20 Remakes That Are Better Than the Original Movie

Jeff Goldblum stars in David Cronenberg's super gross (and excellent) remake of The Fly (1986).
Jeff Goldblum stars in David Cronenberg's super gross (and excellent) remake of The Fly (1986).
Scream Factory

You can hear the collective groan from all the way across the internet whenever Hollywood announces a new remake. No, their success rate isn’t great. Critics and groaners get one thing wrong, though: Remakes are nothing new. Studios have been remaking their own stories since shortly after creating their first stories. The effect gets multiplied with adaptations of novels and plays, with some films getting cloned so much that we eventually forget all about their origins on the page or stage in the first place.

While no single genre has a monopoly on remakes or quality, there are some that manage to improve upon the film(s) that came before them. From horror films to musicals, everything is fair game for copying. Here are 20 of the best cinematic versions of déjà vu (in chronological order).

1. The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Warner Home Video

Believe it or not, it's entirely possible that the most iconic film noir Hollywood ever produced exists only because Warner Bros. couldn't re-release their original version of The Maltese Falcon. The 1931 adaptation of Dashiell Hammet's story, featuring famed detective Sam Spade, was made just before the Hays Code severely disrupted the industry's ability to show racier elements. When the studio couldn't re-release it because it failed to pass the censors, the studio attempted to make an incredibly forgettable comedic version of the story, then smartened up and hired John Huston to make his directorial debut with the now-legendary film featuring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, and not nearly as much sexual innuendo as the first.

2. A Star Is Born (1954)

Warner Home Video

Unique among remakes, the original 1937 version of A Star is Born wasn’t based on a book or any other source material, but it’s been remade four times (once in India as 2013's Aashiqui 2). Something about this story has captured our imagination so thoroughly that every generation seems to get a new incarnation. Yet, with apologies to Bradley Cooper, George Cukor's 1954 remake starring Judy Garland is still the gold standard thanks to the actress's searing one-woman performance epic.

The film was nominated for six Oscars and won none of them, with Garland’s loss to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl immediately considered one of the Academy’s most famously bad decisions. Janet Gaynor was magnificent in the original; Barbra Streisand soared in the limp 1976 version; and Lady Gaga scored a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Cooper's 2018 version, but Garland still reigns supreme.

3. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

A few famous directors have remade their own work, and it's not always the remake that wins out. In the case of The Man Who Knew Too Much, it’s abundantly clear that 20 years of experience helped Alfred Hitchcock create something more tonally complete and engaging than his original 1934 effort. The 1956 version, starring Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day, has significant differences from the earlier version, but the high concept is still there: Unremarkable people learn of an international conspiracy that they have to solve. It's one of Hitchcock's favorite plots (see Rear Window, North by Northwest, The Lady Vanishes, etc.), but it's at its slickest here.

4. An Affair To Remember (1957)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

In 1939, Leo McCarey crafted a stirring romance about two engaged artists falling deeply in love while traveling on an ocean liner. The only problem? They’re not engaged to each other. McCarey remade his own film, Love Affair, with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr taking the leads from Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne, which ups the charm factor by at least 25 percent. It’s a silly, sweet set-up that has gifted every generation since with the trope of lovers agreeing to meet at the Empire State Building if they still want to be together after a few months apart.

5. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

A 1950s B-movie turned 1970s feast of prestige paranoia, Philip Kaufman’s unforgettable version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which stars Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams, manages to break out of the singular science fiction mold to borrow elements from film noir, horror, thriller, and other classic movie genre tropes. Complete with a late-in-the-game twist, this remake also luxuriates in nihilistic tragedy, whereas Don Siegel’s original 1956 film at least attempted to offer up some semblance of a hopeful ending.

6. The Thing (1982)

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Itself a remake of An Affair to Remember (just kidding), John Carpenter’s paranoid horror film captured a Cold War sensibility of neighborly distrust. Its predecessor, The Thing From Another World, stood out even among the mountain of now-cheesy 1950s sci-fi creature features, but Carpenter injected the zeitgeist even deeper into the film’s tissue to create a movie with complexity and a radical flamethrower.

