one byproduct of endless remakes: originals being sidelined

Things happened before 1990, people…

At the risk of sending off strong “old man yells at cloud” vibes, I had to roll my eyes when I saw this as the lede to a story on a major entertainment news site:

Filmmaker Anthony Hemingway has signed on to direct a present-day remake of the 1996 film “The Preacher’s Wife” from Bassett Vance Productions and Anthony Hemingway Productions.

That lede raises the question of what counts as original source material.

1996’s The Preacher’s Wife, starring Denzel Washington, Whitney Houston and Courtney B. Vance, was itself a remake of the 1947 movie The Bishop’s Wife with Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven, itself an adaptation of a 1928 novel.

The slight name change was due to the idea of a bishop seeming a bit outdated and…well…white in 1996 if I remember correctly, though the story remained largely the same. But it’s still marked as a remake of the original. At the very least it’s another adaptation of the novel. Either way the foundation of the material goes back to the first half of the 20th century.

It would be like referring to a new version of Miracle on 34th Street as a remake of the 1994 movie instead of the 1947 original. Or someone’s recording “I Will Always Love You” as a cover of Whitney Houston’s song instead of it being Dolly Parton’s.

Then again even the BBC’s YouTube channel has Taylor Swift singing “Can’t Stop Loving You” designated as a Phil Collins cover instead of a White Horse/William Nicholls cover. So I’m not sure why I’m surprised.

It’s somewhat understandable that artists and fans may not always make this kind of distinction. Someone who grew up solely with the 1996 The Preacher’s Wife may simply not have the context to frame a new version appropriately. Just the other day I was thinking about how I grew up with the Kenny Rogers/Sheena Easton version of “We’ve Got Tonight” and went the better part of 10 years before learning Bob Seger wrote and recorded the song five years before it showed up on a record from Rogers.

But we live in the age of the internet and a simple Wikipedia search would provide the necessary background. And the expectations should be higher for anyone calling themselves a reporter. A decent editor should have caught it before the story was published.

To a great extent this tendency to reference the most recent iteration instead of diving all the way back to the source material is a product of the entertainment industry’s fascination with endlessly remaking the same properties over and over again.

That’s not new, either. The Philadelphia Story began life as a play before being made into a theatrical feature twice and adapted thrice for TV productions. But it’s only going to get worse as originals (or initial adaptations) from the early- or mid-20th century are superseded in the public consciousness by new versions from the 90s or 00s which have become for many people the de facto originals.

While I’m certainly not going to insist that everyone see the *actual* originals in order to appreciate the remake – just like I’m not going to insist everyone watch Rashomon in order to fully appreciate the genius of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, though they really should – we can at least ask the people who are bringing us the news of remakes, reboots and reimaginings to frame that news accurately and appropriately.

Season 13 GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

The Equalizer 2 – Marketing Recap

Denzel Washington winks at his history of avoiding sequels in the campaign for THE EQUALIZER 2.

equalizer 2 posterFor the first time in his career, Denzel Washington adds a sequel to his filmography. The actor has, for whatever reason, refrained from doing so in the past, though some of his movies certainly warranted one. That sequel is The Equalizer 2, the follow-up to the 2014 film based on the classic TV show of the same name.

In both movies, Washington plays Robert McCall, a former government operative with a knack for clearing rooms of threats quickly and a soft spot for those down on their luck or facing abuse of some kind. When he finds out Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), a former colleague who he’s kept in touch with, has been attacked by highly-skilled agents he sets out on a vendetta to find out who they are and make sure justice is served.

The Posters

Denzel’s face glares out at the audience from a Roman numeral II, showing both the intensity of the character and reinforcing that this is the second film in the series. “There is no equal” is the tagline used, which is something that could be applied to both the character and the actor himself.

The Trailers

McCall is on a train in Turkey as the trailer opens, engaging in some verbal taunting of the tough guys who have kidnapped a little girl, tough guys he dispatches with relative ease. Things get personal when he returns home and one of his oldest – and only – friends is attacked despite her being far off the radar. That makes his next mission one of not just justice but revenge as he realizes the attack could only have been the work of someone inside the agency they both work for. After all that it’s just a series of action sequences showing how deadly McCall is.

Washington is so good he embues, even in the trailer, a role like this with more gravitas and emotion than most other actors who have either discovered action films late in their career or who have stayed in the genre well past when they should have left it. The story isn’t exactly original – a variation on the “This time it’s personal” theme – but Fuqua and Washington are good enough to elevate the material.

The second trailer gets to that same story, but only after doing a little more setup work showing McCall passes the time as a Lyft driver who also helps avenge those he comes across who have been wronged. That inclusion makes the story of him seeking out justice for his friend even stronger.

Just a couple days before the movie hit theaters, Sony released a short “Music Trailer” featuring largely the same scenes and material but with the song “In the Name of Love” from Jacob Banks turned up a bit more prominently in the mix.

Online and Social

The landing page of the movie’s official website opens with full-screen video interrupted by prompts to buy tickets and links to its Instagram, Twitter and Facebook profiles.

