For as long as movies have been made, movies have been remade. In recent years, when filmmakers have dusted off titles from years gone by and retold them for a new generation of cinemagoers, we have tended to act as though this is a sign of how lazy and unimaginative Hollywood is in the 21st century. Usually these complaints are accompanied with wistful mumblings about how the movies just aren’t as good as they used to be; and, in some instances, that might be true.
However, the truth is that remakes are nothing new, and there’s no reason they should be regarded as inherently bad. What really matters is how the new filmmakers handle the old material they’re tasked with reworking.
In some cases, the same essential concept is used as the launchpad for something wildly different from what went before. Sometimes the resulting remake might be better than the original; sometimes it’s so far removed it seems inappropriate to consider it a remake at all. In most such cases, though, the new film should at the very least prove to be interesting and rewarding in its own right. Consider the following remakes that heavily diverged from the source material…
20. The Fly (1986)
1958’s The Fly is an old school B-movie in which a scientist’s experiments with teleportation go badly wrong.
It sees the scientist’s atoms accidentally mixed with those of a common housefly, swapping the head and arm of man and insect.
Very much a product of its time, the original version of The Fly is a creepy but more-or-less family-friendly creature feature – which most definitely cannot be said of its remake.
Directed by the master of body horror, David Cronenberg, 1986’s The Fly hinges on the same essential teleportation conceit, but sees the scientist (Jeff Goldblum) and the fly merge on a genetic level.
Rather than emerging with fully-formed fly parts, the man undergoes a gradual, grisly metamorphosis into a humanoid insect.
The result is one of the most grotesque SFX spectacles of the decade, but also a thoroughly compelling human drama as the scientist and his lover (Geena Davis) struggle with his condition.
19. Planet of the Apes (2001)
1968’s Planet of the Apes ranks among the very best science fiction films ever made.
The original centres on Charlton Heston’s cynical, world-weary astronaut who ventures into deep space in search of life, only to land on a world populated by sentient apes.
Steeped in social commentary, director Franklin J. Schaffner’s film (which spawned four sequels and a TV spin-off) hinges on its now legendary final revelation that the planet in question was in fact Earth itself in the distant future.
Tim Burton’s 2001 remake, however, discarded almost all that. The planet was most definitely an alien world, Mark Wahlberg’s astronaut was a standard action hero with no discernible existential angst, and any hints of social commentary were hard to gauge.
The result was a passable enough fantasy adventure movie, but without anything like the same punch of the original series.
Burton’s film also pales in comparison to the Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy (Rise, Dawn and War of the Planet of the Apes) which more recently put its own spin on human-ape conflict.
18. Cat People (1982)
Made by the influential team of producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur, the original 1942 film Cat People was a major breakthrough for horror cinema at the time.
It centres on a woman (Simone Simon) who believes she is descended from a race of shape-shifting cat-human hybrids.
The film plays with this idea ambiguously, leaving a lot left unseen and making the audience decide for themselves whether or not the troubled protagonist really is a were-cat. However, there’s no such beating around the bush in the 1982 remake from director Paul Schrader.
Nastassja Kinski is cast as the troubled woman struggling with her inner animal – but this being a product of the 80s, the horrific elements are handled in a far more upfront and graphic manner.
Even more notably, the sexual overtones that could only be hinted at in the 1942 film are really brought to the forefront here.
Happily, just because the Cat People remake is explicit where the original was implicit, it doesn’t do so at the expense of intelligent storytelling.
17. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Horror movies don’t come much more basic than 1960’s original Little Shop of Horrors.
Directed by legendarily prolific low-budget filmmaker Roger Corman, the blackly comedic film – set in a florist’s shop, which unwittingly becomes host to a giant man-eating plant – was shot in less than three days on a shoestring budget.
It would probably be forgotten today were it not that it boasts an early appearance from Jack Nicholson – and also that it inspired an off-Broadway musical which formed the basis of a hit movie.
1986’s Little Shop of Horrors was directed by Muppets veteran Frank Oz. It casts Rick Moranis as hapless florist’s assistant Seymour, who finds himself enslaved by the intelligent, flesh-eating Venus flytrap he christens Audrey II (voiced by Levi Stubbs of soul legends The Four Tops).
Moranis is joined by Ellen Greene (who originated the role of Audrey in the stage show), with special appearances from Steve Martin, John Candy, Bill Murray and Christopher Guest.
Shot on a $25 million budget with song-and-dance numbers aplenty, it’s a considerably more lavish production than the original, although that same streak of jet-black humour runs through both films.
16. The Stepford Wives (2004)
Based on Ira Levin’s 1972 novel, director Bryan Forbes’ 1975 film The Stepford Wives is a dark science fiction drama noted for its feminist overtones.
Katharine Ross stars as a woman who moves with her husband to an idyllic, isolated community where she finds the women are strangely submissive and obsessed with their appearance.