7. Scarface (1983)

The movie that spawned a million dorm room posters and impressions of Al Pacino is a remake of Howard Hawks’s 1932 film that was neutered by the Hays Code. That version still shows the violent rise of a gangster based on Al Capone, but it had to explicitly condemn everything shown on screen and tack on the subtitle The Shame of a Nation (just in case audiences thought killing people was something to aspire to). It’s absolutely one of the most important genre pictures in the vault, but Brian De Palma’s Miami-set festival of bullets successfully updated it with a slathering of drug-fueled, 1980s greed. Like its forebear, De Palma’s movie had its own struggles with the ratings board, leading to it earning a debilitating X rating because of its intense violence.

8. The Fly (1986)

SCREAM FACTORY

Like The Thing, the David Cronenberg switcheroo is a strong signal of how 1950s shockers could be converted into slick, profoundly terrifying films that get under your skin—in this case, almost literally. A big part of The Fly's power lies in the special makeup effects that allow Jeff Goldblum to deteriorate before our eyes, but it's also a much deeper exploration of what it means to be human—and did both of those things while staying true to its predecessor's message that the search for truth is both the most important thing in the world and the most dangerous.

9. Scent of a Woman (1992)

Profumo Di Donna, Dino Risi’s 1974 Italian film, is an excellent movie in its own right. It earned several major Italian awards and was nominated for two Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay (it lost to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) and Best Foreign Language Oscar (where it lost to Dersu Uzala, an epic Russian film … directed by Akira Kurosawa). However, a slight edge goes to Scent of a Woman, the 1992 remake from Martin Brest which features an all-time performance from Al Pacino, a bittersweet coming of age for Chris O'Donnell's poor prep school kid, an early glimpse at the raw talent of Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a famous tango scene.

10. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Gary Oldman stars in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Throughout dozens of takes on Dracula, Francis Ford Coppola's version manages to stand out prominently because it essentially turned the monster into a hyper-passionate human being. Bela Lugosi may have launched the iconic horror figure into moving picture pop culture as a courtly bloodsucker, but Gary Oldman's portrayal in a film littered with gorgeous set design and expensive clothes deepened everything about the famous figure: the lust, the seduction, the greed, the charisma, and—perhaps most importantly—the fear.

11. The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

Unlike many other adaptations of frequently filmed classic novels (think the aforementioned Dracula), Michael Mann's epic version of The Last of the Mohicans is more an adaptation of George B. Seitz's 1936 original movie than of James Fenimore Cooper's classic novel, which is why the writers of Seitz's film are given story credits on Mann's rendition. Daniel Day-Lewis starred in the version that elevated a pulpy western adventure into an Oscar-worthy romantic drama with its painstaking recreation of French and Indian War period weapons and stellar performances from its cast.

12. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)

A still from Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993).Buena Vista Home Entertainment

A watershed moment for Millennials, Homeward Bound’s talking dogs and cat (Don Ameche, Michael J. Fox, and Sally Field) tugged hard on kids' heartstrings a few years before the internet took over our homes and a decade before YouTube would flood them with dog and cat videos. The four-legged trek was a remake of 1963’s The Incredible Journey, which Disney based on Sheila Burnford’s novel of the same name. Just as harrowing, the remake had even greater charisma, stronger chemistry between the animals (since they could talk), and a better tie back into the human story. They also made a sequel where the pets get lost in San Francisco which, like Home Alone 2, proves the owners were just super irresponsible. Once is forgivable, twice is a call to ASPCA.

13. True Lies (1994)

True Lies is essentially the reverse of The Man Who Knew Too Much, as its main character is an international man of mystery who is trying his hardest to pretend to be wholly unremarkable. The French may disagree, but James Cameron's remake of Claude Zidi's La Totale! is a superior movie in spite of its injection of Hollywood steroids. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis are perfectly cast here as a fake-nebbish secret agent and his clueless but secretly skilled wife.

