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Movies that were supposed to launch franchises (but didn’t): Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins

Remo_Williams

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the release of the action movie, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.  When you subtitle a movie with something like “The Adventure Begins” you are sending a clear message to audiences of your intention to make sequels.  The idea was that Remo Williams would be the American equivalent of James Bond with a long-running film series to rival 007.  But if Remo Williams was comparable to any Bond, it was George Lazenby.  Because after only one movie, he was done.  The adventure ended as soon as it began

The movie was based on a series of paperback novels called The Destroyer.  The hero of the books was a Newark cop who was framed for a crime and sentenced to death.  But his sentence was never carried out.  Instead, his death was faked and he was recruited by a secret government organization called CURE.  Form there, he is trained to be an assassin by his mentor, Chiun.  The books got into some pretty “out-there” story lines that pitted the assassin against cyborgs, shape-shifters and vampires.

Remo Williams - Chiun

The first movie basically told the hero’s origin story.  Fred Ward, who was in his mid-forties at the time, played the unlikely action hero.  Joel Grey, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio and is of Jewish decent, played Ward’s mentor, Chiun.  Chiun was supposed to be an 80-year-old Korean, so Grey was required to undergo four hours of make-up a day in order to appear Asian.  Or they could have hired an actor of Asian decent, but I guess in the mid-eighties it was more practical to spend four hours a day making a white guy look like an elderly Korean.

Even Grey was skeptical.  He turned down the role repeatedly because he didn’t feel he was right for the part.  Not only was he the wrong age and race, Grey had no martial arts training whatsoever.  Even after being cast, Grey didn’t receive any training.  But he did agree to take the part after a private screen test with make-up artist Carl Fullerton.  Fullerton’s make-up work on Remo Williams earned him an Oscar nomination.

remo williams

Much of the movie was devoted to Williams’ training as a master assassin.  The character is being trained in the martial art of Sinanju.  Reportedly, several actors who auditioned for the lead role claimed to be proficient in the technique.  What these actors didn’t realize is that Sinanju was a fictional form of martial arts created by the authors of the Destroyer novels.

The movie was produced by Orion Pictures, a studio which was run by some of the same people responsible for launching the Bond franchise at United Artists.   They were reasonably confident that they could recreate the successful Bond formula with an American lead.  The idea was that they would release a Remo Williams adventure every other year.

To that end, they hired frequent Bond director, Guy Hamilton, and signed him to a two-picture deal.  They also hired Christopher Wood who wrote the Bond movie Moonraker to write the screenplay.  Although Hamilton claims he later rewrote much of Wood’s script including the addition of the climactic battle on the Statue of Liberty.

remo williams

Plans for sequels were short-lived.  Remo Williams opened to mixed reviews in October of 1985.  At the box office, it opened in fourth place behind the Stephen King adaptation, Silver Bullet.  The top spots were help by Commando and Jagged Edge.  Remo Williams was within $100,000 dollars of being beaten out by Back to the Future which had been in theaters for fifteen weeks by that point!  By the end of its run, Remo Williams had grossed less than $15 million dollars which was not enough for his adventures to continue.  At least, not on film.

Remo Williams TV pilot - 1988

Remo Williams TV pilot – 1988

Three years later, Remo Williams was adapted for television.  The pilot starred Jeffrey Meek as the hero and Roddy McDowall as Chiun.  The pilot was a direct follow-up to the movie and reused some of the footage from the movie in the opening credits.  But once again, the adventure ended prematurely as the pilot was not picked up to series.

In 2014, writer-director Shane Black announced that he was going to take a crack at adapting the Destroyer novels.  So perhaps more than three decades later, the adventures of Remo Williams really will continue.

More Movies that were supposed to…

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Posted on October 11, 2015, in Movies, movies that were supposed to... and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. When you do all these movies from thirty years ago, I feel like a broken record when i constantly talk about, “I first saw this on cable as a little kid…” 🙂

    Remo is one of the movies from that period that I enjoyed at the time when i was five, but now can’t sit through. Fred really needed a haircut. I do still get a kick out of some of the training scenes; Fred and Joel have decent chemistry in the movie.

    The one thing about this movie that interests me as an adult is the computer work done by the Brimley character. What the 80s got right and what it got wrong about the Internet always interests me. Remo as a movie is a bit on the fanciful side compared to other movies like WarGames.

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    • I know what you mean. I went to see only a handful of movies in 1985, but I saw a lot of them on cable as a kid. If you saw them once, you saw them a dozen or more times.

      I wouldn’t want to sit down and rewatch Remo Williams again today except maybe as a nostalgia trip.

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  2. I still have a hard time believing that’s Joel Grey underneath all that make-up. Talk about a well-deserved Oscar nomination. Seriously though this film should’ve just hired an Asian actor & “Short Circuit” just, well, went in a different direction as well with the Ben character. i know it was the 1980’s, but c’mon, what about Mako? He was awesome.
    Anyway, I really do like this film though.

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  3. Ha, we just talked a bit about this movie during our podcast on Tremors. I loved this film when it came out and watched it several times, though it doesn’t hold up much now. And really racist by today’s standards. Great post.

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    • Tremors is another fun one from Ward. I’ll have to check out that podcast!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I like Ward and wish he’d found better roles or vice versa. Good actor.

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        • Definitely. He was a bit old to be playing an action hero and he knew it. I read some interviews with him from when Remo Williams was released and he wasn’t 100% comfortable with the idea of being the blue collar James Bond. He is more of a character actor than an action hero.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Interesting. Yes, he was miscast for sure, as was Grey playing a Korean. I remember seeing him in The Naked Gun 33 1/3 and feeling almost a little sad. He has such an expressive face and great presence. I wish Hollywood would stop thinking they need to make an alternative James Bond.

