12 Movie Remakes That Were Better Than The Original26
By Chris Littler
12 Movie Remakes That Were Better Than The Original
If there’s anything we’ve learned from movies about cloning, it’s that a copy can never be the same as the original. Sure, they may look the same, and they may even be able to pass in front of bank officials, acquaintances, and second cousins without a second thought; but those who really know the recently be-clone-ed can usually tell that something just isn’t right. Sometimes taking on a new body or gender can fool you for a while. But even then, those who truly know you can recognize you from the smallest gestures, speech patterns and idiosyncrasies.
The same can be said for movies. There’s no shortage of movies being cloned in the current Hollywood system. It seems like every weekend a film comes out that shares the same name and a striking resemblance to something that made a huge splash years ago. More often than not, they arrive on the scene stinking, the sinewy byproduct of an idea over-milked. The whole thing is walking at a strange, unnatural pace in a different time with different actors. It’s hard for a movie to recreate the strange magic that made the original a delight, which is why those that actually improve upon their source material are something to be celebrated.
1. Oceans 11
Original: Oceans 11, 1960
The original Oceans 11 was pretty much an excuse to get the Rat Pack together in Vegas for some on-set debauchery. The movie was more of an afterthought – something for Sinatra, Martin, and Davis Jr. to do in the daytime. It shows. The film is a piece of fluff, with no real stakes and only the briefest glimpses of anything that could constitute as drama. We suspect the draw of the 2001 Soderbergh remake was not all too different. Taking a crew with heavy hitters like Clooney, Pitt, Damon, and Roberts and putting them together is great and all, but it takes a genius like Soderbergh at the helm to churn out superior cinema.
2. Ben Hur
Original: Ben-Hur, 1925
William Wyler’s Ben-Hur is a remake of a remake, which is in turn an adaptation of the book Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, by Lew Wallace. Apparently it took that many iterations to figure it out, but damn if they didn’t get it spot on this time. Ben-Hur, which tells the tale of a Jewish prince who struggles under Roman rule at the same time as Jesus Christ, snagged eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It’s a grand epic in the tradition of old Hollywood, worth watching if only for that chariot race alone. Who said you had to use computers to make a nail-bitingly intense action sequence?
3. 3:10 to Yuma
Original: 3:10 to Yuma, 1957
The story of a rancher who has to get a vicious outlaw on the titular train to Yuma has been made twice, both based on the book by crime writer Elmore Leonard. While the original film was praised by critics for its stark photography and action-packed shootout sequences, the remake with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe is generally regarded as a superior film. It’s a much darker, grittier film, not romanticizing the Old West, which was a popular thing to do back in the fifties and sixties. With a killer ending that resonates long after the train has chugged off into the distance, 3:10 is the perfect example of smart filmmakers taking a good thing and making it even better.
4. Father of the Bride
Original: Father of the Bride, 1950
An Academy-award nominated picture starring Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor is a tough act to beat, but the 1991 remake somehow pulls it off. While the original is heartwarming and funny, the remake has Steve Martin up its sleeve. With Martin at the helm, the story takes off to new heights. In it, Martin is George Banks, an upper-middle-class businessman who has to deal with his daughter’s sudden wedding plans and what they mean for his fragile sense of self. It’s an existential crisis in full color!
5. Evil Dead II
Original: Evil Dead, 1981
Don’t be fooled by the 2 at the end of the title. Evil Dead II is a remake of the original, which Sam Raimi and his friends famously shot on a shoestring budget out in the wilds of Tennessee. The film shows the protagonist of the original, Ash Williams, and his girlfriend coming to a creaky old cabin, flipping through the pages of the evil book, the Necronomicron, and being tortured by demons. The entire plot of the first film can fit into the opening twenty minutes of the remake, which then spirals off into slapstick horror madness only Sam Raimi can make.
