And so we come to the end of January.
Besides serving as a dump month in which studios unload the less-than-stellar movies that they didn’t want to release the previous year (hello, Texas Chainsaw 3D), January represents a time when people look back and take stock over the events of the previous year. Combined with the (often fleeting) adherence to New Year’s resolutions, January becomes the ideal time for reinvention.
And 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).
Yet, as much as critics and moviegoers like to give Hollywood flack for remaking older or foreign properties, the fact remains that some of the most acclaimed and beloved films of all time were remakes of some kind.
The following is a list of such titles.
Remake of: 1978’s Dawn of the Dead
Now known as the slow-motion-obsessed filmmaker who courted fanboy rage by adapting the unadaptable Watchman and bombarded moviegoers with the abrasive noise that was Sucker Punch, it’s easy to forget that Man of Steel’s Zack Snyder was once a go-to music video director whose first stab at features resulted in something quite special.
Among a certain crowd, George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was a classic that need not be touched. Yet, Snyder someone managed to take the basic blueprints of the film—a group of disparate citizens hold down fort at a shopping mall in the midst of a zombie apocalypse—and turn it into to something that was all his own. From the moment the first zombie appears, Snyder grabs hold of the audience and doesn’t let go, racing through the blood-soaked action with a pace that’s as furious as the film’s controversial fast zombies.
Remake of: 1957’s 3:10 to Yuma
Adapted from the Elmore Leonard short story of the same name, the original 3:10 to Yuma is nothing to get too excited about. It’s an entertaining, if somewhat generic 1950s Western yarn centering on Dan Evans, a poor rancher who attempts to keep wanted criminal Ben Wade in his custody before the titular train arrives to take him to prison. In this 2007 update, however, director James Mangold goes a long way to inject his version with some major personality. This includes collecting a colorful cast that includes Russell Crowe as Wade, Christian Bale as Evans as well as Gretchen Mol, Alan Tudyk and, alarmingly, Luke Wilson. The film’s true gem, however, is Ben Foster’s performance as Charlie Prince, Wade’s psychotic right-hand man.
Also, to the 2007 film’s credit, whereas the original was a fairly black-and-white affair, Mangold and the film’s screenwriters really highlight the gray areas in their take, exploring the psychological battle between Evans and Wade.
Remake of: 1998’s Ringu
It’s the film that launched a billion and one American adaptations of Japanese ghost movies. While its initial shock was quickly diluted by both Grudge movies, Pulse and, yes, The Ring 2, its easy to forget how skillful and atmospheric this Americanized version of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu was. Right before he stumbled upon the golden ticket that was the Pirates of the Carribean director’s chair, filmmaker Gore Verbinski showed himself to be a populist filmmaker with real flair. Don’t believe me? I dare you to watch the scene where protagonist Rachel watches a videotaped session of token evil child Samara and not feel a chill moving up your spine.
Remake of: 1997’s Insomnia
Released squarely between Christopher Nolan’s introduction to the world as an intriguing British import with Memento and his ascension to box-office god with the revamped Batman trilogy, Insomnia is a film that often falls between the cracks. And that’s a shame. Taking its title and premise from a 1997 Norwegian thriller starring Stellan Skarsgard, the film casts Al Pacino in the central role of an insomnia-ailed police detective who travels to a remote Alaskan town to investigate the murder of a young teenage girl. His chief suspect is a true crime writer named Walter Finch (played, with surprising menace, by Robin Williams). Typically known for their gleefully over-the-top histrionics, both Pacino and Williams are refreshingly understated here, giving their scenes together a quiet, yet tense pulse.
Remake of: 1969’s True Grit
True Grit is a tricky entry. Some may argue it’s less an adaptation of the 1969 John Wayne vehicle and more of a re-adaptation of the 1968 novel by Charles Portis. Yet, watching the film, it’s hard to believe that the Coen Brothers haven’t seen the previous adaptation. That being said, this is a Coen Brothers film through and through. The rich, quirky dialogue, the offbeat, humorous set pieces, the dash of dreary existentialism—it’s all here. The film that introduced us to the wonder of Hailee Steinfeld and gave Jeff Bridges his best role since The Dude in The Big Lebowski, True Grit is one film that surpasses the original in almost every sense.