Movie remakes, and even complete movie reboots, might seem like they’re a sign of the times, but their relationship with storytelling and fiction as a whole is woven into our collective history.
Think of the oral tradition. It’s literally built upon retelling stories. That’s how humans learned storytelling. We’ve been remaking and rebooting stories since the coyote tricked the gopher. So, is it really a big deal if they remake Aladdin?
Yes. Because this new one looks stupid.
But not all reboots of beloved movies–cartoons included–are made equal. And yes, although Hollywood is out to make money, the vast majority of folks go into a film focused on quality as their priority. When they get things right, it elevates a once popular story into a reimagining of a classic, recontextualizing a story and making its essential elements shine like myths of old.
Let’s get right to it. Here are our lists of the best movie remakes and movie reboots, past, present, and future.
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3 Best Movie Remakes of All Time
Director(s): Brian De Palma
Writer(s): Oliver Stone
Starring: Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer
Release Date: December 9, 1983
This sleepy little romance tells the story of Tony Montana, who struggles with having it all and sadly falls prey to the vicious hunt for the American Dream. Or, as most like to see it: Cuban guy comes to America, snorts lots of coke, and–chainsaw–lots of violence. Both descriptions, we would argue, have merit.
Scarface is famous for the swagger the film exudes. More pointedly, Scarface is famous for Al Pacino’s swagger as Tony Montana. Still to this day, even though we are approaching 40 years after the gangster film’s release, Tony is envied by hustlers worldwide.
But this is an article about remakes, not film classics. Funny enough, Scarface is both.
For the most vetted of film buffs, this may be old hat, but manyfolks might be surprise to learn that Scarface is a remake (see below) But in short, this tale is as old as time. Someone comes to a new place, sees the potential for money at breaking the new locale’s laws, because they don’t particularly ring true for them anyway, and they get a little in over their heads with the consequences.
Director(s): Howard Hanks
Writer(s): Armitage Trail (novel), Ben Hecht (screen)
Starring: Paul Muni, George Raft, Boris Karloff, Ann Dvorak
Release Date: April 9, 1932
This is definitely the whitebread, toned-down version compared to the Scarface we’re more familiar with, but surprisingly not by much.
Like we mentioned above, film buffs will know this film, because it was actually… well, the Scarface of its time both literally and figuratively. Censors hated it. And of course, there was some uproar. Eventually, the filmmakers were forced to make studio edits, such as a stupid scene (completely out of place) that condemns gangsters. For the kiddos, we guess?
This was, of course, a time where they didn’t really have a rating system. In fact, at the time, the film would fall subject to Motion Picture Production Code (also known as the Hays Code).
For a taste of this wonderful code, here’s the “pre-code” portion that outlines some “Don’ts” and “Be Carefuls.”
Resolved, That those things which are included in the following list shall not appear in pictures produced by the members of this Association, irrespective of the manner in which they are treated:
- Pointed profanity – by either title or lip – this includes the words “God”, “Lord”, “Jesus”, “Christ” (unless they be used reverently in connection with proper religious ceremonies), “hell”, “damn”, “Gawd”, and every other profane and vulgar expression however it may be spelled;
- Any licentious or suggestive nudity – in fact or in silhouette; and any lecherous or licentious notice thereof by other characters in the picture;
- The illegal traffic in drugs;
- Any inference of sex perversion;
- White slavery;
- Miscegenation (sex relationships between the white and black races);
- Sex hygiene and venereal diseases;
- Scenes of actual childbirth – in fact or in silhouette;
- Children’s sex organs;
- Ridicule of the clergy;
- Willful offense to any nation, race or creed;
And be it further resolved, That special care be exercised in the manner in which the following subjects are treated, to the end that vulgarity and suggestiveness may be eliminated and that good taste may be emphasized:
- The use of the flag;
- International relations (avoiding picturizing in an unfavorable light another country’s religion, history, institutions, prominent people, and citizenry);
- The use of firearms;
- Theft, robbery, safe-cracking, and dynamiting of trains, mines, buildings, etc. (having in mind the effect which a too-detailed description of these may have upon the moron);
- Brutality and possible gruesomeness;
- Technique of committing murder by whatever method;
- Methods of smuggling;
- Third-degree methods;
- Actual hangings or electrocutions as legal punishment for crime;
- Sympathy for criminals;
- Attitude toward public characters and institutions;
- Apparent cruelty to children and animals;
- Branding of people or animals;
- The sale of women, or of a woman selling her virtue;
- Rape or attempted rape;
- First-night scenes;
- Man and woman in bed together;
- Deliberate seduction of girls;
- The institution of marriage;
- Surgical operations;
- The use of drugs;
- Titles or scenes having to do with law enforcement or law-enforcing officers;
- Excessive or lustful kissing, particularly when one character or the other is a “heavy”.
