The 8 Ball 4.22.14: Top 8 Action Movie Remakes
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 04.22.2014
From Casino Royale and The Karate Kid to Dredd, True Lies and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 action remakes of all-time!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 Action Remakes
It's late Monday/early Tuesday again so you know what that means, readers...it's time for the 411 Movie Zone 8 Ball! Jeremy Thomas, here as always for you and this week we have an action remake entering theaters in the form of Brick Mansions. The film, which happens to be one of the late Paul Walker's last film roles, is a redo of the excellent French action flick District B13. Of course, we love to decry remakes as a sign that Hollywood is creatively bankrupt and just going back to the well, but sometimes they come out with some real gems and the action genre is no exception to that. So with that in mind, this week we will be looking at the best action remakes to have made their way down the pike.
Caveat: There is one simple criteria for this list and one not-quite-so-simple caveat. The criteria are easy: the film had to be a remake and an action film. Note that this means the film could have taken an action-oriented take on a previous story that was not so action-packed. As far as the caveat goes, I tried to focus on films that couldn't easily be quantified into other genres. I left superhero films and westerns out for example, because those are clearly defined by their genres. Action-thrillers and action films with sci-fi or fantasy elements were left as usable, particularly when the action was more important than the other part of it. It's a bit of a hazy line because it's hard to define sometimes whether a film qualifies primarily as action or primarily as (for example) drama. Is a disaster film an action film? I said no in this case. So keep that in mind when you read these; they had to be as much or more of an action film than any other genres they touched on.
Just Missing The Cut
• Conan the Barbarian (2011)
• RoboCop (2014)
• Point of No Return (1993)
• Gone in 60 Seconds (2000)
• The Mummy (1999)
#8: The Karate Kid (2010)
First on our list this week is a movie that I don't think a lot of people had a lot of high hopes for when it was first announced. The original Karate Kid is a beloved 1980s classic and the idea of Jaden Smith, whose only film credits at the time were The Pursuit of Happyness (which was more about his dad's acting than his) and the poorly-received The Day The Earth Stood Still remake, taking on the lead role in a remake was not something people were ready for. Surprisingly it turned out very well. The original film is more of a drama centered around the martial art but the Herald Zwart-directed remake amped up the action in a way that didn't make it seem gratuitous; Jackie Chan was simply able to do more than Pat Morita had in terms of action sequences. There are some quibbles that can be had with it, such as the use of the title Karate Kid when young Dre is actually learning kung fu, but Smith and Chan give great performances and have solid chemistry together while the action sequences are fantastically-filmed. It ended up being a surprise megahit at the box office and is a fine film to boot.
#7: The Italian Job (2003)
You know you have some fantastic action sequences when in a film with Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton and Jason Statham as the lead actors, critics are calling the three Mini Coopers "the true stars of the film." The original Italian Job is a caper film from the UK, released in 1969 and memorable for its style and sense of cool. When F. Gary Gray took the helm of the remake, he upped the ante. The film was written by the team of Donna and Wayne Powers, who changed a lot but kept the overall tone and Gray cast a series of likeable stars that weren't quite at the A-list status at the time for an ensemble feature that adds in a revenge plot. Gray's execution of the action scenes--largely chase sequences--recalls some of the great car chases of 1970s cinema and the cast all delivers nicely. One of the things I love about this film is that even though it came along when CGI was really ramping up into becoming the primary choice for action films, Gray set out to include as many practical stunts as was humanly possible. The boat chase through the Venetian canals is a hell of a lot of fun, the tunnel chase is badass and the race to get into the subway is simply a thing of beauty. This one gets underrated sometimes because it isn't quite as flashy or over-the-top but it's a very good film.
#6: True Lies (1994)
Not everyone realizes this, but James Cameron's 1994 blockbuster hit is in fact a remake. The original film is a French comedy titled La Totale! and was released three years before Cameron's extended take on the story. Even with an A-list name like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead role, True Lies was quite a risk at the time; Cameron was a well-regarded director but he had not yet hit his post-Titanic days where he was pretty much guaranteed box office gold and yet he still had his bank-breaking tendencies. Lies cost over $100 million to make and at the time was one of the most expensive films ever...a record Cameron himself would set with Titanic and then Avatar. It paid off though, not only commercially (with $378 million worldwide) but creatively as well. Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis play off each other beautifully, the supporting cast is all good and the action scenes are incredible. And that's not even getting into Jamie Lee Curtis' infamous striptease scene, which is just the cherry on top of the delicious sundae that is this film. There are a couple of parts that don't really hold up as well as they could have, but by and large you can't beat this film when you're just looking for a high-action popcorn movie.
#5: 13 Assassins (2010)
To people familiar with Japanese cinema, mentioning the name Takashi Miike is liable to get cringes right alongside praise. The prolific filmmaker is known for making some of the most uncomfortable-to-watch films of the last fifteen to twenty years including Ichi the Killer, Audition, Visitor Q and the one episode of Masters of Horror that Showtime refused to air, Imprint. He is known for his shocking use of violence and his incredible visual sense in each of these (and other) projects, and thus it was very intriguing when it was revealed that he was working on a remake of the 1963 Japanese film 13 Assassins. The tale of a group of assassin's brought together for what is basically a suicide mission to stop an evil lord from taking the throne is not the kind of thing you would expect from the guy who made MPD Psycho. But he's also the guy who helmed projects like the Eastern spaghetti western Sukiyaki Western Django and two episodes of Ultraman Max, so he is capable of working in a diverse range of fields. And he does fine work here, making what is at its core a very Miike film in terms of visuals without needing to make it shocking for shock's sake. It's an epic tale with excellent pacing that leads into one of the better samurai battle scenes I've ever seen and the cast delivers top-notch work in their respective roles. It stands strong as one of the better films of its genre and certainly as an action remake.
