If there’s any industry that’s all about reinvention, it’s Hollywood. Every day, the industry trades tell of planned remakes, reboots, retools and re-imaginings galore. 2013 alone will see remakes of Carrie, Robocop, Oldboy and The Evil Dead (the list goes on).
5. Some Like It Hot (1959)
Remake of: 1935’s Fanfare d’Amour
In remaking the French drag comedy Fanfare d’Amour for American audiences, director Billy Wilder and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond needed to make a few adjustments. In order to justify the main characters’ decision to disguise themselves as woman, the filmmakers set the film in the Prohibition era and had the leads (played by Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis) forced to go undercover in drag after inadvertently becoming witnesses to the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre. Despite a grueling production process due mostly to co-lead Marilyn Monroe’s troubled behavior, the result is one of the funniest American films ever made.
4. Heat (1995)
Remake of: 1989’s L.A. Takedown
Michael Mann’s Heat serves as the director’s magnum opus—an epic, sprawling look at criminals, the police who pursue them and the effect their activities have on those surrounding them. The project began life as L.A. Takedown, a made-for-TV movie also written and directed by Mann. Constricted by network television (the film aired on NBC), Mann saw Heat as his chance to tell the story he wanted to tell in a big, theatrical way. Hailed by critics at the time, the film’s reputation has only risen over the past decade among both critics and the general public. A modern neo-noir masterpiece, the film boasts an all-star cast (including a young Natalie Portman) and several impressive action sequences while retaining some of the quiet, intimate feel of the Godfather films. Oh, and it features the first on-screen interaction between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. So, yeah, there’s that.
3. The Fly (1986)
Remake of: 1959’s The Fly
A science experiment goes awry and a man turns into a fly. Watching the original version of The Fly, that scenario plays out pretty much how’d you expect—in all its hokey, ‘50s sci-fi glory. Yet, director David Cronenberg saw something in this laughable concept, thus transforming the pumped-up camp of the original into something straight out of your worst nightmare. Keeping in mind Cronenberg’s fascination for how the human body can become its own worst enemy, the film goes to great lengths to show the gradual disintegration of the scientist’s (Jeff Goldblum) human form and the emotional toil it takes on his loved one (Geena Davis). The similarites between the character’s condition and that of a degenerative disease such as cancer or AIDS doesn’t appear to be coincidence. As haunting as it is disgusting, The Fly is everything to hope a remake can be.
2. A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
Remake of: 1961’s Yojimbo
Akira Kurosawa again. Unlike The Magnificent Seven, Sergio Leone’s first film with Clint Eastwood can safely go toe-to-toe with the Kurosawa original. Though, like True Grit, one can argue that it’s merely an alternate adaptation of the same source material (Dashiell Hammett’s 1931 pulp novel Red Harvest, of which Yojimbo’s story was taken from), A Fistful of Dollars contains enough DNA from its Asian predecessor to register as a legitimate remake.
Filling in the role played by Toshiro Mifune in the original, Eastwood plays the archetypal spaghetti western antihero, a man whose skills with a gun are inversely proportional to his tendency for small talk. Eastwood’s towering presence launched him as the new face of the Western while Leone’s talent for staging dynamic actions scenes would soon put him on a path to becoming one of the most highly regarded figures in cinema history.
1. The Thing (1982)
Remake of: 1951’s The Thing from Another World
The Thing is far from the greatest film on the list. It didn’t earn any major Academy Awards, it’s not as iconic as Star Wars and not a classic in the way Some Like It Hot or A Fistful of Dollars are. What it is, however, is a textbook example for how to take a premise and—without ever betraying the essence of said premise—stretching and contorting it until something fantastic emerges.
Directed by Christian Nyby (and reportedly ghost directed by Howard Hawks), The Thing from Another World capitalized on a post-nuclear bomb fear of science and its possibilities. In the end of that film, an Air Force re-supply crew saves the day and the daft scientists learn the error of meddling in something you don’t understand. Simple. Looking at the film now, it’s definitely a product of its time and, as a result, has not born the test of time. Add in the ridiculous monster outfit and the painfully forced romantic subplot, you have what amounts to an amusing, if downright cheesy monster movie.
When Halloween director John Carpenter got his hands on this plotline, however, the result was something much darker and infinitely more frightening. In a stroke of dramatic genius, the creature in Carpenter’s version now takes the form of whatever living organism it can get its tentacles into. Combined with the claustrophobia inherent in the film’s isolated, Antarctic setting, the result is some serious Cold War-era paranoia, where no one can be trusted and every action is read as a potential threat. And when you see the creature, you can totally sympathize why each man (the cast is all male this time around) would rather be safe than sorry. Though some of the special effects have not aged as well, there remain moments were the creature effects are more stomach-churning than anything put out by a computer in recent years.
In contrast to its 50s counterpart, The Thing concludes not with a victory but with a haunting final shot that truly highlights its bleak nature. A horror masterpiece of the highest order.