15 Remakes Worthy of Your Time

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If there’s any industry that’s all about reinvention, it’s Hollywood. Every day, the industry trades tell of planned remakes, reboots, retools and re-imaginings galore. 2013 alone will see remakes of Carrie, Robocop, Oldboy and The Evil Dead (the list goes on).

10. The Departed (2006)


Remake of: 2002’s Infernal Affairs
When Scorsese confirmed that he would be remaking the sleek Hong Kong cop thriller Infernal Affairs, few doubted the veteran filmmaker could turn out something exciting. Fewer still foresaw, however, that the film would both win the Academy Award for Best Picture and net the director his first (and long overdue) Best Director Oscar. Jack Nicholson’s boorish, overly hammy villain aside, the film’s cast shines, with two impressive turns from Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon as well as a career highlight from Mark Wahlberg. More impressive, is the way Scorsese and screenwriter William Monahan translates the film’s distinctly Eastern sensibilities to fit with the brand of Catholic reckoning that has characterized much of Scorsese’s filmography.

If nothing else, the film is a joy to watch. Never have Scorsese’s skills as a filmmaker more apparent than when he manages to craft a nail-biting sequence centering on the image of a cellphone ringing.

9. Vanilla Sky (2001)


Remake of: 1997’s Abre los ojos [Open Your Eyes]
Audience and critics were less than kind to director Cameron Crowe’s immediate follow-up to the Oscar-winning Almost Famous. Many derided this psychological thriller, about a wealthy, to-do man whose perfect world is rocked by a tragic car crash, as a vanity project for star Tom Cruise and a bastardization of the original Spanish film by director Alejandro Amenábar. In an essay in his book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, writer Chuck Klosterman even recalls an instance where he exited the film and overheard a man threaten to hit his girlfriend for bringing him to the movie.

Time will tell what the film’s ultimate legacy will be. Yet, for those who have distance from the initial reaction and an open mind, Vanilla Sky stands as a staggering work of mainstream filmmaking. A meditation on death, love and the nature of reality, the film has so much going in its favor, including a fantastic performance from Cruise, one of the greatest soundtracks ever (Radiohead, R.E.M., Sigur Ros) and an opening sequence set in an abandoned Times Square that is nothing short of a visual (and logistical) wonder. And not all reviews were bad. As Richard Roeper so eloquently put it in his review, “[Opres Los Ojos] was like the acoustic version, and [Vanilla Sky] is the full orchestrated version.” Strange and beautiful, Vanilla Sky is quite the trip.

8. Star Wars (1977)


Remake of: 1958’s The Hidden Fortress
Yes, indeed, one of the primary pillars of nerd culture can be considered a remake. When putting together the original script for what would become the ultimate film franchise, USC film grad George Lucas absorbed influences from everything he loved—from Flash Gordon serials to Joseph Campbell. Being a film student in a time where the youth of America were flocking to art houses, Lucas also found inspiration in director Akira Kurosawa; specifically, in the director’s 1958 film The Hidden Fortress. That film told the story of a pair of bumbling peasants (read: C-3PO and R2D2) who become entangled in a plan by a heroic General (read: Luke Skywalker/Han Solo) to rescue a princess (read: Princess Leia) from a seemingly impenetrable fortress (read: The Death Star). Inevitably, there’s probably several film-savvy YouTube viewers who have compared several characters and visuals from each film.

7. The Magnificent Seven (1960)


Remake of: 1954’s Seven Samurai
Although it never entirely reaches the genius of Akira Kurosawa’s three-hour samurai epic, The Magnificent Seven is no doubt a classic American western in its own right. Boasting an all-star class that offers up Yul Bryner, Eli Wallach, James Coburn and Charles Bronson, John Sturgess’ film does justice to Kurosawa’s story of a group of ragtag samurais who band together to defend a terrorized town, switching out feudal Japan for Mexico and the samurais for rogue cowboys. Though nearly an hour shorter than Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven manages to hit all the proper beats and set pieces. To make things even cooler, it’s all soundtracked brilliantly by Elmer Bernstein, delivering some of the best work of his career.

6. Scarface (1982)


Remake of: 1932’s Scarface: The Shame of the Nation
Howard Hawk’s 1932 film caused quite the ruckus back in the day for its gratuitous gun violence. Oh, if they’d only known… Transporting the Prohibition-era tale to 1980s Miami and trading bootlegging gangsters for debaucherous cocaine kingpins, director Brian De Palma and screenwriter Oliver Stone craft perhaps one of the most perverse Horatio Alger stories ever put to screen. An operatic mixture of violence, nonstop profanity and mound and mounds of cocaine, Scarface is less a movie than a barreling, out-of-control train that somehow manages never to crash. Al Pacino’s predilection for overacting finds a perfect home in the character of Tony Montana and Michelle Pfeiffer is equally sexy and aloof as his base head wife.

