A-List: Five Best Movie Remakes

By J. Don Birnam

June 12, 2014

Hitchcock meets Call of Duty

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Some movie remakes are inherently ill-advised - they tinker with a film classic and inevitably fall flat. Others, however, take a good product and shrewdly improve it. Today we focus on a few of those brilliant movie remakes, on the heels of our look at movie prequels last time.

First, the rules of the game. I will only list a movie here if I have seen both the original and the remake - enough to make an actual comparison and evaluate whether the movie improved on or was at least as good as the original. I will only list a movie here if it is a true remake - even if there are major plot differences - as opposed to a franchise reboot a la Spider-Man. And I will artificially limit myself to five in order to make the exercise challenging and interesting.

That leads me to a second, food-for-thought observation that may seem obvious to some but likely not as intuitive to others: the number of movie remakes out there is quite voluminous, to say the least. In researching for the article, I ran across many movies that I did not even realize were remakes. The number got so large that I briefly considered switching the column to the worst movie remakes (trash is easier to sort) but there are so many remakes that one could list dozens of bad reinventions of classic films as well. I may still write a “worst movie remakes of all-time” column, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to mention that titles such as the Psycho and the King Kong (2005) remakes deserve a special place in the dustbin of movie history.

And here are some good movie remakes that didn’t make the list below. Because I haven’t seen the original, I will not list the Coen Brothers’ True Grit, Christopher Nolan’s brilliant thriller Insomnia, or the solid caper The Italian Job. All three of those are excellent movies, but I do not have a basis upon which to compare them. And not making the list because I liked other remakes better are two horror classics - Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - the originals are just too solid for any remake to be worthy for me. But, surprisingly, you will find a horror entry in the list of best movie remakes ever (and it’s not The Thing).


I also felt the need to mention Vanilla Sky as a runner-up, based on the Spanish original Abre Los Ojos. I’ve always felt ambivalent about the remake but really enjoy the movies side-by-side because you get to see Penelope Cruz playing both female roles. Alas, Tom Cruise’s psycho-sexual thriller does not make the list.

Because I enjoyed each of these remakes so much, I actually went back and watched the original films as well. That is surely the hallmark of an enjoyable undertaking.

Having had plenty of ado…

The Birdcage

Based on the French original La Cage Aux Folles, itself based on a French play of the same name, Mike Nichols’ fresh retake of this drag queen comedy classic deserves a spot on many “top” something lists, not just “top remakes.” The superb leading cast of the always hilarious Gene Hackman and Robin Williams are in turn supported by show-stopping performances by Hank Azaria, Nathan Lane, Christine Baranski, Dianne Wiest, and, yes, even Calista Flockhart. The plot is well known, but having a movie dealing squarely with LGBT issues be released by mainstream actors and a mainstream director in the mid-1990s was a pretty big deal in America. And one can always count on Mike Nichols, Best Director Oscar winner for one of the best movies of all-time (The Graduate), to breathe fresh air into a simple and tried concept.

The film is particularly well-suited for an American retelling, given the natural enmity on LGBT views between Republicans and Democrats in our national politics. The ability to play on those political stereotypes adds a level of humor and cleverness to the remake that you do not find in the original - where the fiancee’s parents are conservative without having a specific stereotypical affiliation to show for it.

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