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Best Film Remakes

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by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published January 9th 2019
The good ol' filmic remake. Saves costs on buying an original story and even writing a screenplay from scratch. Or is that too cynical?

Really, remaking a film is fraught with dangers for the film-makers, especially if the film was a much-loved work. A brand new eye is needed, unlike in songs where a straight forward cover can be accepted as a homage or the like. The amount of money and people involved makes it more than the whim of an artist who just feels like recording a song by someone else. It is quite a daunting prospect, really.
film, remake, Lego, bricks, cameraman
Remaking the remake in remade Lego-like pieces…

Now, I've already looked at cover versions of songs and times when artists remade their own songs, but this is going to be even more subjective than normal from me, I believe. So, you have been warned!

So, these are films that are remakes. I've set myself quite a few rules here. First and foremost, I have to like the remake; the original, not necessarily. Second, I have to have seen both (all?) versions. Third, the remake has to be an improvement on the original. Fourth, I have included what is termed re-imaginings, when the story concept is kept but things are changed somewhat. Fifth, films based on Shakespeare plays that are not Shakespeare plays (e.g. Kiss Me, Kate, Forbidden Planet, West Side Story, et al.) are not included. That could well be another column, though… And I've also not included Baz Luhrmann's Romeo & Juliet for similar reasons.

Now, some close ones. King Kong (2005) is certainly better than the 1976 Dino DeLaurentiis remake and is visually stunning with a stunning performance from Naomi Watts, but there is something really pleasant and ground-breaking about the original 1933 version that puts it on a par (to my mind) with the Peter Jackson version.

A Star Is Born (2018), while a great film with a great soundtrack, was better (just) than the 1976 Barbra Streisand/Kris Kristofferson version, about the same as the James Mason/Judy Garland 1954 version, and I have not seen the original from 1937.
Little Shop Of Horrors (1986) was a musical version of the Roger Corman film (1960) starring Jack Nicholson. I like them both equally, and they are very different takes on the theme! ("Feeeed Meee, Seymour!")
Godzilla (2014) is a better film than the 1998 update (though I don't mind it, mainly because Matthew Broderick plays his part so well), but, again, there is something about the 1954 original from Japan (the version without Raymond Burr spliced in), that is just really ground-breaking. It's not the first giant monster going berserk in modern society film, but the whole radiation and trying to come to terms with World War II underlying theme gives it a gravitas that was unique at the time.

And, for what it's worth, I preferred the original version of War Of The Worlds, The Italian Job, and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. I also could not separate the versions of Cape Fear, The Blob (but considering the original film is playing on a TV at the start, is it a sequel? That always confused me a little); Scarface (two very different films), Piranha (the remake ups the sex, but there is something quaint about the cheesiness of the original), and Dracula (so many versions…).

I would also like to point out that my favourite film of all time was also remade, and the remake was one of the worst films ever (with one redeeming feature – Paul Heyman), even with it not being a remake/reimagining. So that won't be here!

With all that having been said, to my list!

Freaky Friday

Original 1976; Remake 2003.
Yes, that is not a misprint. The original I saw on TV when I was a kid and was fascinated by the concept. The remake I saw when I was working for a school. Now, I am the first to admit I am a fan of Jamie Lee Curtis, and I had no idea who Lindsay Lohan was at the time, so I wasn't too upset by having to see the film. It was actually really good. Updated well, with likeable performances from the two leads (and believable performances!) and a nice musical subtext. I am admitting it – I liked this film! (There was another remake, in 1995, which I have not seen.)

Ocean's Eleven

Original 1960; Remake 2001.
The original was a watchable bit of fun, which was basically an excuse for Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack to make a movie together and hang out in Las Vegas. The remake was a tighter film, better acted, and with star power to burn, a true ensemble cast, led by George Clooney. A good friend of mine considered this her favourite film because she basically had two hours of constant eye candy on the screen. But, even putting that aside, it is a fun romp and a much better film than the original.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Original 1956; Remake 1978.
This film was a great piece of paranoia-based science fiction / horror with an ending that was left open and scary, the hero trying desperately not to sleep. The remake was a great piece of paranoid-based horror / science fiction with an ending that was downright depressing, with the heroine doomed. Both films are very good, but the remake just has a theme that is more-encompassing, especially with the pod distribution centres. Looking at it nowadays, it could be a metaphor for people's online personae. The concept is timeless; the execution is really good.

