The Hollywood remake is a tricky thing. What a filmmaker is doing when they remake a film is taking something that people generally at least like and saying "Hey guys! I've got a better version right here!" That's not always met with triumphant reception. We can go over list upon list upon list of horrendous, despicable remakes (Looking at you, Gus Van Sant's Psycho), but today I want to name just a few remakes that rose to the occasion and got it right. Without further ado...
11. King Kong (2005)
Remake of:King Kong (1933)
The original Merian C. Cooper film is an indisputable classic, and I am by no means undervaluing the work of Ray Harryhausen. That film stands on its own. But Peter Jackson's update paid reverent homage to the original and injected a much-needed ingredient: Making Ann Darrow an actual character. I don't know about anyone else here, but Fay Wray's performance in the original film is like nails on a chalkboard to me. It's just awful, and it's mainly the fault of the writers. She has like ten words in the film and then spends the rest of it screaming at the top of her freaking lungs.
In Jackson's version, she starts off screaming a lot, yes. But when she gets this weird Stockholm thing with Kong, the film takes off, making him her protector and developing a beautiful friendship between the two characters, making it all the more wrenching when she tries to save him from his inevitable demise. And it doesn't hurt that the visual effects are top-notch, the action scenes are exciting, and it has pretty great music.
10. The Departed (2006)
Remake of:Internal Affairs (2002)
You may not know this, but Martin Scorcese's Best Picture-winning masterpiece in crime cinema is an eerily faithful remake of a 2002 Hong Kong movie calledInternal Affairs.
Now, that movie is pretty awesome in its own right, but Scorcese's remake is mind-blowing. First off, you've got a great story; a police officer infiltrates a major gang led by a legendary boss, all the while looking for a mole in the gang who is tipping the boss off about the impending actions of the police,because the mole is a police officer.
It's an outstanding game of cat and mouse. Secondly, you've got an impeccable cast, headlined by Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, and a horrifying performance from Jack Nicholson, but also featuring a stellar cast of secondary players in Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, and Alec Baldwin. Seriously. See this movie.
9. Ocean's Eleven (2001)
Remake of:Ocean's Eleven (1960)
All respect to the Rat Pack, but the 1960 version sucked. It was a total vanity project, a senseless cash grab, and a simply boring piece of storytelling. Only die-hard Rat Pack fans would get any enjoyment whatsoever out of that film. Steven Soderbergh's remake, on the other hand, is simply too cool for us to handle. The cast, including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Don Cheadle and others, has a brilliant rapport amongst each other, easily measuring up to classic movie stars. Plus, there's the slick style of filmmaking, totally mesmerizing the audience and selling this magnificent heist story for all it's worth. The sequels may have been disappointing, but this movie rocks on all levels.
8. The Italian Job (2003)
Remake of:The Italian Job (1969)
Let me first say that the originalItalian Job
is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. The performances, especially that of Michael Caine, are perfect, the writing is crisp, the action sequences riveting, and the ending a literal cliffhanger for the ages, possibly the best ever. It's impossible for any remake to beat it. But F. Gary Gray's remake actually does a pretty good job. Other than almost none of the film taking place in Italy, the remake follows the original's story and style fairly well, but unfortunately changes the ending to something much more schmaltzy. But Mark Wahlberg does a pretty good job, Ed Norton makes for a pretty good villain, and the chase sequences are simply awesome. While it may not measure up, it's a stylish movie and an absolute ball.
7. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Remake of:Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
You don't have to look very hard for reasons to love Frank Oz's gleefully twisted musical take on Roger Corman's equally twisted original. It's a story about a sentient plant that eats people, and it only gets more macabre from there. Rick Moranis does a perfect job in the role of Seymour Krelborn, but he is inevitably overshadowed by Steve Martin's manic performance as Orin Scravello, a dentist with a penchant for sadism and a love of nitrous oxide. He creates such a disgusting and loathsome character that you can't help but love every minute. Plus, Levi Stubbs' voice and some brilliant animatronic work makes for a truly legendary bad guy.
