Why are the remakes of Dawn of the Dead (1978), and Day of the Dead (1985) so drastically different from the original films? The remakes seem too different form the originals to even call them remakes to me. Generally remakes tend to at the very least have the same basic story, and the same characters. But these two particular remakes don't share either of those with the original movies. They only share minute details, so why even call them remakes? To expand on it further, the remakes seem so different, I'm convined that if they hadn't used the same movie titles, or gotten permission, any claims of copyright infringement would have been dismissed.

Dawn of the Dead (1978) vs. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

  • The original started out with the zombie outbreak already being well established, two S.W.A.T. team members acted like they'd being killing zombies for weeks, months, or even years. Zombies was the only topic on the news and people were already publically investigating why outbreak was occuring.
  • In the remake, it starts out with nobody knowing anything about the zombies, and the characters waking up in the morning to a zombie apocolypse.
  • The characters (group of people held up in the mall) were drastically different.
    • In the original, it was two S.W.A.T. team members, a traffic reporter, and a T.V. executive.
    • In the remake, it was a nurse, policeman, married couple, salesman, and a few mall security guards.
  • The plot was different.
    • In the original, it was a group of people who decided to hold up in an abandoned mall after running away in a helicopter.
    • In the remake, it was a group of survivors of the initial outbreak who happened to end up in the mall while running from the zombies.
    • In the original, the group encounter a gang of bikers who raid the mall. Never happens in the remake.
    • In the remake, the group is trying to escape from the mall, and modify two buses to try and escape. In the original, the group are trying to stay in the mall.

Day of the Dead (1985) vs. Day of the Dead (2008)

In this instance, I think it would easier to list their similarities!

  • Both films involve zombies.
  • Both films involve the military.
  • Both films have a character named Captain Rhodes.
  • Both films have a zombie soldier who remembers how to use a pistol.
  • Both films involve an underground bunker, though it is completely different between the original and remake.
    • In the original, it was an underground historical archive (a place for storing items and records of historical significance) which the military had taken shelter in to do research on the already existing zombies.
    • In the remake, it was a lab that used to be a missile launch facility where the scientists created a virus that caused the zombie outbreak. In the original series it was never known why the outbreak occured, or where it originated from.
    • In the original, most of the movie takes place in the underground bunker.
    • In the remake, very little of the movies takes place in the underground bunker.

It's also worth noting that in the original, the zombie outbreak was very well established. There were few survivors left which is made very clear in the opening scene which starts out with the main characters flying around in a helicopter looking for more suvivors. In the remake, it takes place the first night of the outbreak where there are still people living their lives unaware of zombies, and the radio announcements in the remake make it very clear the outbreak was limited to the that one particular town. Whereas in the original, it seemed national, or even global.

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    Why would a filmmaker want to copy a movie that already exists? The idea behind a "remake" is to make a new movie. Including but not limited to modernising the look(Gatsby)/ updating dated references/different use of animal imagery/symbolism in general/make a movie closer to the source material(Total Recall)...Film makers want to use their own artistic expression. Being different from the original is the point of remaking a movie.
    – Ben Plont
    Sep 21, 2013 at 15:32
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    @BenPlont While I cannot speak for the instances adressed in this question, there is still a difference between doing a remake and altering things slightly to making a completely different movie and just taking the title of another movie. Completely altering the plot of a movie isn't really the only possiblitiy for artistic expression and it's questionable (as by this question) if this is then still really a remake of the original. And all the other things you named would be more indirect changes than completely changing the movie's story.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Sep 21, 2013 at 22:49
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    @BenPlont ... I would have to disagree with you. I can name many remakes which are almost identical in plot and even sometime script. Sometimes it isn't about re-telling a movie, but just making it better ... Even though most of the time the remakes fall short of that mark. Personally, I think Hollywood is running out of movie ideas and will easily decide to remake a movie just because they need to do something and it's the easy way out. The movies which are completely redone are just trying to sell it as something new. Sep 21, 2013 at 23:09
  • @BenPlont, To expand on what the others have pointed out here. The question is not "why would a filmaker want to copy a movie...?" but rather "why are these two particular remakes even considered remakes, when the plot, characters, and events, are drastically different from the 'original'?" Sep 22, 2013 at 1:54
  • The 1990 remake of Romero's Night of the Living Dead was pretty similar to the 1968 original, so they're not all radically different. Sep 19, 2015 at 9:06

1 Answer 1


The names are re-used for brand recognition, aka marketing, also known as why we're on our third version of "Carrie". The films themselves are the works of the directors, who bring their own vision (and that of their investors) to the specific project.

Zack Snyder didn't have to follow any set of rules when he decided to do the remake - often, directors get into remakes because they have a vision of how the original story could have been realized.

Rights to the story are settled before anything happens on a film, so in the case of Dawn of the Dead Richard Rubenstien (who stole ^H^H^H^H^H acquired the rights from George Romero long ago) got his paycheck before Snyder was able to make any moves.

Some are making movies they loved, some are trying to bring a new vision to an old classic. But all of them have their own budget, and staff and agenda and there's no requirement they make the same movie again.

Of course, sometimes they do make the same movie again - exhibit A, Mr. Gus Van Sant and his utterly unneccessary vanity project "Psycho" shot-for-shot cargo-cult Hitchcock remake.

So when you see that a remake is different from the original, it's because the movie was made by different people with a different context in a different time.

Part of Romero's insight that helped invent the whole genre is that he saw zombies as metaphors for unthinking consumption, and especially in Dawn of the Dead, as metaphors for consumerism and the emptiness of materialism and that's why he wanted to set it in a shopping mall.

The 2004 version of Dawn of the Dead took some of the trappings and added some nice pieces (even more so if you read the original version of that script by James Gunn), but became way more interested in Sarah Polley's cheekbones, the Cirque du Soliel zombies and the kill shots.

Some other example of this are the Spider-Man movies, or Rob Zombie's Halloween "remakes", or the 1970s horror movies being remade lately.

A good lesser-known example of this are the film versions of Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend":

  1. 1964's "Last Man on Earth" one with Vincent Price, which was actually pretty good but crippled by budget;
  2. 1971's "Omega Man" with teeth-grittin' NRA pinup boy Charlton Heston;
  3. 2008's "I Am Legend" with Oscar-chasin' Will Smith.

Same movie, but very different interpretations.

For me part of the fun of watching films is see how most of them both steal and contribute at the same time (except for Mr. Gus Van Sant).

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