Huh, so they tried to make a gangster movie within that kind of restriction? And what kind of heartless bastard thought, “Sympathy for criminals” was something to be avoided.
Evidently, the Scarface folks managed to toe the line just enough to sneak past. As a result, Scarface (1932) is the precursor to all modern gangster films. Each generation pushed the envelope further for the films coming after them–an endless cycle of scars on faces.
Fun Fact: Did you know Scarface was originally based on a novel? In turn, that novel was actually based on Al Capone. So, yeah, remakes and reboots are kind of part of what we humans do with everything they find interesting.
The Thing (1982)
Director(s): John Carpenter
Writer(s): John W. Campbell (story), Bill Lancaster (screen)
Starring: Kurt Russell
Release Date: June 25, 1982
The Thing was not a well received film by critics, but home audiences knew better. Its concept is pretty awesome, even if it’s a little played out by now.
Basically, you’ve got an isolated place–a must for any horror film, we guess. But then you’ve got this alien that can masquerade as any on of your squad. This Thing can kill one of your people and take their place, and you’ll never know.
It’s a situation such as, “I know I’m not, but what are you?” Plus a little science fiction with it being an alien and all. Make it real cold, give us a robostly hairy Kurt Russell to root for, and we’ve got ourselves a cult classic that’s actually worthy of mainstream acclaim.
The Thing from Another World (1951)
Director(s): Christian Nyby
Writer(s): John W. Campbell (story), Charles Lederer (screen)
Starring: Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey, Douglas Spencer, Robert O. Cornthwaite, James Arness
Release Date: April 27, 1951
There’s that Howard Hawks again. What’s up with this guy? Was he like the real life Marty McFly? No, but he did work with Howard Hughes a lot… strange. Their wrestling name was Quadruple H.
It may not surprise you to know that The Thing was based on an older science fiction movie. These B-Movies, right? All recycled and remade, and then good ol’ John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, which his glorious hairiness, come along and make it good.
Actually, The Thing and The Thing From Another World are both actually based on a piece of literature.
Who Goes There? was its name. A 1938 novella by John W. Campbell Jr. under the pseudonym of Don A. Stuart. It may not be fine literature, but it’s not quite as pulp fiction-y as it sounds. Campbell is better known as the long editor of Astounding Science Fiction, which was later renamed to Analog Science Fiction and Fact, which is still a pillar of the science fiction literature community to this day.
From 1937 until his death in 1971, Campbell was basically one of the godfathers of science fiction. Even if this story of his was B-Movie material, it’s museum quality B-Movie material.
So, if you ever find the time to watch The Thing from Another World (1951), think of it fondly and graciously as an old black-and-white interpretation of a piece of literary history. We’re only sort of kidding.
A Fistful of Dollars
A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
Director(s): Sergio Leone
Writer(s): Adriano Bolzoni
Starring: Clint Eastwood
Release Date: January 18, 1967
Otherwise known as that movie that popularized that wild west shootout musical whistle queue.
Plus, a whole lot more.
Clint Eastwood’s first starring role, this spaghetti western is legendary for not only the movie itself but for the phenomena it spurred. The Man with No Name trilogy, or Dollar trilogy, continued with A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, all starring Eastwood. It’s basically the holy trinity of westerns–spaghetti westerns anyway.
It’s a playing both sides against the middle affair, and a tale that’s about as old as Clint Eastwood is now.
Director(s): Akira Kurosawa
Writer(s): Ryūzō Kikushima
Starring: Toshiro Mifune
Release Date: April 25, 1961
The two movie’s connection is unofficial, but the folks Toho, Yojimbo’s production house, did win a lawsuit. We call that a remake.
And who wouldn’t want to remake Yojimbo?
Toshiro Mifune, ironically, was at the smooth, seasoned end of his career when he made Yojimbo. Almost like Dirty Harry-era Clint Eastwood.The similarities don’t end there, of course, and in general the Dollars Trilogy does basically borrow tons of elements from Jidaigeki (“period films”) like Yojimbo.
What’s really crazy is when you get into the lawsuit and everything that was said by the creators, including the accusation by Leone that Kurosawa was actually ripping off a 1929 novel called Red Harvest.
What was that about how some stories should be off limit for remakes?
