5 Remakes That Are Better Than The Originals

Posted by Wade Sheeler April 19, 2013 26 Comments 11993 views

As a classic film fanatic, or as PCF likes to call us, “Cinemaniacs,” we tend to be purists, and somewhat of a traditionalist bunch. So it’s rare that we ever take a risk and determine a remake as superior to its predecessor. But I’m nothing if not controversial (yeah – right) so I’m going out on a limb and listing my top 5 remakes that not only outshine, but sometimes obliterate the original.

Top 5 Remakes that Are Better Than the Originals

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(The Maltese Falcon, 1931)

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(Satan Met a Lady, 1936)

1. The Maltese Falcon

Film purists know that before Director John Huston’s freshman outing that changed detective mysteries forever, there were two previous versions. The original – 1931 – is a fun curio, specifically because of its pre-code sexuality and inclusion of Thelma Todd (past life regression hypnosis has proven that she was my wife). Richard Cortez has got nothing on Bogart’s Sam Spade, but even further off the mark is 1936’s Satan Met a Lady, where only a thin framework of the Dashiell Hammett plot remains., and it’s pretty weak.

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(The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1934)

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(The Man who Knew Too Much, 1956)

2. The Man Who Knew Too Much

Hitchcock remade his 1934 classic, which set the tone for ordinary people being thrown into extraordinary circumstances, culminating in larger than life set pieces. Considered one of the best from his acclaimed pre-Hollywood British films, its familiar themes appeared again in The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes. But the 1956 updating excels for its dynamic performances by every man James Stewart, and uncharacteristic deep dive by Doris Day, who believably takes us from carefree ex-nightclub singer to hysterical mother of a kidnapped boy. As well, it’s only Doris who could save the day by singing her son to freedom and screaming just in the nick of time, averting an attempted assassination. Que Sera Sera indeed!

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(The Thing, 1951)

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(The Thing, 1982)

3. The Thing

I’m sure I’ll get hit for this – the original (The Thing from Another Planet) has got great Cold War paranoia going for it, and plays the claustrophobia well of a lone Antarctic outpost slowly annihilated by a vegetable-like alien who lives off of blood. The iconic scene of James Arness’s carrot man set on fire and running into the snow is still breathtaking., but for sheer thrills, Kurt Russell coolness and a stepped up concept that involves said alien’s MO as ingesting and becoming its victims, John Carpenter’s The Thing plays and delivers on whole other level. It’s disgusting, funny, creepy and always a great crowd pleaser.

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(Ocean’s Eleven, 1960)

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(Ocean’s Eleven, 2001)

4. Ocean’s Eleven

When Soderbergh’s homage to the Rat Pack first came out, purists were incensed that anyone would even think of reinventing Frank, Dino and Sammy Davis cavorting around sin city, until people took the time to actually sit down and watch the 1960 original and realize, “wow, this actually sucks.” Again, it was Soderbergh’s ability to take the few elements that made EO11 an icon, and spin a wholly original heist movie that outcooled the cool. C’mon, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle and Julia Roberts? It’ll easily be another 40 years til we’ll see that trendy a crew together again.

310 to Yuma

(3:10 to Yuma, 1957)

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(3:10 to Yuma, 2007)

5. 3:10 to Yuma

This solid western, one of the biggest moneymakers of 1957 with strong performances by Glenn Ford and Van Heflin is a fine film, but the remake (made exactly 50 years later) not only also boasts a first rate cast and crew, (Actors Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, director James Mangold – and scenery chewing Ben Foster), but delves further into the idea of accountability, masculinity and the price of a man’s soul, as well as deftly blurring the lines between good and bad. I would say both are worth the price of admission, but I tip my hat a little further to the remake.

About Wade Sheeler

TV Producer & Director, Writer, Frustrated lover of film and obscure music. I still make mixed tapes if I like you enough.

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There are 26 Comments

  1. - April 19, 2013
      -   Reply

    I like both versions of The Thing very much — totally different kinds of movies.

