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Top 10 Best Movie Remakes

By Ally Sinyard · August 17, 2011

Like many of you, I shudder a bit when I hear that an old classic is being “remade.” We cry, “why can’t it just be left alone?!” Because remakes guarantee an audience…that’s why! Most often the remake doesn’t match up to the original, but every so often we are pleasantly surprised. And once in a very blue moon, we might even see a remake that is actually better than the original!

As these golden remakes are so rare, I did have to do a bit of digging, especially since a few of these are old-school horror classics (not my forte). And to be honest, I was pleased that I had to dig so deep.

Anyway, here is the list. And just so ya know, my interpretation of a “remake” is a film that uses an earlier film as its main source material or source of inspiration.

10. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) – [Original: Seven Samurai (1954)]

The Magnificent Seventook inspiration from Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai. It’s a very good remake, but as it was bold enough to use Kurosawa as a springboard, it set the bar a little too high. It failed to do what the better remakes on this did: it didn’t go deeper. If anything, it went the opposite way. All of Kurosawa’s poignant commentary on Japanese society was discarded and never replaced. Don’t get me wrong, The Magnificent Seven did a great job in taking the original story and putting into another time and place. However, if you’re going to take on Kurosawa, you’d better have something good up your sleeve!

9. THE THING (1982) – [Original: The Thing from Another World (1951)]

John Carpenter’s The Thing is based on Howard Hawks’ classic 1951 film The Thing from Another World, though it is also a faithful adaptation of the novella that inspired both movies, John W. Campbell Jr.’s Who Goes There? Carpenter’s film was hugely scorned by critics and audiences upon its release; however, over the last three decades, it has become a cult classic. Much of The Thing’s success is down to Carpenter taking advantage of what Hawks couldn’t do in the 50s: use great special effects. He completely re-imagined the original film and topped it all off with the wonderfully beardy Kurt Russell. Look out for another, yes ANOTHER, remake coming this year!

8. OCEAN’S ELEVEN (2001) – [Original: Ocean’s Eleven (1960)]

If you’re going to try and take on the Rat Pack, you’re going to have to bring out the big guns! And they did: Clooney, Pitt, Damon, Cheadle (forget the accent), Roberts. If they were ever going to get anything right with the remake, this was the most important AND this is where they really came through! With a cast like that, how can the film NOT be a success? Again, what we have here is an updated remake as opposed to a total carbon copy. And it can’t be difficult to bring a heist movie into the 21stCentury, what with all this delicious new technology. Clooney is the one that really makes this remake great for me though. He makes a great criminal no matter where you put him. He wouldn’t have looked out of place in the original!

7. THE ITALIAN JOB (2003) – [Original: The Italian Job (1969)]

I’ll admit, I was a little nervous when I heard that a remake of the Michael Caine classic was being made. I’m sure many other fans of the film were too! However, I was pleasantly surprised. The 2003 version was rather brilliant! It kept all the essential bits of the original (the heist, the setting, etc) and brought it into the 21stCentury. Ok, so it might not be as fantastic as the original, but it did a great job of achieving what so many remakes don’t: adapting rather than replicating. And whether you love or hate the remake, you can’t help but smile when the Minis come out to play!

6. A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) – [Original: Yojimbo (1961)]

Kurosawa is clearly the man to follow! I, for one, was certainly unaware of the fact that A Fistful of Dollars is actually an unofficial remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. Leone and his production company had tried to secure the remake rights and failed, leading to a three-year delay in the release of Fistful. Sneaky, eh? Both films feature a strong, brooding protagonist and a corrupt town, where two gangs are played off against each other; yet the two films are kept almost incomparable by each director’s unique style and cinematography. That is why A Fistful of Dollars is such a success, because it never looks like it is trying to be Yojimbo. I don’t think I could ever choose between the two, but for A Fistful of Dollars to be able to stand side-by-side with Yojimbo, it most definitely succeeds as a great “remake!”

5. CASINO ROYALE (2006) – [Original: Casino Royale (1967)]

You can’t really compare the original, half-hearted spoof of the Bond series to the new, suave, stylish, totally brilliant blockbuster hit. Just like you can’t compare David Niven to Daniel Craig. And yet, my job here is made easy by the fact that the original Casino Royale is pretty terrible whereas the new one is pretty amazing (except for the casual Baywatch moment.) The new one fits in with the rest of the franchise in all the ways that the original doesn’t. Why was it even made?? And it pains me to say that because I LOVE David Niven and don’t really like Daniel Craig! But there you have it. In this case, we don’t have a remake that takes the original and does something different with it. Instead, we have a remake that is a literal RE-make. Like it actually wants you to forget the older film ever existed. That shouldn’t be too hard…

4. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) – [Original: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)]

Invasion of the Body Snatchers(1978) received unanimously positive reviews and many critics have declared it to be one of the greatest remakes of all time. Pauline Kael of The New Yorker even called it “the best film of its kind ever made.” Quite a comment! One of the great things about this remake is the homage it pays to its predecessor. There are several great cameos, including one by the star of the original film, Kevin McCarthy, who picks up from exactly where he left off! It is a great film in its own right, yet the great debate that remains is which is the more terrifying! 

3. THE DEPARTED (2006) – [Original: Infernal Affairs (2002)]

The Departedis a remake of the Hong Kong series Infernal Affairs. The story is basically the same: a police officer trying to bring down a gang whilst pretending to be one of them, and a member of the same gang infiltrating the police force. And both films were incredibly successful. Infernal Affairs went down a storm in its home country, where it was considered a “box office miracle.” Surely, a tough act to follow? Not when you’re the great Martin Scorsese. He took the film and moved it to the Irish mob in Boston. And then some! The Departed went on to win Best Picture of the Oscars. Even the director of Infernal Affairs could not deny what a wonderful film it was: “Of course I think the version I made is better, but the Hollywood version is pretty good too. [Scorsese] made the Hollywood version more attuned to American culture." I must say I agree. They’re both as good as each other.

2. THE FLY (1986) – [Original: The Fly (1958)]

All that is really kept from the 1958 original is the basic idea that we’ve all seen parodied time and time again: a scientist accidentally becomes merged with a fly in a teleportation device. But this one was faaaaar gorier. Of course it was, its Cronenberg for heaven’s sake! Gore and amazing make-up aside, The Fly is on this list because of all the great ways that Cronenberg developed upon this original premise. The focus isn’t just on the whole man-becomes-fly idea. Cronenberg included a very touching and believable love story between the two leads, Seth (Goldblum) and Veronica (Davis.) I don’t think I could sit through it again, but this film really does show you how a remake should be done!

1. SCARFACE (1983) – [Original: Scarface (1932)]

Scarface (1983)is such an excellent remake that it actually overshadows the original. I’d never heard of the original Scarface (1932) until I was sitting in a film class, waiting for Pacino to come on and then suddenly becoming confused by the black and white film before me. The Scarface of the 1980s was a sensation – no doubt about it. Its posters and lines can be recognised anywhere. Its violence and language also ensured that it caught everybody’s attention. Of course, such an approach was not possible for the Scarface of the 1930s, but that doesn’t make it any less great of a film.  They are both great films for their time but, for me, 1980s Scarface wins for the way it developed the original material. De Palma and Stone didn’t simply take 30s Scarface and make it more contemporary or tweak it slightly; they broke it down, transformed it, built it back up, fleshed it out and created something truly EPIC.