Eventually she discovers to her horror that all the women in the community are in fact androids programmed to serve their husbands.
The 2004 remake (again from Little Shop of Horrors director Frank Oz) follows the same basic premise, but plays it as a broad comedy rather than the straight thriller of the original.
Nicole Kidman and Bette Midler star as the new women in Stepford who realise things are not as they seem, whilst Glenn Close is the arch-matriarch of the Stepford Wives.
Sadly, despite the wealth of talent on board (including Matthew Broderick and Christopher Walken), this more tongue-in-cheek take on Ira Levin’s story never really gels, and real laughs are few and far between.
15. Scarface (1983)
Directed by Howard Hawks, the original 1932 film Scarface (aka The Shame of a Nation) was based on Armitage Trail’s 1929 novel, which was itself a fictionalised take on the infamous gangster Al Capone.
Paul Muni starred as Italian-American Tony Camonte, and the film follows his rise to power in gangland Chicago.
The film proved controversial, with fears that it was deemed to glamourise the criminal life, leading to it being heavily censored.
However, Brian De Palma’s 1983 remake of Scarface took the controversy to another level entirely.
Al Pacino stars as the renamed Tony Montana, now a Cuban refugee who rises to power in the Miami drug trade, but whose lifestyle drives him to the point of madness.
De Palma’s film shocked many with its profanity-ridden dialogue, graphic depiction of drug use, and above all its extreme violence, most infamously in the scene in which Pacino unforgettably roars, “say hello to my little friend!”
14. The Thing (1982)
1951’s The Thing from Another World was a black and white creature feature, based on Joseph W Campbell’s 1938 novella Who Goes There?
The film sees a US Air Force crew uncover a crashed alien spacecraft in the ice of the Arctic, unwittingly releasing its pilot: an aggressive, plant-based extra-terrestrial monster.
While it’s a tense and powerful work in its own right, The Thing from Another World omits a key element of Campbell’s original story: the alien’s ability to mimic any other life form it comes in contact with.
31 years later, John Carpenter’s The Thing would bring that key aspect of the story centre-stage, thanks to the still-astonishing practical SFX work of Rob Bottin and his crew.
However, it isn’t just the gloopy, grisly monster make-up that makes the film so powerful; rather, it’s the constantly simmering tension, as the isolated inhabitants of the Arctic research base (headed up by Kurt Russell) realise that any one of them could be the ‘thing’ in disguise.
The characters quickly find themselves completely unable to trust one another, resulting in some overwhelmingly suspenseful sequences.
13. Dumbo (2019)
In recent years, Walt Disney Pictures have seemed hellbent on producing as many live-action remakes of their old animated classics as possible.
In many instances (e.g. Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King), the resulting remake has so closely resembled the original animated film that we might be left questioning whether it was even worth the effort.
However, for better or worse this is not a charge that can be made against director Tim Burton’s 2019 remake of Dumbo.
The 1941 original is one of Disney’s best-loved early features, telling the story of a large-eared baby circus elephant mysteriously blessed with the gift of flight.
Whereas the original is told almost exclusively from the perspective of the animals, the remake instead centres the human cast, including Colin Farrell as the kindly elephant handler, Danny DeVito as the flamboyant ringmaster, and Michael Keaton as a duplicitous businessman.
Most would agree it doesn’t have anything like the same charm as the original Dumbo, but the remake at least deserves some credit for trying something different.
12. The Blob (1988)
1958’s The Blob is another of those old B-movie creature features that thrilled audiences at the time, but which seems pretty corny today.
Best remembered for its catchy theme song and an early appearance by screen icon Steve McQueen, director Irvin Yeaworth’s film sees a gelatinous life form crawl out of a fallen meteorite.
The titular blob then proceeds to grow exponentially as it eats up all organic life in its path – with a particular taste for juvenile delinquents.
Director Chuck Russell’s 1988 remake is – as you might expect given the era – a considerably gorier and more violent take on the same basic premise.
Shawnee Smith and Kevin Dillon star as small-town teens struggling to stay alive and protect their loved ones when the dreaded blob – in this case, a military-created bio-weapon which has gone haywire – is unleashed on their unsuspecting community.
Far from the traditional morality of the original film, the remake is more aggressively anti-authoritarian, and its central monster is a lot less selective about who it eats.
11. The Italian Job (2003)
1969’s The Italian Job is one of British screen legend Michael Caine’s best-loved movies.
Directed by Peter Collinson, it’s famed for its European setting, daring car chases in Austin Minis, and Caine’s iconic ad-lib, “You’re only supposed to blow the b***dy doors off!”
Above all else, it’s seen as a film with a quintessentially English sensibility, with a heavy emphasis on sardonic humour. As such, when Hollywood decided to remake it as a comparatively straight-laced heist thriller in 2003, many fans of the original were up in arms.
