The 20 best movie remakes of all time

It's an argument we've all had: what's better, the original, or the remake? Many will insist that the latter will always lose out to the former, but it's not necessarily the case.

In fact, to prove that point, we've rounded up 20 fantastic remakes to prove that the concept isn't as half-baked as we think it is. Take inspiration from the following brilliant films – who knows, they may help inspire a lively conversation or movie night to help see you through the lockdown period.

1. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Suspense master Alfred Hitchcock remakes his own 1934 thriller to slick, and arguably superior, effect, with James Stewart in the central role. The budget is clearly bigger and the set-pieces commendably more ambitious, as Stewart's doctor becomes embroiled in a deadly international conspiracy.

Doris Day completes the heavyweight line-up of stars, and it all culminates in a nerve-shredding Royal Albert Hall showdown, which demonstrates how far Hitchcock had come in the intervening 22 years. As the director himself told filmmaker and admirer Francois Truffaut: "Let's say the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional."


2. The Magnificent Seven (1960)

John Sturges' rollicking Western, a mainstay of dreary bank holiday weekends, is in fact a remake of Akira Kurosawa's 1954 movie Seven Samurai. Sturges was an admirer of the Japanese master, and transposed his story of feudal conflict into the bullet-ridden landscape of the American West.

Few ensemble casts in the years since have boasted such charisma. Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen are sparky, competitive leads (both on-screen and off), with the rest of the seven including favourites such as Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughan and James Coburn. Forget the remake of the remake that arrived in 2016 – this one is the real deal.

3. A Fistful Of Dollars (1964)

The trend of remaking Akira Kurosawa films as Westerns continued with Clint Eastwood's breakout movie, A Fistful Of Dollars. (This time, it was 1961 samurai movie Yojimbo that got the treatment.) In truth, Kurosawa was a great admirer of Hollywood Western filmmakers like John Ford (Stagecoach), so there's a nice symmetry to how the various movies mirror one another.

A Fistful of Dollars was Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone's first entry in his groundbreaking 'Dollars' trilogy, the movies that popularised the concept of the 'Spaghetti Western'. Shot in Spain with an eye for maximum operatic impact, extreme close-ups juxtaposed with Ennio Morricone's soaring music, the impact was instantaneous, securing Leone's reputation.


4. Sorcerer (1977)

Released directly opposite Star Wars, William Friedkin's remake of 1953 French movie Wages of Fear never stood a chance. However, Sorcerer's reputation has steadily grown in the last four decades, to the extent that many people now regard it as superior to the original.

As with the Henri-Georges Clouzot-directed original, the concept is fiendishly simple, yet nerve-shredding. A team of guys with nothing to lose are tasked with transporting highly explosive nitroglycerine through a deadly jungle environment that seems to conspire against them at every turn. Sweaty and nihilistic, Friedkin's movie boasts many memorable set-pieces, including a fraught excursion across a rickety rope bridge, set to Tangerine Dream's buzzing score.


5. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)

The original Invasion Of The Body Snatchers was released in 1956, its tale of extraterrestrial menace an allegory for the McCarthy Communist witch hunts gripping America at the time. Fast-forward two decades and the material gets an all-new take, decidedly more sombre and experimental take for seventies audiences.

Directed by Philip Kaufman, there's no denying this version is far better than its predecessor. Or, at the very least, it's a hell of a lot scarier, as invading alien parasites turn unsuspecting humans into 'pod people': humanoid simulations with no emotions. From the human/dog hybrid to the unforgettable finale with a screeching Donald Sutherland, the movie still possesses the power to petrify.


6. Nosferatu (1979)

German Expressionist horror masterpiece Nosferatu was, itself, a thinly veiled reworking of Bram Stoker's classic Dracula. Unleashed in 1922, it sealed the archetypal image of the vampire, with Max Shreck's Count Orlock, spindly of stature and white of face, climbing the stairs to suck his victims dry.

However celebrated the original is, it pales when placed next to Werner Herzog's take in the 1970s. Herzog is a director with an affinity for gazing into the human abyss (Fitzcarraldo et al), and he brings that same coolly disturbing atmosphere to this slice of vampire lore. Key to Nosferatu's impact is the presence of Herzog's muse (and tormentor) Klaus Kinski, who slides into the role of the bloodsucker with disconcerting, terrifying ease.


7. The Thing (1982)

Best remake of all time? It's hard to deny that John Carpenter's reworking of 1951 movie The Thing From Another World is a vastly more impactful and effective beast. From its claustrophobic setting to effectively rugged cast and horrifically slimy creature effects (courtesy of Rob Bottin), this is a movie that takes the template of the original and tailors the material to its respective decade.