Honorable Mention: A Star is Born
We’re not recommending this movie lineage, because we’re not fans of leaking life-sustaining fluids. But we do have to respect the fact that when we say A Star is Born is a great remake, we kind of then have to specify, “which one?” Both. If you like crying, which again, we do not endorse.
Best Movie Remakes Coming Soon
Because we want to always provide relevant content, not something that changes accuracy willy nilly, we’ve linked to a few trusted sources who are known to constantly update masterlists of upcoming remakes and reboots.
Please give them a visit.
Movies Remakes We Wish For
Often, in the case of truly bad movies, there are a few elements worth saving. It’s the reason the project got greenlit to begin with–everyone saw the idea’s potential. Then, someone along the line came along and did a little too much cocaine and screwed everything up.
Logan’s Run (1976)
Director(s): Michael Anderson
Writer(s): William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson (story), David Zelag Goodman (screen)
Starring: Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Richard Jordan, Roscoe Lee Browne, Farrah Fawcett, Peter Ustinov
Release Date: June 23, 1976
This Hugo Award winner for Best Dramatic Presentation is set in a groovy future where everything’s great and everyone gets along.
Most people in this world are under the belief that when you turn 30, you reincarnate. What really happens is you’re euthanized to keep down the population. Except some folks run away.
Ingeniously, they’re called Runners, and we have it to think for our title. Films of this era weren’t greenlit unless their title was actually said on screen at some point or else strongly suggested. Anyway, Logan is the guy who hunts these runners. And he goes native.
Logan’s Run (???)
Actually use the source material. Oh, there’s source material, you say? Well, with as bad a reputation as Logan’s Run has, it’s reasonable that its source wouldn’t be top of everyone’s mind. Browsing through Half Priced Books, Logan’s Run doesn’t jump out as anything but a joke.
For one, the book’s age limit for everyone is 21. There’s a vicious gang of pre-teens who show up at one point.
There’s also this weird thing where your hand has a colored glow-y thing that gives away your age. Did we mention there are two sequels? I smell a film trilogy.
A Boy and His Dog
A Boy and His Dog (1975)
Director(s): L.Q. Jones
Writer(s): Harlan Ellison (story)
Starring: Don Johnson, Susanne Benton, Ron Feinberg, Jason Robards
Release Date: March 15, 1975
Imagine Fallout with a telepathic dog and a horny teen. It was shot by a guy who is very porn-y looking. It’s set in 2024, which is in less than half a decade, so it’s even more outdated at this point in time.
But this movie still manages to do things ahead of its time. Crazy high-concept setting. Disturbing twists on classic trops. Humor as dark as night.
Don’t expect to find any heroes, much like the Fallout games. Except this goes a little bit further. It’s not a gem, or even a diamond in the rough, but it’s one of those movies that has a sort of permanence, for its wild ideas alone if nothing else.
A Boy and His Dog (???)
Like a lot of remakes and reboots in this article, A Boy and His Dog has literary roots. Specifically, the Harlan Ellison science fiction novella of the same name.
Check it out on Amazon: A Boy and His Dog
Remakes usually go better when the reimaginers go back to the source material–not the first film iteration–for inspiration. Ellison is one dark puppy. One of his most popular stories is called I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. When he isn’t titling things outright disturbingly, he makes it creepily wholesome by naming a story something like Jeffty is Five or… A Boy and His Dog.
Some thought Ellison’s novella was unfilmable. Sometimes, that’s exactly what needs to be filmed, not a version of it that makes sense for audiences. Go full Ellison with it.
The Running Man
The Running Man (1987)
Director(s): Paul Michael Glaser
Writer(s): Stephen King as Richard Bachman (novel) and Steven E. de Souza (screen)
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, María Conchita Alonso, Yaphet Kotto, Richard Dawson
Release Date: November 13, 1987
Otherwise known as the greatest film of all time, The Running Man stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Arnold Schwarzenegger with some stubble. Oh, and Richard Dawson, which was really awesome for the time (just picture a more universally liked Steve Harvey–that’s the vibe).
It’s hard to separate the brilliant parts of The Running Man from the absolutely awful parts of The Running Man. In short, to give you the basic premise, it’s the future and certain criminals get executed on live TV after being hunted by professional serial killers with cool specialities just like Mega Man bosses.
So, what’s not to love? Well, there’s the really stupid costumes. And Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t always good at being anything but Arnold Schwarzenegger. Lots of bad puns and cliches. It wasn’t really a movie at the time without a wink and nod.