Director F. Gary Gray’s film shouldn’t be anyone’s idea of a masterpiece, but it just about manages to make it work, trading in old Minis for new Minis and Mark Wahlberg for Michael Caine, and packing in no shortage of four-wheeled thrills.
It never got the sequels that were once rumoured, but, in its own little way, The Italian Job remake helped set the stage for what the Fast & Furious series would become.
It makes sense, then, that F. Gary Gray was hired to call the shots on Fast & Furious 8 (AKA The Fate of the Furious), which reunited the director with his Italian Job stars Charlize Theron and Jason Statham.
10. Assault on Precinct 13 (2005)
1976’s original Assault on Precinct 13 was the second feature film from John Carpenter, and a major creative breakthrough for the director.
The low-budget thriller stars Austin Stoker and Darwin Joston as a cop and a convicted murderer being held temporarily in the cells of an isolated police station.
Although they live on opposite sides of the law, the men are forced to become allies when the precinct is attacked by a vicious street gang, who seem more like a mindless cult than actual criminals.
The 2005 Assault on Precinct 13 remake emerged at the peak of the post-millennium remake craze, so it’s small wonder it feels somewhat arbitrary.
Director Jean-François Richet’s film is easily distinguishable from Carpenter’s thanks to one major difference: this time it’s crooked cops attacking the station, rather than a gang.
Beyond that, the film sadly proves largely dull and forgettable, even with a solid cast that includes Laurence Fishburne, Ethan Hawke and Gabriel Byrne.
9. The Wicker Man (2006)
Director Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man is widely regarded one of the finest horror films ever made in Britain.
Though it flopped on release in 1973, the pagan-themed blend of police drama and psychological chiller soon became a cult classic.
33 years later, acclaimed American filmmaker Neil LaBute teamed up with Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage to attempt a new take on the story – but things didn’t go quite as well as expected.
Where the original film is set on a remote Scottish island that follows its own unique religious traditions, 2006’s The Wicker Man transposes the action to a matriarchal society on an island in Washington State, USA.
Where the islanders of the original seek a sacrifice in hopes of saving their ailing fruit crop, the remake’s islanders have similar concerns about their honey bees, with whom Cage’s anxious detective suffers a now-infamous encounter (“Not the bees, not the beeeeeees!”)
Above all else, where the 1973 film is held up as a masterpiece, the 2006 Wicker Man is widely lambasted (and, in some corners, celebrated) as one of the silliest, most unintentionally funny films ever, largely thanks to Cage’s ridiculously unhinged performance.
8. Rollerball (2002)
1975’s Rollerball enjoys a healthy cult following, although it’s quite far from the film most viewers anticipate going in.
Set in the near future, director Norman Jewison’s film stars James Caan as America’s most famous player in a brutal no-holds-barred sport played on rollerskates and motorcycles.
It may sound like an all-out action romp, but the original Rollerball is for the most part a very sombre and thoughtful dystopian sci-fi drama, with only a few scenes of sporting carnage.
Small wonder, then, that when they decided to remake Rollerball in 2002, they took a more basic, rough-and-ready approach.
Chris Klein takes over from Caan as the hotshot Rollerball player, who gradually sees through the glitz and glamour to combat the corruption in the sport. Sadly, even with Die Hard’s John McTiernan calling the shots, it’s a garbled mess of a film.
Thanks to its critical and financial failure, plus serious problems behind the scenes, 2002’s Rollerball pretty much killed the career of both director McTiernan and leading man Klein.
7. Total Recall (2012)
Adapted from a short story by Philip K. Dick (creator of Blade Runner), 1990’s Total Recall was a huge hit for star Arnold Schwarzenegger and director Paul Verhoeven.
The film’s potent blend of futuristic spectacle, extreme violence and reality-bending sci-fi won it an enthusiastic audience.
As such, when a Total Recall remake arrived 22 years later from director Len Wiseman and star Colin Farrell, some eyebrows were raised.
Wiseman’s film keeps the same essential premise (an everyday man discovers his memory has been erased, hiding a life as a spy), and the same basic characters.
Beyond this, however, 2012’s Total Recall tells a very different story, with the most glaring difference being that the planet Mars, so pivotal to the original, is not featured in the remake at all.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that the original Total Recall was notable for its relentless, gory violence, whilst the remake tones things down considerably for a PG-13 rating.
6. Man on Fire (2004)
In this particular instance, you might be forgiven for not realising the film in question even was a remake.
Man on Fire was originally shot in 1987, adapted from A.J. Quinnell’s novel of the same name. Scott Glenn stars as a burned-out Vietnam veteran hired as personal bodyguard to the daughter of a wealthy industrialist in Italy.
After developing a bond with the child, he goes on a brutal rampage when she is abducted by the mafia.
