When Sony Picture’s Mr. Deeds opens in North America next month its prospects will depend largely on the appeal of its star Adam Sandler, as opposed to the fact that it’s a remake of Frank Capra’s 1936 comedy Mr. Deeds Goes To Town.

Meanwhile, the development department at Sony Pictures, which owns the Columbia library, will continue sifting for treasure - much as Universal’s development department blew the dust off a 1934 Boris Karlov title about archaeologists in Egypt called The Mummy and built itself a billion dollar franchise.

“The advantage of making a movie people already know is that the marketing job is easier,” says Hollywood marketing and distribution veteran Andrew Fogelson.. Even a remake that has no brand awareness, like Mr. Deeds or Artisan’s Billy Liar, a new version of the 1963 John Schlesinger film, has the simple advantage of showing the producer what he’s buying.

From Artisan to Zentropolis, everyone in Hollywood has a remake in the wings. New Line is retooling a handful of 1970s horror films, including TheTexas Chain Saw Massacre and Willard, a story about a man who harnesses rats to seek revenge.

RKO Studios, itself a remake of sorts, is remaking Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion with Philip Kaufman directing, Robert Wise’s 1949 film noir The Set-Up with Sydney Lumet in the drivers seat. Others are concentrating on foreign-language titles: Miramax is remaking French filmmaker Dominik Moll’s 2000 debut With A Friend Like Harry and Lakeshore is remaking Gilles Mimouni’s 1996 L’Apartement, while Alliance Atlantis has remade 1955 film Bob Le Flambeur as The Honest Thief (formerly Double Down).

“Filmmakers in other countries don’t have the budgets to focus on action and special effects and so they concentrate on storytelling,” says Alicia Keyes, director of worldwide acquisitions at Buena Vista International.

Keyes recently acquired the remake rights to Intacto, the Spanish hit that drew raves at Venice and Sundance (it screens in Critics Week at Cannes). It is Disney’s first remake pick-up since the studio acquired the rights to the 1994 French title Un Indien Dans La Ville and remade it as 1997’s Jungle2Jungle.

Says Keyes, “Studios have always picked up remakes but it’s more in the forefront now because they’re opening their eyes to the international market.”

In fact, the success of Open Your Eyes (Abre Los Ojos), another Spanish hit, is driving the current interest in remaking Spanish films. Produced by Paramount as vehicle for Tom Cruise, Vanilla Sky earned $100m in North America and a further $100m internationally. The executive producer of OpenYour Eyes, Fernando Bovaira, was also behind Intacto as well as The Others(Los Otros), which was remade by Miramax and Studio Canal.

Korea is another popular source for potential remakes, particularly comedies. Last autumn Miramax bought My Wife Is A Gangster for $1.1m. At AFM 2002, DreamWorks picked up rights for My Sassy Girl for $750,000 plus 4% of global revenues and MGM scooped up Hi, Dharma for a reported $300,000 plus 5% of global revenues. In April, remake rights to Lee Hyun-seung’s melodrama Il Mare sold to Sony Pictures Entertainment for $500,000 plus a further 2.5% of global revenues. Keyes says she has seen five Korean titles in the last two weeks.

As to what qualities in a film make it a candidate for remaking, Disney’s Keyes points to universality of theme. “I loved the concept of Intacto: luck. It’s something everybody can relate to.

However, she feels no compunction about changing the film. “I don’t see this as a direct remake. It’s more of an ‘inspired by’-type of film.” In developing the property, Keyes has invited a number of A-list filmmakers (she won’t say who) to screen the film and asked them to come back with verbal pitches. “There are so many characters that you could take out and focus on. So I’m asking them to pick something that inspires them.”

Says veteran Hollywood producer David Foster, who has produced remakes of The Thing (as John Carpenter’s The Thing) and even remade one film he produced, The Getaway, “You remake bad films that were good ideas.” Fogelson disagrees with that notion. “Why on earth would you remake a film that doesn’t work in the first place’”

James Wong, who is producing the remake of Willard, comes down somewhere in the middle: “You shouldn’t do remakes that you can’t make better, not just in terms of special effects.” He says he turned down an offer to remake the 1974 sci-fi horror film Westworld because “it’s a good film and stands up. Unless you have a brilliant new take it’s hard to redo a movie.” The Westworld remake is now being fast-tracked by Warner Bros as a vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Whereas a film like Mr. Deeds, which is known only by classic movie buffs, could only be remade with a marquee name like Adam Sandler in the lead, a modicum of brand identity means titles like Willard and Chainsaw Massacre don’t require A-list casting. Says producer Wong, “The rats are the stars.” Which also makes such pictures relatively inexpensive to produce.

Fogelson feels remakes like Willard are closely allied to so-called TV spin-offs such as The Flintstones, Charlie’s Angels or Columbia Pictures’ upcoming S.W.A.T., based on the 1970s TV series about an elite police squad (Special Weapons and Tactics).

For Chris Lee, the film’s producer, the appeal is driven by nostalgia, especially where a theme song is involved. “SWAT [the series] had a great theme song. Every guy in his 30s and 40s remembers playing SWAT as a kid and humming that song.” Another theme-driven spin-off coming to screens is Hawaii Five-O, recently optioned by DreamWorks.

Lee optioned the property seven years ago while president of production at Columbia TriStar, “At the time I optioned it, remakes we’re not in vogue so [the licence for the rights] was a bargain.

Remakes in the pipeline:

Title (Original country, year) remake

Akira (Japan) 1988 Warner Bros.
L’Apartement (France) 1996 Lakeshore
Bob Le Flambeur (France) 1955 Alliance Atlantis
Billy Liar (UK) 1963 Artisan
The Closet (France) 2001 Miramax
Hi, Dharma (Korea) 2001 MGM
Il Mare (Korea) 2000 Warner Bros
Intacto (Spain) 2001 Walt Disney
The Italian Job (US) 1969 Paramount
Kaosu (Japan) 1999 Universal
The Ladykillers 1955 (UK) Disney
My Wife Is A Gangster (Korea) 2000 Miramax
My Sassy Girl (Korea) 2001 DreamWorks
The Set-Up (US) 1949 RKO
Seven Samurai (Japan) 1954 MGM-Miramax
Shall We Dance’ (Japan) 1996 Miramax
The Singing Detective (UK) 1986 Icon
Suspicion (US) 1941 RKO
Swept Away (Italy) 1974 Sony/Film Four
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (US) 1974 New Line
The Warriors (US) 1979 Paramount
We All Loved Each Other So Much (Italy) 1974 Miramax
The Wicker Man (UK) 1973 Universal
Willard (US) 1971 New Line
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (US) 1971 Warner Bros,
With A Friend Like Harry (France) 2000 Miramax