It’s often said that Hollywood has run out of original ideas, which is why there are so many movie remakes. Actually, remakes are part of a longstanding Hollywood tradition- the very first remake was 1904’s The Great Train Robbery.
The first version of The Great Train Robbery was made in 1903 and is the “first narrative film” (sometimes referred to as the first feature film). In other words, Hollywood made its first “remake” as soon as it got the chance!
Hollywood continues to churn out remakes like the Amish churn butter, and most of them are absolutely terrible. However, as the Amish will tell you, if you churn long enough, you’ll eventually get something good. Throughout Hollywood history, there have actually been some good remakes. These are most of them:
The original “Assault” from the 1970s, directed by John Carpenter, is actually a pretty good movie for what it cost. The idea is that the different gangs, usually split by their race, have united and are going to take out the aforementioned precinct.
The remake sounds terrible on paper: Ethan Hawke as a drug addict, Drea de Matteo as her Sopranos character, and John Leguizamo as a tweaker. And this time, instead of being in Los Angeles in the summer, it’s Detroit in the winter, and it’s a group of corrupt cops.
Yet, it works- partially because of the awesome action sequences and partially because, amazingly, the cast are all great. In short, somebody actually decided that instead of just profiting from a title five people recognized, they should actually make a movie. We wish all of Hollywood was so courteous.
9. The Thing
The 1950s original took a classic science fiction short story and made into a movie about fighting a bloodthirsty plant in the Arctic. You know, because everybody’s afraid of photosynthesis.
The 1982 remake (also John Carpenter) decided to stick to the original story, featuring a shape shifter that could take on any form it wished and incredibly gross (and awesome) special effects; i.e. the movie they should have made in the first place.
Although nobody’s face ever explodes in the movie, so we have no idea where the idea for the movie poster came from.
Ben-Hur, from the ’50s, is incredibly gay. We don’t mean this in a derogatory sense, we mean this in the sense that it’s all about dudes wanting to have sex with other dudes. It makes the Jesus parts seem a little random, but it’s nice that Hollywood spent the equivalent of Titanic’s budget on what amounts to a break-up. In fact, according to imdb.com, Rock Hudson was offered the role but “his agent explained to him that the film’s gay subtext was too much of a risk to his career.”
The 1950’s version was actually a remake of a movie made in the 1920s, which mostly featured a cheap-looking chariot race and lots of bad acting, as opposed to the ’50s version, which featured an incredibly expensive chariot race with lots of elaborate stonework. And lots of bad acting.
There’s a reason we still remember the ’50s version and the ’20s version is thankfully forgotten.
7. Ocean’s Eleven
The original “Ocean’s Eleven” is a great movie, solely because it consists almost entirely of the Rat Pack sitting around drinking, and occasionally pulling off a heist. Sure, it’s supposedly a heist movie, but it’s basically a movie about sitting around and getting wasted.
As fun as that can be, we like the remake better, if for no other reason than the heist is clever, elaborate, and features Carl Reiner rappelling down an elevator shaft. And really, when are you going to see that in the movies?
6. The Fly
The original “Fly” from the ’50s is…well…you see…it’s…
We’re struggling to find a description of a movie that features a scientist with a fly’s head and arm while a fly buzzes around with the scientist’s head and arm that doesn’t involve the word “ridiculous”, but that might be a writing challenge too great for anyone.
Thankfully, David Cronenberg knew this, which is why instead of limb swapping, it features Jeff Goldblum’s flesh falling off in disgusting chunks, kidnapping Geena Davis, and vomiting all over people to dissolve their flesh. It also happens to be a thoughtful film about the boundaries of humanity and an epic tragedy. Just not boring.
5. Heaven Can Wait
“Here Comes Mr. Jordan” is a beloved, award-winning comedy classic from the Golden Age of Hollywood. This means, of course, that nobody watches it or has ever heard of it. But if you get a chance, it’s pretty fun.
In ’78, Warren Beatty, tired of all the jokes about his life, decided to make a movie that didn’t involve him being a lothario and remade it into…a beloved, award-winning comedy classic from the New Age of Hollywood, which, of course, means that nobody watches it or has ever heard of it.
Maybe it’s less a remake and more the continuation of a curse.
4. The Amityville Horror
The original ’70s “Amityville Horror” is the biggest block of cheese you can get outside of a deli. Seriously. It’s ridiculous. Highly entertaining, especially as James Brolin decides the best way to improve the film is to eat the scenery, but ridiculous. And the book’s worse.
So it’s a little weird that the 2005 version actually works. For one thing, Ryan Reynolds convincingly goes insane, and the movie has figured out that whenever you have a family with a parent going insane, the creepy parts are mostly a loving parent losing it instead of ghost effects ripped off from Japanese movies.
Also, there’s a hot babysitter. Scantily clad babysitters can improve any movie; I hear they’re digitally inserting them into Citizen Kane.
3. Beau Geste
“Beau Geste” is a novel about stealing the family jewels and running off to the French Foreign Legion. The 1926 movie is pretty much a straight take on the story, which means it’s like every other silent film from the time.
The 1939 remake has two distinct advantages: one, dialogue, which really helps, and two, Gary freaking Cooper. Cooper never gets his due, but if you want a cinematic man’s man, toting a bolt-action rifle and kicking ass, Cooper’s your man.
It also helps that the movie, directed by William Wellman, has a bunch of amazing shots and some really weird, eerie effects to it, mostly achieved by depicting the relentless isolation of the fort they’re holding. You will want Gary Cooper to jump the walls and just kick every ass there is, but Hollywood was more restrained back in the day.
2. Cat People
The original “Cat People” is one of those movies that has a lot of weird, Freudian subtext. “No, you cannot make love to me! I will turn into a panther and kill you!” Yeah, seriously, that’s the plot. It’s actually a pretty effective film, for the time, although it’s hard to keep a straight face now that we’ve had minor advances in human thought like sexual freedom and women’s rights.
What’s great about the 1982 remake is that it takes all the sexual subtext of the first one and adds liberal doses of freaky weirdness and Jerry Springer. Now there’s incest and bestiality in the mix, which makes for an exceptionally entertaining drinking game where every time somebody brings up one of the two (or both together; it’s that kind of movie), you do a shot. You’ll probably make it past the half hour mark, but not much further. Try to stay conscious long enough to see Natassja Kinski covered in water.
1. True Lies
This is France for you: they come up with a superb idea about a secret agent pretending to have a normal life who discovers his wife is having an affair…and DON’T make it about the action sequences.
This is why we remake your movies, France. Because we know what they need, and what they need is Arnold Schwarznegger in a Harrier blowing away terrorists with Vulcan cannons. We’re going to be digitally inserting that into the works of Jean Renoir next, and you’ll thank us for it.
by Dan Seitz