When it comes to remakes, perhaps Hollywood should adopt the old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, because more often than not, the results are disastrous. However, there have been a few remakes with happier results than previous attempts. Here are my top five personal favorites, in no particular order.
King Kong – even though the original 1933 production will always remain a classic, the 1977 remake was absolutely dismal, featuring Jessica Lange looking more puppet-like than her titular co-star. This left the door open for Peter Jackson to grab the title of “superior remake” with his 2005 movie about a giant ape. What makes this version shine are things like stunning locations, Jack Black’s comic relief and the uncanny resemblance of Naomi Watts to the 1933 beauty who killed the beast – Fay Wray. While the script is alternately lame with inane dialogue, it certainly had the best special effects, including the most realistic Kong of the bunch.
The Thomas Crown Affair – although Steve McQueen’s fans will probably disagree, Pierce Brosnan was right to try his hand at updating this. His stroke of genius was turning Crown from the team’s mastermind who isn’t even on the scene to rob his own bank, into a one-man hands-on thrill seeker who steals a painting just for the adrenaline rush. In this way, Crown’s antics are more personalized, thus making starting a relationship with the insurance investigator, all the more risky. Plus, there’s no denying, Brosnan beats McQueen when it comes to sexy, sophisticated and suave (although the results are switched when it comes to hunky, scruffy and rough). It even uses an excellent cover of the original movie’s theme song, “Windmills of Your Mind”, sung by Sting.
The Italian Job – pulling off a gold heist by causing a traffic jam in Turin, Italy may not seem like a plot interesting enough to remake, but it when this was first made in 1969, it was more of a comedy than a thriller/action movie. That was the obvious bent when they cast Michael Caine, Noel Coward and Benny Hill. When this was updated in 2003 with Mark Wahlberg, Donald Sutherland and Edward Norton, we got a heavier dose of action in the process. While still having a good measure of comedy, this version also piles on the modern technology, picks up the speed several notches, adds a bit of sexy deception (Charlize Theron) and then finishes off with one twist after another until you’re almost totally confused as to who’s got what. While a darker version than the original, it thankfully kept the fleet of mini cars in the cast, which were part of its main charm.
Freaky Friday – here’s one that’s left off many lists as being better than the original. The 1976 movie starred a very young Jodi Foster whose body gets switched with her mother’s after partaking of an enchanted fortune cookie. This cute, but ultimately unmemorable film was remade into a delightful treat staring Lindsey Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis in 2003. Updated and revamped to reflect 21st century realities, we get a duo that play against each other, but do it with love. What makes this work is how nicely the two actors copied each other’s real mannerisms and vocal tones in order to mimic their personalities during the switch. This was sorely missing in the original. Okay, it’s still fluff, but fun fluff, all the same, and better fluff than Jodi offered.
Hairspray – despite the original 1988 all-star cast, the main reasons why this one is the better choice are twofold. Firstly, Nikki Blonsky is a far better singer and dancer than Ricki Lake was, and more importantly, Nikki is much more likeable (both on and off screen). The other reason is John Travolta in drag! A true sight to see and he does such a great job with the part, he carries the rest of the cast with him into 120 minutes of pure, unadulterated fun. The only minor drawback here is that the newer version didn’t take advantage of more modern cinematography technologies available. Still, that doesn’t really distract from the overall effect, so don’t let that bother you.
Honorable mentions go to Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and Ocean’s 11. Both of these were excellent remakes, but their predecessors weren’t lacking – just different. In addition, you might be surprised to know that the well-known versions of An Affair to Remember, Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments are all also remakes of much earlier, poorer versions. Finally, as an aside, you can add to this list Chicago (musical version of the earlier film Roxy Hart) which far surpassed its non-musical, earlier screening.