Cinema and Media Studies Remakes, Sequels and Prequels
Lucy Mazdon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 January 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 January 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0128


Remakes, sequels, and prequels have long been prominent elements of Hollywood production. Since the very early days of silent cinema and the realization of the need for an increasing supply of films to meet growing audience demand, the remake—along with the sequel and the series—have become Hollywood’s stock in trade. The remake is one element of a much broader tradition of cinematic reworking: the adaptation of a literary text, “true story,” or mythic theme; adaptation from another audiovisual medium; the reworking of earlier films and/or screenplays; and parody and pastiche. However the term “remake” is commonly understood to refer to films based on an earlier film and/or screenplay: for example, sound remakes of silent films, the reworking of films from one cultural context in a new cultural context (Hollywood and Bollywood most typically) and “auto remakes” or films made twice by the same director. Thus the remake can cross both temporal and spatial boundaries as it reproduces existing material for new audiences. Like the remake, the sequel and the prequel are the product of a particular relationship with an earlier film. Given their long history both in Hollywood and elsewhere it is perhaps surprising that these practices should have received only scant critical attention—much of it highly dismissive. To a great extent this critical hostility and/or silence is due to the perceived commercial imperatives of both remaking and the production of sequels and prequels: typically all are seen as little more than symptomatic of Hollywood’s drive for profits. However, remake, sequel, and prequel should not merely be seen as industrial categories. They can also be viewed as complex textual artifacts through their reworkings and referencing of earlier films and the potential they offer for intertextual modes of reception.

General Overviews

The following works represent the key texts in the establishment of a thorough and sustained study of filmic remaking. The earlier works (Limbacher 1991, Milberg 1990, Nowlan and Wright Nowlan 1989, and Silverman 1978) provide a survey of film remakes and establish a broad overview of the patterns and locations of remaking. They are a useful, albeit now somewhat dated, tool. Later works provide more sustained attempts to define and analyze remakes as textual artifact and commercial practice. Druxman 1975 sets out to produce a “dissertation” on the remake practice by describing the film versions of thirty-three literary sources. While this is an important early attempt at definition, Druxman himself admits that his methodology is not entirely secure as the categories he proposes overlap, occasionally exclude important films, and can appear somewhat arbitrary. Notable is Thomas Leitch’s early attempt at pinpointing the singularity of the “true” remake and the intertextual relationships it shares with its source texts (see Leitch 1990). Biguenet 1998 provides a thoughtful analysis of the role of allusion and intertextuality in the remake. Zanger 2006 focuses on contemporary versions of three “stories” (Joan of Arc, Carmen, and Psycho) to show what Zanger terms the remake’s “rituals of disguise” and to posit these repetitions as evidence of cultural archetypes and collective social memory. Verevis 2006 is a rich and successful attempt to answer the question, “What is film remaking?” Verevis assesses a wide range of views on the subject (including most of the texts cited above) and concludes by proposing three categories for the remake (industrial, textual, and critical), which then provide a framework for the analysis that makes up the remainder of the book.

  • Biguenet, John. “‘Double Takes: The Role of Allusion in Cinema’ in Citationality.” In Play it Again Sam: Retakes on Remakes. Edited by Andrew Horton and Stuart Y. McDougal, 131–143. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

    Focuses on the importance of allusion in the remake and stresses the centrality of intertextuality to the remake and to cinema more broadly.

  • Druxman, Michael B. Make It Again Sam: A Survey of Movie Remakes. Cranbury, NJ: A. S. Barnes, 1975.

    An early attempt at defining the remake practice which focuses on the filmic versions of thirty-three literary sources.

  • Leitch, Thomas M. “Twice-Told Tales: The Rhetoric of the Remake.” Literature/Film Quarterly 18.3 (1990): 37–62.

    A seminal and much-reprinted essay that sets out to distinguish the “true” remake from other forms of cinematic adaptation and analyze the intertextual relationships these films share with their source texts. Leitch makes the provocative but important claim that only remakes compete directly (and often without legal or economic compensation) with other versions of the same property. A revised version of this essay published in Forrest and Koos 2002 (cited under Edited Collections) focuses more fully on questions of legal and economic competition.

  • Limbacher, James L. Haven’t I Seen You Somewhere Before? Remakes, Sequels, and Series in Motion Pictures and Television, 1896–1978. New York: Pierian, 1991.

    An extended filmography that provides a survey of remakes, sequels, and series in film and television from 1896 to 1978. A very useful source of information, although limited in historical and national coverage and not entirely complete.

  • Milberg, Doris. Repeat Performances: A Guide to Hollywood Movie Remakes. New York: Broadway, 1990.

    Like Limbacher 1991, this is essentially an extended filmography providing a survey of Hollywood remakes from the early days of film production up to the end of the 1980s.

  • Nowlan, Robert A., and Gwendolyn Wright Nowlan. Cinema Sequels and Remakes, 1903–1987. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1989.

    A reference work of almost a thousand pages that alphabetically lists over a thousand “primary” films as well as many other remakes and sequels. Again, a very useful source of information but makes barely any attempt at analysis or theorization.

  • Silverman, Stephen M. “Hollywood Cloning: Sequels, Prequels, Remakes and Spin-Offs.” American Film 3.9 (July–August 1978): 24–30.

    A brief but important early attempt to provide an overview and definition of different forms of Hollywood remaking and seriality.

  • Verevis, Constantine. Film Remakes. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006.

    Includes a useful overview of key debates and works in the field and proposes three categories of the remake (industrial, textual, and critical) that serve as a framework for the book’s wide-ranging analysis of case studies drawn from a variety of national and historical contexts, television, and film. A crucial text for anyone with an interest in the field, and an excellent preliminary introduction.

  • Zanger, Anat. Film Remakes as Ritual and Disguise. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006.

    A highly detailed analysis of contemporary versions of three “stories” (Joan of Arc, Carmen, and Psycho), which reveal what Zanger terms the remake’s “rituals of disguise.” Zanger’s complex and insightful analysis posits these repetitions as evidence of ideologically rich cultural archetypes and collective social memory. An often dense work, it suggests rich and complex ways of rethinking the significance of the remake.

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