19 Times A Remake Lived Up To The Original Classic

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Vote up the remakes that defied the odds and lived up to the originals.

It can sometimes feel as though Hollywood has run out of original ideas, intent on pillaging films from the past. These remakes often pale in comparison, but occasionally they live up to the original classic, and in rare instances even manage to surpass it. Sometimes, the remakes take inspiration from films of the distant past, revised or updated for modern audiences. Other times, the original was a foreign film, and the Hollywood remake capitalizes on recognizable movie stars and strong production values, not to mention an alternative for those unwilling to read subtitles. Either way, fans of the original are often skeptical of plans for a remake, with good cause.

Whether the remake remains faithful to the source material or takes a revisionist approach, the filmmaking on display in these movies is praiseworthy. Comparisons to the original are inevitable either way, but the films on this list are capable of surpassing even the highest expectations. A director with a distinct vision, increased production values, or actors who step into a role and make it their own are a few ways in which a remake can be elevated to unexpected heights, while other times the narrative is adjusted with themes of modern societal relevance. Whatever the reason, these films are capable of surprising and delighting audiences - even those familiar with the original classic.

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    The Original: Produced (and possibly directed) by Howard Hawks, The Thing from Another World is a 1951 science-fiction horror film based on the 1938 novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell. With a plot involving a group of scientists who discover an alien life form frozen in the Arctic ice of Alaska, the film represented the ideology of the time. Along with a distrust of science following the first use of nuclear weapons in a military conflict, The Thing from Another World aligned with many alien invasion films of the era as a representation of Cold War-era fears of an attack from advanced civilizations.

    The Remake: When John Carpenter’s remake was released in 1982, it was a critical and financial failure, but with time it has become a beloved classic. Celebrated for its innovative use of practical effects created by Rob Bottin, The Thing is both terrifying and timely. Rather than creating a single creature design, the alien was imagined as being able to shapeshift at will, taking the form of any living organism. Made in the later part of the Cold War, The Thing took the fears from the original film a step further by giving the alien the ability to appear just like us. This aligned with 1980s anxiety about Soviet Union spies existing among Americans without their knowledge of the threat, while the increased gore fit the slasher mold thriving in American horror.

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  • The Original: Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) was different from the alien invasion films that had come before. The titular aliens did not announce their arrival in a spaceship, but the species of pod-born extraterrestrials were instead able to covertly replicate and replace their human targets. The film is interpreted by some as a clever allegory for the perceived communist threat in America during the Cold War, while others see it as a warning about the dangers of ignoring the threat to American liberties brought by McCarthyism.

    The Remake: When Invasion of the Body Snatchers was remade in 1978, director Philip Kaufman and screenwriter W.D. Richter cleverly set the narrative in San Francisco. The allegories used in the original were revised to address the demise of the counterculture that had thrived in the city during the antiestablishment movements of the 1960s and '70s. The hive mind of the aliens slowly and silently replaces the individualism of humanity, as many felt had happened when the hippie generation sold out their youthful ideals for the stability of capitalism. With a twist ending varying from the original 1958 version, Invasion of the Body Snatchers terrifyingly captures the cynicism of the era.

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  • A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
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    The Original: Akira Kurosawa defined the samurai genre with classics that were later remade into iconic narratives in other genres. The Hidden Fortress influenced Star Wars and the science-fiction genre, while The Seven Samurai and Yojimbo were made into Westerns. Yojimbo tells the story of a rōnin (Toshiro Mifune) who arrives in a small town run by competing crime lords and sells his service as a bodyguard to both, playing each side against the other.

    The Remake: The narrative of Yojimbo fit so perfectly in the Western genre that it was remade into two Spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s, with the first and better one being Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. Although made in 1964, it wasn’t released in the US until 1967 due to a lawsuit by Toho, the studio that made Yojimbo. Not only did A Fistful of Dollars make Clint Eastwood a movie star, but the film’s success also led to an explosion of Spaghetti Westerns, resulting in Italy surpassing Hollywood in the number of film productions for the first time since 1915.

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  • The Original: Ocean's 11 was a 1960s heist film starring five members of the "Rat Pack," including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. The musical stars play members of a crew responsible for a series of Las Vegas casino robberies.

    The Remake: When Steven Soderbergh remade the film, he used an ensemble cast of movie stars instead of musical ones, including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy García, Bernie Mac, and Julia Roberts. Like the original, Ocean’s Eleven also featured several memorable cameos from stars playing themselves, increasing the comedic elements and believability of the narrative. Soderbergh’s film also allows for the criminals to get away with their plan, which would have been much more problematic in 1960.

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  • The Original: The 2002 Hong Kong crime film Infernal Affairs was co-directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, and follows an undercover cop (Tony Leung) who infiltrates the Triad, unaware that a fellow police officer (Andy Lau) is working as a mole for the criminal organization. The film was a sleeper hit in the US after Miramax acquired it for distribution.

    The Remake: While Martin Scorsese used Infernal Affairs as the basis of his American remake, The Departed, the screenplay by William Monahan also integrated elements from the sequel and prequel films, Infernal Affairs II and Infernal Affairs III. The crime narrative was adapted to be set in Boston, with Leonardo DiCaprio in the role of undercover cop Billy Costigan and Matt Damon playing the police officer mole working for Irish Mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). The revised remake won the Academy Award for best picture, as well as best adapted screenplay and best director, providing Scorsese with another memorable entry in the gangster genre.

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  • The Original: Based on a 1953 short story by Elmore Leonard, 3:10 to Yuma is a 1957 Western about a rancher (Van Heflin) who accepts the task of getting an outlaw (Glenn Ford) on the 3:10 train to Yuma. In order to do that, he must withstand an assault by the outlaw’s gang members. 3:10 to Yuma was a success with critics and audiences alike, during a period with many Western film options.

    The Remake: Directed by James Mangold, the remake of 3:10 to Yuma features Christian Bale in the role of the heroic rancher, with Russell Crowe playing the outlaw and leader of the gang of bandits. As spectacular as the original film is, the remake improves upon it with rich color photography and character-driven action sequences that pack a punch. The film was a critical and financial success, which is often a difficult feat for both remakes and Westerns.

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