in its cast, including Channing Tatum and Halle Berry, but was a relative disappointment in its opening last weekend. And Cruise has had a string of soft openings for films that had good reviews and would have, perhaps a decade earlier, been monster hits. He's still a huge draw internationally, but only one of his non-"Mission: Impossible" movies has cracked $100 million domestically since 2004. And the one that did,2014's "Edge of Tomorrow," just squeaked past that mark, with $100.2 million.
Why has this happened? Certainly Cruise's bruised reputation hasn't helped; he's no longer America's Golden Boy (plus, he's over 50, so he's certainly no boy). And as good as his movies can be, they don't ever seem all that different -- who needs to see another Tom Cruise plane movie when they can watch "Top Gun" at home, another action flick when there are six "Mission: Impossible" movies on demand, or another future sci-fi movie when they've got "Minority Report" on blu-ray?
The only solution? Make smaller, more nuanced movies that need to make less money to recoup costs. Or join up with a superhero franchise. Or go to Netflix.