Nowadays, whenever the word remake is thrown out there, it’s often met with groans or eye rolls. It’s understandable; a lot of them are garbage.
Seriously, how the hell does a director as great as Gus Van Sant and that talented of a cast make a Psycho remake that’s that shitty?
Of course, a good portion of remakes, most of them the horror ones we’ve gotten over the past 10-15 years, justifiably give the term a bad name. Arthur, Death at a Funeral, The Fog, Footloose, Friday the 13th, Get Carter, The Grudge, House of Wax, The Last House on the Left, Let Me In, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Oldboy, Rollerball, Swept Away, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Vanishing – I haven’t even put a dent in it. However, for every bad one that comes along, there’s some that actually work. The Birdcage, Little Shop of Horrors, No Way Out, Ocean’s Eleven, The Ring, Scarface, Scent of a Woman, True Lies are just to name a few.
So with Poltergeist getting the remake treatment this Friday, I’m going to give the stigmatized remake its due by counting down the top 10 best remakes. Like I did with my previous top 10 post on found footage films, this is open to all genres and not just restricted to horror.
Hell, we’d be here all day then.
So let’s kick things off, starting with…
10) Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
1988 – It’s difficult for most any remake to outdo the original, especially when the original, 1964’s Bedtime Story, starred acting legends Marlon Brando and David Niven. Leave it to comic icon Steve Martin, acting veteran Michael Caine and director Frank Oz to accept such a challenge and win. Yoda’s no slouch when it comes to comedies having directed What About Bob?, In & Out, Bowfinger and Little Shop of Horrors (which almost made the cut here). He keeps the jokes coming amidst the story’s con game, but it’s the fantastic comic timing and chemistry between Martin and Caine that primarily makes this a redux winner. No surprise, Martin, as he most always does, delivers the goods, but Caine – who’s primarily starred in spy/crime thrillers and dramas for a good share of his career – is just as much a comical force, bringing his trademark gravitas and delivery to the gags, one of which is a doctor’s examination that’s a scene-stealing highlight for the two-time Oscar winner.
9) King Kong
2005 – Kong got the remake treatment twice. The 1976 dud, starring Academy Award winners Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange, had many viewers wishing they could hop a suicide flight with Kong off the Empire State Building (or World Trade Center as is used in the ’76 version). The 2005 remake has Oscar-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson entering sacred classics territory once again, this time venturing into Skull Island after dazzling viewers with his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Combining elaborate set designs (one named “New York Streets” covered roughly 7.5 acres), state-of-the-art CGI and featuring a terrific cast (with motion capture star Andy Serkis providing the voice and movements for the “Eighth Wonder of the World”), Jackson’s version is a visually stunning roller coaster ride with a healthy dose of heart thrown into the mix. It may not top the groundbreaking 1933 masterpiece, but it’s definitely the closest any film has gotten to capturing the same magic and spectacle provided by the first all those decades ago.
8) Invasion of the Body Snatchers
1978 – Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been remade three times – once in ’78, again in ’93 by Abel Ferrara and the 2007 bomb starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. Out of the four versions, it’s this one from 1978, starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy, that stands as the best of them all. Where Don Siegel’s 1956 classic is a fun, campy piece of sci-fi yarn that took advantage of the Red Scare paranoia of its time (studio interference prevented Siegel from sticking with his not so happily-ever-after ending), director Philip Kaufman’s take drops the political themes and rebuilds it into a much more unsettling, meditative satire of the “1970’s ‘Me’ Decade” that was consumed by self-absorption. Given an extra boost of creepiness through Michael Chapman’s cinematography, Denny Zeitlin’s score and Oscar-winning sound designer Ben Burtt’s (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T., WALL-E) innovative use of sound, this is one of the best sci-fi films of the ’70s.
7) The Magnificent Seven
1960 – It might seem sacrilegious to redo Akira Kurosawa’s samurai epic Seven Samurai, but director John Sturges and a strong cast that includes Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn do justice to Kurosawa’s revered classic, reinventing it as a Western centering on Brynner’s Chris and six fellow gunmen hired to protect a Mexican village from Wallach’s bandit Calvera. Beautifully shot with an iconic Elmer Bernstein score to boot, The Magnificent Seven has the exciting shootouts, but the film benefits the most from the dynamic chemistry amongst the seven, particularly Brynner and McQueen in his star-making role. Of course, it’s hard to beat Kurosawa’s film, but I think it says enough when Kurosawa himself was reportedly so impressed by the film he presented Sturges with a sword.
