Famous movie remakes are nothing new but rather something that has always existed in cinematic history.
However, some are just useless copies, while others are interesting, if not sometimes even better than the original.
Recently, I wrote about Denis Villeneuve, who is recreating two episodes of Dune, a science fiction classic of 1984.
Other attempts may be reboots or unexpected sequels, such as Ghostbusters Afterlife or Matrix Resurrections, but they always aim at the same purpose.
The goal is clear: milking a film brand’s fame to the max, even when clearly running out of new ideas.
What distinguishes a good remake from a movie that isn’t even worth a minute of our time?
Today, we will look at some that take their cues from an original story while also being original.
As I always say, what matters most in a movie is the director. So let’s talk about three great masters of cinema who know what it’s like to make a remake.
Table of contents
Let’s start by talking about Jonathan Demme, one of the most influential American authors of the 80s and 90s.
It’s not that he stopped making movies, but his fame among the general public has unfortunately faded.
However, many people still know some of his masterpieces, such as The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia.
However, the director doesn’t limit his production to dramas or thrillers; he also directs comedies such as Married to the Mob and Something Wild.
He also recreated some 1960s popular movies, upgrading to modern times and not being welcome by the public or critics.
Were these remakes that bad, or was there overly casual about forgetting these movies so quickly?
The Truth About Charlie (2002)
The story concerns a young American woman living in France after marriage to an art dealer.
Her relationship with her husband is increasingly distant and complex, so she takes a vacation to get away from him.
In the Caribbean paradise atmosphere, she starts deciding to end the relationship and leave him once and for all.
Unfortunately, upon her return, she finds a terrible surprise: her apartment in Paris has been destroyed and burglarized.
She also discovers that all her accounts have been drained to the last penny, checking with her bank.
Finally, as if that wasn’t enough, the French police pick her up to have her identify her husband’s dead body.
At that point, she learns her husband was not an art dealer but a secret agent working for the Americans.
Her boss contacts her soon after, explaining the precarious situation and the danger she is running into without realizing it.
In the last mission, her husband had to deal with the delicate kidnapping of the son of an important patron.
But the ransom payment had gone terribly wrong, and a team member had been killed.
Also, in the chaotic battle, millions of dollars to release that hostage disappeared without a trace.
Sure that it was the team that killed her husband, the leader believes they tried to forcefully get her to tell them where she had hidden the money.
Therefore, these soldiers relentlessly pursue her in a triple whammy with police and a charming American trying to help her.
The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
We now move on to a conspiracy thriller, a remake of an excellent ’60s movie starring the legendary Frank Sinatra.
Taking his place is Denzel Washington, a former soldier now retired after the Gulf War.
The man is a decorated soldier following his last operation, an enemy ambush in which he bravely saved many lives.
Every night the same nightmares continue to haunt him, about scientists torturing him and his team members.
Slowly he begins to convince himself that this is the reality of what happened in the Middle East, while his memories are just a manipulation.
When he later meets an old comrade who confesses to having the same dreams, he becomes more and more convinced of his theory.
At that point, he decides to go to Washington to meet one of his younger soldiers, now a prominent politician running for vice president.
Despite close surveillance, he manages to talk to them but eventually attacks him to try to prove his point.
Indeed, biting him in the back, he finds a tiny chip that a fellow researcher recognizes as Manchurian Global technology.
The large corporation seems inextricably linked with the politician’s mother, longing to have one of their men infiltrate the White House.
As the clues disappear and the few witnesses die in freak accidents, the soldier begins to fear for his life.
But even the young politician begins to suspect that he is a puppet controlled by hypnosis, beginning to rebel against his masters.
Martin Scorsese is a director who I don’t think needs any introduction, dominating the international scene for over 50 years.
However, spending a few words for a master who has always been at the top for two generations of film lovers is always good.
I don’t remember a movie of his that I didn’t like or where he didn’t propose something different, even a little, never seen before.
