Fame, Carrie, House of Wax – all classic films, but did you know they were remade? No you did not, because those remakes were so terrible they sunk without a trace and everyone involved vowed never to speak of them again. Hollywood is addicted to remakes, and in 90 per cent of cases they fall into the abyss of remake oblivion. Alternatively, they become beacons of remake shame, like Gus Van Sant’s 1998 take-for-take Psycho (daring) or the 2006 version of The Wicker Man (at least there’s Nicolas Cage). The remaining ten per cent are pretty good, and these are the very best.
The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1934 vs 1956
When you’re as successful and famous as Alfred Hitchcock, you can do pretty much what you want. This he proved by remaking his own film 20 years later, obviously believing that he could do a better job the second time around (in fact, he said, “…the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional.”) Both feature a climactic scene set at the Royal Albert Hall, but in feel and plot they’re very different. The original is set in Switzerland; the remake takes the action to Morocco. Film buffs debate their relative merits, but with Technicolor, James Stewart, and Doris Day singing ‘Que Sera, Sera’ as a major plot point, we reckon the 1950s version is the winner.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956 vs 1978
Don Seigel’s sci-fi horror was already a classic when Philip Kaufman came to remake it. The human-replicating alien invasion shocker, seen as a comment on 1950s McCarthy-era conformism, was largely ignored by critics on its initial release but gained cult status in the years following. The 70s remake dialled up the horror (see: terrifying human-dog mash-up) and was an instant hit with the critics; the paranoid conspiracy atmosphere was just right for the post-Watergate climate and the presence of 70s weirdo superstar Donald Sutherland was a perfectly uncanny fit.
Scarface, 1932 vs 1983
When Oliver Stone, Brian De Palma and Al Pacino team up to make a hardcore crime film, the original simply doesn’t have a chance. Director De Palma kept pretty closely to Howard Hawks’ 1932 gangster film; Italian mobster Tony Comante ruthlessly scaling the ranks of the Chicago mob by selling beer becomes Cuban refugee Tony Montana bathing in cocaine and ruthlessly shooting up everything in sight. The original was watered down by the notorious Hays Code, which imposed a gangster-condemning prologue and the preachy alternative title ‘The Shame of a Nation’, while Scarface 1983 is famous for its ultra-violence and extreme sweariness – with 226 F-bombs, the 1983 version was always going to win this competition.
The Fly, 1958 vs 1986
Anyone who’s seen the 1980s David Cronenberg Fly starring Jeff Goldblum is still – even if they saw it in the cinema the day it dropped – utterly grossed out. It is so downright gross that it spawned its own genre, body horror, to describe the explicit and disgusting process by which Goldblum’s body slowly transmogrifies into that of a giant fly. Sounds ridiculous, but is both hideously believable and skin-crawlingly gross. Not so much with the original, where we do however get the magnificent Vincent Price, and an unintentionally hilarious scene of a human-headed fly stuck in a spider’s web crying ‘Help me!’ in a squeaky little voice.
Little Shop of Horrors, 1960 vs 1986
The original Little Shop of Horrors appeared in 1960, a low-budget schlocker shot in just two days by B-movie maestro Roger Corman. It’s still notable for Jack Nicholson’s third-ever movie appearance, as a creepy dental patient (reprised by the legendary Bill Murray in the remake). The film reached cult status and became an off-Broadway musical; from there it was a small leap into the magical hands of muppet master Frank Oz. Billed as a rock musical horror comedy – a genre recipe for success – the Little Shop remake features Steve Martin as a sadistic Elvis-inspired dentist, that Bill Murray appearance (reportedly totally ad-libbed) and a 15-foot-tall talking plant.
Cape Fear, 1962 vs 1991
OK, the original Cape Fear is pretty good. With Gregory Peck (good guy) and Robert Mitchum (baddie) on board, it sported two of the biggest stars and best actors of the day. Originally story-boarded by Alfred Hitchcock, it’s a tense psychological thriller; its violence and terror were shocking for the time and prevented it from being critically lauded, although Mitchum’s menacing performance as psychopath Max Cady is iconic. Who better to reprise it than Bobby De Niro in full unhinged mode, with Nick Nolte in the good-guy role. With highly pleasing cameos from Mitchum and Peck, this remake respectfully takes the original and makes it just that bit better.
Casino Royale, 1967 vs 2006
This is an oranges-to-apples comparison, and yes, it’s perhaps a bit of a stretch to call 2006’s back-to-Bond-basics Casino Royale a ‘remake’ of the kooky 1967 spoof that one critic called “an incoherent and vulgar vaudeville". But despite their differences, the fact remains that both films are based on Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel. David Niven makes an unconvincing and decidedly unBond-like Bond in the 1967 version (as do Peter Sellers and Woody Allen), and that’s the whole point. Daniel Craig on the other hand, viewed with suspicion when cast as being too blonde and too short, with his portrayal of a mean and ruthless yet flawed and vulnerable Bond, single-handedly reinvented the franchise.
A Star is Born, 1937 vs 1954 vs 1976 vs 2018
This film was long overdue for a remake. After being reprised roughly once every 20 years since basically the beginning of Hollywood, we had to wait over 40 years for a modern ASIB. But the good news is that it was worth the wait – because we’re calling the Cooper-Gaga ASIB the best ASIB. There are great things in the others – Judy Garland’s jazz singing, Barbra Streisand’s jumpsuits – but the intense chemistry between the two leads, the supercharged emotional authenticity and the awesomeness of the theme song (although ‘Evergreen’ was pretty good too) make 2018 an ASIB for the ages (or at least until the next one, ideally in 2038).
Main image: The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1934