Zack Snyder's remake of George A. Romero's 1978 zombie classic isn't as good as Romero's movie, but then it doesn't really try to surpass that movie in terms of content. What Snyder's movie does do is amp up the carnage and energy and as a result it works as a top notch action horror movie. There's some satire in there, some social commentary, but you're not going to remember the movie for any of that stuff. What you will remember is the running zombies. Look at the opening sequence, where Sarah Polley's Ana wakes up to find her neighborhood under siege. And as the scene progresses it's obvious there's very little hope. Even if she does manage to escape, where the heck is she going to go? And what is she going to do to survive? Can she survive?
I do wish, though, that the movie just ended with Michael shooting himself and the screen going black. The "island video" thing that happens during the credits is just awful. It doesn't kill the movie, but, to me, it makes the ending a little less powerful.
4. Night of the Living Dead (1990)
I'm probably in the extreme minority on this, but I think Tom Savini's remake of Night of the Living Dead is a great movie. Granted, it isn't as powerful as Romero's original, but then it could never be that anyway. What the Night remake does do is take advantage of its obviously larger budget, professional crew and make-up (the zombies in this flick are pretty awesome), and a tighter script that hits all the same essential points as the original while tweaking the story just enough to make it seem like an all new movie. The cast is also freaking amazing. Tony Todd makes Ben his own, almost equaling Duane Jones' original Ben. And Patricia Tallman is a great Barbara, and Tom Towles just oozes douchebaggery as Harry Cooper (you'll cheer when he gets his at the end. I know I cheered when I first saw the movie). If you've avoided this movie out of deference to the original, I implore you to give it a shot. It's a great movie all on its own.
3. King Kong (2005)
Peter Jackson's King Kong is still an amazing movie watching experience seven years after it came out. It's a three hour epic adventure, almost twice as long as the original. It's got a top notch cast (Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Naomi Watts, and Andy Serkis as the giant ape), some of the greatest monster movie special effects ever put on screen, and real heart. Despite its grand spectacle, the movie is still a kind of love story. Kong loves Ann Darrow. You see that in the last sequence on top of the Empire State Building. I'm still in awe of this movie. If only it made enough money to warrant a sequel of some sort.
2. The Fly (1986)
David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly is one of the nastiest movies ever made, at least in terms of its special effects. Watching Jeff Goldblum's Seth Brundle slowly transform into a gigantic fly is incredibly gruesome stuff. But the movie isn't just top notch practical special effects. It's a heartbreaking story about a man and a woman, clearly in love, unable to live on into the future because of the man's supreme foolishness. Seth sure does try to live on with Geena Davis' Veronica with his last scheme, using the teleportation machines to somehow fuse himself to Veronica, making one creature, but it doesn't work out. And that's the way it needs to be. And that's why it's just so sad. Easily one of the few remakes that surpasses the original and lives on as its own thing. Still amazing after twenty six years.
1. John Carpenter's The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter's remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks produced horror classic is one of the greatest apocalypse movies ever made. Because that's really what's at the heart of the story of a scientific team in the Antarctic being attacked by a malevolent shape shifting alien they accidentally released from the ice. The characters, led by Kurt Russell's MacReady, try mightily to figure out where the alien is and who it has taken over, but there really is no hope of winning. That sense of dread, that sense of relentless paranoia, it just creeps inside you and never lets go. It, sort of like the alien in the movie, consumes you, just like the men in the camp. There's just no hope, man. No hope at all. Easily one of the greatest horror movies ever made.
5. 3:10 to Yuma (2007)
The original film was a good Western but mostly just a product of its time in terms of black-and-white views of the era. The remake, however, truly embraces the grey areas. Russell Crowe is an outlaw captured with Christian Bale among the posse bringing him to a train in order to earn money for his struggling farm. It has top-notch action and a great chemistry between its stars but also points for its rough bits such as when Bale's son claims Crowe can't be all bad and the man laughs "kid, I wouldn't last five minutes leading a bunch like that if I wasn't rotten as hell." The great shootouts are fun but the look at two men surviving such a harsh time makes it even better than the first.
4. Ocean's Eleven (2001)
The original is okay, a Rat Pack piece that was mostly a vanity project. The remake, however, offers a truly slick style that, amazingly, is even cooler than the Rat Pack was. George Clooney is at his best as Danny Ocean who joins with Brad Pitt and Matt Damon to form a crew to rob three major casinos at once, all owned by Andy Garcia's ruthless mobster. Steven Soderbergh makes it all shine, the vibe, the groovy mix of actors, all wonderfully working this wild scheme with twists and turns you don't expect and Julia Roberts lovely as the woman in the middle of it all. The sequels may not have been as good but this is a movie bursting with coolness that deserves to be recognized.
