by Jason Koenigsberg
We are seeing a ton of remakes in theaters right now. This trend has been going on for almost a decade with Hollywood desperate for new ideas and instead giving audiences more of what they know works with remakes of classic films like Ben Hur, Psycho, Halloween, Ghostbusters, and The Karate Kid. Nobody asked for those films to be remade, yet we got them. Those are examples of films that should not have been remade, the newer versions offered nothing innovative or different from the original. They just told the same story minus the imagination and excitement of the previous incarnation.
Remakes get a bad reputation because most of the time the studios choose to tell a story of a film that is beloved when instead they should be looking at a flawed film with a way to improve it or tell it to an audience in a new and exciting way. Over the years we have seen a few remakes that not only get it right, but actually improve on the original so much so that they become more popular than the original. Most remakes fail to live up to the grandeur of the original, however a few have not only surpassed the original film, but have become the definitive version of the story. Here are Pan and Slam’s 5 Best Remakes…
5. Hamlet (1996) directed by Kenneth Branagh
This may seem like a cop out, putting a film version of Shakespeare’s most popular are beloved play as one of the greatest remakes of all time, especially considering that very good film versions were released in 1948 starring and directed by Laurence Olivier and in 1990 directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring Mel Gibson. However, Kenneth Branagh’s film of Hamlet is not only the definitive version of The Bard’s most famous play, I would go so far as to say that it is the best version of any Shakespeare film adaptation. That is saying a lot if you put into account that Disney’s The Lion King (1994) is basically a rip-off/remake of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, or Kimba The White Lion. Regardless, Branagh acted and directed in a masterpiece and constructed the definitive version of Hamlet that all previous and future adaptations will answer to.
4. The Departed (2006) directed by Martin Scorsese
This is the only remake on here that is an American version of a foreign film. Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest directors of all time and is a huge fan of Asian cinema and jumped at the chance to remake Infernal Affairs. Not only did he remake it, he redefined the limitations of that film and reinvented it as The Departed, one of the best films of the 21st century and the only Scorsese film to earn the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and finally get Scorsese the coveted Best Director Oscar. It fits right in with the finest films of his career. Rarely has a director used such big stars in an ensemble to such great effect. His 1991 remake of Cape Fear could also be considered one of the greatest remakes of all time and is superior to the original starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum which is a classic in it’s own right. If this list were expanded that would easily be in the top ten.
3. Ocean’s Eleven (2001) directed by Steven Soderbergh
Now this is the type of movie they should remake more often. The 1960 original with Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack buddies was a good but flawed film. The 2001 remake is not only one of acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh’s best films, it is also one of George Clooney’s best performances and I would go so far as to say it is arguably the best heist movie ever made. This is pure cinematic escapism and one of the most fun and re-watchable movies of the twenty-first century. The sequels were decent but unnecessary excuses for a cash grab. The 2001 Ocean’s 11 is practically a flawless film.
2. The Fly (1986) directed by David Cronenberg
The original 1958 film The Fly is good. But David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake had no business being as exceptionally thrilling and emotionally engaging as it was. The 1986 remake of The Fly is one of the best horror movies of the 1980’s and one of the best films of prolific director David Cronenberg as well as being one of the best films of its stellar cast of Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, and John Getz. This is a Kafka-esque masterpiece as only Cronenberg, a master of body mutilation and venereal horror could deliver. A love story crossed with science-fiction resulting in terror with a strong moral that mankind should never attempt to play God. An outstanding score and phenomenal make-up effects enhance The Fly into a realm very few horror movies inhabit. This remake blows the original away in every aspect.
1. The Thing (1982) directed by John Carpenter
The greatest remake of all time is without a doubt John Carpenter’s The Thing. It flopped during the summer of 1982 to another science fiction classic, Steven Spielberg’s E.T., in retrospect that should not come as a surprise. These two films could not be any more different, the only thing that they have in common is that there is an alien creature from another planet on Earth. John Carpenter took the ideas and concepts from the original Howard Hawks film and expanded and improved it in practically every way making the 1951 black and white film feel like a rough draft or a dry run of the 1982 film which feels like a genuine masterpiece of sci-fi horror cinema. John Carpenter basically made 12 Angry Men in Antartica with a supernatural twist. The gorgeous and eerie icy cinematography makes you feel alone and isolated. The haunting Ennio Morricone score creates suspense you can cut with a knife and Rob Bottin’s practical make-up effects hold up thirty-five years later as some of the best of all time. Plus, John Carpenter’s vision of The Thing has one of the bleakest ambiguous endings of all time. If all remakes were half as good as The Thing, nobody would be complaining that there are no original ideas in Hollywood.
Here is a nice video analysis of why remakes are not always a bad endeavor and the types of films Hollywood studios should be striving to remake instead of giving us mediocre and uninspired versions of films that we love.