14. The Birdcage (1996)

Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in The Birdcage (1996).WARNER BROS. HOME ENTERTAINMENT

Édouard Molinaro’s La Cage aux Folles (1978) is a very funny, very heartfelt movie about a conservative couple meeting their daughter's boyfriend's gay parents, but The Birdcage is an all-timer. Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria, Gene Hackman, and Dianne Wiest are all acting at 100 mph and putting their faith in the fact that acclaimed director Mike Nichols won't let them crash. The result is a perfection explosion of absurdity with a disco drag finale full of pure joy and love.

15. Chicago (2002)

Rob Marshall's Chicago was the first musical to win a Best Picture since Oliver! did it in 1968. The all-singing, all-dancing crime spree is a remake of a 1927 silent film version of the events, by way of a joyously popular Broadway show. Then again, all of them are based on the real-life suspected murderer Beulah Annan, who captured press attention after shooting her lover. Marshall’s gorgeously choreographed riff includes a swell of talented performances from Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, and John C. Reilly, who literally bend over backwards to entertain.

16. Insomnia (2002)

Erik Skjoldbjærg's 1997 film exhausted the viewer by placing them in the restless mind of a detective who kills his partner in a small town where the sun never sets. Christopher Nolan's remake Americanizes everything and sends two Los Angeles police officers to Nightmute, Alaska, to endure the guilt and perpetual daylight. Al Pacino stars as the dishonorable detective and Robin Williams played against type as a disturbed serial killer who exploits the detective's murderous act to his own benefit.

17. Unfaithful (2002)

Olivier Martinez and Diane Lane in Unfaithful (2002).Barry Wetcher, 20th Century Fox

Claude Chabrol’s 1969 film La Femme Infidèle (The Unfaithful Wife) got a sleek makeover courtesy of Adrian Lyne, who brought a seasoned arsenal of soap opera thrillers like Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal to audiences. Richard Gere and Diane Lane star as a seemingly happy couple whose relationship careens out of control when she begins a steamy affair with a stranger. The new version placed greater focus on the wife’s character, particularly how she navigated the emotions of her infidelity, and Lane devastated in the role.

18. Man On Fire (2004)

Despite boasting Scott Glenn running point, the 1987 adaptation of Man on Fire, based on A.J. Quinnell’s novel, was hollow and dull. All of that got turned around with a screenplay by world-class writer Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Mystic River), direction by the late action guru Tony Scott, and no-need-for-an-adjective-because-he’s-Denzel Denzel Washington owning the role of alcoholic Marine-turned-bodyguard for an adorable little girl who’s abducted by a gang in Mexico City.

19. The Crazies (2010)

A scene from The Crazies (2010)Overture Films/Participant Media

Fans chewed their fingernails off when Overture Films announced they were remaking George Romero’s 1973 zombies-by-another-name horror flick The Crazies, but it turned out to be ripe for a remake. The government assault on a town suffering from the military’s own biological weapon was effectively moody but had problems that Breck Eisner’s version cleaned up considerably. Justified star Timothy Olyphant is perfect as the beleaguered small-town sheriff, and the film works as a tense survival thriller with a boatload of spine-jolting scares.

20. Pete’s Dragon (2016)

Disney loves converting animated favorites into live-action hits, and indie writer/director David Lowery crafted a gem for them with this tale of a boy and his scaly best friend. The 1977 original was a fun, musical escapade. The update transformed a toothless delight into something deeply moving with gorgeously integrated CGI animation, drawing from E.T. and other stories where the misunderstood are hunted by exploitative powers.

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

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As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

10 Surprising Facts About Wham!’s 'Last Christmas'

Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Over the course of his illustrious career, George Michael gave the world many gifts. One that keeps on giving is “Last Christmas,” the 1984 holiday classic by Wham!, Michael's pop duo with Andrew Ridgeley. “Last Christmas” is such a uniquely beloved song that it inspired a 2019 film of the same name. That’s just one interesting part of the “Last Christmas” story. Read on for 10 fascinating facts about this seasonal synth-pop favorite.