3. Cape Fear (1991)
The best remakes are those that take the original concept but make it click for the times better. Such a case is this as Martin Scorsese takes that original tale of a criminal who seeks revenge on his former lawyer and amps up the terror as only he can. Robert DeNiro is horrifyingly realistic as Max Cady, taunting Nick Nolte's lawyer constantly and hounding his family (including a young Juliette Lewis), the tension ramping up more and more as things escalate. Throwing in cameos by the original's stars, Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, was a great touch along with the wild finale on a storm-lashed boat. It's been parodied a lot (including a memorable Simpsons episode) but it still thrills the hell out of you like the original can't.
2. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
Alfred Hitchcock was notorious for being judgemental of himself. Twenty years after his spy thriller, he decided to remake it with a more experienced eye and it paid off. James Stewart and Doris Day are an American couple in Morocoo who stumble into a spy plot and their son kidnapped, leading to a whirlwind adventure. Hitchcock wisely doesn't copy his old film's flow but gives this a better style, using the color well and adding more locations like London with thrilling sequences at an embassy and a dry humor to make this a unique "family" spy film but still a class from the master at work.
1. Heat (1995)
Michael Mann had been trying for years to get this movie off the ground, managing in 1989 for a TV movie called L.A. Takedown. In 1995, he finally was able to get his dream project off the ground and turned a forgettable film into a true modern-day crime classic. It's a great story as a gang of cops track a gang of robbers, each pulling surveillance on the other. But the reason it shines is that it offers the first ever on-screen meeting between Al Pacino (as the head cop) and Robert DeNiro (as the head thief). Their talk in a diner is wonderful as they bounce off each other, showing two guys who are flip sides of a coin and neither willing to change thier ways, knowing they're on a collision course and can't stop it. The blistering shoot-out is stunningly shot but the drama of the piece (like DeNiro's doomed romance with Amy Brenneman and Pacino's issues with stepdaughter Natalie Portman) give this an extra weight and shows so much vast improvement over the original piece.
Honorable Mentions: 12, Fist of Legend, The Fly, Little Shop of Horrors, Nosferatu: Phantom Der Nacht
5. The Magnificent Seven (1960)
This was a difficult list to assemble. I had intended to spotlight some remakes that don't usually get much love, but in the end, I had to pick the ones I revisit the most. I also thought about including titles where directors remade their own films like Floating Weeds or Funny Games, but no matter what, these are my favorite. I wanted to concentrate on ones that most properly updated the content of the original. In the western genre, Akira Kurosawa's classics were borrowed from, ripped off, and remade often without him getting the credit for it. In this case, I grew up with The Magnificent Seven long before seeing Seven Samurai for the first time because my father loved westerns. When I told him years ago it was a remake, he looked at me as if I had five heads. But it is, and a damn good one. Japanese samurai epics translate to this genre brilliantly. Here director John Sturges assembled an all-star cast of cowboys: Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson, Brad Dexter, Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, and James Coburn. Together they are hired by a Mexican peasant village for protection. This is an action-packed, hugely entertaining picture that continues to one of the most popular of its kind despite numerous crappy sequels, a television series, and remake on top of that yet.
4. King Kong (2005)
How do you remake a classic? It has been done many times before and will likely continue to be in the future. The 1933 King Kong is a masterpiece and it was remade in 1976 with disappointing results. But Peter Jackson proved in 2005 that you can take an existing watershed film, equal it, and in some places improve upon it. I fully admit that with Jack Black as one of the stars and knowing the running time, I was not expecting a disaster, but I did not have high hopes. To my surprise, Jackson's King Kong epic ended up being one of my favorites of that year. Not everyone is in love with it. I have heard arguments that the material doesn't necessitate a 187 or even 201 minute running time. I disagree. To me, just about any movie can be engaging, exciting, and poignant for any amount of time in the right hands. Jackson expands upon this universe in glorious ways. It has everything: action, comedy, horror, romance, and adventure. The acting is outstanding from top to bottom, the CGI is terrific and seamlessly integrated, the pace is brisk, and the story is mesmerizing. Friends who visit my house and see that I own every version of this on DVD, including all the Production Diaries, say I'm nuts, but I guess I like it that much. Worth every penny spent.