The Magnificent Seven

Original1954; Remake 1960.
The Magnificent Seven is a remake of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, which in itself is a great film. But it was remade as a Western, and damn if it didn't work brilliantly! It is very close to the original with a different setting, but I think the setting and the mercenary feel of the Seven in the remake gives it a slightly more desperate feel, and the final shoot-out is a great set-piece, second possibly to only Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969) as an ending of a Western movie. (I have not seen the 2018 remake, but have been advised it might be best not to.)

The Thing

Original 1951; Remake 1982.
John Carpenter's take on the 1950s 'Reds-under-the-bed' paranoia film The Thing From Another World was gorier and, frankly, scarier. And Kurt Russell does a great job as the protagonist. The original was fantastic, and frightening in its own way, but the remake, with its updated special effects (especially the half-formed dog beast – wow!) was superb. Both films really work with that sense of isolation, but the remake's creature being able to shapeshift more readily ups the fear factor incredibly.

The Mummy

Original 1932; Remake 1999.
I like the original. It is a great piece of old-time movie monster hokum. But the remake starring Brendan Fraser is a special effects extravaganza, with a tight script and fun set-pieces and genuinely likeable leads. There is just something about the remake that is almost the movie monster version of Raiders Of The Lost Ark – a roller-coaster ride of greatness, with a brilliant ending. And the sequel was not too shabby, either. However, the less said about the 2014 Tom Cruise version, the better.

The Fly

Original 1958; Remake 1986.
David Cronenberg's film is a complete update on the original. The first film starts after the transformation has taken place and is a creepy film, with the "Help me!" human-headed fly and, for the time, quite good make-up effects making it better than most. And Vincent Price does not play the bad guy! It is a good movie, even it may not have aged all that well. The remake, though, shows everything from the beginning, with Jeff Goldblum's slow descent into madness and flyness disgusting and fascinating, a tragedy, really, making it a film you can hardly take your eyes off. Remake and re-imagining, but awesome for it.

True Grit

Original 1969; Remake 2010.
When people heard that the Coen Brothers were going to remake one of John Wayne's finest films, everyone went, "Ooh… Are you sure?" Well, they were sure, and it was an incredible film. The original is really good, but the remake ups the ante somehow. Jeff Bridges plays the grizzled old gunfighter role with the right amount of world-weariness and Hailee Steinfeld as the youngster seeking her father's killers is better than the child in the original. Again, a great original film made even greater.

Casino Royale

Original 1967; Remake 2006.
The remake, to be fair, was based on the book; the original, to be fair, was a piece of rubbish spoof version of James Bond films. David Niven, Woody Allen, Peter Sellers and a strangely unfunny script which ends with everyone in heaven marks the first; Daniel Craig taking James Bond out of the realms of Pierce Brosnan gadget-overload special effects insanity and into a grittier realism (well, as realistic as a James Bond film can be) in a frankly awesome film marks the second. The fact the first was not an "official" James Bond film is a good thing for all concerned.

Lord Of The Rings

Original 1978; Remake 2001.
What? It was a remake? Yeah, well… yeah. Peter Jackson based it on the book by JRR Tolkien, and everyone acted like the first version did not exist. But it did. It was animated (poorly), and they ran out of money after doing just the first book and… well, there is a reason why people don't talk about it much anymore. It is awful. But then you have the visually stunning, magnificently acted, well-scripted Peter Jackson version. It's like comparing a rip-off McDonald's cheeseburger to a Marco Pierre White Fillet Mignon. Hardly fair on the cheeseburger, which isn't that great to begin with. Best remake/re-imagining of the lot.
Lord Of The Rings, film, poster

So, there you go. What do you think? What did I get wrong? What did I get right? What did I forget? Comments and suggestions are always welcome.

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