It certainly doesn’t happen often, but occasionally, a filmmaker has the stones to not only remake a film, but somehow manage to make a better version. A handful of the films below are remakes of very fine movies, others are revisions of bad movies ultimatly made better. Whether the remakes are foreign-to-American, spanned decades apart, or an attempt by the same director to recapture his own magic, below are the 10 best remakes I’ve ever seen. And don’t forget to share yours in the comments!
Remake of Abre los ojos (1997), directed by Alejandro Amenábar
Amenábar’s Abre los ojos is a damn fine film, one with an inventive story that had a lot of trouble finding a stateside audience. Thankfully for us, Cameron Crowe saw it and thought he could change things up while staying true to the original. The main difference between the two films is Crowe’s incessant use of American pop culture, which he imbeds subtly and/or blatantly, in nearly every frame of his film. The use of Radiohead, The Beatles, To Kill a Mockingbird, Bob Dylan and much much more (including a Spielberg cameo), turned off some but engaged just as many. Infusing Vanilla Sky with so much Yankee pulp nonfiction was a huge gamble, but one that continues to pay off.
9. The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
Remake of The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), directed by Norman Jewison
Much like Abre los ojos, I have no problem whatsoever with Jewison’s original Crown Affair, but I do think John McTiernan’s New York-set remake is immeasurably more fun. And sexier. And smarter. And just all around better. Pierce Brosnan, delivering one of the greatest non-Bond performances during a Bond reign by an actor yet, is captivating as Thomas Crown. And the film’s bookended heists at the Metropolitan Museum of Art still bring a smile to my face.
8. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Remake of Nosferatu (1922), directed by F.W. Murnau
I’m in minority on this one (hell, I’m in the minority on most of the picks here), but I’m one of the few people who thinks Werner Herzog’s reimaging of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” is slightly superior to Murnau’s classic. You can thank Klaus Kinski’s sensual performance, or Herzog’s continual cue of Prelude to Das Rheingold by Richard Wagner, but whatever the reason(s), Herzog’s Nosferatu creeps in and stays in a way that Murnau’s simply doesn’t for me. Don’t get me wrong, Murnau’s movie is deservedly iconic, and will remain as such for the duration of the film medium, but there’s something about Herzog’s mystery that I’m more drawn to.
7. Funny Games (2007)
Remake of Funny Games (1997), directed by Michael Haneke
In my recent career profile on the marvelous Michael Haneke, I made note that him remaking his own film, Funny Games, was one of the ballsiest film moves of recent memory. Haneke has repeatedly said that the main reason he made the original, German Funny Games was to not so subtly call out American film audiences’ fascination with grotesque, violent cinema. That film didn’t have the reach Haneke desired, so he made the same exact movie, using the same script, the same sets and the same shot list, but cast English-speaking actors in the roles. The result is the ultimate inside joke. Haneke forced the perpetrators to pay attention, and goddamn did we ever.
6. Insomnia (2002)
Remake of Insomnia (1997), directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg
You can blame me liking some of these remakes on the fact that I’m American, but that’s honestly not the case. Typically, us Americans are the ones who fuck up great foreign films with disastrous remakes. The horror genre gets it the worst, but if this list was reversed, I could easily rattle off 100 originals that are better than their remakes. I mention all of this because, like Vanilla Sky and Funny Games, I think Christopher Nolan Americanized Skjoldbjærg’s already fantastic film, to slightly more effective results. A thrilling Pacino helps, as does a steely Robin Williams, a lush Wally Pfister, and an understated David Julyan. Simply put, in my eye, nothing tops Nolan’s isolated vision.
5. True Grit (2010)
Remake of True Grit (1969), directed by Henry Hathaway
Henry Hathaway’s original, G-rated True Grit continues to have a steady following, which is fair enough. John Wayne’s performance as Rooster Cogburn merited the actor’s only Oscar, and it has nestled itself as one of the more iconic films in Wayne’s vast filmography. Me? I’m not a fan. Never have been. So when the Coen brothers announced that they planned to remake it, I was stunned.