3. Scarface (1983)
I wonder how many people think "remake" when Scarface is mentioned, especially considering another contemporary update is planned as we speak. But this is indeed a remake of the 1932 film of the same name starring Paul Muni, which is phenomenal in its own right. But as MTV's Cribs established, everyone loves Brian De Palma's 1983 Scarface and presumably has a copy for flaunting. The amount of quotable lines from Oliver Stone's screenplay is reason enough for it to appear here, but you also have Al Pacino as Tony Montana in one of his career defining performances, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Steven Bauer just to name a few from the cast. This is a dated hallmark of the 80's, but those cheesy qualities have not caused it to age badly, only be infinitely more watchable. The flashy clothing, the gritty action, and the soundtrack ("Push it To the Limit") have all helped remain one of most memorable titles of all-time. It never ceases to be entertaining and when a DVD box set is released with a money clip, we all say "Hell yeah!" no matter how ridiculous the purchase might seem.
2. Ocean's Eleven (2001)
The 1960 Ocean's Eleven is a satisfactory film, but it was basically an excuse for The Rat Pack to get together and look cool. Not that the situation was much different for George Clooney and company, but the script was tighter and the product slicker overall. Steven Soderbergh's 2001 remake surpasses the original with ease. The most logical remakes are those which stem from originals that leave room for improvement. The 1960 and 2001 films here are the perfect example of this journey. There are those who disagree on the merit of the sequels, but I know of few people who outright dislike this picture. You have a long list of accomplished actors in peak form: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Elliot Gould, Bernie Mac, and more. Like the Rat Pack's version, this emphasizes style, but does not sacrifice substance. The heist aspects are enthralling and suspenseful, the characters are intriguing, and the fluidity of the direction is thrilling and immersive. This is an ideal piece of escapist cinema, one with twists, romance, money, and sophistication. It never gets old.
1. The Departed (2006)
What Martin Scorsese accomplished with The Departed is whole heartedly a work of pure cinematic genius. In my mind it is a flawless remake, what every other should aspire to emulate. It is based on the entire Infernal Affairs trilogy, mainly the first installment but incorporating elements from all three. Scorsese yanked out the enjoyable qualities of the original films, and molded and transformed them to produce an unpolluted and novel creation that follows Boston mobster Frank Costello (Nicholson), Billy Costigan (Dicaprio) undercover in his gang and Colin Sullivan (Damon) works for him in the State Police on the inside. The scenario allows ample room for the talent to stretch their acting muscles, and for the crew to impress with bravura set design, music, cinematograph, and more. The casting is all-star caliber no doubt, but not overwhelmingly so that it damages the restructuring. It was Leonardo DiCaprio's third outing with Scorsese, but you also have Matt Damon, Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Mark Wahlberg nearly stealing the show, and the great Jack Nicholson delivering an unforgettable monologue at the start. Yes, this was another gangster flick for Scorsese, but he did not repeat himself, instead keeping it fresh and spunky. It rightfully won the Oscar's for Best Picture and Best Director. It is psychologically stirring, wickedly funny, and vehemently dazzling. I watch it regularly and when this topic was proposed, I could think of no better #1 entry.
John D-Rock Dotson
HM: Fun with Dick and Jane, The Karate Kid, Fright Night, Scarface, The Thing, The Ring, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
5. Man on Fire
I will forever miss Tony Scott. He was truly an undervalued film-maker among the ranks and this is a noteworthy example that proves it. Man on Fire showed how Scott could take an action film and add his own layer of style and depth. Whether you liked his films are not, you could always see his signature in the camera tricks and direction. Another highlight is Denzel Washington's fierce performance as the bodyguard Creasy. The chemistry between him and Dakota Fanning is very emotional, which makes the film's finale that much more powerful.¬ This version is a major improvement over the 1987 version with Scott Glenn. Rest in Peace Tony Scott!
4. True Lies
While people get all mushy over Avatar and Titanic, I'm still a bigger fan of the pre-1998 James Cameron who gave us The Abyss, Terminator, and True Lies. I will say, I was less impressed with this film after I found out it was a remake of a French film called La Totale - but who cares, this film kicks so much ass. There is just way too many landmark scenes for this film not to be respected. Especially the glorious over-the-top finale involving the governator and a fighter jet, and let's not forget the hilarious yet sexy strip scene involving Jamie Lee Curtis. This may also be the only film where I actually found Tom Arnold funny. I can't say much about the original but True Lies will always remain an excellent action film that exceeds in entertainment value.
