Sure, it probably would have been way easier to rank the ten worst movie remakes — the most difficult part of that undertaking would have been simply narrowing down the list. (Well, that and deciding whether the wretched 2006 retread of The Wicker Man ranks above or below the Lohan-licious Herbie: Fully Loaded .) Harder still, and much more valuable to you, the reader, is singling out those gem-like movies that actually improve on the originals or take their premises in new and unexpected directions. Read on for a list of ten movies that will have you feeling deja vu in the best way possible.
10. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Most viewers don’t realize just how long this Shop has been in business. Granted, the Roger Corman no-budget 1960 original’s biggest claim to fame is a pre-stardom turn by an impossibly young Jack Nicholson opposite a carnivorous plant. Rick Moranis is surprisingly winning in the lurid color remake as nebbishy florist Seymour, and Steve Martin’s sadistic dentist song is a showstopper. However, campy musicals aren’t for everyone, so this one clocks in near the bottom of the list.
9. 12 Monkeys (1995)
Thanks to an acknowledgment in the opening credits, fans of this madcap movie know that 12 Monkeys is based on the 1962 art-house fave La Jetée. How Terry Gilliam got from a 20-minute scifi short composed mostly of black-and-white stills to a dystopian thriller starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt is a bit of a head-scratcher. Willis’ turn as a convict who is sent back in time is equal parts creepy and surprisingly moving, thus earning this movie a spot in the ranking.
8. The Departed (2006)
Remaking the 2002 Hong Kong hit Infernal Affairs didn’t seem like an obvious choice for a master like Martin Scorsese. Then again, neither did setting the movie in Irish Boston. But the combination works: Here, as in Hong Kong, the mob puts a mole in the police force while the cops place one with the gangsters, and the tension ratchets up to an unbearable degree. No offense to Marty, but the original was so good that Scorsese’s success seems a bit cheap — so his movie doesn’t crack the top five.
7. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
The 1960 French film Purple Noon,
starring Alain Delon, was the last word in bleak hipster cool. What the
1999 reincarnation of Highsmith’s amoral hero Tom Ripley does even
better than the first adaptation is to make the audience understand the
seductive allure of his pal Dickie Greenleaf’s rich-kid lifestyle in
coastal Italy in the 1950s. The movie’s sun-drenched setting and its
young stars are all so gorgeous that it’s shocking, but not surprising,
when Tom’s envy turns murderous.
6. The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
the world’s coolest man, Steve McQueen, with the ice-queen cheekbones
of Faye Dunaway would seem to make the 1968 Thomas Crown Affair
a tough act to follow. Enter René Russo and Pierce
Brosnan. The stars do much more than acquit themselves admirably — they sizzle with a
chemistry that is all the more sexy because the leads are actual
grown-ups, a distinction that finds them beating out the golden children of The Talented Mr. Ripley.
5. Casino Royale (2006)
Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, and Ursula Andress all starred in the original Casino Royale
(1967), a painfully discombobulated spy spoof. It’s mind-boggling that
the same Ian Fleming tale behind that mess also served as the
action-packed platform for a revamped Bond back story in 2006. Daniel
Craig’s gritty 007 brings the agent back to his retro roots while
giving the audience the “top this” stunts that made the series famous — and earns this movie its spot in the top five.
4. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
1960 original featured Frank and Sammy and the rest of the Rat
Pack, hands down the coolest crooks in Las Vegas. But they didn’t seem
to care whether the audience was in on the fun. With a
glint in his eye and a smirk on his face, George Clooney’s Danny Ocean
includes everybody — the audience as well as a teeming cast that boasts
everyone from Bernie Mac to Brad Pitt — in the scheming. It’s the palpable glee of the players that lifts Eleven above 11, and most of the others ranked above.
3. The Fly (1986)
cheesy 1958 B-movie begat this moving modern-day horror/love story.
Jeff Goldblum plays a scientist in love with Geena Davis’s journalist,
Veronica, and with his experiments on matter transmission. Seth
succesfully manages to teleport, but a house fly hitches a ride, inadvertently blending its genes with his. His slow
transformation into an insect parallels his growing romance with
Veronica, which makes the tragic ending that much more devastating and raises this flick above its glossier peers.
2. The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Turning Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai
into a western was an act of genius. The mythos of the old West makes
for a surprisingly good match with feudal Japanese codes of ethics. In
both films the story is the same: a poor village beset by bandits hires
seven tough guys to defend them. The cast of Seven
features heavyweights like Charles Bronson and Steve
McQueen, but Yul Brynner’s Chris Adams is the standout that earns this gunslinging drama its near-top status.
1. The Thing (1982)
This terrifying suspense fest from director John Carpenter has very little to do with 1951’s The Thing from Another World,
but no matter. The story of American scientists based at an isolated
ice station in Antarctica who get picked off one by one by a shape-shifting creature is one of the scariest revamps of the “haunted house” genre ever. It’s not only one of the best remakes ever — it’s also one of the best horror movies ever made, period.
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