A lot of it can be chalked up to the glitz shellacked on a lot of blockbusters at the time. Still, it lowered the seriousness of the film and contributed to the movie’s guilty-pleasure status.
Don’t get us wrong, it’s a classic. Just maybe not one we’d put up against any other movie except the other Arnold Schwarzenegger films we’re ashamed that we also love.
The Running Man (???)
How can you make perfection better?
Well, firstly, let’s get it out of the way. Yes, this too, was based on a literary source: Stephen King’s The Running Man. Of course, like a lot of adaptations of Stephen King’s work, the screen version is a lot different.
For our remake pitch, we say use the cheesy movie as your starting point. Then, for the love of Schwarzenegger, go wild.
No more fighting in weird grungy tunnels, and nix the awful camera set ups. It’s like a dirty version of WWE, which we actually think was their intention. Mission… accomplished?
Let’s make a future more interesting. For instance, set the hunt in everyday metropolis. No cordoned off area.
For camerawork, we’ve got drones. Let’s use the drones.
But also, do at least take one thing from the novel. It’s a game show that the main character, Ben Richards, willingly goes on because his family needs the money in a very Les Miserables way.
Basically, take the bad attempt at social commentary we saw in the first Running Man, and make the absurd commentary remarkable and prescient.
Fantastic Four (2015)
Director(s): Josh Trank
Writer(s): Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, Josh Trank
Starring:Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell
Release Date: August 4, 2015
Marvel would be insane not to strongly play their new Fantastic Four hand in the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
There’s going to be some version of Fantastic Four, and it’ll be written and directed and produced by the finest talent all of Disney’s money can buy. So, it’s guaranteed to make 2 billion dollars.
One other thing is for certain. It’ll be better than any of the old Fantastic Four movies. Which one is your favorite Fantastic Four movie so far? Was it the one with a short (5′ 9″) and pudgy Michael Chiklis? Or maybe the one with Jessica Alba that no one saw?
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Fantastic Four (???)
Reed Richards is a narcissist and all around jerk.
But the world should and does worship him, so it’s okay. Except his makeshift family sometimes suffers as a result. That’s your Fantastic Four movie.
Too dark for Disney? Absolutely.
So what’s the alternative? Focus on the absolute horror of Ben being made into a disgusting rock Pokemon, and maybe even make it painful for Ben. Real painful. Because Disney does like a modicum of darkness.
It’s in all classic storytelling. Things have to appear bleak, but then The Thing says, “It’s Clobberin’ Time,” and you forget about the big galoot’s horrendous disfigurement.
Director(s): Ivan Reitman
Writer(s): Kevin Wade, Chris Conrad
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, Emma Thompson
Release Date: November 23, 1994
Was Junior a bad movie?
Undoubtedly. One of the worst. This is from the age where Hollywood would get pitched a universal concept and then they’d make sure to play with as much on-the-nose, over-the-top, slapstick energy possible.
There was no stoic irony or fantastical deadpan. There was no Safety Not Guaranteed at the time, and unfortunately, this star studded (well-paid) cast was not prepared to blaze a trail.
But let’s look at some strange particulars of this Junior stew. Universal release it November, 1993, right at Thanksgiving, which is a time usually reserved for big movies. Variety even predicted it’d be the biggest movie of the season (the real winner: The Santa Clause)
It was a flop, of course, but it actually made money. Its budget was $60 million, and its box office was $108.4 million (only $37 million domestic).
What if this was remade today by Alfonso Cuaron?
Instantly, Children of Men springs to mind, except we guess Clive Owen would be the baby mama. Well, that would make the title literal in a way that fans of Logan’s Run might appreciate.
But let’s really look at the problem here. This is a comedy. It was made to be a comedy. Except, it’s just not funny besides, “Hey, look at this stupid guy having a baby.”
That’s a dumb joke worth maybe one laugh.
Treat it real. Make it a drama. If anything, the comedy will come out of that and feel natural, in-world, and uncomfortable. Challenge assumptions. Talk about gender. Use it as a platform to discuss the 21st century ideas we’re facing today.
Junior is the movie we need.
Not all remakes of movies and reboots of popular IPs are bad. Sure, it may feel like our precious childhood memories are being sucked out of our head, spit upon, and desecrated slowly in front of our eyes, but it’s really a part of being human.
In a way, we’re just repeating the same story. That’s a very Joseph Campbell-like look at the whole storytelling affair, but there are a lot of similarities between what cultures value in a good story.
In some fundamental ways, we’re constantly remaking the same few ideas, just in different ways.