In this weekend’s battle of the ’80s remakes, “About Last Night” was the clear winner over “RoboCop” and “Endless Love.” The updated version of the 1986 romantic dramedy opened in second place (behind returning champ “The Lego Movie”) with a healthy $ 27.0 million, according to estimates. That was around the high end of what was predicted, but really, no one should be surprised. After all, “About Last Night” offered a textbook primer of how to remake a movie from the ’80s and make it a hit. For example:
Pick a movie people liked the first time. Seems obvious, but does anyone really hold great nostalgic fondness for “Endless Love”? Critics and audiences alike snubbed this one back in 1981, when it starred the much-hyped Brooke Shields. Who was going to want to see it again, but with no buzz-worthy stars this time?
Pick a movie that fans of the original won’t nitpick to death. “RoboCop” was a movie that everyone liked the first time, and that’s the problem. When you’re remaking a sci-fi, horror, or other film beloved by genre geeks, they’re going to keep a sharp eye out for deviations from the original they loved. But slavishness to the original can also be death to creativity. Better to go with a romance, where fans of the original will probably be predominantly women and less geeky about fidelity to the original.
Get Will Packer to produce it. Packer may not be a household name, but his formula of low-budget movies with predominantly black casts has been generating box office hits for seven years, from “Stomp the Yard” to “Think Like a Man” to last month’s “Ride Along.” Not only is he adept at packaging talented casts on a budget — “About Last Night,” which reunites much of the cast of “Think Like a Man,” cost a reported $ 12.5 million, a pittance by Hollywood standards — but he’s also very social-media savvy, picking actors who themselves are social-media savvy, who can generate early fan interest by interacting with their own Internet followings.
Get Kevin Hart to co-star in it. The stand-up comic is appearing in his third movie in three months, but audiences clearly can’t get enough of the star, whose “Ride Along” is still riding high on the chart after a month in release.
Update freely. Swapping the lily-white cast of the 1986 movie for four African-American rising stars is a start, but so is recognizing that romance and courtship in the Internet era are different beasts from what they were 28 years ago. The new film acknowledges this. It also updates standard romantic comedy formula by boosting the stock cynical-best-friends-who-give-bad-advice roles (played by Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins then, and by Hart and Regina Hall now) from sidekick status to co-equals, giving the film more balance.
Make it for grown-ups. Let’s face it, they’re the only moviegoers old enough for the remake to have some emotional resonance and nostalgia value. Young people don’t care. Keeping older viewers in mind doesn’t just mean casting older (although Hall, Michael Ealy, and Joy Bryant of the new “About” are all close to 40, while the original’s Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, and Perkins were all in their 20s). It also means adult content. Like the 1986 “About,” the new film is rated R for sexual frankness. (That puts it one up on “RoboCop,” where the extreme violence of the R-rated original has been toned down to PG-13, much to the dismay of fans of the 1987 original.) According to exit polling, some 57 percent of the moviegoers who saw “About” this weekend were over 30, which is something studios should embrace, not shy away from. After all, are the over-30s going to want to see the obsessive teens in “Endless Love,” or will they flock to a movie that actually treats them like grown-ups?
Gallery | The 11 Best Romantic Movies You’ve Never Seen
- ‘The Tall Guy’ (1989)
Screenwriter Richard Curtis seems to like hooking Americans up with Britons, as he’s done in “Four Weddings and a Funeral, ” “Notting Hill,” and “Love, Actually,” but before he wrote any of those, he penned this absurdly funny movie about a Yank stage actor (Jeff Goldblum) in London who falls in love with an English nurse (a pre-fame Emma Thompson). Frequent Curtis MVP Rowan Atkinson threatens to steal the film as Goldblum’s tyrannical stage partner (as does an uproarious Andrew Lloyd Webber-style musical adaptation of “The Elephant Man”), but Goldblum’s low-key charm and Thompson’s no-nonsense starchiness remain the heart of the film. The movie’s centerpiece is one of the funniest, most acrobatic and painful-looking sex scenes ever filmed.
- ‘The Baxter’ (2005)
“The State” alum Michael Showalter writes, directs, and stars in this homage to the dweeby other guy in movies, a so-called “Baxter,” defined as the guy who loses the girl to her repentant ex-boyfriend. In this wistful, surprisingly sweet parody, Showalter’s a Baxter whose long history of bird-dogged girlfriends makes him fear that his fiancée (Elizabeth Banks) will ditch him for her old beau (Justin Theroux) before their wedding. Fortunately, he finds a female Baxter (Michelle Williams) to commiserate with. If you identify more with the Ralph Bellamys and Bill Pullmans than the Cary Grants and Tom Hankses, this film is for you.