2002 – Director Christopher Nolan follows up his breakthrough Memento with this remake of the 1997 Norwegian thriller which features Oscar winners Al Pacino, Hilary Swank and the late, great Robin Williams all performing at the top of their game. The mood set by Nolan and captured through cinematographer Wally Pfister’s lens is absolutely chilling, and above all else, the battle of wits between Pacino and Williams (in one of his best performances) keeps us constantly on edge. It’s unfortunate that it gets the short end of the stick in the Nolan filmography by buried in between Memento and Batman Begins, but this taut, intelligently written thriller is nevertheless one of Nolan’s best films and one of the best psychological thrillers of the 21st century.
5) The Fly
1986 – You know as much as he complained in Jurassic Park about men playing God, you’d think Jeff Goldblum would – uh – uh – know better. A prime example, and it won’t be the last here, of immense style benefiting the film without overtaking it, David Cronenberg’s The Fly very deservedly won the Oscar for Best Makeup, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know why when you see Seth Brundle’s transformation into the “Brundlefly”. What’s great about this film is that Cronenberg is able to bring the best of both worlds in terms of style and story to the table here. The transformation is grotesque, but it’s not gratuitous in any way. The writing treats its science much more intelligently than you usually find in creature features, and because of the development Cronenberg gives his characters, as well as the terrific performances from Goldblum and Davis, The Fly transcends being just an entertaining sci-fi flick and turns into something much more heartbreaking and tragic.
4) A Fistful of Dollars
1964 – Like The Magnificent Seven, A Fistful of Dollars is a Western and also like The Magnificent Seven, this film too is a loose remake of a Kurosawa classic, 1961’s Yojimbo. Unlike The Magnificent Seven, though, this film was successfully sued by Yojimbo’s production company Toho, and ultimately settled out of court by director Sergio Leone. Spaghetti Western godfather Leone ushered in a new rebel era for the genre with the first of his “Dollars Trilogy”, and knowing what films would follow this, he was only getting started. Between upping the Old West carnage, groundbreaking camera shots, and of course, Ennio Morricone’s immortal score, Leone did more than just do Kurosawa’s original justice, he changed the Western game for good. Most importantly, he also ushered in another game changer: The voice, the stare, the presence, the man with no name, the greatest badass mofo to ever grace the Western screen – Mr. Clint Eastwood.
3) The Thing
1982 – John Carpenter has three genre landmarks – 1978’s Halloween for horror, 1981’s Escape from New York for action, and standing at the top of them all is 1982’s The Thing for sci-fi/horror. A remake of Howard Hawks’s 1951 classic The Thing from Another World, both of which are based on John W. Campbell’s sci-fi novella Who Goes There?, Carpenter constructs a riveting, masterfully paced whodunit creepfest containing a suffocating atmosphere of paranoia and mistrust that thickens as the story progresses. The practical creature effects from John Lloyd, Rob Bottin and Stan Winston are absolutely amazing and still hold up to this day. And like The Fly, the gory effects aim to serve the story and its characters, a ragtag colorful and fleshed-out bunch led by a fantastic Kurt Russell. Simply put, this is a masterpiece of both the sci-fi and horror genres.
2) The Departed
2006 – Sixteen years after he should’ve won Best Director for Goodfellas and nearly three decades after he most certainly should’ve won for Raging Bull, Martin Scorsese finally took home the gold statue for his remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, which also won Best Picture. Led by an all-star cast any director would kill to have at their command – Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and Jack Nicholson – Scorsese does here what Scorsese has always done best. The brutal violence, the Roman Catholic imagery, the conflicted characters – all of his trademarks are on display, and the film only grows more tense as another detail and layer of the story unfolds. It’s no surprise to us who the rat and mole are here, but it’s us knowing what the characters don’t that makes it so compelling.
And here we are at #1. Hopefully you didn’t place your bets on it being Mark Wahlberg’s Planet of the Apes. Drum roll, please…
1959 – Not many people realize the greatest sword and sandals epic ever made is a remake, and it’s in the process of being remade once again with a release date set for February 2016. Winner of eleven Academy Awards (among them, Best Picture, Best Director for William Wyler, Best Actor for Charlton Heston and Best Special Effects), a record that has since been equalled by 1997’s Titanic and 2003’s The Return of the King, Ben-Hur and its $15 million budget (making it the most expensive film at the time) set the standard for all subsequent epics. Sure, some might find the 3 1/2 hour run time a bit patience-testing (seriously, if you can sit through Transformers: Age of Extinction’s arduous near three hour run time, this should be the breeze of all breezes), but it’s impossible to not get caught up in the lavishly exquisite sets, the triumphant score, the subtle but equally moving religious themes, Heston’s commanding lead performance and one of the most thrilling climactic action setpieces, a chariot race between lifelong friends turned bitter rivals that’s just as exciting to watch today as it was for moviegoers that first saw it over fifty years ago.
And there you have it, the best remakes in film. Agree or disagree? Have a favorite remake of yours not mentioned here? Feel free to let me know in the comments.