After being passed over to direct it the first time around, Tony Scott remade Man on Fire in 2004 with Denzel Washington in the lead.
The remake moves the action from Italy to Mexico, but that’s a minor change indeed compared to the bombastic approach director Scott takes to the material.
Where the 1987 film was a very conventional action thriller, 2004’s Man on Fire adopts a surreal, almost nightmarish aesthetic with frenzied camerawork, editing and sound especially designed to overwhelm the audience.
5. Fright Night (2011)
1985 comedy horror Fright Night is the charming, timeless tale of Charley Brewster, an average high school boy who realises his new neighbour is a vampire.
Then, in cahoots with his girlfriend Amy, his best friend ‘Evil’ Ed and horror film actor-turned-late night TV host Peter Vincent, Charley tries to rid his neighbourhood of the undead menace.
The film is an enduring cult favourite, and so when news of a remake broke it was met with scepticism from fans.
The 2011 Fright Night casts Colin Farrell (him again) as the vampire, with the late Anton Yelchin as his alarmed young neighbour Charley. The film hits the same essential plot beats, but with a series of twists.
For one, it’s Charley’s friend Ed (here played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who recognises the vampire threat first; and instead of being a TV horror host, Peter Vincent (here played by David Tennant) is a stage magician.
When all’s said and done, 2011’s Fright Night walks an uneasy line between doing its own thing and honouring the original, and it never quite finds its feet.
4. The Mummy (1999)
The Mummy was one of the original horror movies from studio Universal, and established its character as a classic monster in the same vein as Dracula and Frankenstein.
Boris Karloff starred as the sinister Imhotep, who escapes his tomb in the present day in search of his reincarnated lover Anck-su-namun.
While the original film took place in what was then the present day, the 1999 remake sets the story in the 1920s, making it a period piece by the standards of the day.
More pertinently, where the original was a largely understated chiller played out on a fairly intimate scale, 1999’s The Mummy is an epic action-adventure in the vein of the Indiana Jones movies.
Filled with huge set pieces, broad humour and vast quantities of CGI, director Stephen Sommers’ film bears scant resemblance to what went before.
Even so, the core plot thread of the resurrected mummy in search of his lost love remains intact, although their names are pronounced differently: Imhotep becomes Imhotep, whilst Anck-su-namun becomes Anuck-su-namun.
3. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
George A Romero’s 1979 zombie epic Dawn of the Dead was a film which horror aficionados had long considered untouchable.
The writer-director’s follow-up to his 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead sends its zombie outbreak worldwide, and follows a small group of survivors who take shelter in an abandoned shopping mall.
25 years later, director Zack Snyder and screenwriter James Gunn presented a new take on the story which shook things up dramatically.
Where the original was a character-based drama with action that moved as slowly as its shuffling zombies, 2004’s Dawn of the Dead is more of a rollercoaster ride, complete with zombies faster than Usain Bolt.
On top of its more intense, adrenaline-fuelled action, the remake also boasts a far larger ensemble, with many more survivors banded together than the original film’s central quartet.
The Dawn of the Dead remake was a hit that helped launched Snyder and Gunn, but it divided opinion; many hailed its fresh approach, but others felt it lacked the sophistication and satirical overtones of the original.
2. Ghostbusters (2016)
1985’s Ghostbusters is a film that generally doesn’t need much of an introduction. Generations of film lovers have grown up with the iconic supernatural comedy adventure, as well as its 1989 sequel.
As such, when plans for a third instalment were scrapped in favour of an outright reboot, a lot of people weren’t happy.
Many of those same people were even less happy when they learned remake director Paul Feig was using an all-female cast.
Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon were cast as the new Ghostbusters, and all of them had to put up with an absurd amount of online abuse from disgruntled (mostly male) fans of the original.
Sadly, the final film didn’t do much to help matters. The story just isn’t that compelling, the real laughs are few, and the characters (with the exception of McKinnon’s Jillian Holtzmann) are largely forgettable.
It actually makes things worse that the remake is loaded with unnecessary callbacks to the original Ghostbusters, with cameos from most of the surviving cast members (plus Slimer and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man).
1. Black Christmas (2006 and 2019)
Director Bob Clark’s 1974 horror Black Christmas is often considered to be the true birthplace of the slasher film subgenre.
Starring Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder, the chiller is set in a sorority house which is attacked at Christmas time by a mysterious unseen assailant known only as Billy.
Director John Carpenter has admitted it was a key influence on his 1978 film Halloween. On top of this, Black Christmas inspired two very different remakes decades later.
2006’s Black Christmas is a more gruesome and gloopy take on the same basic set-up, with an extensive backstory for Billy, and a twist of not one but two killers.
More recently, the 2019 Black Christmas was a milder PG-13 rated take with a radically different threat, as the sorority come under siege by a misogynistic secret society.