    Have you ever read the original short story “Who Goes There?” by John Campbell that both movies are based on? The 1951 film is basically the first half of the short story and the 1982 film is the second half. They find the flying saucer buried in the ice, wind up in a straight-up fight against a monster and congratulate themselves on having defeated it — only to realize that it reproduces itself by absorbing and replicating people. The rest of the story follows the John Carpenter version.

    It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s worth tracking down.

    • Wade Sheeler
      - April 19, 2013
        -   Reply

      Hi Mythical – Great information, I never knew that’s how the original story broke down, and I have always wanted to read — now I’m super curious. Thanks so much!

  2. Jon Mullich
    - April 19, 2013
      -   Reply

    I think this list could begin and end with “The Maltese Falcon” but I’d also include “The Lord of the Rings” (if you consider the Peter Jackson films to be a remake of the dreadful Ralph Bakshi cartoon version), “His Girl Friday” (1940) over “The Front Page” (1931), David Lean’s “Oliver Twist” (1948) over the 1920 silent version and “Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde” (1932) over the silent version (also 1920).

    • Wade Sheeler
      - April 19, 2013
        -   Reply

      Jon – I would agree with all those, save for the fact that I dislike LOTR – animated, Jackson or otherwise. Oops, the sound of hundreds unfollowing. Which Jekyll & Hyde do you prefer – Frederic March or Spencer Tracy?

      • Jon Mullich
        - April 19, 2013
          -   Reply

        I think the March/Mamoulian version is the definitive one. As for Tracy (I can feel my own unfollowers here), I always found him to be monumentally overrated.

  3. Jason Fogelson
    - April 19, 2013
      -   Reply

    I’m tempted to add the Cohen Brothers’ True Grit to your list. Love the original, love the Duke, but the remake is — well, grittier.

  4. Amanda Bergloff Desmarais
    - April 20, 2013
      -   Reply

    Wade, thoroughly enjoyed your list. Totally want to re-watch the movies you mentioned now.
    Funny, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde came to mind when I was reading your article and Jon Mullich mentioned it. I do give my nod to the March version, though. Mamoulian’s direction was amazing – (think of Jekyll first seeing himself as Hyde in the mirror and also the slow fade out of Ivy’s bare leg swinging back and forth juxtaposed over Dr. Jekyll’s face as he’s hurriedly walking down the street) – Sexual repression expressed to the extreme in a minute of film. March’s beautiful leading man face contrasted with his degeneration into Hyde’s hunched, primitive man-state hit the mark for me and really left its tragic theme lingering in my mind….like Ivy’s leg…that the state of man has to integrate its 2 natures to be a whole person, otherwise it can ONLY end in tragedy.
    However, you gotta admit that in the Tracy version, his mental and physical torture of Ingrid Bergman pushes some boundaries. Never thought Tracy had it in him.
    Whew! Rant ended.
    Really enjoyed this article and like your writing style, Wade.

  5. ray milner
    - April 20, 2013
      -   Reply

    As soon as i saw the title, my reaction was “Well, that will be Maltese Falcon won’t it”.
    I will beg to strongly disagree about ‘The Thing’, but, hey, each to their own.
    Not better by any means, but an interesting variation..how about ‘Invasion of the body snatchers’ anyone?
    Ray

  6. Wade Sheeler
    - April 20, 2013
      -   Reply

    Amanda – excellent rendering of that scene. Completely whets my appetite to see it again right now! I agree with you and Jon about March’s version, although I completely disagree with him about Tracy. Except for a few exception (Jekyll & Hyde) he was the most subtle of actors at a time when people thought Paul Muni’s sinuous scene chewing was the height of excellence.

    Jason – yes – Coen’s True Grit far exceeds the original’s limitations. But I thought having The Thing and True Grit on the same list might mean I lose my Armchair Critic’s Certification.

  7. - April 20, 2013
      -   Reply

    Im tempted to offer up the technicolor feast of the Errol Flynn Robin Hood over the Douglas Fairbanks. But having just seen the Douglas Fairbanks big screen Im torn. The Fairbanks has such joie de vivre,gorgeous costumes and expansive settings! The other has…Errol (sigh).

