Oscars 2022: All four Best Picture contenders are remakes.  Does it matter to voters?


“Have I seen this before? ” At Oscars, viewers and voters may find themselves asking this question more than usual.

No less than four of the top 10 nominees this year are remakes or reboots of previous films. CODA borrows the story of a teenage girl who performs for her deaf family from La Famille Bélier, a 2014 French film. Dune is the second epic based on Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel, following the 1984 version of David Lynch. Nightmare Alley is also the second filmed version of a novel, following the 1947 film noir of the same title. West Side Story dances 60 years after the Robert Wise-Jerome Robbins adaptation of a lauded and popular version of the 1957 Broadway musical.

In Oscar history, only one other year featured more than three remakes in the category. At the 1936 ceremony, eight such films were in the running: Mutiny on the Bounty, Alice Adams, Captain Blood, David Copperfield, Les Miserables, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Ruggles of Red Gap and The Informer. The eventual winner was Mutiny on the Bounty, which was followed by a 1962 remake that scored another Best Picture nomination.

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The very definition of a remake is subjective. For these purposes, I take a broad view and include any film that has substantially the same key characters and plot as a previous feature film, even if the new film was not directly based on the previous one. This includes stories that were previously made in silent form, such as the very first Best Picture nominated remake, “Disraeli” (1929), about the British Prime Minister, and any filmed version – after the first adaptation – of a novel or a play. (All adaptations of Shakespeare after the premiere of each play would be considered remakes). was made in a different genre, like the 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast (there was a live-action French version from 1946) or Hacksaw Ridge (based on a documentary). I drew the line if too much of the plot or characters had been changed: 1961’s The West Side Story, for example, doesn’t count as a remake of Romeo and Juliet.

Surely this year’s number of remakes is inflated by the recent increase in the top 10 nominees, just as the all-time mark set in 1936 is likely the result of falling in one of two years with a dozen of suitors. Still, remakes are overrepresented this year. Historically, 11.5% of Best Picture nominees are remakes by this broad definition, but this year that number is 40%. And since the academy expanded the Best Picture category a dozen years ago, this is the first year with more than one nominated remake, let alone four.

dunes Dune is nominated in 10 Oscar categories.

Does a movie’s status as a reboot matter to voters? The numbers suggest not. Given the number of nominees and remakes each year, the rules of probability suggest that we would expect around 10 remakes to have won. In fact, the actual number of winning remakes is nine, pretty close to that statistical estimate, suggesting a lack of bias for or against stories that have been told before. These nine rebooted champions: Mutiny on the Bounty, Hamlet, Gigi, Ben-Hur, The Sound of Music, Oliver!, Chicago, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and The Departed.

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That said, a look at these winners one by one shows more trepidation among this year’s remakes. Only The Departed, based on the 2002 Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, is a true remake if we were to follow a much stricter definition. Mutiny on the Bounty had only been told once before, in a 1916 Australian film which is now lost. This film, with Ben-Hur, had not yet been made as a sound film. The previous version of Lord of the Rings was animated. Perhaps most important, Gigi, The Sound of Music, Oliver! and Chicago turned earlier non-musicals into musicals, which perhaps deserves another categorization.

West Side Story Ariana DeBose in an image from West Side Story.

The four contenders this year are much closer to The Departed than the other eight champions, without nearly as much daylight between the current version and the previous one. West Side Story, in particular, is quite similar to its 1961 counterpart and will have to defy history to become the first remake of a former top nominee (let alone winner) to win the top prize.

Seven other suitors have tried and failed: Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), Cleopatra (1963), Romeo and Juliet (1968), Heaven Can Wait (1978), Les Misérables (2012), A Star Is Born (2018) and Petites Women (2019) all resurrected stories from former Best Picture nominees, but none of them won. This is the streak that Steven Spielberg’s film will have to break to emerge victorious.

Whether the lack of an original story is a hindrance to a movie’s Oscar chances depends on how you cut the data. With a generous definition of what constitutes a remake, there doesn’t seem to be an academy leaning one way or the other. With a more stingy definition, the number of winning remakes drops rapidly.

Also, the Oscars have long rewarded films based on other media, such as books. A slew of 57 Best Picture winners were nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, so it’s not like the academy is only open to original screenplays taking home the top prize of the night.

Perhaps Oscar voters have already seen some of this year’s stories. But if, like The Departed, it’s a good enough movie, it might just win the Oscar anyway.



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