10 Remakes That Are Better Than the Original Movie
You can hear the collective groan from all the way across the internet whenever Hollywood announces a new remake. The 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 just after creating their first stories. The effect gets multiplied with adaptations of novels and plays, with some films getting cloned so much that we forget all about their origins on the page or stage.
There are at least three dozen remakes that are better than the originals. I know because I combed through every remake ever made (again, about that success rate ... ) to deliver the remakes that represent the highest quality and the most transformative ingenuity.
No single genre has a monopoly on remakes or quality. From horror films to musicals, everything is fair game for copying. Here are 10 of the best cinematic versions of déjà vu (in chronological order).
1. A STAR IS BORN (1954)
Unique among remakes, the original 1937 version of A Star is Born wasn’t based on a book or 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 gets a new incarnation. Yet 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 wrong decisions. Janet Gaynor was magnificent in the original, Barbra Streisand soared in the limp 1976 version, and Lady Gaga seems poised for an Oscar nomination in the latest, but Garland still reigns supreme.
2. AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957)
In 1939, Leo McCarey crafted a stirring romance about two engaged artists falling deeply in love with each other 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 25 percent. It’s a silly, sweet set-up that gifted a new generation 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.
3. THE THING (1982)
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.
4. 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 the greasy greed of the 1980s. Like its forebear, De Palma’s movie had its own struggles with the ratings board, earning a debilitating X rating because of its intense violence.
5. HOMEWARD BOUND: THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY (1993)
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.
6. CHICAGO (2002)
The first musical to win Best Picture since Oliver! in 1968, Rob Marshall’s all-singing, all-dancing crime spree remade a 1927 silent 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.
7. UNFAITHFUL (2002)
Claude Chabrol’s 1969 film La Femme Infidèle (The Unfaithful Wife) got a sleek makeover from Adrian Lyne, who brought a seasoned arsenal of soap opera thrillers like Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal to the fold. Richard Gere and Diane Lane star as a lukewarmly happy couple living in comfort outside New York City whose relationship careens out of control when she launches into an 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.
8. MAN ON FIRE (2004)
Despite boasting Scott Glenn running point, the 1987 adaptation of 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.
9. THE CRAZIES (2010)
Fans chewed their fingernails off when Overture Films announced a remake of George Romero’s 1973 zombies-by-another-name horror flick, but it turned out to be ripe for remake pickings. 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.
10. PETE’S DRAGON (2016)
Disney has focused on 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.