Has Hollywood finally run out of ideas? If so, that might not be so bad when it comes to these particular remakes…
Every week, it seems, more remakes get announced, and every week people are eager to complain about them. Has Hollywood finally run out of ideas? How could they dare besmirch a timeless classic like [insert movie you like here]? And why do they even bother, since remakes always blow?
Except, they don’t always blow. Some of the best movies ever made are remakes, and sometimes they’re so good that audiences forget that the original film(s) even existed. It’s important to keep Hollywood in context, and remind ourselves that the remake phenomenon is nothing new and, frankly, nothing to worry about. Some of them will be good, and quite a few of them will stink out loud, but some of them will surpass the original. That’s why filmmakers keep trying.
Let’s take a look back at some remakes that weren’t just good, but could legitimately and fairly be argued to surpass the originals. We’re not going to quibble over whether these films are “remakes” or “re-adaptations” of pre-existing material, because that’s just splitting hairs. They were made before, they’ve been made again, and even if the original is a classic, we think the newer one is even better!
J. Lee Thompson’s 1962 noir starred Gregory Peck as a lawyer who turned on his own client, and Robert Mitchum as the criminal who comes back for revenge. It’s a respectable, well-acted movie, but the remake, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Nick Nolte and Robert De Niro, is one of the best thrillers of the 1990s. The original was interesting and suspenseful. The remake is enthralling and terrifying.
Casino Royale introduced audiences to Daniel Craig’s newer, steelier interpretation of James Bond, but it didn’t introduce audiences to Casino Royale. Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel had been adapted twice before, in a decent 1954 TV movie (which made Bond an American!), and in an outrageously silly but not very funny spoof film in 1967. Martin Campbell’s remake captured all the excitement and cynical character development of Fleming’s novel, and successfully jumpstarted the flailing movie franchise in the process.
Kurt Neumann’s rock solid 1958 monster movie, about a scientist whose teleportation experiments accidentally splice his genes with a housefly, is a minor horror classic with one of the best endings in the genre. But David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake transforms a straightforward monster flick into a profound sci-fi tragedy, and a disturbing metaphor for slowly wasting away from disease. Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis give incredible performances, and the Oscar-winning makeup effects are still some of the best ever filmed.
Check out 9 Shocking Movie Transformations above.
Michael Mann’s brilliant heist drama, about cops and robbers who share common ground as dedicated professionals, features great performances by Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, and one of the all-time greatest movie shootouts. It’s also a remake of the lesser known TV movie L.A. Takedown, also directed by Mann, which features some of the same dialogue but a cast that can’t hold a candle to Heat’s dynamic powerhouses.
His Girl Friday
Howard Hawks’s comedy classic, about a reporter trying to retire into domesticity and the editor who won’t let her, is a gender-swapped remake of Lewis Milestone’s 1931 film The Front Page. That original film is solid (it was even nominated for Best Picture), but the sparks that fly between Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in the remake practically set the screen on fire. The Front Page has been remade several times since, but the first remake is still the best.
Andy Muschietti’s It was a critically acclaimed blockbuster adaptation of Stephen King’s iconic novel, capturing the horrors of demonic clowns and the horrors of growing up in equal, impressive measure. King’s story had been adapted before, in a respectable TV mini-series starring Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown, but although Curry’s performance is disturbing as hell, the remake is scarier and more dramatically potent. Muschietti’s film only covers half of the novel, of course, and only time will tell if the follow-up is just as good.
Learn how It: Chapter 2’s time jump will work and more in the video above.
House on Haunted Hill
William Castle’s 1959 horror flick House on Haunted Hill stars Vincent Price as a millionaire who offers a cash prize to anyone who can stay all night in a haunted house. Price is good, but the movie is stodgy and slow. William Malone’s remake, which stars Geoffrey Rush as the millionaire (doing a Vincent Price impression no less) is a wild thrill ride of a horror movie. It’s still ridiculous of course, but the cast is having a great time hamming it up, and the frights are infinitely creepier than the original.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Make no mistake, Don Siegel’s 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers is still a genre classic, illustrating the horrors of conformity through a sci-fi tale about aliens copying human beings and taking their place. But Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake conveys the same message with more disturbing visual effects, subtler performances, and a conclusion that’ll knock the wind out of you. They’re both great. The remake is better. (Abel Ferrara’s 1993 remake Body Snatchers is good too; the 2007 version with Nicole Kidman… not so much.)
The Jungle Book
Walt Disney’s 1967 animated classic (which was also a remake) got an upgrade in 2016 when Jon Favreau created a CGI version with a single, human child in the lead. The 1967 version is lovable but formless, an episodic adventure that plays out as loosely as can be. Favreau’s remake adds dramatic heft, bigger stakes and a conclusion that’s less about growing up and abandoning childish things and more about maturing and taking responsibility. Another example in which both movies are good, but the remake simply has the edge.
Watch our review of The Jungle Book above.
The Maltese Falcon
One of the most iconic film noirs in history, in which Humphrey Bogart navigates a series of elaborate double- and triple-crosses, as scam artists and murderers try to steal a priceless statue from one another, was actually the third film adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s story. The 1931 adaptation featured darker, more sexual themes, but otherwise makes little impression. And the ill-advised comedic version, Satan Met a Lady (1936), is actually pretty painful to watch.
The 1960 Rat Pack caper Ocean’s 11 featured what was, at the time, an eye-poppingly amazing cast. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, the list goes on. But the movie doesn’t know what to do with them, and frequently plods. Steven Soderbergh’s zippy remake – which stars George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and many more – is a grand ensemble piece, giving every wonderful actor something wonderful to do.
Disney’s 1977 live-action/animated hybrid, about a runaway child whose best friend is a cartoon dragon, is a weird and wacky comedy with great songs and oddball performances. But the remake, directed by David Lowery, is a magical motion picture. Gorgeously photographed, sympathetically acted, and emotionally impactful, it overshadows the original in almost every way. (Those original songs really are great.)
The Thing from Another World is a respectable and smartly crafted 1951 science fiction classic about a monster attacking scientists at an arctic outpost. John Carpenter’s 1982 remake, The Thing, is one of the scariest motion pictures ever made. Eschewing the breezy dialogue of the original and focusing instead on mistrust, paranoia and a monster who could look like anyone, Carpenter’s film burrows under your skin and stays there. And its makeup effects are unforgettably grotesque.
Watch Art of the Scene: The Thing’s Defibrillator Chest Chomp above.
The Wizard of Oz
The Wizard of Oz is one of the most beloved movies of all time, with songs people still sing, and dialogue people still quote. It’s also a remake. L. Frank Baum’s fantasy classic about a little girl from Kansas who travels over the rainbow, to a land of fantastical creatures, had already been turned into multiple silent films by the time Judy Garland took over the lead role, and none of them make even remotely the same impression.
What are your favorite remakes? Discuss in the comments!