Flora Watkins

The art of the remake: 10 films that rival the original

The art of the remake: 10 films that rival the original
Murder on the Orient Express, Image: Shutterstock
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It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to remake a film that is already considered a peerless masterpiece. Netflix were roundly trashed for attempting it with Rebecca. 'Superficial and slapdash' was the New Yorker’s verdict (one of the kinder ones): 'somewhere between a lukewarm retread of Hitchcock’s original and a glossy Instagram feed'. As for the BBC’s Christmas three-part adaptation of Black Narcissus, not even Diana Rigg in her final role could save it from coruscating comparisons with the 1947 Powell and Pressburger film. 

This year will see remakes, prequels and sequels of Top Gun, Cinderella and 101 Dalmations to name but three. But for a remake to be successful, it needs a different approach to the original, a new way of telling the story — or else at best it’s pointless, at worse, treasonable. Here are some that got it right. 

The Wizard of Oz (1939) 

There’s a perception that Hollywood is obsessed at the moment with reboots, with The Witches, Dune and West Side Story some of the latest. But it’s nothing new. One of the classics of cinema, MGM’s technicolour The Wizard of Oz was, in fact a remake of a 1924 silent film, one of several made during the 1920s and 30s. 

The Thing (1982) 

Unappreciated on its release (partly due to comparisons with the feel-good ET of the same year), John Carpenter’s remake of 1951’s The Thing From Another World has since been reappraised as one the best, most terrifying sci-fi movies ever made. A prequel, also called The Thing was released in 2011 and there are whisperings of another remake n early production.

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Director and star Kenneth Branagh could have easily thought better of adding to the litany of Poirot films out there with his own take on the eponymous detective. But such was the success of 2017's Murder on the Orient Express that he's now embarking on a remake of Death on the Nile. Agatha Christie never grows tired, it seems. This first film has a stellar cast including Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp and Olivia Coleman and is infinitely watchable. Lend it an evening and you won't be disappointed.

Casino Royale (2006) 

The film that launched the hugely successful Daniel Craig reboot of the Bond franchise is technically a remake, since David Niven played 007 in the 1967 spoof. Branded “possibly the most indulgent film ever made” by the legendary film critic, Roger Ebert, the only bit worth salvaging is Burt Bacharach’s Oscar-nominated song for the soundtrack, The Look of Love. 

A Star is Born (2018) 

Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut is a remake of a remake of a remake and it’s by far the best of the four. The original (1937) doesn’t feature any singing; the Judy Garland and James Mason reimagining (1954) is, at nearly three hours, solely one for fans of extended musical numbers. The shaggy 1970s version with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson suffers from a lack of chemistry. That’s not something Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga suffer from; Cooper split from the mother of his daughter amidst rumours of a romance with his co-star. 

Ocean’s 11 (2001) 

Most filmmakers would quail at remaking the 1960 Rat Pack heist film of the same name. But Steven Soderbergh pulled it off with this slick, witty interpretation and a stellar cast to rival Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jnr et al. Though the less said about the sequels, the better. 

The Muppets’ Christmas Carol (1992) 

Heresy, perhaps, to those who consider Alastair Sim’s portrayal of Scrooge (1951) as the best version of Charles Dickens’ novella. Yet the muppets’ musical is far truer to the plot (apart from turning Jacob Marley into twins, to make full use of Statler and Waldorf). Michael Caine said of the lead role: 'I’m going to play this movie like I’m working with the RSC'. The result is a fine Scrooge, imbued with a touching pathos. 

Insomnia (2002)

Christopher Nolan’s most comprehensible film was a remake of a Norwegian movie of the same name. His interpretation, starring Al Pacino as a cop investigating a murder in an Alaskan town where the sun never sets, was praised as an intelligent re-examination of the original. It even got the director, Eric Skjoldbjaerg’s blessing.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) 

Tim Burton’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel is, like a Whipple Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight, far superior to the competition. It’s visually delectable, truer to the story than the 1971 Gene Wilder version (which Dahl disowned) and Burton’s long-time collaborator, Johnny Depp, has never been better cast as the eccentric Willy Wonka. 

The Parent Trap (1998) 

In her first ever feature film, Lindsay Lohan took the role played by Hayley Mills in the 1961 original, in the tale of a girl who’s reunited with her long-lost twin and schemes to get her divorced parents back together by switching places with her. The new trans Atlantic setting of California and London works a treat, even if Lohan's English accent is a little hammy. It’s remember fondly by many a Millennial as the first PG film they were allowed to watch. Perfect family viewing.