As much as people complain about the lack of creativity in Hollywood, they will still line up around the block to see a remake of a popular flick. With so many past hits to choose from, it’s hard for executives to resist dusting off a proven script and trying to make it work its magic all over again.
Not all remakes shine, of course. In fact, some are downright disastrous and all but ruin a film’s good name. The best ones manage to successfully pay homage to the original while adding something special and new to the experience.
Little Women is a tough sell for modern audiences. When most people think of this era of storytelling — the 1860s — they think of stodgy period romances with ancient English thespians playing out sleep-inducing plotlines.
That’s not the case with the most recent adaptation of Little Women. The movie is a far cry from the 90’s version, as Greta Gerwig takes the story of the talented sisters and turns it into an anthem to the hopes and energy of youth and a love letter to the power of the arts. It’s fierce and courageous and reinvents the period drama.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Count Dracula is one of the most popular fictional characters of all time, popping up in dozens of movies since the invention of film. However, it was director Francis Ford Coppola who took the original book source material and adapted it into a sweeping epic, throwing the full resources of Hollywood behind it.
The result is a masterpiece that is mostly accurate to the book with immersive art design. Gary Oldman delivers an incredible and unique performance as the immortal monster, perfectly countered by Anthony Hopkins as the best Van Helsing ever cast.
How do you top a swinging ’60s heist movie starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.? You write a much tighter script and hire actors who aren’t still moonlighting as nightclub acts.
The modern version oozes cool factor, with a gang of thieves spearheaded by George Clooney and Brad Pitt who always seem to be in control. This impressive heist twists and turns until the last triumphant moments. Mix that with the best lounge music soundtrack ever scored, and you’ve got a swinging movie for the ages.
Fans of great westerns will always love the original True Grit (1969), a film that pairs a cranky, nearly washed-up bounty hunter named “Rooster” with Mattie, a young girl desperate to avenge her father’s death. It’s one of John Wayne’s greatest movies.
The remake features Jeff Bridges as the salty Rooster and Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie. The tight script has Mattie talking circles around men three times her age and Rooster transcending his alcoholism to rise to the occasion. Funny, thrilling and heartbreaking, the remake is arguably better than the stellar original.
Most horror films from the 1950s don’t age well. That being said, the original The Thing from Another World (1951) uses a premise that is still popular today: an alien threat. The Thing (1982) remake, starring Kurt Russell, has become one of the best-reviewed horror films of all time.
In the movie, the isolated Antarctic outpost is a setting with no chance of escape, as the panicked scientists are confronted by a shapeshifting menace they can’t contain. When all their most intelligent strategies meet with failure, the dwindling crew resorts to paranoia and destruction.
Heaven Can Wait
The 1978 version of Heaven Can Wait was a remake of the 1941 film, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, which was well received in its day. In fact, modern critics still give it high marks.
The quirky remake has become a classic in its own right, with many considering it one of Warren Beatty’s best roles. The comedy depicts a professional football player who dies and goes to heaven before his time. He is ultimately given a chance to live another life in the body of a millionaire. Funny and heartfelt, Heaven Can Wait has oodles of charm.
The original thriller Cape Fear was a popular film with a threatening performance by Robert Mitchum as the villainous Max Cady. The remake in 1991, directed by Martin Scorsese and featuring Robert DeNiro as Max, set a super high-water mark for thrillers.
Max Cady dismantles the lives of the Bowden family piece by piece as revenge against lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) for botching his criminal defense. It plays out almost like a Hitchcock film, with increasingly desperate characters and a menacing score that helps build the plot to its climax.
The Jungle Book
Is it insane to remake the classic Disney animated film with talking jungle animals into a live-action fantasy film? Ask director Jon Favreau, who transcended the original to make a hit modern classic in 2016.
With the exception of the human Mowgli, all the settings and animals are pure CGI. Yet the animals feel real, and their celebrity voices are top notch. Bill Murray steals the show as Baloo, and Christopher Walken makes an unforgettable — and gigantic! — King Louie. This jungle is a fresh adventure worth every minute of your time.
War of the Worlds
Originally a book by H.G. Wells that was way ahead of its time in 1897, War of the Worlds became a radio drama read by Orson Welles in 1938 that caused a real-life panic among Americans who thought the alien invasion was real. It was first adapted into a hit sci-fi film in 1953.
Tom Cruise stars in the modern Steven Spielberg blockbuster that features aliens in terrifying machines destroying the landscape and harvesting bodies. The film harnessed the paranoia of recent terrorism and spotlighted the fear of a desperate father trying to protect his two children.
