It’s a classic Hollywood cliche: need an idea for a new movie? Just do an old one again! While this method often results in — how do I put this diplomatically? — very bad and dumb movies, sometimes a remake’s cast and crew becomes inspired enough to create a new film that’s actually quite good. Here now are some of those times when a remake came out that was actually… not terrible?
Horror master John Carpenter took his cue from the 1951 sci-fi classic The Thing From Another World, adding 1980s cold war paranoia and perversely bonkers ultraviolence to create this bleak masterpiece. Both films were based on John W. Campbell’s novella Who Goes There?, but only one film has Kurt Russell with an amazing beard, so I think you know which one to check out.
Dawn Of The Dead
This film has a lot stacked against it. It has fast zombies. It’s directed by Zack “I’m Grim And Hate Fun” Snyder. It’s an attempt to remake a certified zombie classic from the certified zombie maestro, George Romero. And yet, despite all odds, it works. It manages to have both a sense of humor and a sense of genuine emotional stakes, two things that seem to have eluded Snyder since then. It has fun with the consumerist satire elements of the original without copying them beat for beat. And, perhaps most importantly, it introduced the moviegoing public at large to Richard Cheese.
Is it possible to be more charming and cool than Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack? This was the question Steven Soderbergh had to tackle when making his 2001 update of the classic crime comedy. And while your mileage may vary when it comes to comparing Ol’ Blue Eyes to the Cloon-dog (that’s his nickname, right?), it’s hard to complain too much when the new movie is stuffed with stylish filmmaking, Brad Pitt eating food in every scene, and Don Cheadle affecting a British accent. This movie feels like everyone making it was having a ton of fun, and the audience is invited along for the ride.
Did you know that Martin Scorsese’s gritty Oscar winner is actually a remake of the gritty Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs? Like Scorsese’s take, the original was a critical and financial success, winning the Hong Kong equivalent of the Best Picture Oscar. And while the two share similar themes of betrayal, brotherhood, and corruption, only The Departed has actors competing against each other to see who has the most over-the-top Boston accent. Take that as you see fit.
Remember in the mid-2000s when studios were greenlighting Japanese horror remakes left and right? This atmospheric flick, a remake of Ringu, is the one that started it all. The result is so spooky that you don’t even need to see the film to be traumatized by it. What do I mean? When this movie originally came out, I managed to find an online copy of the cursed video that causes a ghost to call and give you seven days to live. Out of curiosity, I pressed play and watched the full horrifying collage of disturbing imagery. Then, immediately when it finished, my phone rang. Sure, it was just my aunt asking about a family visit, but it was enough to spook me into never seeing the full movie, in fear of reliving this trauma. How’s that for effective horror?
Brian DePalma’s controversially violent 1983 gangster epic comes from a similarly controversial 1932 film, also called Scarface. While the original was inspired by the life of real-life gangster Al Capone, DePalma’s take came from a contemporary perspective on immigrants achieving the American dream, no matter how dark and terrifying it becomes. Also, screenwriter Oliver Stone was fighting a real-life cocaine addiction while writing the film, which may explain the fever pitch it realizes in its insane climax. I’m not going to make a claim as to which film is “better”, but if our rubric on judging films is “which one inspired more hip-hop iconography?” then DePalma’s is a clear winner.
Yeah, that’s right, the 1999 Brendan Fraser-starring actiony take on The Mummy is really good. Judge me all you want, I will not back down. It has crisply directed action sequences from Stephen Sommers. It has genuinely spooky visual effects from Industrial Light and Magic. And most importantly, it has a sense of humor, with playful banter and camaraderie that feels indebted to a cinematic era before it without being beholden to it. Basically, if you give me the choice between this and the 1932 original, I will choose this every time. Come at me, bro.
Jeff Goldblum is undeniably charming and cool. Case in point? This David Cronenberg-directed 1986 remake of the 1958 classic sci-fi film, which throws grotesque Oscar-winning makeup and prosthetics at Goldblum and still manages to humanize him (even while he’s literally becoming not human). If you’re ever having relationship troubles, just throw on this film, watch Goldblum and Geena Davis go through the ringer, and hopefully realize you don’t have it as bad as you thought. Bonus points for watching the Simpsons parody.
Question: how do you improve on a classic John Wayne-starring western? Answer: by throwing the Coen Brothers at it, that’s how. Those two geniuses differentiated their take by being more faithful to the original book, written by Charles Portis, and having it be filtered through the point of view of 14-year-old Mattie Ross, played expertly by Hailee Steinfeld. Well hey there, pilgrim, you’ve got yourself a good remake on your hands.
Which remake do you like the best? Which ones did we miss? Is it coincidence or good luck charm that Matt Damon is in three of these? Give me a follow on Twitter before it gets remade into a Matt Damon account (though I understand if you just want to wait until then).