I recommend his whole filmography unconditionally, from the old classics like Raging Bull and Taxi Driver to the latest The Irishman and The Wolf of Wall Street.
Even these remakes I’m going to talk about have something to teach: how to copy an original idea and make it your movie.
So let’s take a closer look at two cult films that are among my favorite works by Scorsese and audiences worldwide.
Cape Fear (1991)
A remake of its namesake, this 1960 movie is about a successful lawyer and his family’s misadventure.
Although they seem seemingly the perfect realization of the American dream, they are hiding problems.
The daughter is depressed while the parents argue constantly, and the husband cheats on his wife with a co-worker.
But all of this is nothing compared to the hurricane of trouble about to hit their lives.
Indeed, after 14 years in jail, a dangerous criminal is still furious with his lawyer for not adequately defending him.
Unfortunately for them, the man is not only highly violent and threatening but also brilliant.
He slowly manages to turn them against each other, denouncing them when the husband pays thugs to beat him up.
But the criminal has all other intentions than to settle the matter in court, preferring to take justice into his own hands.
Robert De Niro embodies a perfect epitome of pure evil, with a nightmarish performance for every father and husband.
Equally good is the family of the always-excellent Nick Nolte, the charming jealous Jessica Lange, and a young Juliette Lewis.
Scorsese takes up almost wholly the famous film of 1962, where the lying lawyer was Gregory Peck, and the criminal was a terrifying Robert Mitchum.
Given the censorship of the time, the violence was primarily psychological, supported by the excellent actors and the outstanding direction of J. Lee Thompson.
The remake is far scarier and violent, perhaps excessively in some scenes, so definitely not recommended for the impressionable.
However, the director’s style takes over, giving the whole story a wholly different and unmissable personality.
The Departed (2006)
We now move to a Chinese trilogy movie that Scorsese summarizes in a single remake.
The protagonists are two policemen who dedicate their lives to deception and betrayal in different ways and motivations.
One of them goes to jail trying to appear as a criminal, then infiltrates the underworld of his old neighborhood and gains the trust of the local boss.
The other policeman, on the contrary, works for the boss, passing him information from inside the district to help him carry out his crimes.
Besides their dangerous position as snitches, the two men will unknowingly share the same lady.
Indeed, she is a psychiatrist working with cops and ex-cons, sharing her love with them without getting to decide.
But disaster is near for everyone when the leader’s delusion of omnipotence overcomes his men’s ability to back it up.
Compared to the original trilogy, the boss is more present and unwieldy with a superb performance by Jack Nicholson.
The two spy cops are instead Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon, who fight without even almost meeting if not in the beautiful final.
Between them stands the beautiful Vera Farmiga, an ironic sensitive mind doctor that will be both joy and ruin.
Scorsese brings the grand noir thriller epic from China to America in his unmistakable Goodfellas style.
Working heavily on dialogue and changing much of the screenplay, it perhaps doesn’t quite reach the narrative tension of the eastern couple Andrew Lau and Alan Mak.
However, I defy anyone to say that The Departed is not original and unique, finally paying even the director with a well-deserved Oscar after a long career of masterpieces.
Finally, let’s talk about three films by one of the most beloved directors of my generation.
Along with Walter Hill and James Cameron, John Carpenter is one of the best at knowing how to combine great entertainment and intelligence.
Unfortunately, many younger generations don’t remember his name, having hardly worked as a director since 2000.
However, his masterpieces’ fame is still intact, such as Assault on Precinct 13, Escape from New York, and Halloween.
The remakes we will watch are the best demonstration of taking an old movie and making it completely new.
Indeed, when an auteur has a direct and recognizable cinematic signature, he rarely misses the target when he gets behind the camera.
The Thing (1982)
We begin with a remake of a classic movie directed, albeit undercover, by the superb Howard Hawks.
We go from a low-budget 50’s production to a vast Universal Pictures project, still Carpenter’s most expensive production to date.