Yes, Apocalypse Now (1979) is a remake. The original was a television movie called Heart of Darkness (1958), which was adapted from the book of the same name that was set in the Congo.
Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War version is regarded as a movie masterpiece. As Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) travels further into the heart of the jungle to assassinate the renegade Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), his own world devolves into madness. Coppola himself nearly went mad during the process of filming, but the end result is a film that is simply unforgettable.
The Great Gatsby
Oh, look, it’s that book everyone was forced to read in high school! A classic, The Great Gatsby was adapted into several film versions in 1926, 1949 and 1974 as well as a TV movie version in 2000. None will be remembered as fondly as Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation in 2013.
Famous for heavily stylized and frenetic adaptations like Moulin Rouge and Romeo and Juliet, Luhrmann took a likewise energetic approach to the material. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, the movie features a whirlwind of high-society partying in the 1920s — until things inevitably go wrong.
Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005) is the second remake of the classic monster movie, and it was far superior to the previous remake set in the 1970s. Jackson expanded on the possibilities on the prehistoric island where Kong lived and kept the 1930’s New York setting.
The result is a pulpy adventure film that is a love letter to the source material while updating it for modern audiences. With the same care and attention he gave The Lord of the Rings, Jackson directed the best King Kong version ever made.
Star Trek (2009) is not technically a remake of the first movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). It’s simply the first movie with a new cast playing the same characters but in a reimagined franchise. This approach qualifies it as a remake and a reboot at the same time.
Director J.J. Abrams’s pitch to studio executives was to make Star Trek more like Star Wars. He wanted less technical mumbo-jumbo and more epic action and excitement. It absolutely worked. The film was a huge hit, and fans seemed to embrace the new actors in the iconic roles.
The original Scarface was filmed in 1932 and follows the life of a ruthless and unpredictable bootlegging gangster in Prohibition-Era Chicago. Like the remake, it is a story all about a rise to power and an intense fall from grace.
The 1983 version, directed by Brian De Palma, features Al Pacino as Tony Montana, a Cuban immigrant who finds success in Miami as a cocaine kingpin. Violent and over the top, the movie is endlessly quotable. Nothing beats the scene with Tony Montana defending his pile of cocaine with an assault weapon, shouting “Say hello to my little friend!”
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) was a great horror film that featured alien pods that hatched replacements for people. The movie reflected the public’s paranoia at the time about communist influences.
The enthralling remake (1978) is a slow-burn horror film that starts with a few raindrops and ends with the replacement of humanity. The invaders arrive as spores that grow into pods that kill and replace people with replicas. The replica people distribute more pods, reproducing exponentially like bacteria. It’s a losing battle as humanity is brought to its knees.
The Wizard of Oz
You might be surprised that the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland was not the first film adaptation. There were actually two films before it, one a silent version in 1925 (What? No music?) and the other an animated short in 1933.
Those adaptations quickly fell by the wayside. This version of the young farm girl teaming up with The Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion to conquer the Wicked Witch of the West is still one of the best fairy tales that can happen somewhere this side of the rainbow.
The Manchurian Candidate
Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury starred in the original The Manchurian Candidate (1962). The movie featured a military man who was unknowingly brainwashed to become a political candidate secretly working for Chinese agents.
The remake (2004) updates the setting and hypes up the paranoia. It features Denzel Washington, a Gulf War veteran who begins to suspect that he and other members of his unit are victims of mind control from a nefarious organization. As he tries to warn his unit buddy who is running for Vice President, his world closes in on him.
Originally a French film titled La Cage aux Folles (1978), the plot of this film features a gay couple pretending to be straight when their newly engaged son introduces them to the conservative parents of his fiancee. It’s the chemistry between the couple, Armand (Robin Williams) and Albert (Nathan Lane), that makes this 1996 remake shine.
Although the original plan is for Albert to pretend to be a straight man, he finds it easier to dress in drag and pretend to be a woman. This forces everyone in the household to improvise to keep up appearances.
The Fly in 1958 had a similar plot to the remake in 1986, which depicts a scientist experimenting with a teleportation device. Of course, things go terribly wrong when a common housefly gets in the way and foils his scientific genius.
The remake goes for slow body horror, as lead Jeff Goldblum loses his humanity and gradually transforms into a fly, all while trying to reverse the results of his experiment. At first, the changes give him energy and strength, but as body parts start to fall off, he realizes the gravity of what he has done.
The Magnificent Seven
You can trace the story of The Magnificent Seven (1960) to the Japanese film The Seven Samurai (1954). The original features seven unemployed samurai hired by peasants to defend their village against pillagers. The remake moves the setting to the Old West and depicts seven hired guns tasked with defending a Mexican village.
