People tend to look down on movie remakes, but to be fair, that’s only because most of them are profoundly terrible. The microwaved leftovers of the movie world, remakes have come to be synonymous with laziness and cynicism. Gil Kenan’s version of Tobe Hooper’s 1982 horror classic Poltergeist didn’t do much to change the cycnic’s view, and with another batch coming up, including the re-hash of Point Break, there will be more remakes for critics to analyse. Still, they’re not all bad. Despite the uptick in remakes, it’s extremely difficult to identify a few great ones and yet we can’t deny that some of the greatest films ever made wouldn’t have been possible without slapping a new paint job on an old chassis. Check out our picks for the eight best remakes of all time.
1. Floating Weeds (1959)
The original: A story of Floating Weeds (1934)
It’s always interesting when directors remake their own films but for the legendary Yasujiro Ozu, whose wistful dramas already so closely resemble each other, revisiting the plots of his previous work was never much of a radical idea. Reanimating one of his most acclaimed silent features with full sound and glorious colour (a rarity for a man who preferred to work in monochrome) Ozu re-tells the story of a travelling kabuki theatre troupe with less bitterness and less restraint, resulting in a timeless and emotionally florid story of acting partners and surrogate families.
2. His Girl Friday (1940)
The original: The Front Page (1931)
In this tale of duelling reporters, director Howard Hawks famously swapped the gender of ace reporter Hildy Johnson from male to female and cast Rosalind Russell against Carey Grant. The sparks were undeniable: His Girl Friday is a remake that complexifies its material while inspiring women decades before there was anything called feminism.
3. A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
The original: Yojimbo (1961)
It is impossible to contest the importance of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, the movie that popularised the spaghetti Western worldwide, launched the big screen career of Clint Eastwood and inspired a wave of future filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino. The screenplay, however? That can be contested, and was, by director Akira Kurosawa, whose Yojimbo scenario was poached without credit. Leone settled with him out of court for a fortune.
4. Some Like it Hot (1959)
The original: Fanfare of Love (1935)
Some Like it Hot has become synonymous with the singular wit of Billy Wilder, but the classic Marilyn Monroe vehicle was actually the result of a bizarre game of Hollywood telephone. The story goes that Wilder was keen to riff on a 1935 French comedy about two men who disguise themselves in order to escape from the mafia, but no-one could get their hands on the script. So Wilder’s team did the next best thing: they bought the rights to that film’s German remake, Fanfaren der Liebe, and based his move on that, instead. All three versions are strikingly similar but only Some Like it Hot was too good to retouch.
5. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The original: Wizard of Oz (1925)
That’s right, Toto: before Judy Garland stepped into those ruby slippers, L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel had already been turned into a movie – actually three times over if you count two shorts. None of these were any good. One of them even resulted in financial destitution for its director, Larry Semon. Pre-emptively, let’s add that there’s simply no reason for there to be a future Wizard of Oz ever again.
6. The Fly (1986)
The original: The Fly (1958)
Kurt Neumann’s 1958 sci-fi creeper works effectively enough, and its fly-in-the-teleportation-device plot is still darkly ironic. But there’s no getting around that fake-looking insect head – more like a Halloween costume than a real prop. Remake director David Cronenberg had no such problems: his intelligent update doesn’t skimp on the gore, but his real coup was in casting real-life couple Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum as a persuasively brainy and tragic romantic duo.
7. Springtime in a Small Town (2002)
The original: Spring in a Small Town (1948)
As a reward for making what might be the greatest fiction film about the lives of Chinese citizenry during the Cultural Revolution, The Blue Kite director Tian Zhuangzhuang was exiled from his country’s movie business for nearly a decade due to the supposedly subversive nature of his work. Cheeky and indefatigable, he returned by faithfully remaking a mainland melodrama – one of the rare Chinese films of the 1940s to prioritise people over politics.
8. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
The original: Nosferatu (1922)
Klaus Kinski as Count Dracula: it doesn’t matter how many times a story has been told, some ideas are just too perfect to ignore. Openly acknowledging that his film wasn’t a new riff on Bram Stoker’s novel so much as a loving homage to F. W. Murnau’s silent horror masterpiece, Werner Herzog twisted an immortal character into the subject of a beautiful gothic tragedy about loneliness.