One of the most criticized aspects of Hollywood filmmaking has to be the movie remake. Remakes are generally derided for being proof of the film industry being unable to create original films, instead relying on bringing back proven concepts in order to avoid risks. This is a legitimate argument, as the case can be made for many remakes existing purely because they are safer investments than anything new. However, there are also many remakes that are considered to be among the best films ever made, even taking the fact that they are not “original” concepts into consideration. Remakes can definitely be empty fare designed to turn a profit but they can also be fine examples of another artist’s interpretation of a story. The following 10 films are some of the best remakes to ever be given the greenlight.
10. Fright Night
Horror films are pretty much synonymous with the term ‘remake” but many of them aren’t very good, or are too similar to the original film. Fright Night was an obscure 1980s vampire flick before getting the reboot treatment in 2011. Both films are entertaining in their own right, making it difficult to say one way or the other which is superior. Still, the remake is worthy of recognition for putting effort into paying homage to the original while putting its own spin on the proceedings. Colin Farrell turns in a flamboyant performance as a vampire who moves in next door to Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin), but it’s David Tenant who steals the show as Gothic Las Vegas magician Peter Vincent, a clever inversion of Roddy McDowell’s washed-up horror film legend from the original.
9. The Italian Job
The Italian Job was a 1969 British heist film remembered most for starring a young Michael Caine. The 2003 American remake takes the basic heist premise of that film and gives it an action-comedy spin. The cast, especially looking back now, is superb, with Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, and Edward Norton leading the ensemble. The film also popularized the Mini Cooper S, which features heavily in the film’s elaborate cat and mouse heist finale. It’s refreshing when a remake doesn’t simply retread the same material as its predecessor and The Italian Job remake is such an iconic film in its own right now that it’s easy to forget that it’s not an original creation.
8. King Kong
King Kong has been remade a number of times since the original film’s release in 1933, with the most popular adaptation being Peter Jackson’s modern epic from 2005. It’s debateable which film is superior; the original was incredibly innovative and considering when it was released, a special effects marvel, while Jackson’s film has a better storyline and effects, obviously. Whether or not the modern Kong is better or not, it’s hard to deny that Jackson does an admirable job of translating a legendary film presence into the modern blockbuster age. It’s only a matter of time before a different director takes another stab at the giant ape but until then, the 2005 edition really is king of the monster blockbuster remake.
7. Dawn Of The Dead
The original Dawn of the Dead from 1978, directed by horror legend George Romero, is one of the most highly-regarded horror films of all time and pretty much the definitive zombie flick. To say that the 2004 remake had its work cut out for it is a vast understatement. That’s why it came as a wonderful surprise that the remake not only doesn’t stink but is a great film to boot. A lot of that success can be attributed to Zack Snyder, who makes his feature film directorial debut here. Snyder’s penchant for visually-dynamic action and violence is conveyed with surprising confidence given his relative inexperience at the time. This more action-heavy remake loses some of the complexity and allegory of Romero’s original and falls a bit short as a result. Still, this is an admirable remake of a practically untouchable film and deserves recognition.
6. 3:10 To Yuma
The original 3:10 to Yuma was a successful but largely forgotten 1957 Western before it was resurrected half a century later with the 2007 remake. Starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe, 3:10 to Yuma is an excellent remake because it not only improves upon the original but also reinvigorates a genre of filmmaking that has largely gone out of favour in the last few decades. Westerns have begun to make a comeback recently, particularly when it comes to remakes (a new The Magnificent Seven, one of the most revered Westerns ever made, is in pre-production) and a fair amount of that regained popularity can be attributed to how excellent the 3:10 to Yuma remake turned out.
5. The Fly
It’s always fascinating to see an auteur filmmaker take an existing film and channel it through their unique style and vision. The 1958 original (which itself was an adaptation of a short story by George Langelaan) is a classic, but largely forgotten sci-fi film. When David Cronenberg tackled the material in 1986, he crafted one of the finest sci-fi horror films of all time, while also helping make Jeff Goldblum a star in the process. The gory remake recounting the inadvertent DNA splicing of a scientist (Goldblum) and a housefly has become a pop culture cautionary tale about reckless scientific experimentation. It’s also been parodied by The Simpsons, which is always a great measure of a film’s influence.
Brian De Palma’s Scarface is such an iconic gangster film that it probably comes as a shock to some that it’s actually a remake. The 1932 Scarface was a prohibition era gangster flick set in Chicago. De Palma and writer Oliver Stone transplant everything to 1980s Miami in their version, in which Al Pacino turns in one of his most popular performances as Cuban immigrant-turned-drug kingpin Tony Montana. De Palma’s version is so famous that it has almost completely eclipsed the original, which is ironic given how poorly it was received upon initial release. Scarface is a prime example of a remake that totally changes the premise and recognition of the original film, to the point where many forget it even exists.
3. True Grit
While 3:10 to Yuma was an obvious candidate for the remake treatment, True Grit seemed like a much tougher sell prior to its 2010 release. After all, the 1969 original won John Wayne a Best Actor Oscar – how do you top that? If the 2010 release of True Grit is anything to go by, you simply hire the Coen Brothers to direct and get Jeff Bridges to take over for Wayne in the lead role. The Coens accomplish a difficult balancing act of simultaneously paying homage to the revered original while crafting their own unique interpretation in the process. Somehow, True Grit has become one of the best Westerns of 2 different time periods, which would be a difficult feat for any film.
2. 21 Jump Street
Technically more of a reboot than a remake, as it’s actually based off a TV show and shares little in common with its source material. Still, 21 Jump Street might be one of the most important remakes ever conceived because of how drastically it upends convention. Most reboots and remakes don’t stray too far from their source material; after all, the whole point is to create a new interpretation of an existing concept. 21 Jump Street was a relatively popular teen police drama from the 80s known mostly for helping launch a young Johnny Depp’s career. The film, in contrast, blows up the entire concept of remakes and reboots by transforming 21 Jump Street into a self-aware action-comedy. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as 2 screw-up cops sent undercover as high school students, where they form one of the best on-screen bromances in recent memory.
1. The Departed
It’s wild to think that the film that finally won Martin Scorsese his Oscar was actually a remake of a 2002 Hong Kong film called Internal Affairs. American remakes of films from the Far East are nothing new, with horror films in particular being targeted frequently for remakes. Scorsese, of course, puts his own distinct flare on the material, imbuing his version with the same violent realism that has been a staple of his gangster films for decades. Here, he leaves behind the Italian mafia to focus on the Boston Irish mob and police force, with each organization having a mole in the other’s (Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, respectively). The Departed might just be the best remake of all time, or at least of the 2000s, because it completely owns its source material, resulting in one of the best films of the decade in the process.