1. George Michael wrote "Last Christmas" in his childhood bedroom.

“Last Christmas” was born one day in 1984 when George Michael and Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley were visiting Michael’s parents. While they were sitting around watching TV, Michael suddenly dashed upstairs to his childhood bedroom and composed the modern Xmas classic in about an hour. “George had performed musical alchemy, distilling the essence of Christmas into music,” Ridgeley said. “Adding a lyric which told the tale of betrayed love was a masterstroke and, as he did so often, he touched hearts."

2. “Last Christmas” isn’t really a Christmas song.

There’s nothing in “Last Christmas” about Santa, reindeer, trees, snow, or anything we typically associate with the holiday. Rather, the song is about a failed romance that just happens to have begun on December 25, when Michael gave someone his heart, and ended on December 26, when this ungrateful person “gave it away.”

3. George Michael wrote and produced the song—but that’s not all.

Dave Hogan/Getty Images

By the time Wham! recorded “Last Christmas” in August (yes, August) 1984, Michael had taken full control of the group. In addition to writing and producing the song, Michael insisted on playing the Roland Juno-60 synth in the studio. “George wasn’t a musician,” engineer Chris Porter said. “It was a laborious process, because he was literally playing the keyboards with two or three fingers.” Michael even jangled those sweet sleigh bells himself.

4. “Last Christmas” didn’t reach #1 on the UK charts.

As the movie Love Actually reminds us, scoring a Christmas #1 in the UK is a really big deal. Unfortunately, “Last Christmas” didn’t give Wham! that honor. It stalled at #2, and to this day it has the distinction of being the highest-selling UK single of all time to not reach #1.

5. George Michael sang on the song that kept “Last Christmas” at #2.

“Last Christmas” was bested on the UK charts by Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” an all-star charity single benefiting Ethiopian famine relief. Michael sang on “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” and was so committed to the cause that he donated his profits from “Last Christmas” to helping the African nation.

6. George Michael was sued for plagiarism over “Last Christmas.”

In the mid-1980s, the publishing company Dick James Music sued George Michael on behalf of the writers of “Can’t Smile Without You,” a schmaltzy love song recorded by The Carpenters and Barry Manilow, among others. According to Chris Porter, the recording engineer on “Last Christmas,” the suit was dismissed after a musicologist presented 60-plus songs that have a similar chord progression and melody.

7. "Last Christmas" has been covered by a lot of other artists.

Michael Putland/Getty Images

Jimmy Eat World, Hilary Duff, Good Charlotte, Ariana Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen, Gwen Stefani, and Taylor Swift are just a few of the artists who’ve covered “Last Christmas” over the years. The strangest rendition may be the 2006 dance version by the Swedish CGI character Crazy Frog, which reached #16 on the UK charts.

8. Some people make a concerted effort to avoid hearing “Last Christmas.”

While millions of people delight in hearing “Last Christmas” every year, an internet game called Whamageddon encourages players to avoid the song from December 1 to 24. The rules are simple: Once you hear the original Wham! version of “Last Christmas” (remixes and covers don’t count), you’re out. You then admit defeat on social media with the hashtag #Whamageddon and wait for your friends to suffer the same fate. Note: The rules prohibit you from “deliberately sending your friends to Whamhalla.”

9. “Last Christmas” finally charted in America following George Michael’s death in 2016.

Back in 1984, “Last Christmas” wasn’t released as a commercial single in the United States, and therefore it wasn’t eligible for the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, Billboard changed its rules in 1998, and in the wake of George Michael’s unexpected death on Christmas Day 2016, the song finally made its Hot 100 debut. In December 2018, it reentered the charts and peaked at #25.

10. George Michael was involved in 2019's Last Christmas movie.

November 2019 saw the release of Paul Feig's Last Christmas, a romantic comedy inspired by the song starring Game of Thrones's Emilia Clarke. Producer David Livingstone came up with the idea while George Michael was still alive, and when he pitched the pop star on the project, he was given the greenlight—with one condition: Michael stipulated that actress and author Emma Thompson write the movie. Thompson co-authored the story and the screenplay, and she even wound up playing a supporting role.