Carpenter's take on The Thing was released at the outset of the AIDS crisis, when body horror was an exciting new avenue of opportunity in genre cinema. Certainly, the distortion wrought by Carpenter's unseen extraterrestrial threat is masterfully done, but it's that lingering sense of paranoia that chills us to the core, more than 30 years later. How can we discern what really makes us human?


8. Scarface (1983)

Director Howard Hawks (who also helmed The Thing From Another World) brought the first Scarface movie to the big screen in 1932, with James Cagney in the central role. For its time, Scarface was a controversial and arrestingly violent gangster movie, taking advantage of the creative liberations prior to the development of the Hollywood Code, which later placed censorship on portrayals of explicit material.

However, the original pales compared to the cocaine-laced excess of the pumped-up eighties remake. Master of the lurid Brian De Palma teams with screenwriter Oliver Stone (later of Platoon fame) to unleash one of the most hysterical, and hysterically violent, movies of its era. A ripe Al Pacino puts the human face on the drug dealer who rises spectacularly and later falls disgracefully, with the film's pulsating soundtrack emblematic of the era.


9. The Fly (1986)

If The Thing is the gold standard for sci-fi horror remakes, then The Fly, incredibly, is even better. As with John Carpenter, director David Cronenberg refashions a creaky 1950s monster movie as a deeply unnerving, yet also profoundly sad, meditation on disease and despair.

By this stage in his career, Cronenberg had developed a reputation as the "king of venereal horror", honed from the likes of Rabid and Scanners. But The Fly is arguably his masterpiece, a thwarted love story buried beneath a mound of disintegrating body parts, as a science experiment goes horribly wrong, transforming one scientist into a human/fly hybrid. In the central roles, Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis break our hearts at the same time that Cronenberg grosses us out.


10. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

This rib-tickling Steve Martin/Michael Caine gem is a remake of a forgotten Marlon Brando/David Niven vehicle named Bedtime Story, from 1964. Martin and Caine fashion terrific chemistry as competitive con artists plying their trade on the French riviera. But they must strike a difficult truce and learn to work together when choosing their latest mark.

Caine's suave urbanity is well matched by Martin's familiar, rubber-faced goofing. The most hysterical scene involves the unveiling of Martin's animalistic Ruprecht, the pot-banging, trident-wielding secret brother of Caine's character Lawrence. It's all a sham, but one that has us in bits every single time.


11. Heat (1995)

Michael Mann's atmospheric crime classic is, in fact, a remake of his own 1989 TV movie, LA Takedown. Of course, Heat benefits from a vastly expanded budget, luxurious running time, and one of the best casts ever to grace a 1990s thriller.

Mann's characteristic slow-burn style, in which the moral boundaries of cops and criminals become dangerously blurred, takes full flight in this multi-stranded depiction of 20th century Los Angeles isolation. Each and every one of Heat's characters is grappling with a sense of angst, regardless of their profession, and the film's melancholy visuals help take us further inside their heads. The central battle between Al Pacino's policeman and Robert De Niro's veteran bank robber hits fever pitch in the ear-splitting gun battle sequence, quite possibly the best ever put to film.


12. The Birdcage (1996)

We're still pining for the late, great Robin Williams, and movies like The Birdcage explain why. Director Mike Nichols (The Graduate) collaborates with screenwriter Elaine May (The Heartbreak Kid) to update 1978 French-Italian comedy La Cage Aux Folles. And Nichols has two almighty weapons in his arsenal, in the form of Williams and co-star Nathan Lane.

The actors share wonderful chemistry as two gay men, Armand and Albert. When the former learns that his son has fallen for the daughter of a steadfastly Republican senator (Gene Hackman, keeping an admirably straight face), the two men must learn to act straight to keep up appearances. The hilarious end result remains of Williams' greatest films.

13. Ocean's Eleven (2001)

The original Ocean's Eleven movie from 1960 may have boasted the presence of Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack. But for glossy escapism and witty thrills, Steven Soderbergh's slick remake beats it, hands down.

Soderbergh's movie looks and sounds a treat, as George Clooney's gang of expert con men look to take down Andy Garcia's ruthless casino owner. Of course, it's personal: Garcia has shacked up with Julia Roberts, playing Clooney's ex. Watching the pieces come together during the diabolically clever showdown proves that a movie remake can indeed be leaps and bounds better than the film that inspired it. And that cast is to die for: Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Carl Reiner, Elliot Gould, Casey Affleck and more are fantastic as the devious con artists who love what they do.

