Remakes are a part of the world we live in. In today’s Hollywood landscape where safe, tried-and-true formulae are favored over unique and creative storytelling, remakes have become unavoidable. These days, for every really good remake, there are five forgettable ones. Though some of the films on this list may not be totally surprising, we bet that a few of these remakes will prove to be eye-openers.
A Fistful of Dollars
Sergio Leone’s grimy counterculture Western, A Fistful of Dollars, was a smash success in the States. The story of a chaotic yet apathetic opportunist who rides into town and takes advantage of two warring factions is a great setup for a gunslinging good time. However, the story had already been done before by one of the masters of cinema, Akira Kurosawa.
Yojimbo is the exact same story but told during the samurai era of Japan. Instead of Clint Eastwood, we get Toshiro Mifune as a much scrappier and comedic anti-hero. The premise and structure are nearly identical, but the tone is where these two part ways. A Fistful of Dollars is obsessed with being a dirty piece of ultra cool. Meanwhile, Yojimbo feels like a much flightier and fun take on the tale. That doesn’t mean that Yojimbo lacks impact; the strong stuff hits just as well as the lighter fare.
These make a great double feature in order to see how remakes can carve their own path. Not only does the genre change, but the attitude of these two movies offer something different for audiences. This is a case where it’s tough to say if the remake or the original is better. They are both enjoyable in their own right. [Drew Dietsch]
John Carpenter’s 1982 film The Thing is one of the scariest sci-fi films ever made. The plot revolves around a parasitic alien being that lands near an Antarctic research station. It systematically kills off members of the research team, then imitates them. It’s impossible for members of the team to tell who’s still human, and who has succumbed to the extraterrestrial threat. The movie uses its remote location to its advantage, creating a deep sense of isolation throughout. The team members’ growing paranoia builds a mounting intensity that explodes in scenes of horrific violence. The Thing features grisly practical special effects, claustrophobic cinematography, and a score by Carpenter and master movie composer Ennio Morricone.
While The Thing didn’t do well at the box office, it gained a cult following. After all, it’s damn near impossible to hate a film where Kurt Russell shoots a severed head that’s walking around on spider-like legs. It did well enough to earn its own prequel in 2011, plus several video games based on both the original and the prequel.
However, John Carpenter’s The Thing wasn’t the first time the same story had been told. The 1982 movie was actually based on a 1951 movie, The Thing from Another World. It, in turn, was based on a 1938 novella called “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr.
Blending horror and science fiction is a tricky thing. Few directors have managed to merge the two genres without turning it into schlock. The Thing shares that distinction among other greats like Alien and Event Horizon. [Danielle Ryan]
12 Monkeys is one of Terry Gilliam’s most underrated movies. Released in 1995 and starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt, audiences originally received the film with a lukewarm reception. Gilliam’s vision of a broken man sent into the past to prevent a global pandemic confused many moviegoers and wound up practically ignored. Even Brad Pitt in a role that required him to stretch his acting ability to insane extremes couldn’t bring in crowds large enough to make it a success.
The trick with 12 Monkeys is how it manipulates the audience and brings the story full circle at the end. It’s a clever and profound film, but not an original story by any means. Terry Gilliam and Blade Runner screenwriter David Webb Peoples took the core of the plot from a French experimental short called La Jetée. It’s interesting to see the two comparatively considering how vibrant a filmmaker Gilliam is, and just how minimalistic the influence is.
La Jetée tells the story of a time traveler’s journey after the events of World War III through the use of still imagery and narration. The film plays mostly like a slideshow, but at no time does it feel like a poor production. It breezes by at a quick 28 minutes and features a tale so engrossing that by the last scene it almost feels like there should be more. Both La Jetée and 12 Monkeys are brilliant sci-fi films, and no one other than Gilliam could have used the influence of the former to make the latter. [Andrew Hawkins]
A Perfect Murder
Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder is a delectable piece of pulp, so it isn’t surprising that it was remade. What is surprising is that the glossy high-profile remake, A Perfect Murder, didn’t keep the original title. Director Andrew Davis had a crackerjack cast and a major studio behind him. Since the plot had changed much of the content from the original, producers decided to run with a new title. It didn’t hurt the film’s success as A Perfect Murder grossed over double its budget.
Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Viggo Mortensen make for a good trio of leads in a film that parlays the oily and elite persona Douglas crafted throughout the 1980s into a compelling villain. There’s a good bit of black humor balanced in with the double-crosses, and though the film is hardly memorable, it’s a nice late-90s thriller. It helps that Douglas is so good at this kind of character and a pre-Lord of the Rings Viggo is always a nice plus.
It’s fun junk food, but would it have helped or hurt to keep the original title? [Nick Nunziata]
Like most of Michael Bay‘s films, The Island is a slick and well cast action movie with an overlong run-time and mixed critical reaction. The story begins in 2019. Following an apocalyptic event, the world as our heroes know it is a small enclosed utopia, cut off from the contaminated world. It looks like Bay’s take on Logan’s Run — clean and bright. Ewan McGregor plays our lead, Lincoln Six Echo. He has immediate chemistry with Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson).
In this world, there is only one other location on Earth inhabitable by humans: the Island. Citizens are selected through a lottery to go to the Island on permanent vacations. But Lincoln soon uncovers the truth: he and almost everyone he knows are clones, raised in this facility to become organ donors for their exact genetic copies who live in the outside world. Together, Lincoln and Jordan escape but are relentlessly pursued by the executives who want them back.
While Dreamworks didn’t market The Island as a remake, the lawsuit filed after the film’s 2005 release would say otherwise. This premise is all too similar to Parts: The Clonus Horror, a 1979 sci-fi horror starring Peter Graves. It got the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment in 1997 if that’s any indication of its quality. In the end, Dreamworks settled out of court, paying an undisclosed sum to the plaintiffs in the suit. In Hollywood, outcomes like this are exceedingly rare. But in this case, it gives some validity to the whole “remake” notion. [Travis Newton]
Like any American remake of a foreign film, it’s impossible to fully compare The Departed (2006) to its source, Infernal Affairs (2002). Andrew Lau and Alan Mak had a budget of approximately $6.4 million to produce Infernal Affairs. Warner Bros gave Director Martin Scorsese $90 million to make The Departed. Moreover, Infernal Affairs belongs to Hong Kong cinema, whereas The Departed exists within American cinematography. The same standards don’t really apply to both films.
Yet at its core, The Departed pays tribute to Lau and Mak’s film. Rival undercover agents Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) and Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) evoke the tense interplay between Lau Kin-ming (Andy Lau) and Chen Wing-yan (Tony Leung) from Infernal Affairs. In addition, William Monahan’s screenplay for The Departed utilizes the core plot elements of Infernal Affairs. The result is that The Departed feels tailored for American audiences, yet shares in the success of Infernal Affairs.
Still, there were a few notable plot differences between both films. In Infernal Affairs, Inspector Lau experiences guilt for letting Chen (Leung) die. However, Lau doesn’t receive a more direct reckoning until a sequel, Infernal Affairs III. The reckoning in The Departed is more pronounced, with Staff Sgt. Sean Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) gunning down Sullivan (Damon) in retribution for the latter’s crimes. Sullivan seems to give in to his death, muttering “Okay” right before Dignam shoots him.
Though there isn’t an exact method to comparing American and Chinese cinema, The Departed and Infernal Affairs have their merits. Given that The Departed won four Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture, this remake was certainly a success. The film will also follow in the footsteps of Fargo, as Amazon adapts The Departed into a TV series. [James Akinaka]