Most of what’s included in the top content menu is the standard “Synopsis,” “Trailer,” and “Gallery” material. In addition to that are sections with the “NBA Audition Videos” that were used as TV spots (more on those below) and the “Twitch: Solo Squad Showdown,” which appears to have been a movie-sponsored tournament on the streaming channel.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV advertising kicked off with a spot that aired during the NBA Finals featuring Washington talking about how he doesn’t do sequels and that instead the studio should audition NBA stars to take on his role. That specific campaign continued with a whole series of commercials featuring different NBA players like Dwight Howard, Lonzo Ball, Paul George and others, including one with various players offering their own catchphrase suggestions.

Some of the videos were used as social ads while the key art was used for online banners and other units, all leading to the website for people to buy tickets.

Media and Publicity

Things kicked off on the press front when Washington showed up on “Kimmel” to talk about the movie, basketball, the Oscars and lots more.

Washington, Leo and others from the cast also participated in Twitter Q&As, Reddit AMAs and other online fan interactions. There were also a few other interviews and appearances, some including Fuqua, but that’s about it.


It really seems as though Sony is relying heavily on the paid campaign to generate awareness of the movie as opposed to engaging in a significant earned media push. In particular, the studio seems to believe the core audience is sports fans of some kind or another, either NBA aficionados or those more interested in e-sports. It’s almost like the decision was made to sell this as a testosterone-fueled revenge flick that offers a stark contrast to the more nerd-centric super hero movies.

Washington seems to be having some measure of fun, at least as much as I’ve seen him have in some recent campaign, relaxing a bit by returning to a character and even poking some fun at his unwillingness to do so previously. That’s good and he’s allowed to loosen up a bit from time to time. Whether that charm is enough to convince people to turn out to theaters for a story that’s more personal than many other action franchises remains to be seen.


A new spot hits a theme that wasn’t emphasized very strongly in the earlier campaign, that of the mentor/mentee relationship between Robert and Miles.


More from costar Ashton Sanders on what it was like to work with Denzel Washington and learn from the veteran actor.


The IMAX poster is much cooler than what was used more generally, showing just Washington’s torso with a tie that takes the shape of Lady Justice.
Denzel Washington addressed directly how this is his first sequel and why he’s long avoided doing them and how he tried to bring the feeling and emotion back to the character. Also, he and costar Ashton Sanders talk here about their on-screen dynamic.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. – Marketing Recap

roman j israel posterDenzel Washington stars as the title character in this week’s new release Roman J. Israel, Esq. Coming from writer/director Dan Gilroy, the movie follows Israel beginning with his time as a idealistic young lawyer doing what he needs to do to succeed while those above him win all the glory.

A series of events sees him recruited by a prestigious law firm by the former student (Colin Farrell) of Israel’s professional mentor. That decision ultimately puts Israel in a position where he has to make choices that may conflict with the ideals he’s long clung to and could threaten his entire professional standing and career.

The Posters

The movie’s one and only poster shows Washington as Israel from the back, his hair taking up a good amount of the image’s real estate. That, combined with the glasses, old-school Walkman headphones and purple suit coat are meant to visually communicate who the character is and what sort of unconventional and unique personality will be on display. “All rise” we’re told at the bottom.

The Trailers

Israel is a go-for-broke lawyer as the first trailer opens, using every means at his disposal to get his clients. When he’s laid off from his firm he has a bit of an identity crisis. An unethical and illegal decision he makes during a case comes back to haunt him years later after he’s risen once more to the top of the field and various people and groups are tightening around him to find out the truth and bring him down.

Gotta love Washington in these kinds of roles. He’s fast and smart and goes all in on every aspect of the character, both good and bad. There are quite a few subplots hinted at in the trailer but you get a general idea and see what the big beats are going to be.

Online and Social

After the trailer plays on the official website the splash page features the same image seen on the key art. There are links in the upper right corner to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

That one trailer is the only thing in the “Video” section that starts the content menu at the top of the page. After that is “About,” which has a decent synopsis of the story. “Cast & Crew” just has lists of names and finally the “Gallery” has a handful of production stills.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV spots like this one presented the story as a portrait of a man who cuts his own path and makes a lot of enemies along the way. He’s brash and mildly offensive and unconventional in his approach, cutting through the bull and making a name for himself.

Media and Publicity

A few first-look stills were released around the same time it was announced the movie would premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. It picked up pretty good word-of-mouth while there and it was eventually given a release date by Columbia Pictures.

Aside from the release of marketing materials and few Q&As featuring Washington and Gilroy there doesn’t seem to have been a big press push here.


I know I’ve said this a lot lately, but this is the kind of movie that would have been a summer tentpole for any studio 30 years ago, so it’s a bit odd to see it almost flying under the radar here. Washington is one of his generation’s finest actors, always delivering solid and often extraordinary performances. Those skills are certainly on display in the campaign, particularly in the TV spots where the focus is a bit tighter, but there isn’t nearly the kind of general appreciation that should accompany any new film he’s in.

Instead it’s a decent but subdued campaign for a movie that has almost no chance at the box-office this weekend. It’s going up against a powerhouse in Justice League and so will be swamped by that as well as anyone who’s not still catching up on Thor or another recent release. It’s this kind of reality that has many movies of this type – a serious drama meant for adults and featuring an all-time great actor – headed to streaming services.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.