Most of the time, movie remakes are a sad reminder of the glory of the original, and usually fail to achieve anything close to the style, charm, and finesse of the original. But there are some exceptions.
Originally, the plan was to highlight movie remakes that failed in comparison to the original. But, unfortunately, that list grew way too large… way too quickly. So, instead, we decided to take a look at the opposite situation. Movie remakes that succeeded.
Some of these are recent remakes of older or classic Hollywood movies. Others you may not have even realized were remakes themselves, as they have firmly entrenched themselves as Hollywood Movie Classics.
And, just as a point of clarification, this list focuses on Hollywood vs Hollywood. Although there are certainly some good (and bad) remakes of foreign films for the American audience, this particular list is really about taking the same story, in the same language, and telling it again in a really unique and wonderful way.
Ocean’s Eleven (2001 vs 1960)
It had to be intimidating to be staring down the barrel of an original cast like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, and Cesar Romero. The pressure was definitely on for Steven Soderbergh when he decided to tackle this remake of the classic 1960 crime caper. Luckily, he managed to pull together an equally impressive cast including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy Garcia, Julia Robers, and more. Together, this crew brought new life into this franchise.
Dawn of the Dead (2004 vs 1978)
The critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes pegged George A. Romero original from 1978 as “One of the most compelling and entertaining zombie films ever made.” The remake, directed by Zack Snyder, managed to bring these zombies back to life with a surprising, violent, and – ultimately – a worthy remake of George Romero’s horror classic. What puts it over the edge from a remake vs original version is the special effects that manage to pay homage to the original while working on its own terms.
The Fly (1986 vs 1958)
The original version of the The Fly was praised for walking a fine line between shlocky fun and unnerving sci-fi scares. Funny yet frightening, it is still considered a film that was well ahead of its time. David Cronenberg’s take took a strong turn toward horror, but it is the strongly developed characters – including a powerful performance by Jeff Goldblum – that make the 1986 version of The Fly a superior film.
Of course, a large part of The Fly’s success can be contributed to the significantly improved makeup & special effects that allow Jeff Goldblum’s character to deteriorate before our very eyes.
Scarface (1983 vs 1932)
The movie that spawned a million Al Pacino impressions is actually a remake of Howard Hawks’ 1932 film of the same name. Unfortunately, the original film was hampered by the Hays Code, which forced the film to tame some of the more violent criminal aspects. Fortunately, Brian De Palma’s had no such limitations, which led to this gangster classic. However, the 1983 version got slapped with an X rating because of its intense violence. That didn’t stop it from becoming one of the most well-known movies of the 80s.
Casino Royale (2006 vs 1967)
The 2007 version of the James Bond classic Casino Royale is VERY different from the original Peter Sellers’ version. And that difference makes it better. Gone is the goofy, meandering parody that completely failed to deliver any of the laughs one would have expected from Peter Sellers. In its place, Daniel Craig makes his James Bond debut in what fans and critics have called a “caustic, haunted, intense reinvention of 007”.
King Kong (2005 vs 1933)
Peter Jackson, the man who brought The Lord of the Rings books to life, had quite the task ahead of him when he decided to bring this larger-than-life character back to the silver screen. Although it’s hard to compare the classic 1933 monster movie featuring the iconic Fay Wray, Jackson’s 2005 version manages to make its own mark on film history based on strong performances and dazzling special effects.
Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993) vs The Incredible Journey (1963)
Although both movies are loosely based on the novel by Canadian author Shelia Burnford, the updated version features the voice talents of Don Ameche, Michael J. Fox, and Sally Field, and did a tremendous job at tugging on the heartstrings of viewers young and old. The remake boasts greater charisma, better chemistry between the animals, and an improved tie-back into the human story. Plus, of course, the pets can talk in the updated version. And who doesn’t love talking pets?
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) vs Bedtime Story (1964)
This clever & funny update of the 1964 Marlon Brando & David Niven conman film Bedtime Story truly capitalizes on the strengths of its leading men, Michael Caine and Steve Martin. The two versions, despite having different names, utilize much of the same storyline. However, the actors in the updated version far outshine the originals for their comedic timing and chemistry.
