Hollywood plays it safe by remaking old classics

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Hollywood studio bosses, worried by the looming screenwriters' strike, are rushing out a string of big-budget remakes of old movies and sequels in an effort to guarantee ratings success.

Hollywood studio bosses, worried by the looming screenwriters' strike, are rushing out a string of big-budget remakes of old movies and sequels in an effort to guarantee ratings success.

When the studios release their summer gems next year cinema-goers will be treated to a Tim Burton "reimagining" of Planet of the Apes, along with an all-star remake of the Rat Pack classic Ocean's 11 and a new version of the Seventies hit film Rollerball.

And when there are no more remakes to be done and the new ideas bank has run dry, fans will be offered a sequel. Top of the list is Doctor Doolittle 2, as well as yet another Friday the 13th, Jurassic Park 3 and The Mummy Returns.

The new Planet of the Apes has started filming with a budget of $100m (£69m), and is the next project for Burton after directing Batman and Sleepy Hollow. The British actors Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Roth play apes, while Perfect Storm star Mark Wahlberg takes the astronaut role made famous by Charlton Heston. But while Heston tended to take a "get your stinking paws off me, you damned, dirty ape" approach to hairy primates, Wahlberg's character will have an intimate emotional relationship with the ape princess, Bonham Carter.

The Hollywood rumour-mill has it that in an early draft the relationship gets physical, but that 20th Century Fox executives are unhappy with it, on the grounds that it is "too weird and unnatural". In any case, the controversy, as well as the fact that Roth turned down the part of Professor Snape in the forthcoming Harry Potter movie in order to play an ape, is encouraging high expectations.

Meanwhile, across town George Clooney is behind the revival of Ocean's 11, a movie attracting some of the biggest names in Hollywood. In the original, the plot has a group of Second World War army veterans gathering in Las Vegas to rob the five biggest casinos just after the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve 1960. Clooney is to play Frank Sinatra's role of Danny Ocean, and Julia Roberts has been cast as Danny's wife, Beatrice. The original cast included Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jnr and and Peter Lawford, while the Clooney version is said to be attracting Brad Pitt, Bill Murray and Matt Damon.

MGM has chosen the 1975 futuristic film Rollerball, originally directed by Norman Jewison and starring James Caan, as its remake and is spending $85m making sure that the new version is as successful as the first. The original contained dark messages about corporate power in the United States and violence in sport, while the remake is expected to be more of a straight action movie. Chris Klein will star, along with the supermodel Rebecca Romijn-Stamos. Jewison is an executive producer.

The fashion for reviving old stories extends to smaller-budget directors such as Joe Berlinger, who is working on the Blair Witch 2 movie. Berlinger has expressed an interest in making a version of the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man, which featured a naked, romping Britt Ekland and a puritanical policeman played by Edward Woodward.

Berlinger's movie would move the action from north-west Scotland to the United States, and have a US cast. Unsurprisingly, fans of the original are voicing their protests.

Next year's remakes mark the escalation of an established trend. A new version of the hugely popular 1971 movie Shaft has proved successful at the box office, partly due to the cult status of the star, Samuel L Jackson. However, this year's offerings have also included prominent failures - critically and financially. Harold Ramis's reworking of the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore film Bedazzled with Liz Hurley as the Devil was panned, for instance, while Sylvester Stallone's version of the Michael Caine movie Get Carter made just $6m in its opening weekend.