3. 3:10 TO YUMA
Growing up I have always had trouble trying to get into Westerns. Nothing against the genre, it just hasn't been my cup of tea. That being said, back in 2007, a friend of mine ended up dragging me to see the James Mangold remake of 3:10 to Yuma. Needless to say, I was emotionally invested in the film from start to finish. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale take the central conflict and advance the material with strong rival chemistry. Crowe's presence as Ben Wade is magnetic and chilling. Every scene he is a part of is enthralling and you never actually know what he might do next. I have yet to see the original, but 3:10 to Yuma is a terrific film as well as one of my favorite Westerns.
2. Dawn of the Dead
Who doesn't love a good zombie flick, right? Zack Snyder's remake of the George Romero classic is the ultimate example of how to execute a remake. Snyder's Dawn of the Dead was like a great cover song. It had all the familiar bag of tricks with an extra layer of contemporary style thrown in the mix. This was one of the first zombie films I noticed a good balance of humor and serious content. The scene where the survivors were shooting zombies who were celebrity look-a-likes had me damn near rolling in my seat. With all the humor thrown in the film, Snyder still never fails to develop the characters in an honest and relatable way, which is why the film ultimately achieves. Dawn of the Dead is a hell of a remake that honors the original.
1. The Departed
Martin Scorsese's remake of the Chinese film Infernal Affairs was truly a masterpiece. Scorsese took aspects of the original and completely made it his own. The music, the flow, and even the direction are undeniably signature Scorse. Even though the film has a very controversial finale, the entire ride leading up to the end had me on edge, waiting to see how the story was going to play out. The journey of Dicaprio and Damon's road to hunting each other is wonderfully effective and unpredictable at every turn. Most of this is due to a brilliantly adapted script done by William Monahan. Bottom line, The Departed is just a masterful piece of film which is probably one of the best adapted remakes of all time.
Shawn S. Lealos
Honorable Mentions: Scarface, Insomnia, The Departed
5. The Fly (1986)
The original "Fly" was a cult classic starring Vincent Price, and that should tell you all that you need to know about it. The movie was great, but schlocky. That made it the perfect target for David Cronenberg, who used his unique and disturbing outlook to create a movie that was not just a remake of a cult horror classic, but one that dwarfed it in every conceivable way. Once Cronenberg finished his remake, the original was obsolete and the remake was the one true version of the story.
4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
It seemed like a short wait when Christopher Nolan only waited five years to remake "Insomnia," but years later, David Fincher only waited two years to remake the Swedish thriller, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." The original was still in its early DVD release when Fincher released his movie. However, while both movies are great in their own right, Fincher created something quite spectacular with his version. Daniel Craig is an improvement over Michael Nyqvist as Blomkvist and Rooney Mara was just as amazing as Noomi Rapace. Fincher never tried to copy the original and as a result created something unique in its own right.
3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
The original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" was a classic horror film that fed off the hysteria of the red scare and the fear of communism during the McCarthy era. The remake also fed on the fears of communism right before the Reagan era began. The remake was superior to the original in every way, not the least of which because Donald Sutherland took on his role and carried it to the furthest extent. Jeff Goldblum and Leonard Nimoy were also great and Philip Kaufman succeeded in every way when it came to bringing this story to a new generation. The end with Sutherland screaming was a brilliant end to a brilliant movie.
2. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
George Romero created the zombies that fans know and love today with "Night of the Living Dead." Years later, he created a sequel and his masterpiece with "Dawn of the Dead," an scathing attack on consumerism with the zombies as the evil backdrop. Over 20 years later, Zack Snyder remake the Romero classic and somehow created a movie that at least measured up to the great film it was based on. Using a script written by James Gunn, "Dawn of the Dead" kept much of the plot intact, with the survivors hiding out in a shopping mall until fellow humans ruined it for everyone. However, it changed two things: the first making the zombies fast and the second introducing the fact that a dead baby in the womb is born as a zombie. It was disturbing and quite simply excellent.
1. The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter's The Thing is not just the best remake of all-time, but is also easily in the Top 10 horror movies of all-time. The original film took the alien and made him a humanoid that drifted around the arctic outpost, needing blood to survive. It was interesting but was in no way a great movie. However, John Carpenter took the idea and crafted it into a brilliant film, as the alien was a form able to take the form of anyone. It was a form of the "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" movie, where anyone could be the bad guy and no one could be trusted. Released in the Reagan Cold War era, it fed on the fears that the enemy could be within. The great effects, the lonely isolated arctic station and Kurt Russell make this a true classic masterpiece.