In the world of moviemaking, remakes are generally not held in high regard. Besides being easy targets for the usual criticisms about Hollywood’s lack of creativity, remakes are inevitably compared to the original films and in most cases are dismissed as inferior copies. Case in point would be director Spike Lee’s 2013 remake of director Chan-wook Park’s 2003 cult classic Oldboy. The critical response to the remake was overwhelmingly negative and the film currently has a mere 41% approval rating from the critics at Rotten Tomatoes. In contrast, Park’s original film has an 80% Certified Fresh rating.
While Oldboy appears to be one of the many cases of an unnecessary remake, this is certainly not always the case. In certain situations, remakes have been able to build upon the original in productive and positive ways, creating a film that is actually superior to the original. Here are ten examples of remakes that are widely considered better than the original.
1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Directed by Philip Kaufman and released in 1978, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a remake of the 1956 film of the same name by Don Siegel, with both films having been based on the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney. The sci-fi thriller tell the story of an alien invasion in which humans are slowly replaced by perfect duplicates, devoid of emotion.
Often ranked among the best movie remakes of all-time, the San Francisco-based 1976 remake adds a gritty layer of realism that the original film lacks, while adding strong performances by Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, and Jeff Goldblum. Although the 1956 film remains a staple of the genre, there’s no denying that the film shows it age while the 1978 remake is just as scary as it was at the time of release.
2. True Grit
While the 1969 version of True Grit by Henry Hathaway is considered a classic in its own right, having earned John Wayne an Oscar, the 2010 remake by the Coen brothers sticks closer to the source material while adding the brothers’ strong directing and more consistent acting performances from the cast as a whole. Despite ten Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor, the Coen brothers’ 2010 update went home empty handed.
How you feel about the debate between the two versions of True Grit likely hinges on your opinion of Wayne and Jeff Bridges. Roger Ebert described it as not so much a debate over screen presence, but of the take on the character as a whole. “We always knew we were looking at John Wayne in the original True Grit (1969). When we see Rooster Cogburn in [the Coen’s] version, we’re not thinking about Jeff Bridges.” Ebert continues, “Bridges’ interpretation is no doubt closer to the reality of a lawman in those years of the West.”
3. The Thing
Released in 1982, The Thing is a sci-fi horror film from director John Carpenter about a parasitic extraterrestrial life-form that can assimilate and take the shape of any organism in comes in contact with. Based on John W. Campbell Jr.’s novella Who Goes There?, the story was adapted for the screen in 1951 by Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby in a loose adaption entitled The Thing from Another World.
After having a lackluster run in theaters, Carpenter’s The Thing is now considered to be one of the greatest entries in both the sci-fi and horror genres. Lauded for its special effects and oppressive atmosphere, the film is often named among the scariest films of all-time and has some of the most famous gross-out scares ever put onscreen. While The Thing from Another World is considered one of the best sci-fi films of the 1950s, it doesn’t hold up nearly as well as the 1982 remake, which remains more impressive as a product of its time.
4. Some Like It Hot
Some Like It Hot, released in 1959, is often listed among the greatest films of all-time, and always finds itself near the top of any list of the greatest comedies. Directed by Hollywood legend Billy Wilder, Some Like It Hot stars Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Marilyn Monroe in a story about a pair of musicians who disguise themselves as women to avoid capture by gangsters. The film is a remake of the 1935 French film Fanfare d’Amour, which was also remade in 1951 by German director Kurt Hoffmann as Fanfaren der Liebe.
To put it simply, odds are you have heard of Some Like It Hot, but its doubtful you have heard of Fanfare d’Amour or Fanfaren der Liebe – that’s because, by almost all accounts, Wilder’s Some Like It Hot is superior to both versions. Besides adding in the Great Depression as a background story element and upping the suspense of the previous versions, Wilder’s film is also the only film to feature the gangster motif that provides some of the film’s best moments. Add in the wonderful performances by three Hollywood acting legends and you have a film that builds successfully upon its predecessors in nearly every way.
5. The Fly
David Cronenberg’s 1986 sci-fi body-horror film, The Fly, has achieved high notoriety for its gross out special effects and Academy Award-winning make-up, but the film also ranks above its 1958 predecessor from director Kurt Neumann. Based on George Langelaan’s 1957 short story of the same name, Cronenberg’s The Fly stars Jeff Goldblum as a scientist who slowly transforms into a housefly after an experiment goes awry.
Neumann’s The Fly is another example of a 1950s sci-fi film that was strong for its time, but doesn’t necessarily hold up to modern viewings as more than a slice of film history. However, the 1986 remake became a launch pad to international stardom for Cronenberg, while being hailed as the best performance of Goldblum’s career. Named to many top ten lists in 1986, the film has come to be known as one of the best in Cronenberg’s career and one of the staples of the horror genre — especially in the sub-genre of body horror.
