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The 25 best movie remakes of all time

The new Poltergeist may not stack up to the original, but these movies prove that dusting off a classic can result in another one

By Joshua Rothkopf and David Ehrlich

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, and Gil Kenan’s new version of Tobe Hooper’s 1982 horror classic Poltergeist won’t be doing much to change that. Still, they’re not all bad. Despite the uptick in remakes, it’s extremely difficult to identify a few dozen great ones—particularly when you exclude movies like The Thing, which represent the second attempt at adapting a novel—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 25 best remakes of all time.

25. Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986)

Movies Comedy

The original: Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932)

Some ideas are simply too good to die and this one—about a suicidal homeless man who tries to drown himself, but instead gets rehabilitated into a snob—has movie versions separated by 54 years. Jean Renoir’s fluky original features a deft performance by Michel Simon in the title role. Still, the 1986 comedy, scripted and directed by Paul Mazursky, has the amazing Nick Nolte, Mike the Dog (an unlikely canine celebrity who made it to Coke commercials) and a killer supporting turn by Little Richard doing the woos. It’s time to rediscover it.—Joshua Rothkopf

Sci-fi movie: 12 Monkeys

24. 12 Monkeys (1995)

The original: La Jetée (1962)

Terry Gilliam’s wackadoo post-apocalyptic fantasy doesn’t hold a candle to the mercilessly fatalistic Chris Marker short that inspired it, but what could? Marker’s 30-minute film, a series of still photographs linked together by voiceover and a sole brush of movement, is a brilliant blank canvas for the imagination, and you can’t blame Gilliam for being powerless to its thrall. Casting Bruce Willis as a reluctant time-traveler sent back to the 1990s in order to stop the spread of a virus that has come to virtually eliminate human life, 12 Monkeys puts Marker’s vision into wild motion, complete with a red herring for the ages and Brad Pitt as a twitching mental patient. It may lack the poetry of the original, but Gilliam’s film still hits almost as hard.—David Ehrlich


23. The Ring (2002)

Movies Horror

The original: Ringu (1998)

J-horror, a millennial revolution in Japanese cinema, can be traced back to Hideo Nakata’s 1998 supernatural thriller about a cursed VHS tape that imposes a lot more than late fees on its unlucky viewers. When Hollywood decided on a remake, an unusual amount of thought went into it, beginning with the casting of Naomi Watts (then knocking out audiences with her double turn in Mulholland Dr.). The special-effects budget was upped too. Gore Verbinski’s well-received remake ended up outgrossing the original, even in Japan.—Joshua Rothkopf

Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989), Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation

22. Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989)

The original: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Once upon a time, a group of Mississippi kids were so inspired by Spielberg’s whip-cracking classic that they decided to create a shot-for-shot remake of Indiana Jones’s first adventure. Production spanned from 1982 until 1987 on a budget of roughly $5,000, 12-year-old Chris Strompolos taking over for Harrison Ford and filling some big shoes with some small feet. An urban legend before it became the subject of its own documentary), more people know the charming story behind this incredible piece of fan fiction than have actually seen the results, but if The Adaptation isn’t much of a movie, it’s still one hell of a remake.—David Ehrlich


21. Cape Fear (1991)

Movies Thriller

The original: Cape Fear (1962)

Largely forgotten by the time Martin Scorsese got around to his remake, the original Cape Fear isn’t terrible by any stretch, just weak in context. Director J. Lee Thompson showed more flair on his prior movie, The Guns of Navarone (1961), and stars Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum are better remembered elsewhere. It’s a tight, little affair, nothing on the Gothic level of Scorsese’s swampy psychothriller, a movie that doubles down on the toxic relationships of a broken family under siege. The film also launched Juliette Lewis to stardom.—Joshua Rothkopf

20. The Man who Knew too Much (1956)


The original: The Man who Knew too Much (1934)

When François Truffaut asked Alfred Hitchcock to discern the difference between his two attempts at this story about a vacationing family that gets wrapped up in an elaborate murder plot, Hitchcock famously said: "Let's say the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional." Hitchcock was selling the original short (thrilling set pieces aside, it’s the only one with Peter Lorre!), but the more full-bodied heft of the 1956 edition—not to mention Doris Day’s Oscar-winning delivery of “Que Sera Sera”—helps it coalesce into a more emotionally complete experience.—David Ehrlich


19. Funny Games (2007)

Movies Horror

The original: Funny Games (1997)