#4: Casino Royale (2006)
Casino Royale is one of those films that succeeds both as a reboot and a remake. It's not as easy of a task as you might think; some films make excellent remakes but fail to restart the series while others pale in comparison to the original but provide a good network to start from. In the early '00s the Bond franchise was largely belly-up. Die Another Day was a low point creatively and EON and MGM recognized it was time to move on. So, motivated by the success of the Jason Bourne films, they decided to update 007 for a new age and did it using one of the few Ian Fleming stories that were not part of the main Bond continuity. The original Casino Royale was a spoof, filmed in 1967 and casting David Niven as the famous hero in a film that poked fun at the franchise. EON's take gave us a younger Bond and cast Daniel Craig in the role, a move that freaked Bond fans out ("How dare Bond be blond??") but proved very canny. Craig's Bond is a very different kind of character than the one we knew; he's more direct and brutal at this younger stage of his career and director Martin Campbell did great work with the film. The action scenes are incredible, from the parkour chase through Madagascar to the bathroom fight that opens the film, all the way through to the very Bond-esque set piece taking place in a sinking building. Eva Green is breathtaking as Vesper Lynd, Judi Dench proves that she can be the M to anyone's Bond and Mads Mikkelsen is a memorable villain as LeChifre. This film restarted the franchise and gave it new life that we're still reaping the rewards from.
#3: Man on Fire (2004)
Man on Fire was not a film that I managed to catch upon its initial release in 2004 because, with all due respect to Denzel Washington, the few years following his Best Actor win for Training Day were not kind to him. He took on roles like the lackluster John Q and Out of Time, leaving his resume a little bit tarnished. Once I saw it on home video a few years later I was blown away. The film is a remake of the 1987 Scott Glenn-staring film, itself based on A. J. Quinnell's 1980 novel and while the original is a bit underrated it doesn't hold a candle to this one. Washington, as good of an actor as he is, has that thing about him where much most roles are more Denzel than it is a character. It's the difference between "Denzel Washington is Lincoln Rhyme in The Bone Collector" and "Denzel Washington portrays Lincoln Rhyme in The Bone Collector." There is a touch of that in Man of Fire, but by and large this is a different Denzel than you're used to seeing. He's a rawer, edgier person; he portrays ex-CIA man-turned-bodyguard John Creasy with more humanity than he had for several films. The emotional connection that Creasy makes with his young charge, Dakota Fanning's Pita Ramos, is very real and it brings the bodyguard out of the shell in which he has wrapped itself. Washington plays that perfectly and when Pita is kidnapped, we willingly go along on his rampage to find her. Critics accused the film of being overly violent and sadistic, but Scott never makes the film truly prurient that way. Yes, Creasy does terrible things but he doesn't particularly enjoy them. They are satisfying, and Tony Scott's lensing of it makes it so but it never revels in it. Creasy does what he has to do and Scott shows what he has to show, and then they move onto the next. It is a harsh and uncompromising film, but that makes it great.
#2: Dredd (2012)
Dredd's failure to catch fire at the box office was one of the larger cinematic injustices of 2012. Not that it isn't a somewhat understandable failure; it had a lot going against it. Most of us sci-fi and comics fans have probably seen the Sylvester Stallone monstrosity and that gave this one a lot of bad cred right off the bat. A relatively unknown director in Pete Travis and a fairly untested star in Karl Urban didn't help matters in terms of its profit margin either, and by the time it was done in theaters Dredd only cobbled together $41 million worldwide from a $45 million budget. In terms of quality though, it's anything but a failure. Travis handles the tone of the film just right, making it unflinchingly violent without being gratuitous while Urban is perfect as the titular Judge. Olivia Thirlby is surprisingly good as the psychic rookie and Lena Headey, one of my favorite actresses currently working, exudes menace and badassery as Ma-Ma. This was a film that offered fans of the source everything they had been looking for and yet not received out of the original, and fortunately it has found an audience on home video which means a sequel may end up happening after all.
#1: Heat (1995)
I honestly debated this one a little, because it is really a more diverse mix of action, drama and thriller than the other entries on this list. In the end, obviously, I decided to go with it because of how great the action really is. Heat is Michael Mann's critical apex, a film that is almost universally loved for great reason. Mann remade his own project, the 1989 TV movie L.A. Takedown, to bring this tale to the screen with the star power of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in opposing roles. It's a very involved film, with a lot going on in its expansive length of nearly three hours, but it never loses the audience. Everything stays engaging thanks to the work of fine actors on the top of their game (including Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight and others in supporting roles) and Mann's own slick and mentally dexterous handling of the plot. The bank robbery scenes are grounded action at its very best while the dialogue in Mann's script is intelligent and realistic. The drama plays out well, the cinematography is gorgeous, the score is fantastic...basically, this is about everything you could want in an action-drama and is the ultimate proof that remakes are not inherently doomed.
Disguise of the Episode
Current Series/Season:Season One (2001 - 2002) Episodes Watched: 16 Last Serial Completed:The Prophecy - Sydney is tested by the DSR to discover her mysterious link to a chilling 500-year-old picture and prophecy foretold in a Rambaldi manuscript. Meanwhile, after uncovering the identity of the rogue group leader, "The Man," Sloane learns through fellow Alliance of Twelve member Edward Poole that a close friend may be in cahoots with the enemy. Episodes Remaining: 89
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.