Most people aren’t aware that director Michael Mann’s crime classic, Heat, is actually a remake of the director’s 1989 made-for-TV effort, L.A. Takedown. Although Heat would significantly trim portions of the script that didn’t work in L.A. Takedown, the central story of a cop (Al Pacino) and a criminal (Robert De Niro) who are more alike than they would like to admit still remains the central conflict in the later 1995 classic, best known for its epic shootout through downtown Los Angeles.
Mann is certainly not the only director to remake his own work — Alfred Hitchcock famously directed two versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much — but the vast improvement between Heat and L.A. Takedown makes this example notable. Besides having bigger actors, a much bigger budget, and a refined script, Mann also reportedly ran into trouble during the editing process of L.A. Takedown with NBC. Mann would later disown the film following significant cuts, but it’s interesting to note that the edited version of the film to fill NBC’s time-slot was still three hours.
7. Ocean’s Eleven
Director Steven Soderbergh’s well-received heist film, Ocean’s Eleven, starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon, among others, was a huge success at the box office when it was released in 2001, spawning two sequels and earning critical acclaim. A remake of the 1960 film of the same name by director Lewis Milestone and starring Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joey Bishop, Soderbergh’s film has been praised for being leaps and bounds above its predecessor.
While the 1960 version of the film featured some high-profile actors of the time, it has largely been dismissed by modern critics as being disappointing at best and boring at worst. Of course, “boring” has never been used as a description of Soderbergh’s remake, which buzzes with energy while being anchored by some of the best actors in recent years. If the 1960 version feels as though it were a generic attempt to get several members of the Rat Pack onscreen in the same film, the 2001 version feels as though the filmmakers and actors have tried to deliver on the fun concept provided by the original.
8. The Maltese Falcon
The 1941 classic The Maltese Falcon is often cited as one of the greatest films in the noir genre and features famous performances by Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, and Peter Lorre. Directed by John Huston and based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett, the 1941 classic is actually the third adaptation of Hammett’s novel to reach the screen, having been beaten by ten years in the pre-code 1931 adaptation directed by Roy Del Ruth and starring Ricardo Cortez. There was also the 1936 light-comedy adaptation Satan Met a Lady starring Bette Davis and Warren William that served as a loose adaptation and was received rather poorly.
In a classic story featuring a femme fatale, Macguffins, and a private investigator too cheeky for his own good, it would make sense that the 1931 pre-code adaptation would be able to stick more closely to the spirit of Hammett’s novel than the 1941 remake made at a time when censorship was still enforced. But while censorship was still an issue for the noir classic, Huston was able to imbue The Maltese Falcon with some of the attributes missing from the previous version, despite what was likely an uphill battle. Of course, the biggest reason for the 1941 version’s superiority likely has more to do with the towering talent involved both behind the camera and in front of it.
9. Little Shop of Horrors
Released in 1986, director Frank Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors received critical acclaim and had a solid but unspectacular run at the box office before becoming a huge hit on home media. Based on the off-Broadway musical of the same name by Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman, which in turn was based on 1960 low-budget film The Little Shop of Horrors by B-movie legend Roger Corman, Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors is often cited among the best musical comedies of all-time.
While comparing the different film iterations of Little Shop of Horrors isn’t exactly cut-and-dry, it’s safe to say that Oz’s 1986 version is significantly more popular than the 1960 B-movie version by Corman. Sure, the 1960 version is a legitimate cult classic and features an early performance by a young Jack Nicholson, but the later film builds upon the B-movie roots of the original to provide laughs and musical numbers that bring the story to new heights.
10. True Lies
James Cameron’s 1994 action-comedy film, True Lies, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis, was one of the most expensive films ever made at the time of release, costing about $100 million before going on to earn $400 million worldwide. Now considered one of the classics in the action genre, True Lies earned the adoration of fans who couldn’t believe the kind of over-the-top action set pieces the film gave viewers. But, most people are unaware that the film is actually a remake of French film La Totale! by Claude Zidi.
Although both True Lies and La Totale! feature the same basic plot, Schwarzenegger’s take on the lead role is far different than his French counterpart, Thierry Lhermitte, giving the American remake a specific sensibility that pervaded American action films of the time. But, the Cameron factor is probably the biggest X-factor, with the blockbuster director bringing a huge budget to True Lies and the kind of over-the-top action sequences that make the film what it is.
All movie cast, crew, and awards information courtesy of IMDb.