I lot of things make the Coen’s version superior, most notably its harsher, and, you know, grittier tone. Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper make for excellent, trashy villains, while Matt Damon brings the appropriate amount of arrogance to his Texas Ranger. Jeff Bridges dutifully fills the shoes of The Duke, but the star here is newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who probably should’ve won the Oscar for her cold, domineering performance as Mattie Ross. You couldn’t pay me to rewatch Hathaway’s film, but the Coens’ version? I’m all over it.
4. The Fly (1986)
Remake of The Fly (1958), directed by Kurt Neumann
Kurt Neumann’s The Fly is a perfect example of a movie that hasn’t stood the test of time. It belongs in the whole So Bad It’s Good Category. It’s just… bad. After nearly three decades, David Cronenberg decided to seriously step things up by making a moody, creepier than all hell remake. The result is one (if not the) most iconic film Cronenberg has ever made, and a lasting horror film staple.
3. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Remake of Ocean’s 11 (1960), directed by Lewis Milestone
In the same vein as Neumann’s The Fly, watching the original Ocean’s 11 now, it’s impossible to not be distracted by how dated it is. Don’t get me wrong, the members of The Rat Pack knew how to seriously ham it up, and have a damn fun time doing so, but there’s really no substance to their folly.
Enter iconic movie producer Jerry Weintraub, who got an itch to remake the Sinatra-starring romp, so remake it he did. His smartest move was bringing on Steven Soderbergh, who had recently resurged his career with the fantastic Out of Sight, and would actually take a break from filming Ocean’s Eleven, to accept an Oscar for Best Director. When it came time to cast, Weintraub suggested filling the movie with every A-lister they could get their hands one. That plus a superb, ceaselessly amusing script by Ted Griffin, and we’ve got contemporary crime thriller gold.
2. The Departed (2006)
Remake of Infernal Affairs (2002), directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak
It’s best to just come right out and say it: I’m not a fan of Infernal Affairs or its two sequels. At all. (Sorry.) I watched them all in one sitting when I was in Hong Kong a few years ago, and I had to laugh my way through them as a way of keeping entertained. Fans of the original franchise say I was corrupted because I saw Martin Scorsese’s film (his vicious, hilarious, cocaine-fueled, impeccable film) first. Well, possibly. But if I don’t like a film, then I don’t like a film. It doesn’t’ really matter what it’s based on.
Anyway, this post isn’t meant to bash the original films, but rather draw attention to their remakes. I absolutely love everything about The Departed. I completely bought into what Scorsese and his writer William Monahan were selling. They made a smart, engaging, and immensely entertaining cops and robbers freak show that I will forever love.
1. Heat (1995)
Remake of L.A. Takedown (1989), directed by Michael Mann
I consider Michael Mann’s Heat to be the finest remake ever made for a multitude of reasons. Most importantly, Heat marks an expert director realizing that his old work was garbage, and having the audacity to give the material another go. There’s no denying that the original is a crap film. The acting often equates to a soft porn melodrama, the action is laughable in its design (both acoustically and visually), and the suspense barely scratches the surface. Basically, it is the perfect encapsulation of an ‘80s TV movie. There was no reason for anyone to remember it, until Mann gave us one.
It’s funny, watching L.A. Takedown now is like viewing a moderately promising student film that eventually spawned a miraculous feature (not unlike Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Dirk Diggler Story). Yes, L.A. Takedown is an amateurish mess, but it’s impossible to not watch it and find yourself gaining a newfound respect for Michael Mann. Instead of trying to salvage material he’d already shot (by issuing a remastered director’s cut, or the like), he spent years getting funding together, casting two of the most famous actors of all time, and recreating crime in Los Angeles as we’d never seen. And we’re likely to never see again.