If there’s any industry that’s all about reinvention, it’s Hollywood. Every day, the industry trades tell of planned remakes, reboots, retools and re-imaginings galore. 2013 alone will see remakes of Carrie, Robocop, Oldboy and The Evil Dead (the list goes on).

5. Some Like It Hot (1959)

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Remake of: 1935’s Fanfare d’Amour
In remaking the French drag comedy Fanfare d’Amour for American audiences, director Billy Wilder and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond needed to make a few adjustments. In order to justify the main characters’ decision to disguise themselves as woman, the filmmakers set the film in the Prohibition era and had the leads (played by Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis) forced to go undercover in drag after inadvertently becoming witnesses to the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre. Despite a grueling production process due mostly to co-lead Marilyn Monroe’s troubled behavior, the result is one of the funniest American films ever made.

4. Heat (1995)


Remake of: 1989’s L.A. Takedown
Michael Mann’s Heat serves as the director’s magnum opus—an epic, sprawling look at criminals, the police who pursue them and the effect their activities have on those surrounding them. The project began life as L.A. Takedown, a made-for-TV movie also written and directed by Mann. Constricted by network television (the film aired on NBC), Mann saw Heat as his chance to tell the story he wanted to tell in a big, theatrical way. Hailed by critics at the time, the film’s reputation has only risen over the past decade among both critics and the general public. A modern neo-noir masterpiece, the film boasts an all-star cast (including a young Natalie Portman) and several impressive action sequences while retaining some of the quiet, intimate feel of the Godfather films. Oh, and it features the first on-screen interaction between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. So, yeah, there’s that.

3. The Fly (1986)

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Remake of: 1959’s The Fly
A science experiment goes awry and a man turns into a fly. Watching the original version of The Fly, that scenario plays out pretty much how’d you expect—in all its hokey, ‘50s sci-fi glory. Yet, director David Cronenberg saw something in this laughable concept, thus transforming the pumped-up camp of the original into something straight out of your worst nightmare. Keeping in mind Cronenberg’s fascination for how the human body can become its own worst enemy, the film goes to great lengths to show the gradual disintegration of the scientist’s (Jeff Goldblum) human form and the emotional toil it takes on his loved one (Geena Davis). The similarites between the character’s condition and that of a degenerative disease such as cancer or AIDS doesn’t appear to be coincidence. As haunting as it is disgusting, The Fly is everything to hope a remake can be.

2. A Fistful of Dollars (1964)


Remake of: 1961’s Yojimbo
Akira Kurosawa again. Unlike The Magnificent Seven, Sergio Leone’s first film with Clint Eastwood can safely go toe-to-toe with the Kurosawa original. Though, like True Grit, one can argue that it’s merely an alternate adaptation of the same source material (Dashiell Hammett’s 1931 pulp novel Red Harvest, of which Yojimbo’s story was taken from), A Fistful of Dollars contains enough DNA from its Asian predecessor to register as a legitimate remake.

Filling in the role played by Toshiro Mifune in the original, Eastwood plays the archetypal spaghetti western antihero, a man whose skills with a gun are inversely proportional to his tendency for small talk. Eastwood’s towering presence launched him as the new face of the Western while Leone’s talent for staging dynamic actions scenes would soon put him on a path to becoming one of the most highly regarded figures in cinema history.

1. The Thing (1982)


Remake of: 1951’s The Thing from Another World
The Thing is far from the greatest film on the list. It didn’t earn any major Academy Awards, it’s not as iconic as Star Wars and not a classic in the way Some Like It Hot or A Fistful of Dollars are. What it is, however, is a textbook example for how to take a premise and—without ever betraying the essence of said premise—stretching and contorting it until something fantastic emerges.

Directed by Christian Nyby (and reportedly ghost directed by Howard Hawks), The Thing from Another World capitalized on a post-nuclear bomb fear of science and its possibilities. In the end of that film, an Air Force re-supply crew saves the day and the daft scientists learn the error of meddling in something you don’t understand. Simple. Looking at the film now, it’s definitely a product of its time and, as a result, has not born the test of time. Add in the ridiculous monster outfit and the painfully forced romantic subplot, you have what amounts to an amusing, if downright cheesy monster movie.

When Halloween director John Carpenter got his hands on this plotline, however, the result was something much darker and infinitely more frightening. In a stroke of dramatic genius, the creature in Carpenter’s version now takes the form of whatever living organism it can get its tentacles into. Combined with the claustrophobia inherent in the film’s isolated, Antarctic setting, the result is some serious Cold War-era paranoia, where no one can be trusted and every action is read as a potential threat. And when you see the creature, you can totally sympathize why each man (the cast is all male this time around) would rather be safe than sorry. Though some of the special effects have not aged as well, there remain moments were the creature effects are more stomach-churning than anything put out by a computer in recent years.

In contrast to its 50s counterpart, The Thing concludes not with a victory but with a haunting final shot that truly highlights its bleak nature. A horror masterpiece of the highest order.