Although the locales are vastly different, the premise translates incredibly well to a western setting, and the gunslingers have a lot of similarities to their samurai counterparts. The Magnificent Seven is regarded as one of the best westerns ever made.
A Star Is Born
This recent cautionary tale is the fourth version and the best remake. The others were made in 1937, 1954 and 1976. The first two versions feature an actress on her way up the ladder who is helped by an alcoholic actor on his way down. The second two versions depict singers instead of actors.
A Star Is Born (2018) is an incredible romance featuring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga (yes, really). Cooper directs and transforms this tale into a heartbreakingly real journey of two people who meet and fall in love, while fated for vastly different ends.
Dawn of the Dead
The first Dawn of the Dead (1978) is still a great horror movie. Taking the zombies out of creepy cemeteries and houses and dropping them into a bright, seemingly-safe shopping mall was an ingenious move that made viewers feel like they weren’t safe anywhere.
The remake (2004), starring Sarah Polley, follows a similar story as the original, with strangers becoming practically their own army unit as they hole up in a shopping mall and barricade themselves against the inevitable. The zombies look more like rotting corpses this time, making the survivors’ battle against them all the more terrifying.
In 1925, the original silent film, Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, was a huge spectacle, capturing chariot races and incredible set pieces that audiences had never seen before. The huge hit made the studio known as MGM a major player in the film industry.
The Ben-Hur remake in 1959 starring Charlton Heston was an even bigger hit, making it the second highest grossing film up to that point after Gone with the Wind. It has some of the biggest sets ever created as well as a chariot race action sequence that is still thrilling, even by today’s standards.
The Sylvester Stallone version of Judge Dredd (1995) has become a laughable oddity, which is unfortunate for the hard-edged character born out of independent comic books. The man who served as judge, jury and executioner got a second chance in Dredd (2012), starring Karl Urban.
The movie takes a pure action approach featuring a simple plot: Dredd and one other officer must fight their way out of a high-rise building full of armed thugs trying to kill them. The stylized action is incredible, and Urban was born to play the role.
This is the horror movie that scared the bejeezus out of an entire generation and helped usher in other American remakes of Asian horror films. While the original, Ringu, is still a classic, the remake is the one most Western audiences have seen.
The tale of the cursed videotape that will kill you after you see it sounds hokey at first. But from the first corpse-in-a-closet scene, audiences were hooked. By the time the dead girl physically climbs out of the television set, people were already hotly anticipating the sequel.
The Thomas Crown Affair
The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) has an unusual premise. Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) is a wealthy man who pulls off multi-million-dollar heists just for fun. Of course, to spice up the deal, he romances the very insurance investigator (Faye Dunaway) sent to solve the crime.
The steamy remake (1999) features Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, who play a dangerous game of romancing and evading each other. The end sequence, featuring teams of men in bowler hats and an art heist in front of dozens of cameras, is worth the watch all by itself.
Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (2006) is based on the Chinese-language film Internal Affairs (2002). Both films feature an undercover cop and a mole trying to discover each other’s identities.
But it is Scorsese’s film that is loaded with stars at the top of their game. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg form an incredible ensemble set in the gang underworld of Boston. Part of what makes it interesting is that no character is safe from death, making it seem like the clock is running out for all of them.
3:10 to Yuma
The original 3:10 to Yuma (1957) was a highly regarded western starring Glenn Ford as a rancher hired to make sure a captured outlaw gets on the 3:10 train to Yuma. It sounds simple enough, but nothing was as simple as it seemed in the Old West.
The remake in 2007 stars Christian Bale as the rancher and Russell Crowe as the outlaw. This critical and box office hit is a little grittier and faster paced than the original, putting a new spin on the classic tale that destined it to become a great western in its own right.
The Italian Job
Heist movies are highly formulaic, but that’s what makes them so fun. The remake of The Italian Job (2003) is a heist movie and a revenge movie, giving it a slight edge over most heist films.
While the original (1969) starring Michael Caine focuses on just the heist, the remake has three exciting parts. There’s the betrayal by their fellow thief in the first part, a plan to set up payback in the second part and — like the original — a high-speed chase involving a fleet of Minis in the last part.
It: Chapter One
It: Chapter One (2017) has a huge advantage over the network TV mini-series from 1990. With an R-rating, It could go places the network never could, upping the ante on scares and gore, essential ingredients in any worthy horror film.
Audiences knew what they were in for from the opening scene, when the main character’s adorable little brother gets his whole arm bitten off by an otherworldly clown before he’s dragged into the storm drain. That’s all before the opening credits, by the way. The final result is a hit, character-driven film with equal parts nostalgia and terror — and a clown.