14. Insomnia (2002)

More Robin Williams is on offer, but of a decidedly creepier variety. Christopher Nolan's remake of 1998 Swedish thriller Insomnia features one of the actor's most memorable performances, playing a devious killer locked in mind games with Al Pacino's frazzled detective.

The movie takes place in a land of perpetual day, and as Pacino's character starts to lose track of time, so do we the audience. This is a classic Christopher Nolan trope, and it's exciting to watch him elicit such a menacing performance from Williams. This was the second creepy performance the actor delivered in 2002, the other being gripping thriller One Hour Photo.


15. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Zack Snyder's visually flashy style has been put to use on the Watchmen movie, and also the critically panned Batman vs Superman. However, he's not always guilty of style over substance. His 2004 remake of George A. Romero's landmark classic Dawn of the Dead is surprisingly effective, albeit putting gore and action in front of his predecessor's sly, anti-consumerist message.

Nevertheless, there are several genuinely scary set-pieces on offer in Snyder's movie. A zombie birth scene is enough to have anyone cringing, and, in the central role, Sarah Polley drops her usual indie roots to play the kind of blood-splattered survivor around whom we can all rally.


16. 3:10 To Yuma (2007)

Glenn Ford/Van Heflin Western 3:10 To Yuma, originally released in 1957, is updated and improved by director James Mangold (later of Logan fame). Mangold adds far more bulk to the characters in his version, as Christian Bale's struggling farmer must transport notorious killer Russell Crowe to the eponymous Yuma train.

The two stars bring grizzled, leathery conviction to their roles: two men on opposite sides of the law who realise they share more in common than they think. These moral quandaries help keep us gripped as the movie traverses a hostile landscape, all to the sound of Marco Beltrami's Morricone-riffing score (a recipient of an Oscar nomination).


17. True Grit (2011)

John Wayne's depiction of the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn in True Grit is a classic portrayal. But the movie itself is somewhat lacking – a cartoonish adventure that lacks the courage of its convictions. The remake, however, benefits greatly from the ironic, darkly comic touch of directors the Coen brothers, no stranger to a Western landscape thanks to Blood Simple and No Country For Old Men.

The Coens' take on the material is far darker and more despairing, albeit laced with many laughs courtesy of Jeff Bridges' incomprehensible take on Cogburn. It's shot by the great Roger Deakins and features Matt Damon in support, but the show is stolen by Hailee Steinfeld, playing the wise-beyond-her-years young girl who sets the plot in motion.


18. The Jungle Book (2016)

The Jungle Book remake, better than the 1967 Disney original? You'd better believe it. The animated version, of course, features a number of timeless songs and classic characters, including Balloo, Kaa, King Louie and Shere Khan. But Jon Favreau's approach in the 2016 remake is far more substantial, crafting a gripping and often scary adventure of one boy's attempt to survive in a deadly jungle environment.

Favreau walks the finest of lines between honouring the music and light tone of the animation, and also the darker impulses of original Jungle Book author Rudyard Kipling. The end result is a compelling story of tooth and claw that interweaves CGI with live-action to spellbinding effect.

19. Pete's Dragon (2016)

The original Pete's Dragon, dating from 1977, is an oddity in the Disney canon, a blend of live-action performance and cartoon characters. Fortunately, director David Lowery's upgrade is a wholesale improvement, awe-inspiring and tear-jerking as it finds profound depths in its central relationship between a boy and his pet fire-breather.

The film's earthy sense of landscape (it's set in the USA, but was shot in New Zealand) is well-tailored to a story of fantasy that intrudes on day to day reality. Led by Oakes Fegley as Pete, the excellent cast of Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Wes Bentley and Karl Urban bring wide-eyed joy to the tale. And the excellent CGI on the dragon himself, named Elliot, helps us believe the unbelievable.

20. A Star Is Born (2018)

We're cheating a bit here, as Bradley Cooper's take on the A Star Is Born story is the third remake. Each generation will argue that its respective version is the best, from Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954, to Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in 1976. Nevertheless, based on its sheer emotional impact and conviction, we're going with Cooper's film.

Cooper directs and elicits a fantastic performance from Lady Gaga as aspiring singer Ally. For someone whose identity is built on outlandish transformations, Gaga is ironically unrecognisable as the talented performer thrust into the spotlight against her will. As the character rises to global heights, it's hard not to see the movie as a commentary on Gaga's own personal struggles with fame. But the real reason it works is the chemistry between the main players, and those killer songs, namely the Oscar-winning, cathartic 'Shallow'.

What are your favourite movie remakes of all time? Let us know @Cineworld.

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