  8. - April 21, 2013
      -   Reply

    I agree with this list, although I haven’t seen the remake of “3:10 to Yuma”. I love the original so much, I can’t bring myself to see the newer version.

    • Brandy Dean
      - April 22, 2013
        -   Reply

      I’m going with Wade on this one, the new 3:10 to Yuma was better. Or rather, in that case, it’s kind of just a really different movie.

  9. Carmella Sheeler
    - April 22, 2013
      -   Reply

    Sorry Wade./ Loved Jimmy Stewart but que sera sera ruined the picture for me.

  10. diane lewis
    - May 2, 2013
      -   Reply

    Another remake better than its inspiration. The devil is a woman was remade by bunuel as “that oscute object of desire”

  11. - May 10, 2013
      -   Reply

    I would add The Thomas Crown Affair to that list too.

  12. Mark Medellin
    - May 10, 2013
      -   Reply

    The first movie I thought of was The Front Page —> which became His Girl Friday in the remake. Howard Hawks had a brainstorm and switched genders of one of the characters and screwball comedy history was made! It never fails to make me laugh out loud.

  13. - July 26, 2013
      -   Reply

    Good list… Though I can’t get on board with YUMA. The remake was all right, but the first one didn’t have to force the metaphors.

    Also, ditto to Jon Walton’s THOMAS CROWN. They’re two different movies doing two different things, but the remake’s more ambitious and succeeds.

    I love how there’s nothing on the list post ’82 and no suggestions post ’99….

  14. Sim London
    - August 5, 2013
      -   Reply

    Good choices all but i would add Dawn Of The Dead to that list. Snyder’s remake outstripped Romero’s original and took it to a whole other level. I disagree that Tracy was overrated. I think he was a fine actor BUT we are in sync on the better film being the March one. Also agree the new 3:10 to Yuma surpassed the old one. And no it is not blasphemy to say the new True Grit was better John Wayne be damned! I will go a step farther and say Jeff Bridges played the part better than Wayne!
    Gonna get coal for Christmas for that one! Oh well.

  15. - September 5, 2013
      -   Reply

    #1 should have been “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. The ’78 version completely eclipsed the ’50’s version in every way. Also “Sorcerer” was superior to “Wages of Fear”. I am on board with your assessment of “The Thing” and obviously Falcon.

    • Brandy Dean
      - September 5, 2013
        -   Reply

      No way does Sorcerer trump Wages of Fear. I challenge you to a duel! My weapon of choice: nitrate laden trucks.

      • - September 5, 2013
          -   Reply

        I’ll be your back-up driver, Brandy, with enough leaking dynamite to blow us all to kingdom come! Put ‘er in gear and ride!

  16. Laurent Vachaud
    - September 6, 2013
      -   Reply

    What about Scarface ? As good as Hawks’film is the 1983 remake by DePalma written by Oliver Stone, with a stellar performance by Pacino is far superior, on every level.

  17. - September 15, 2013
      -   Reply

    A nice article!

    But I prefer the earlier versions of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and 3:10 TO YUMA and also TRUE GRIT.

    There’s much more grit in the old original ones!

  18. - January 1, 2014
      -   Reply

    A good list and I certaily agree with the comment regarding the Thomas Crown Affair. Ben-Hur certainly qualifies. I prefer El Dorado over Rio Bravo (it’s a Mitchum thing). The Fly, the Italian Job and of course A Star is Born are worthy considerations too.

  19. Alana
    - September 27, 2014
      -   Reply

    Richard Lester’s 3 Musketeers was the best version by far. As far as I can remember, it was one of the first costume dramas to show really dirty street fighting, and it was so perfectly cast – sexy, funny, great fight scenes, and so lovely to look at.

  20. Ron
    - October 14, 2014
      -   Reply

    True Grit, without question, Sinise’s Of Mice and Men, Insomnia, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Hills Have Eyes.

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