Remakes, like this weekend's "Total Recall," are often considered the lowest of the low for Hollywood. Just take an old movie or franchise with the slightest bit of name recognition and rehash it for a new generation with lackluster results ("Psycho," anyone?).
Sometimes, however, a remake manages to equal or even surpass its predecessor. Here are five great examples that give unoriginality a good name.
It's rare for remakes to be good, much less for them to win Best Picture. However, in the hands of master director Martin Scorsese (who previously found remake success with "Cape Fear"), it should come as no surprise, especially when the source material, a 2002 Hong Kong crime thriller "Infernal Affairs," is right down his alley.
As expected from a Scorsese film, the cast is at their gritty, profane best, but it's the director's craftsmanship with the genre that makes "The Departed" a delight. He knows how to create terrific, character-driven tension, clearly demonstrated in a sequence involving two moles and a ringing cell phone. I'm not sure if it quite deserved Best Picture in 2007 (it seemed more like a make-good for Scorsese's previous overlooked classics), but it certainly deserves a high spot on this list.
"The Manchurian Candidate"
The original "Manchurian Candidate," starring Frank Sinatra, is almost as much a product of its time as it is a product of great filmmaking. Released in 1962, its paranoia-drenched story of a brainwashed politician echoed the fears of a nation in the grips of the Cuban Missile Crisis and, a year later, the Kennedy Assassination. The 2004 remake, directed by "The Silence of the Lambs" director Jonathan Demme, could never hope to be as timely, but it's close, capitalizing on post-9/11 fear and paranoia.
Demme does a terrific job of making the audience uncomfortable and feeling the characters' paranoia. The updated screenplay is surprisingly an improvement as well, especially in its treatment of Rosie, who in the original (played by Janet Leigh) was superfluous. As heretical as this might be to say, "The Manchurian Candidate" may be a rare case of a remake outdoing the classic.
I saw Takashi Miike's brilliant "13 Assassins" a little too late to put it on my Best of 2011 list last year, so consider this a type of redemption. Based on a 1963 Japanese movie of the same name, the film follows a band of samurai who team up to take down a viciously cruel ruler.
It's a relatively common premise but made uncommonly well. The first half of the film focuses on getting to know the characters and seeing the intricate training and lifestyle of the samurai. The audience really gets to care about the assassins, which makes the final 45-minute battle all the more intense and nerve-wracking. "13 Assassins" is a glorious tribute to the legendary warriors that ends up legendary in its own right.
Though the Rat Pack may not surpassed in inherent cool and suaveness, their 1960 version of "Ocean's 11" is easily outdone by Steven Soderbergh's slick, sexy and smart 2001 remake. The tricky heist plan is thrillingly complex and wildly entertaining to watch unfold, but really, the movie is all about style, something Soderbergh and his cast have in spades.
Clooney, Pitt and company do their best to effortlessly match the timeless charisma of Sinatra and the Rat Pack, making crafty casino heists seem like the coolest job in the world. The crew is having fun, and the audience feels like they're having fun with them. "Ocean's 11" is everything we hope hanging out with celebrities would be like, though perhaps without the thievery and jail time.
If remakes are normally the bottom of the barrel, then horror movie remakes are the scummy excess that leaks out of the bottom. There are a few notable exceptions, such as 1982's "The Thing" and Zach Snyder's "Dawn of the Dead." However, it's director Gore Verbinski's 2002 take on the 1998 Japanese horror flick, "Ringu," that earns the last spot on this list.
With the numerous Japanese remake flops and even more numerous spoofs that followed, it's easy to forget how terrifying "The Ring" is. Verbinski creates a pervasive, dread-filled mood throughout the film, making the real world seem almost as dark and unsettling as the disturbing footage on the notorious cassette tape. Most importantly, "The Ring" is actually scary, a rare feat for most modern horror films. Case in point: I wasn't able to look in my closet for at least a week after "The Ring."
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