6. Hairspray (2007)
Remake of:Hairspray (1987)
Yeah, I'm a grown man who likedHairspray,
get over it. This reinterpretation of the 1987 original is a simply delightful movie. The musical numbers have infectious energy, the singers are top-notch, the production design is killer, and the film moves forward at a brisk, enjoyable pace and leaves you feeling good. But obviously, the best thing about this movie is John Travolta's cross-dressing performance as Edna Turnblad, mother of Nikki Blonsky's central character. He delivers so many amazing one-liners and plays the part with such dedication that it's clear the role was meant for him. Outstanding musical and outstanding remake.
5. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Remake of:Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Give me a second to explain myself. I grew up with the original, and it holds that deep intrinsic value for me just like everyone else. But speaking purely from a critical standpoint, this film is not only a more cohesive film as a whole, but as an adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic children's book, it is superior by leaps and bounds. Tim Burton brought this tale to modern audiences with great success, delivering a performance from Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka that is sublimely creepy, and a movie that is visually resplendent, capturing the pure imagination that Gene Wilder sang about in the original. Also, the score by Danny Elfman is sensational all by itself. The opening titles theme is one of my top ten.
4. The Ten Commandments (1956)
Remake of:The Ten Commandments (1923)
Cecil B. DeMille is one of the only directors in history to remake his own movie, and he rocked the house on it. His remake of his ownTen Commandments
silent film not only added sound and color, but also raised the bar for historical and biblical epics, a bar which some feel has not since been reached by any other film. The costumes and sets are extremely lavish, the score is legendary, and Charlton Heston gives a gonzo lead performance. This story is due for another adaptation this coming year, starring Christian Bale and directed by Ridley Scott, who insists on organic sets and costumes. Maybe, just maybe, that unattainable bar set by DeMille's legendary film may be reached?
3. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Remake of:The Maltese Falcon (1931)
detective movie. It's a film noir masterpiece, and a showcase for how awesome Humphrey Bogart was. It's also a remake. You can tell how good this remake was because very few people remember the original at all. This version also made AFI's top 100 films of all time, it was nominated for three Oscars, and the legendary Roger Ebert called it one of the best films ever made. It's a legendary movie, and for a good reason. If you're ever in the mood for a cool detective flick, check it out.
2. The Thing (1982)
Remake of:The Thing from Another World (1951)
Do I even have to explain this one? This movie kicks trash on all levels. It's a masterful piece of mystery and horror filmmaking. Clearly, director John Carpenter took tonal cues from Ridley Scott's 1979 horror masterpieceAlien.
The sense of dread that pervades this production is insurmountable. And whileAlien
was set in the grim, haunting darkness of space,The Thing
is set in the eerie, ominous white of the tundra. Just about every scene is a master class in tone and pacing, and the ending is one for the ages.
1. True Grit (2010)
Remake of:True Grit (1969)
I will not hear debate, I'm sorry. This is the greatest remake of all time. Not only is it a pitch-perfect representation of Charles Portis' novel (almost all of the hilarious dialogue is taken directly from the book), but Joel and Ethan Coen's subversive remake proves that there is hope for the Western in American cinema. The original film was bolstered by John Wayne's Oscar-winning performance as Rooster Cogburn, and he was great. But everything about this movie is perfect, especially the expert performances. Hailee Steinfeld kills it in the lead role of Mattie Ross, an impressive performance from a child. Matt Damon clearly enjoys hamming it up a bit for his role as Texas Ranger LaBeouf. Josh Brolin has a couple great moments in villainy as the scummy Tom Cheney. And it should be noted that Jeff Bridges hadJOHN FREAKIN' WAYNE'S
shoes to fill, and he does it admirably, giving a layered, complex performance as a realistic, believable Western lawman. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. It is magnificent, it is beautiful, and it is perfect. Best. Remake. Ever.