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Here We Go Again at the Movies

Oops, Hollywood did it again … and again and again.

Audiences should get used to a sneaking sense of deja vu at the local multiplex, as Tinseltown churns out a steady stream of film remakes.

Coming soon to a theater near you are such familiar stories as “The Stepford Wives,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” (search) “Around the World in 80 Days” and “The Pink Panther.” Remakes that have hit screens recently include “The Alamo,” “Man on Fire” and “Walking Tall.”

Industry experts say the rising cost of films, the pressure on studios to make a bundle at the box office in the opening weekend and an aversion to risk are all behind the remake madness.

“Hollywood is playing it totally safe by remaking past hits, packing them with star power and hoping the combo will save their studios,” said Tom O’Neil, who runs the awards Web site goldderby.com.

Just last month, Jack Valenti (search), the departing chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America (search), announced the average cost of making and marketing a film has for the first time surpassed the $100 million mark.

The result is that pressure to make mega-bucks is making film studios more likely to finance a tried-and-true story than an untested one.

“Name recognition is what has caused [the] ‘sequelitis’ of the last 10 years, and it's what has driven the remake frenzy,” said Greg Dean Schmitz, who runs Yahoo’s movie section.

Sequels have been a moviemaking staple of the last several years, but Schmitz said remakes are more alluring because they have tested storylines without the inflated budgets of sequels.

“In many cases, producers and directors see a remake as a chance to bring something new to something classic, without the baggage of keeping original actors and elements that sequels demand,” he said.

But the deja vu doesn’t stop with carbon copies of old movies. Some argue that “13 Going on 30,” starring Jennifer Garner, is a female version of Tom Hanks' “Big,” and that “The Passion of the Christ” is a remake of a remake of one of the oldest stories. Meanwhile, the upcoming “Troy,” “Van Helsing” and “King Arthur” also rely on well-known characters.

In an e-mail interview, Schmitz said one reason behind all this dredging up of the past is that films that don't grab audiences in the first weekend are often doomed.

“A dominant trend in the last five years has been the ‘front loading’ of box-office grosses, as movies are generally forced by the marketplace to perform immediately or disappear,” said Schmitz. “So, the studios are increasingly looking for movies that have any sort of extra edge to attract audiences.”

According to boxofficemojo.com, among the top 100 biggest grossing films are many based on retreads, including "Batman," "Aladdin," "The Fugitive," "Mission Impossible" and "Ocean’s Eleven."

“Familiar stories that have already been told on TV or film have struck bonanzas at the box office,” said O’Neil. “These provide the least gamble for major studios."

And directors working with a known entity like an old film have the advantage of a basic blueprint for plot, character development and even audience reaction.

There's a major difference between making an original movie and doing a remake, according to Peter Bardazzi, director of New Media Development at New York University.

"[Studios] have an idea of what the film is going to be like and what the audience is going to be like," when they do a remake, he said. "When they first made the 'Manchurian Candidate' they had no idea what effect it would have."

The "Manchurian Candidate," which came out in 1963, starred Frank Sinatra and told the tale of American soldiers who get brainwashed and trained to be sleeper agents. The film was banned in Iron Curtain countries and was later withdrawn from theaters in the U.S., after President John F. Kennedy was killed.

Bardazzi said reviving that kind of military thriller in today's climate could make it a blockbuster, because it addresses the current times in a unique way.

O'Neil too said the buzz on "Manchurian" is that it could be an Oscar contender, especially because it stars previous Oscar-winners Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep and is being directed by Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme.

However, O'Neil pointed out that a remake doesn’t guarantee success. Notable stinkers are the 2001 version of “Planet of the Apes” starring Mark Wahlberg; 1993's “Born Yesterday” with Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson;  “Psycho” starring Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche and “Godzilla” with Matthew Broderick, both made in 1998.

But in Hollywood, where most movies rely on a recycled concept anyway, literally remaking a classic is the logical next step, said Schmitz.

"I think this trend just allows Hollywood to be more honest with moviegoers," he said. “At least now, when a studio wants to regurgitate an idea like 'Dawn of the Dead' or 'The Manchurian Candidate,' the trends are in place for them to admit it."