Hollywood is taking another summer trip back in time with “Vacation,” an R-rated sequel to the 1983 comedy starring Chevy Chase that debuts Wednesday. While some suggest that recycling proven franchises signals creative malaise, the strategy has served the industry well at the box office this year, producing one of its biggest success stories ever.
Ed Helms plays a grown-up Rusty, the son of Chase’s Clark Griswold in the original film and the head of the Wally World-bound clan in Warner Bros.’ raunchy redo, which also stars Christina Applegate, Leslie Mann and Chris Hemsworth. Chase and Beverly D’Angelo make cameo appearances in a nod to the original.
“Vacation” took in $1.2 million from limited screenings Tuesday night and on Wednesday will be in more than 3,250 theaters. That’s a solid number and not far from the $1.7 million that “We’re the Millers,” another R-rated WB comedy, managed in similar showings on its way to a $37 million five-day opening in 2013. Analysts’ projections for this one are in the same range.
“Vacation” marks the fifth time this summer that Hollywood has gone to the vaults. The aim is to find a sweet spot and connect with fans of the original while at the same time drawing a new group of young moviegoers unfamiliar with it.
Warner Bros. did well with “Mad Max: Fury Road,” a rousing $150 million special effects extravaganza written and directed by George Miller, who first put the original warriors on the road 35 years ago. The R-rated Tom Hardy-Charlize Theron road rage romp opened to $45 million in May — at No. 2 behind “Pitch Perfect 2” — and has gone on to top $150 million domestically while heading for $400 million worldwide.
“Poltergeist,” a remake of the 1982 horror film co-written and produced by Steven Spielberg, came out later in May and featured a creepy clown based on the original’s in its marketing materials. Starring Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt, the PG-13-rated horror film had a $35 million budget and opened to $22.6 million, having since gone on to $47 million domestically and $96 million worldwide for Fox.
Fox Searchlight also gave its update of “Far From the Madding Crowd” a limited release in May. Director Thomas Vinterberg’s drama starring Carey Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts came a whopping 48 years after the original. That one was directed by John Schlesinger and starred Julie Christie, Peter Finh, Alan Bates and Terence Stamp. The update has taken in just over $12 million so far.
Like “Vacation,” “Jurassic World” is a sequel rather than a redo, but moviegoers’ awareness of Spielberg’s 1993 sci-fi classic “Jurassic Park” has had a lot to do with its reord-breaking success. Universal’s new $150 million tale directed by Colin Trevorrow and starring Chris Pratt and Dallas Bryce Howard became the year’s highest grossing movie domestically and worldwide. It broke “The Avengers” record with its $208.8 million opening weekend in June and has gone on to generate $1.5 billion globally, putting it No. 3 on the all-time list behind only “Avatar” and “Titanic.”
Hollywood isn’t done looking back for its future this summer, either. The Guy Ritchie-directed “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” rolls out for Warner Bros. on Aug. 14, with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as the slick spy duo from the hit 1960 TV show.
As long as moviegoers continue to turn out in droves for more familiar fare, expect these blasts from the past to continue.