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The Hollywood remake - when does it make sense to do it again - An empirical investigation

With the amount of remakes the Hollywood film industry pumps out anyone would think they are a safe bet for box office success, but this isn't always the case. This research uncovers the factors that determine why some remakes are far more successful than others.

Author(s): Bjorn Bohnenkamp - Karlshochschule International University; Ann-Kristin Knapp - University of Muenster; Thorsten Hennig-Thurau - Cass Business School. University of Muenster; Ricarda Schauerte - University of Muenster

It's a common complaint that an unimaginative Hollywood industry churns out remake after remake and one with firm justification, as a substantial amount of current releases are based on earlier films. For Hollywood producers the rationale for this production pattern is that the remake is a safe investment, offering the same low risk and potentially high returns one sees with the sequel and the bestseller adaptation. Could this be a misguided strategy, however?

This research argues that the remake may not offer the same safe and consistent box office bet that one associates with other brand extensions. For every remake that rings the box office bell loudly, there is a comparable box office bomb. For every War of the Worlds (2005 - worldwide gross $591,745,540) there is a Conan the Barbarian, which cost $90 million to make in 2011 and grossed less than $50 million worldwide.

The authors of this research demonstrate that where brand extensions such as sequels offer a degree of familiarity, they also offer a significant amount of 'sensation' that is new to the viewer, and this is vital if any rush to the local multiplex is to be sparked. In contrast the average remake merely offers familiarity, and frequently only enough to breed contempt.

Good and successful remakes do exist however, and so the format should not be written off. Using a dataset of 207 remakes released in American theatres between 1999 and 2011 against a matched sample of other films, the authors found that although remakes do not increase revenue they do reduce financial risk.

This research presents a contingency model which identifies the factors that determine the success of remakes. This model could prove extremely useful for film producers across the world, as it may help them identify those films for which a remake would be successful and to avoid those that could spawn a flop. The full research paper is forthcoming in the Journal of Cultural Economics.

In previous research entitled The Importance of Reciprocal Spillover Effects for the Valuation of Bestseller Brands Professor Hennig-Thureau et al looked at how successful film adaptations of bestseller novels can have reciprocal spillover benefits for the source material. This has links with the forthcoming research and is recommended reading.

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