The story takes place entirely in a remote and isolated scientific research base in Antarctica, where one day, they spot a helicopter in the distance heading towards them.
Some armed men from the vehicle are chasing a dog, shooting wildly.
Finding themselves suddenly under fire, the base personnel responds by killing them all.
They then take the dog back to their quarters to understand why the foreigners were trying to kill it.
However, when they fly to the outpost from which the helicopter came, they find the structure destroyed and all the personnel dead in the strangest and most horrible ways.
They soon discover that the dog is actually a creature from another world capable of mutating into any form.
At that point, none of them will know who to trust anymore, each suspecting the other while the dangerous alien tries to escape in any way.
In this case, we can undoubtedly speak of a remake significantly superior to the original movie, although even that, for the time, was very intriguing.
Abandoning the theme of World War II’s end, the new movie focuses on the characters’ group psychology.
Carpenter uses his slow and extremely narrative horror style, emphasizing the growing hostility between those who were, until recently, good friends.
His evocative music darkly underscores the horror of body and mind, though officially, the soundtrack is by Ennio Morricone.
In short, The Thing is a timeless masterpiece, of which Strike Entertainment made a pleasant (though inferior) prequel in 2011.
Village of the Damned (1995)
Another remake that this time comes from the horror movie of the same name from the 60s, which was set in England.
Everything begins in a small American town suddenly enveloped by an invisible bubble causing all inhabitants to pass out.
The authorities immediately surround the area establishing a security cordon, but they can’t get in to help anyone.
Indeed, anyone trying to approach the town passes out and remains on the ground beyond the reach of help.
Just as it started, the mysterious phenomenon stops just as suddenly without any apparent cause.
Later, when doctors examine whoever is trapped in the bubble, they discover ten women who are simultaneously pregnant.
Their children will grow up disturbingly similar, very quiet, and all with the same fair hair.
However, this will be nothing next to their powerful psychic abilities by which they can force people into whatever they want.
The local doctor is the first to perceive the potential danger, becoming the only survival hope for the town.
Christopher Reeve delivered an excellent performance in one of the last movies before the dramatic horseback riding accident.
Equally good, Kirstie Alley is finally in a dramatic role after many romantic comedies like Look Who’s Talking.
We will never remember Village of the Damned as John Carpenter’s best work, but it has been overly criticized.
The plot has lost none of the creepy charms while gaining the great American director’s narrative style and pace.
It’s an excellent remake, perhaps less imaginative than the 1960 movie, yet a pleasant modern take on the same.
Ghosts of Mars (2001)
Let’s talk about the remake of one of my favorite movies ever to end on a high note.
In this case, John Carpenter clones himself, reconstructing in a sci-fi horror genre his first success: Assault on Precinct 13.
Where in the original, a group of policemen escorted a dangerous prisoner towards the death sentence, here the same happens with a group of soldiers on Mars.
Instead of being stuck in a police precinct, the group must resist by barricading themselves near a mine unearthed by an ancient alien civilization.
These aliens are not entirely dead, influencing human minds to gruesome acts of mutilation towards themselves and others.
As usual, the ideas in outlining the various characters and the evolution of their relationships take center stage.
Natasha Henstridge is beautiful and excellent as a female soldier in a matriarchal society of the future.
In all the political and military leadership positions, women prove they can be just as opportunistic and ruthless as men.
Ice Cube replaces the iconic Napoleon from Assault on Precinct 13, becoming the criminal anti-hero Desolation Williams.
The famous rapper probably plays the role of a lifetime, albeit in a remake that failed at the box office despite being a low-budget movie.
There is a small role for Jason Statham, back from Snatch by Guy Ritchie and yet far from becoming an action movie star.
Carpenter relies on his stainless style, creating what seems almost a science fiction western with bloody horror veins.
In my opinion, this is one of his funniest and fastest movies; with action and fighting throughout one of the most original remakes ever.