10 Movie Remakes That Got It Better the Second (or Third) Time
December 19, 2012
Robert DeNiro in ‘Cape Fear’/Image © Universal Pictures
True, some movie remakes are awful. But others sneak up on you, like a blind date who turns out to be handsome, intelligent, witty, and sane. Although not without flaws, they tinker with the original just enough to produce their own magic. Take “The Magnificent Seven” (1960), which turned Samurai warriors into Western gunslingers, or the American version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2011), which turned Lisbeth Salander into a more fragile but still formidable heroine. We’ll have to wait until next year to see director Baz Luhrmann’s much-buzzed-about take on “The Great Gatsby,” with Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, but until then, here are ten flicks where the second (or third) time proved a real charm.
“No Way Out” (1987), a remake of “The Big Clock” (1948)
The earlier film, based on Kenneth Fearing’s novel of the same name, follows a magazine editor forced to investigate his lover’s murder. Called “labyrinthine and ingenious” by Roger Ebert, the remake takes place in Washington, D.C., during the Cold War, with Kevin Costner as a U.S. Naval officer and his slain lover (Sean Young) the mistress of the Secretary of Defense (Gene Hackman). Chemistry sizzles between Costner and Young, and the inside look of The Pentagon enthralls as the suspense mounts.
“I Am Legend” (2007), a remake of “The Last Man on Earth” (1964) and “The Omega Man” (1971)
Richard Matheson’s seminal tale of a plague that turns humans into monsters, leaving a lone survivor, came to the screen for the third time with Will Smith as reluctant hero Robert Neville. This time Neville is a virologist struggling to create a remedy for a man-made virus while navigating a hauntingly desolate vision of Manhattan. Although the third act seems ordered from another movie (the alternate ending on DVD has lots of fans), the first two thirds create a potent mix of tension, whimsy (what would you do with New York City as a playground?), and loneliness.
“Cape Fear” (1991), a remake of the 1962 film of the same name
The older film, shot in black and white, features heavy-hitters Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, respectively, as a defense attorney stalked and threatened by his former client. Director Martin Scorsese shot his stylish update of this revenge thriller in color and shaded the characters’ morals in gray. Convict Max Cady (Robert De Niro) may have an over-the-top, tattooed menace, but the lawyer (Nick Nolte) is no clear-cut hero, making questionable choices along the way.
“Insomnia” (2002), a remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name
A homicide detective investigates a murder in a northern city where the sun doesn’t set and finds he can’t sleep, the ever-present daylight illustrating the guilt over his past sins. Director Christopher Nolan’s film transplants the plot to Alaska and adds an unsettling twist (credited in part to the original authors): the killer interacting with the detective as a sort of creepy conscience. The performances (Al Pacino as the cop; Robin Williams as the killer) are top notch, and the atmosphere rich.
“The Fly” (1986), a remake of the 1958 film of the same name
Director David Cronenberg’s take on this tale of a scientist’s teleportation device gone wrong increases the gory creature effects. Yet as scientist Jeff Goldblum morphs into a giant fly, his appearance and performance magnify the tragedy of the love story between him and journalist Geena Davis.
“Freaky Friday” (2003), a remake of the 1976 film of the same name
The concept behind both films is as light as a tutu — squabbling mother and daughter magically switch bodies and learn to relate better — but Jamie Lee Curtis carries her “transformation” so convincingly, she’s hilarious and endearing. Curtis netted a 2004 Golden Globe nomination for her performance, with one reviewer saying she was “so frisky and pouty and incandescent … she made the whole movie feel like something special.”
“The Manchurian Candidate” (2004), a remake of the 1962 film of the same name
Called a reimagining of the classic starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Angela Lansbury, the 2004 film changes the character names and a good chunk of the plot, but still mixes a political backdrop, a brainwashed assassin (Liev Schreiber) and a manipulative, ambitious wretch of a mother (Meryl Streep). A corporation, not Communism, pulls the strings in this go-round, with Denzel Washington as the hero and lots of surprises.
“You’ve Got Mail” (1998), a remake of “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940) and “In the Good Old Summertime” (1949)
Director/co-writer Nora Ephron adds e-mail to this previously filmed story of two people who can’t stand each other in person but fall in love through each other’s words online. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, in their third film pairing, are the unlikely lovers — here, business rivals in the world of bookstores — and the two sparkle as much as the Upper West Side setting.
“Ocean’s Eleven” (2001), a loose remake of the 1960 film of the same name
George Clooney stepped into Frank Sinatra’s shoes as Danny Ocean, but like each of these films, these guys have their own brand of cool. While Sinatra and the Rat Pack were after five casinos in one night, Clooney, Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, and Elliott Gould were after just one — and burning the new boyfriend of Ocean’s ex in the process. Director Steven Soderbergh keeps it so breezy and fun, the new Ocean gang returned for two sequels.
“Blow Out” (1981), a loose remake of “Blow-Up” (1966)
Director Quentin Tarantino lists this loose remake of Michelangelo Antonioni’s fever-dream of a film as one of his favorites. Writer/director Brian De Palma keeps the basic framework of an unintentional witness to a slaying but made the main character a movie sound technician (John Travolta) and the death a Chappaquiddick-like assassination. The film plays with perception versus reality and characters wanting to atone for past mistakes, leading to a heart-wrenching finale.
Tell us: What’s your favorite remake of all time?
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