The original Funny Games is not the kind of movie that you want to see twice, which is probably the reason why ice-cold provocateur Michael Haneke decided to gift the world a shot-for-shot American remake of his queasy home invasion thriller. A grisly critique of representations of violence, the original version shot a hole right through the fourth wall, but Haneke’s echo—which re-uses the same locations and stresses its own pointlessness at every turn—transforms his cultural commentary into an endless hall of mirrors, completing the project by repeating it.—David Ehrlich

18. Scarface (1983)

Movies Thriller

The original: Scarface (1932)

In the popular imagination, there will only be one Scarface, and he is Al Pacino playing Tony Montana in the lurid 1983 remake. (He also appears in the framed dorm-room poster, the rap-video homage, the videogame and the endless loop on late-night cable TV.) Brian De Palma so completely owns this comparison that it’s almost quant to mention that Howard Hawks’s 1932 original is pretty terrific, notable for taking on Al Capone during his lifetime. (The gangster was a huge fan of the movie and is said to have owned a personal print.)—Joshua Rothkopf


17. The Beat that My Heart Skipped (2005)

Movies Drama

The original: Fingers (1978)

Tickled by the big idea of James Toback’s best film—a piano prodigy, despite his talent in the fine arts, is forced into the seedy family business by his father—Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) expands the lean and gritty original into a more full-bodied thriller about the willfulness of our better natures. Shifting the action from New York City to Paris, Audiard infuses a wallop of music and romance to a story that was previously defined by its violence. That’s what you get when you swap Harvey Keitel for Romain Duris.—David Ehrlich

16. The Last House on the Left (1972)


The original: The Virgin Spring (1960)

Before Wes Craven hit box-office oil with A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, he ruffled censors’ feathers with his deeply upsetting 1972 feature debut, a exploitation film about an abducted and slain teenage girl—and the demolished parents who exact revenge on the criminals who unwittingly crash for the night in their home. Banned in several countries, The Last House on the Left had a hard road to critical respectability, even though it was explicitly based on an Oscar-winning Ingmar Bergman film.—Joshua Rothkopf


15. The Departed (2006)

Movies Drama

The original: Infernal Affairs (2002)

The first and only remake to win the Oscar for Best Picture, The Departed takes an electrifyingly twisty Hong Kong thriller about undercover cops—one good, one very bad—and squeezes it in a vice until it becomes the epic stuff of vintage Martin Scorsese. Using the premise as the scaffolding to build a gangland soap opera that evokes the life of famed Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, Scorsese’s film combines two different love interests into one Vera Farmiga and collapses a sordid trilogy into a breathlessly tight story of double lives and second chances.—David Ehrlich

14. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)


The original: 3 Godfathers (1948)

The late, great Satoshi Kon was such a relentlessly creative force that even when he tackled a musty old John Ford Western (they’re not all musty, of course, but that one sure is) he was able to transform it into an imaginative animated drama that bristles with real life. The plot remains the same—three miscreants stumble find an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve, and their selfless decision to care for the child ultimately proves to be their salvation—but Kon relocates the action to his native Japan, where his frenetic storytelling and progressive characters allow the sentimentality of Ford’s film to melt into a touching fable about hope growing in the margins of society.—David Ehrlich


13. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

Movies Comedy

The original: Ocean’s 11 (1960)

Anyone who prefers Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris to Andrei Tarkovksy’s is wrong, and anyone who prefers Lewis Milestone’s Ocean’s 11 to Soderbergh’s similarly star-studded remake is insane. The original was a Rat Pack heist movie directed by a revered filmmaker who was coasting to the finish line—the millennial edition was an even more impressive constellation of superstars made by a stylist at the height of his powers. Simplifying Ocean’s plan and endlessly expanding his circle of friends, Soderbergh’s take is as clever as the robbery it follows, and George Clooney’s gang is so damn charming that the film flips the script and lets them get away with it.—David Ehrlich

12. True Lies (1994)

Movies Action and adventure

The original: La Totale! (1991)

It may not be common knowledge that James Cameron’s breeziest action extravaganza is a remake, but True Lies is astonishingly faithful to Claude Zidi’s much goofier French comedy. All Cameron really did was add some muscle to the mix—of course, with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead role, Cameron could’ve recycled Zidi’s script verbatim and it still wouldn’t have sounded anything like the original (for one thing, there still would have been a lot more vowels). The Governator was never more charismatic than he is here, playing a superspy whose cover as a boring family man is killing his marriage. A perfectly paced blockbuster spectacle, True Lies hasn’t aged a day.—David Ehrlich


11. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Movies Science fiction

The original: The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

As the perennial example of anti-McCarthyism stealth criticism, Don Siegel’s paranoid 1956 original will always have a place at the table of significant sci-fi. But Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake improves on it in every way, from the stellar cast (Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, Brooke Adams) to the squishy special effects and overall mood. Best, though, is the newer film’s satiric jabs against San Francisco, a free-spirited town subtly being deadened by yuppies.—Joshua Rothkopf

10. Sorcerer (1977)

Movies Action and adventure

The original: Wages of Fear (1953)

The breathless story of four men who are tasked with driving trucks full of fragile nitroglycerine across the most precarious jungle terrain on earth, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s original—itself adapted from a 1950 novel by French writer Georges Arnaud—still holds up as one of the most suspenseful movies ever made. What William Friedkin’s remake loses in atmosphere and psychology, it almost makes up for in sheer action chops, Roy Scheider’s unforgettable lead performance, and a legendary electronic score by Tangerine Dream. Whichever version you prefer, we’re just stoked that Sorcerer’s recent restoration finally makes it possible to compare the two.—David Ehrlich


9. Heat (1995)

Movies Thriller

The original: L.A. Takedown (1989)

Mulholland Dr. isn’t the only time that a director’s greatest success came as the direct result of a failed pilot. Hoping to make an epic Los Angeles crime saga that unpacked a heist with equal attention to both the cops and the robbers, Michael Mann pitched the idea to NBC as a series and cobbled his footage together into L.A. Takedown when the show was nixed. Unlike David Lynch, however, Michael Mann didn’t get it right the first time around, so he went to the mattresses. Six years later, he dropped Heat on the world like a megaton bomb, pitting Robert De Niro and Al Pacino against each other for the definitive crime epic of the ‘90s.—David Ehrlich

8. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

Movies Horror

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. Kinski, fanged and feral, was at the height of his powers, and Popol Vuh’s unnerving score makes it feel as though the film has been filtered through the moans of Dracula’s victims. —David Ehrlich


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 would be 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 cherished mainland melodrama—one of the rare Chinese films of the 1940s to prioritize people over politics—and spicing it up with a shade of eroticism. Even without proper context, Zhaungzhuang’s take is absolutely magnificent.—David Ehrlich

6. The Fly (1986)

Movies Horror

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.—Joshua Rothkopf


5. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Movies Family and kids

The original: Wizard of Oz (1925)

That’s right, Toto: Before Judy Garland stepped a foot in 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 versions were any good. One of them even resulted in financial destitution for its director, Larry Semon. Preemptively, let’s add that there’s simply no reason for there to be a future Wizard of Oz ever again. (It’s easier to pretend that The Wiz never happened.)—Joshua Rothkopf

4. Some Like it Hot (1959)

Movies Comedy

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 dress in drag in order to escape from the mafia, but no one could get their hands on the script. (Good luck finding a copy of Fanfare of Love today, to read or watch.) 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 movie off of that, instead. All three versions are strikingly similar, but only Some Like it Hot was too good to retouch.—David Ehrlich


3. A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

Movies Action and adventure

The original: Yojimbo (1961)

It’s impossible to contest the importance of Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, the movie that popularized the spaghetti Western worldwide, launched the big-screen career of Clint Eastwood, and inspired a wave of future filmmakers like 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.—Joshua Rothkopf

2. His Girl Friday (1940)

Movies Comedy

The original: The Front Page (1931)

Famously, director Howard Hawks gave this tale of dueling reporters a sex change, swapping the gender of ace reporter Hildy Johnson from male to female and casting Rosalind Russell against Cary Grant. The screwball sparks were undeniable: His Girl Friday is a remake that complexifies its material while inspiring women decades before there was anything called feminism. As for Lewis Milestone’s 1931 original, dutiful to the stage play? It’s decent enough.—Joshua Rothkopf


1. Floating Weeds (1959)


The original: A Story of Floating Weeds (1934)

It’s always interesting when directors remake their own film, 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 color (a rarity for a man who preferred to work in monochrome), Ozu retells the story of a traveling kabuki troupe with both less bitterness and less restraint, resulting in a timeless and emotionally florid story of acting partners and surrogate families.—David Ehrlich


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