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        • Well, if you don’t own the rights to the real deal, a James Bond substitute is a pretty appealing prospect. It’s kind of the holy grail. The only attempt that even came close was Jason Bourne.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I heard it was how cruise got into Mission Impossible. Agreed about Bourne. The first few were pretty good. I’m not much of a fan of most of the bond films actually, only liking a few. Had no fun with the last two and the newest looks to be off-track as well. Guess we’re heading away from Fred Ward now. Ha.

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        • Yeah, thread drift is common round these parts. I’m cool with it. Thread drift has inspired more than a few articles here.

          MI would be another Bond substitute. It’s always struck me as funny that a TV series about a team came to focus so heavily on just one character who wasn’t even on the TV show. I guess that happens when you cast the world’s biggest movie star. Especially if you want a Bond-like franchise of your own.

          I liked Skyfall. I thought it was a good movie. But it didn’t feel very Bond. I am very pumped for Spectre though.

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        • Cruise is great in most of the MI films (M:I 3 is my personal fave) even though it pretty much abandoned the spy and intrigue stuff after the first one and straight up copied the Bond formula. Entertaining though and the guy puts his heart into it.

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        • That’s for sure.

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        • I found Skyfall kinda disappointing and the new trailers for SPECTRE don’t have me excited, which make me frustrated.

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        • Spectre looks like a continuation of Skyfall. So if you didn’t like the last one, I wouldn’t expect the next one to appeal to you much. Sounds like Craig is ready to be done with the series. Maybe it’s time for another reinvention of the Bond movies after this one.

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        • Ha, yeah, his latest remarks have been revealing, though I think it was more about the grueling film schedule than the story and experience. I actually like him as Bond and Casino Royale is one of my all time fave Bond films. But, it would be good to see a new direction for the series. There is certainly interest.

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        • For sure. Craig was injured on his first Bond film. I’m sure there’s nothing fun about it. He’s older than me and I can feel it in my knees when I walk up lot of stairs. So, I’m sure he’s getting too old for this sh!t. I can’t blame him for wanting to move on. Although maybe don’t tell the press. Or at least not so expressively.

          I’m a fan of the franchise, so I’ll always be interested in seeing where they go next.

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        • I’m older than him and totally understand his frustration. But you’re right. There’s a time and place, as a few misplaced words can really set the wrong tone. I like the memories of the older films mostly because I used to watch them with my dad, but I do like several of them, oddly enough the less popular ones. I really enjoyed Timothy Dalton and his contributions, and I liked Moore’s Spy Who Loved Me and of course, most of Connery’s. Bronson wasn’t so great, though GoldenEye was fun.I’ll surely be in the theatre for Spectre with high hopes.

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        • I’m planning some 007 material for early Nov to coincide with the release of Spectre, so I’ll save that conversation for later. But I’m mostly in agreement with your take on the best Bonds. I do think The Spy Who Loved Me is one of the more popular ones though. It’s cheesy but I know I love it. It has one of the best precredits sequences in the series’ history. GoldenEye is also pretty great. It set such high expectations which the Brosnan films then chipped away at with each successive movie. Die Another Day is just awful.

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        • Oh very cool. Those should be some good posts. I really enjoy your take on film. This has been a great conversation and I hope to continue once you get those posts up!

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        • I’m always down for a little Bond talk. You can definitely expect some Worst to First rankings. I want to revisit the question of who is the best Bond in light of Craig’s latest outing. A few readers have been pushing for Craig as a better Bond than Connery. If Spectre is on the same level as Skyfall, Craig will have one of the best track records percentage wise. Connery actually made a lot of lackluster Bonds.

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        • Oh I would def put Craig up against Connery. Connery lost his mojo well into his run be he has a huge reputation and nostalgia holds him in his regard. I like the rawness Craig brought in Royale and the fewer gadgets, though I realize that is not what a lot of people wanted, hence the popularity of Skyfall and such.Either way, I’m up for some Worst to First rankings. Should be fun!

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        • Just checking in here–as lebeau already knows, I’m another one always up for some Bond discussion and looking forward to November. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • Love to talk movies! Bond or otherwise! Start up a conversation.

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    • Thanks for mentioning your Tremors podcast–I will try to check it out later today when I have a little time. I’ve seen the first three and they’re all fun; Fred Ward is good in the first two and I liked seeing him get the girl at the end of Tremors 2. The real movie-stealer from those films, however, is of course Michael Gross as Burt Gummer–slightly nuts, but always heavily armed and very handy to have around.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We had a sneak preview of Tremors before it opened. No one was expecting anything. It looked pretty damn dumb, but it was free so the college crowd showed up. Everyone loved it. Gross and Reba McEntire absolutely stole the show.

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      • You said that right. Gross is the real thread through all of them. They get more cheesy as they goes. Haven’t seen 4 or 5 yet.

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  4. Bond habilities as a super spy are – to some extent – believable. Remo Williams tries to convince us that learning sinanju makes you Superman in just a few days, dodging bullets, walking on water and all. Gosh, why don´t the villains learn it too? I´m sure there´s a sinanju academy right around the corner.

    That´s this movie biggest flaw. Thre isn´t really a hero, rather a machine programmed to do tricks.

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  5. Every time Remo Williams is on TV my dad watches it.

    I’ve never seen it in its entirety. One thing that’s instantly recognizable is the music. Like The Delta Force theme, it’s that instantly recognizable 80s movie music.

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    • It’s unmistakably 80’s all right. They don’t make ’em like Remo Williams any more.

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    • Yep, it’s hard to miss the theme for “The Delta Force”, even if you only view the flick for 20 minutes. As 1980’s films go in general, they are usually be spotted by the dance-y, hyperactive, or dreamy sounding opening credits.

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