Critical 5: Best Film Remakes
When a second look is worth the trip.
We can probably all agree that remakes in general just shouldn't happen, especially after checking out our list of the worst offenders. Everyone mourns the thousands of original screenplays that are crumpled into a trash bin to favor "grittier" and "updated" versions of classic films. But there comes a time to face facts: some remakes are just flat-out better than their inspirations, transcending the word "remake" and offering an entirely new way to enjoy a familiar story. With new takes on RoboCop, Red Dawn, and Carrie on the horizon, let's take a look at five memorable re-imaginings.
The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter's take on the 1951 sci-fi flick The Thing from Another World represents everything that a remake should be. All the essentials from the original film are in place, but Carpenter takes advantage of the 30-year gap in film technology at every turn. While both films are successfully tense, this version benefits from demonstrating some of the most advanced and horrifying puppetry ever put on film, at the hands of the late master Stan Winston. A co-starring turn from Wilford Brimley doesn't hurt either.
The Thing from Another World (1951)
Ocean's Eleven (2001)
Both Lewis Milestone's 1960 heist picture and Steven Soderbergh's 2001 version boast high-profile ensemble casts, but the former lacks a crucial element to any buddy caper film: fun. Watching the Rat Pack charm their way through a two-hour running time is entertaining to a point, but it's the inventive set pieces and schemes, along with the breezy pace, that livens up the remake. Of course Soderbergh has made "better" films in his career, but it's impossible to deny the sharp and quirky rapport between George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon.
Ocean's Eleven (1960)
Let Me In (2010)
In some ways it's tough to call Matt Reeves' coming-of-age vampire film a remake; Hammer Films planned to adapt John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel before Tomas Alfredson's 2008 Swedish version, Let the Right One In, was ever released. But with Alfredson's fantastic film hitting theaters first, Let Me In was understandably dubbed the "too-soon" remake, which distracted many audiences from noticing the masterful filmmaking at work. There are many similarities between both bloody tales of young love, but Reeves throws in just the right amount of subtle directorial flair to inch his take to the top. And if anyone can think of a more natural and intimate performance from a child actor in recent memory than Kodi Smit-McPhee's performance as Owen, we'd love to hear it.
Let the Right One In (2008)
The Fly (1986)
This incredibly unsettling gross-out film has one significant difference from the 1958 shocker: The original is a melodramatic creature feature, while the remake comes from the mind of David Cronenberg. Genre fans must have jumped with glee when they heard that the director of Videodrome was taking on a science-gone-awry mutation movie. But while there's no question that Seth Brundle's (Jeff Goldblum) transformation into a hideous monster is technically impressive, it's the character's journey and emotional arc that really satisfies.
The Fly (1958)
True Grit (2010)
Other than the baby boomers who prefer the 1969 John Wayne adaptation because, well, it's John Wayne, audiences generally agree that Joel and Ethan Coen's wonderful take on this classic Western is the better film. Each and every actor gleefully chews the scenery, with Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as particular standouts. Watching these contemporary filmmakers weave their oddball style into a crowd-pleasing, PG-13 Western is a delight, and Roger Deakins' warm cinematography reminds us of the best the genre has to offer.
True Grit (1969)