Apocalypse Now (1979) vs Heart of Darkness (1958)
Perhaps a bit of a cheat, but the powerful and gripping film Apocalypse Now first made it to the screen as the 1958 TV movie Heart Of Darkness. This Francis Ford Coppola classic is beyond spectacular. So much so that even Tim Roth and John Malkovich could not rescue an attempt to remake Heart of Darkness in 1993.
The Thing (1982 vs 1951)
Although I’m sure the 1951 version – technically called “The Thing From Another World” – was terrifying in its day, the John Carpenter update took this classic sci-fi story and infused it with a Cold War sensibility of neighborly distrust. The result is a truly terrifying alien movie where you simply do not know who is real and who is something else.
Little Shop of Horrors (1986 vs. 1960)
Although the 1960 version is a cult movie in its own right, it’s the 1986 version that infuses the broadways musical numbers into this otherwise dark and twisted story of love, desperation, and a man-eating plant.
The Crazies (2010 vs 1973)
I will – shamefully admit – that I did not realize that this fun and frightening zombie movie was actually a remake of George Romero’s 1973 film by the same name. But, now that I am aware of both the original and the remake, I am very glad they did it. A mix of zombie horror and the evils of government, the new version is a perfect blend of suspense and human interaction.
The Maltese Falcon (1941 vs 1931)
You may not know that perhaps the most iconic film of all time is actually a remake. You may also not know that the only reason it was remade is that the Hays Code stymied the film studio’s attempt to re-release the 1931 version because it failed to pass the censors.
3:10 to Yuma (2007 vs 1957)
It took 50 years for this film to make it into the movie remake cycle. James Mangold’s extraordinary remake of the classic Western manages to improve on the original because of the powerful & fiery performances from both Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.
Hairspray (2007 vs 1988)
In my opinion, for whatever it’s worth, the 2007 version only slightly edges out the John Waters 1988 version. The production value nearly 20 years later is definitely superior, and the fine performances by John Travolta and Nikki Blonsky really do shine. However, so did Ricki Lake and Divine in those same roles. I have included it in this list, but I could be convinced to change my mind, maybe.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978 vs 1956)
This updated version of the 1956 classic film expands upon themes, political allegories, and ideas that were only lightly explored in the original. Powerful performances by Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, and Leonard Nimoy help make this version, which is now over 40 years old, the best – if not final – version of this sci-fi thriller.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992 vs 1931)
Dracula is a bit of a staple in horror movies and horror movie remakes, and it has been for more than a century. However, Francis Ford Coppola’s version leans more heavily on the original source material and creates – along with Gary Oldman’s brilliant portrayal of the leading man – a film about desire, seduction, greed, and fear.
Heaven Can Wait (1978) vs Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)
Funny enough, Heaven Can Wait is not actually a remake of the 1943 film by the same name. This film owes it’s pedigree to the 1941 film Here Comes Mr. Jordan.
Warren Beatty heads up the cast of this 1978 remake of the 1941 classic. In this version, a well-respected quarterback is pulled from his body moments before he was about to die. However, it turns out that Heaven made a mistake and Beatty would have survived the accident. To make things right, they agree to put Beatty into a temporary body until a permanent home can be found.
True Grit (2010 vs 1969)
This is one of those movie remakes that you were probably afraid would happen, and then ended up being glad it di. Featuring strong performances from Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Hailee Steinfeld, this version of the John Wayne classic is – by far – some of the Coen brothers’ most finely tuned, unaffected work. Although the 1969 John Wayne classic stands on its own, the critical consensus is that the recent version of True Grit is a more worthy companion to the Charles Portis book.
The Last of the Mohicans (1992 vs 1936)
Michael Mann’s epic version of The Last of the Mohicans is more a retelling of the 1936 original movie than it is a return to James Fenimore Cooper’s classic novel. Daniel Day-Lewis headlines the cast in this elevated western.
War of the Worlds (2005 vs 1953)
Steven Spielberg takes the helm in this adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic novel. His direction, combined with electrifying performances by Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning, delivers on all of the thrills and the paranoia of the original while updating the action sequences and special effects for a modern audience.
Which are Your Favorite Movie Remakes?
Did we miss one of your favorite updates of an older film? Or, perhaps, you disagree with me on some of these and believe that the original was far superior to the remake.
Either way, feel free to let us know in the comments below!