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12 Comedies You Didn't Realize Were Basically Remakes Of Serious Movies

March 29, 2021 356 votes 79 voters 3.6k views12 items

List RulesVote up the funniest movie versions of classic dramas.

Sure, most of us are pretty tired of remakes. But not all remakes are created equal, and sometimes films will take the basic plot of a famous predecessor and do something totally different with it, such as comedy remakes of serious movies. These are rarely remakes in the most traditional sense - they seldom have the same title, for instance - but often the beats are the same - sometimes quite literally, as in the case of one famous comedy that actually bought the rights to the movie it was borrowing from so it could do whole scenes verbatim. Other times, directors and screenwriters merely pick up themes or iconic scenes that had a powerful dramatic impact and turn them to more comedic ends.

These dozen films - which range from Oscar winners to goofy cult favorites - all take premises that were previously used by (often classic) movies and wring laughs from them, to varying degrees of success.

  • There's doing a stealth remake of a movie, and then there's buying the rights to a 1957 film so that you can literally use most of the dialogue and blocking and then add punchlines onto the end. The latter is what Jim Abrahams and Jerry and David Zucker did for the classic spoof Airplane!

    While the 1980 comedy poked fun at all manner of airline disaster movies that were popular in the '70s - including a string of movies all called Airport - the lifts from Zero Hour! are liberal and include not just the basic plot (a damaged war vet must land a passenger plane after everyone on board comes down with food poisoning from eating fish) but also many of the camera angles and lines of dialogue. Both movies even incorporate an exclamation point into their titles!

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  • "I had always loved Dog Day Afternoon," Airheads screenwriter Rich Wilkes told Consequence of Sound. "One day it occurred to me, if you did a comedic version of that set up and put it in the world of rock and roll and how do you break through into the music biz, it sort of lends itself to that structure."

    Thus, Airheads was born. A flop upon its initial release, this 1994 cult favorite features three wannabe rock stars (played by Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, and Adam Sandler, all early in their careers) who hold a radio station hostage, demanding that their demo tape be played on air. In Dog Day Afternoon, which was based on a true story, it was a bank robbery. In both cases, the criminals win over the public who are watching the scenario unfold, even while clashing with the authorities. Of course, in Airheads the ending is a bit rosier.

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  • "It did have a bloody good pitch," animator Peter Lord said of his attempts to bring Aardman Animation's Chicken Run to a Hollywood studio. "It was: we'll do The Great Escape with chickens!"

    Not only did the resulting film have a similar plot to the 1963 classic about British and American POWs fleeing a German prison camp during WWII, the chicken farm in Chicken Run was actually designed to resemble a POW camp, complete with coops that resembled the houses where POWs lived, wire fences, searchlights, and even the famous tunneling scene from The Great Escape recreated with, well, claymation chickens, naturally.

    "Chickens are so ridiculous," Lord said, and "famously cowardly. So you mix together extreme heroism with these great cowards and it seems absurd."

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  • There are few scenes more iconic in the history of cinema than Max von Sydow's medieval knight playing chess with Death in Ingmar Bergman's 1957 classic The Seventh Seal. One would expect to find copious references to such a revered film in many places, but one unlikely film would be the sequel to a goofy slacker comedy from 1989. Yet that's exactly what Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey provides.

    Besides an extended riff on the scene in question - in which the eponymous duo challenge Death to a variety of modern board and party games, including Battleship and Twister - the entire design of William Sadler's Death was based on the version of Death presented in Bergman's original, where the figure was played by Swedish actor Bengt Ekerot.

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