6. Little Shop of Horrors
Original: The Little Shop of Horrors, 1960
The original Little Shop of Horrors was directed by acclaimed B-movie director Roger Corman and was one of the first times a young star named Jack Nicholson ever appeared onscreen. But Jack wasn’t the draw here: the draw was the plant that ate people. Audiences ate up Little Shop of Horrors and left an indelible impression on Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. They turned it into a hit off-Broadway musical, which in turn was spun into Frank Oz’s 1986 masterpiece starring Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene.
7. The Nutty Professor
Original: The Nutty Professor, 1963
Sure, you can go back and watch the original picture starring Jerry Lewis as both Professor Julius Kelp and his smooth-talking counterpart Buddy Love, but all you’re going to be doing is raising your palms skyward and asking, “Why isn’t Jerry Lewis playing everyone in his family? And where are all the fat jokes?” We may sound insincere, but something magical happened to The Nutty Professor when Eddie Murphy got his hands on it. He took the idea of a skilled comedian playing two different roles and blew it out. Why couldn’t Eddie Murphy play everyone in the family? Better yet, why shouldn’t he?
8. Angels in the Outfield
Original: Angels in the Outfield, 1951
Not a lot of people realize that the 1994 Disney film is a remake. That’s because the 1951 version isn’t considered a classic by any means. Instead of focusing on the young orphan who wishes the angels onto the earth, it’s all about a foul-mouthed manager who must change his ungodly ways if he wants his team to win the pennant. What the original was also missing was a cavalcade of future stars. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Matthew McConaughey, and Adrien Brody all got their starts in the remake. Is there any better angel for a young, struggling actor than Disney?
9. The Fly
Original: The Fly, 1958
The ending of the original The Fly is iconic. In it, the transformed Canadian scientist is caught in a web and being approached by a terrifying-looking brown spider. “Help me!” he screams before being smashed with the heel of a boot. But how can that possibly compare to the ending of the David Cronenberg remake, where Jeff Goldblum has transformed into a man-sized fly, covered in goop? Can the irony of the original ever compare to spitting acid out of his probiscus onto a man’s ankle?
Original: Sword of Gideon, 1986
This historical action film is based on the real-life events that followed the massacre during the 1972 Munich Games. Both Sword of Gideon and Munich draw heavily from a book called Vengeance: The Truly Story of an Israeli Counterterrorist Team, by Canadian journalist George Jonas. Sword of Gideon is not a bad film by any means, but how could a made-for-television movie compare to a big budget one directed by none other than Steven Spielberg? It can’t. Spielberg’s film is powerful, intelligent, and thought provoking while somehow managing not to be overly preachy. It’s carried by a winning performance by Eric Bana as Avner, who shows the world that his work in Chopper wasn’t a fluke.
11. True Lies
Original: La Totale!, 1991
Don’t get us wrong. We love French farce. We just happen to love it when Arnold Schwarzenegger blows stuff up more. The remake of the film by Claude Zidi extends the concept way past the breaking point. And boy is it fun to watch James Cameron take stuff way too far. Any other film would climax with a helicopter/car chase on the world’s longest bridge, but Cameron is only setting up for a climactic harrier jet finale in which the bad guy is literally fired on the back of a rocket into oblivion. Is True Lies one of the greatest action flicks ever made? La Totally!
12. Inglourious Basterds
Original: The Inglorious Bastards, 1978
To call Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds a remake wouldn’t be all that fitting. In truth, Tarantino seems to have taken the name and not much else from the Italian “macaroni combat” war film by Enzo Castellari. Which is fine by us, since the original is a bit of fluff. Tarantino’s film has long, deadly tense sequences interspersed with non-sequiturs and horrendous violence – just the way we like it. It’s brave cinema – braver than anything Castellari ever did.
Chris Littler lives in Hollywood. He has a degree in Dramatic Writing from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, one of the most prestigious writing programs in America, which he totally plans to hang on the wall when he has a Study. Chris currently covers video games at UGO.com when he’s not performing improv at iO, and is currently writing a one-hour TV pilot with his friend Wes. Like everyone else you know, he has an album available to purchase on iTunes and has lots of things to say on his blog: chrislittler[dot]com.