- ‘L’Atalante’ (1934)
Jean Vigo’s French classic is one of the most luminous black-and-white movies ever filmed. There’s not much plot; it’s the story of two newlyweds (Jean Daste and Dita Parlo), the river barge they run, and what happens when their love runs aground, but it’s so full of lyrical, romantic imagery that you’ll soon forget that the movie is subititled and not in color.
- ‘Crossing Delancey’ (1988)
Izzy (Amy Irving) longs for a life in the literary salons of uptown Manhattan. But she still has roots downtown on the Lower East Side, where her grandmother still thinks it’s 100 years ago and that there’s nothing wrong with hiring a matchmaker to pair Izzy off with a nice Jewish pickle merchant (Peter Riegert). Director Joan Micklin Silver handles the clashes between head and heart, uptown and downtown, modernity and tradition, with gentle humor. Irving and Riegert are charming, though it’s Reizl Bozyk as the shrewd grandma who steals the movie.
- ‘Gregory’s Girl’ (1981)
Unexpected love is a common secondary theme in the delightful movies of Scottish director Bill Forsyth (“Local Hero,” “Comfort and Joy,”), but here, it’s front and center. Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair) is a gangly lad who can’t believe his good fortune when soccer teammate Dorothy (Dee Hepburn) decides he’s a worthy suitor. If you can get past the actors’ thick brogues, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in this warm tale of awkward young love.
- ‘In the Mood for Love’ (2000)
Wong Kar-Wai, who’s made some of the most dazzling-looking films of the past two decades, pulls out all the stops in this period almost-romance. Set in the early 1960s, the story centers on Hong Kong neighbors Mr. Chow (Tony Leung Chui Wai) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung), who discover that their spouses are having an affair with each other. They’re too decent to reciprocate, but the unrequited longing between them is palpable, tragic, and gorgeous. With his vintage suits and her cheongsams, it’s hard to imagine a more glamorous-looking, nobly suffering pair of stifled lovers.
- ‘Holiday’ (1938)
Fans of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn know of their hilarious couplings in “Bringing Up Baby” and “The Philadelphia Story,” but this early pairing is often overlooked. In this wry adaptation of another Philip Barry play (like “Philiadelphia Story”), Hepburn is again an heiress, while Grant is a vagabond still looking for his place in the world. He’s engaged to Hepburn’s sister, but only Hepburn appreciates his determination to drop out of the rat race. Given the social strictures of Hepburn’s world, her support for looks something like courage and even romantic self-sacrifice.
- ‘Map of the Human Heart’ (1993)
Here’s the sort of movie that they don’t make anymore, a sweeping romantic epic of love and war and exotic locations. Here, it’s about an Inuit lad and a half-French/half-Indian lass, childhood sweethearts, who grow up to be Jason Scott Lee (“Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story”) and Anne Parillaud (“La Femme Nikita”). From the frozen Canadian tundra to the air battles over Europe in World War II, theirs is the typically star-crossed and tragic romance, though the two do get to enjoy one memorably steamy tryst on top of a blimp. Director Vincent Ward (“What Dreams May Come”) is clearly working on a budget, yet he fills the screen with grandeur and spectacle.
- ‘Next Stop Wonderland’ (1998)
Hope Davis stars in this wry indie gem as a nurse who keeps unwittingly crossing paths with a potential Mr. Right (Alan Gelfant). The late Philip Seymour Hoffman is on hand as the bad-news beau she can’t seem to shake. Director Brad Anderson (“Session 9″) makes fine use of Boston locations, particularly the New England Aquarium.
- ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ (1964)
French director Jacques Demy and his swoony movie musicals have been all but forgotten by American audiences, but this one is still a must-see. Catherine Deneuve became a star as the shopgirl who falls for a mechanic (Nino Castelnuovo), only to have their vows of fidelity tested by war, distance, and time. There’s no spoken dialogue; the entire movie is sung to the wistful melodies of Michel Legrand. The result is a dazzling, bittersweet pop opera. Even if you’re not a Francophile or a reader of subtitles, you’ll appreciate the catchy music, the vivid colors, and the radiant young Deneuve.
- ‘The Wedding Banquet’ (1993)
More than a decade before “Brokeback Mountain,” Taiwanese director Ang Lee broke through to American audiences with this warm, open-hearted comedy about a well-to-do Taiwanese man (Winston Chao) in New York who gets engaged to a Chinese artist (May Chin) to get her a green card and to hide from his parents the fact that he’s a gay man with a long-term Anglo partner. Unfortunately, they insist on coming over from Taiwan to plan him and his bride of convenience an elaborate and traditional wedding. Lee has great fun exploring (and trampling on) the boundaries between homeland and America, gay and straight, and parent and child, while serving up a delicious celebration along the way.
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