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I TOTALLY RECALL the original – Best & Worst Movie Remakes









This weekend is the release of the Total Recall remake starring Colin Farrell.  Most of us may remember the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger original. It was a wild, kind of silly, Mars sci-fi flick – and in my memory, kind of awesome. Maybe I just loved when he got the sensor/bug out of his nostril, or his deadpan delivery of “consider this a divorce” to killer wife, Sharon Stone, but why did this need a remake?  We’ve discussed the spin off/reboot here before.  While I like Colin Farrell (if you don’t, watch In Bruges and then get back to me), I don’t need to see a more Blade Runner-esque interpretation of an over-the-top Mars movie.  I’d rather just watch In Bruges again or the Schwarzenegger Total Recall.

Besides the studios, is anyone really a fan of remakes?  Rarely is there anything original or timely about the remake while the original is still showing up on a cable channel in reruns. Most times, there is a unique almost undefinable reason why the original film was iconic.  These movies are of their time.  They hit something in the zeitgeist and for whatever reason, the movie really works.  Personally, I never want to see an updated version of Baby and Johnny because Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze were perfect.  While I understand that studios want to invest in a sure thing, and a familiar title can be enough to get an audience, frankly I don’t care.  When I hear they are remaking a film, it just irritates me.  Hollywood loves to remake a great foreign film into a really lame American film. Or they decide to remake a fairly mediocre horror film to begin with and add younger, hotter women and more gore and guts. But rather than just bitch and moan, I’ve compiled a list of good and bad remakes.

Here is my list of films that either elevated the original or gave it something more, or at the very least was at equal to the original.

My Top 4 Best Remakes:

The Thing
The original 1951 sci-fi film (The Thing from Another World) is the story of scientists on a remote Arctic research station who discover an alien life force that pretty much kills everyone.  The 1982 remake by John Carpenter starring Kurt Russell version still stands today and has some of the creepiest, scariest scenes ever.  What makes this a great remake is not only the special effects, but rather the way they incorporated the ‘alien.’ In the original it’s a man-like alien being, in the remake it is a parasitic alien life-form that imitates other organisms (people, dogs, etc.).  There is a chest defibrillation scene that still traumatizes me just thinking about it.

Cape Fear
It’s hard to top Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum in the 1962 original about a lawyer  (Peck) and his family who are stalked and threatened by a criminal (Mitchum) who the lawyer sent to jail.  But leave it to Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro to make an excellent remake. DeNiro is terrifying and young Juliette Lewis is a little scene-stealer too.

Ocean’s Eleven
Few thought there could be a cooler group of guys in a heist film than the rat pack’s Frank Sinantra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford from the 1960 original. But leave it to Steven Soderbergh to pull together George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac and more for a fun, hip remake of the Las Vegas casino heist a hit.  While subsequent sequels blew, the first (2001) is an awesome film.

The Fly
My father would always make a high-pitched voice and say “Help me! Help me!” after I watched the original The Fly (1958 film) with him on television.  The scientist who accidentally morphed his genes with a fly when the insect got inside a teleportation device giving him a fly head but still walked around in his lab coat was weird, but it didn’t really give me nightmares.  So when a friend rented the David Cronenberg 1986 remake at a slumber party, I was unprepared for the horrifying gore-fest that followed.  The Jeff Goldblum version  not only has incredible special effects, but Goldblum is great. It’s a great sci-fi movie that still holds up to this day.

See also: Casino Royal, King Kong (2005), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Italian Job (Megan will disagree, but I really enjoyed this Mark Walberg-Ed Norton remake)

My Top 4 Worst Remakes:

This wasn’t too hard since there are SO many horrible remakes.  But I narrowed it down to the ones that are really, truly atrocious.

Pretty much the idea of remaking this amazing 1960 Hitchcock classic was offensive to begin with.  If you haven’t seen the original or know the film, well, shame on you. It’s excellent.  Yet, Gus Van Sant must have experienced some temporary insanity when he decided to remake it shot, by shot.  It’s the exact same film – nothing different, not a new take, no new real ideas except it’s in color and has Vince Vaughn (who for a brief time in the late 90’s decided to be a dramatic actor) as the Norman Bates character. Anne Heche is so bad (playing the Janet Leigh character) it could be it’s own post.

Planet of the Apes
Yes, the Charlton Heston original is campy and over-the-top but the concept of humans as the slaves in a futuristic world ruled by apes was interesting and new.  It spanned a ton of sequels and became a cult classic.  But wow, the 2001 Tim Burton remake was bad. I’m not sure how Mark Walberg was more wooden and uncomfortable than Charlton Heston, but he was.  The makeup on Helena Bonham Carter (the kind, caring ape) was disturbing, and it completely lacked the shock and impact of the original ending.  When the ending was the greatest moment of the film, why would they ruin it?  Then again, why would they remake it?

The Women

The original film was based on a Clare Boothe Luce play from the 1930’s and the subsequent 1938 movie.  My mother made me watch this golden oldie with her because she said it was important that a movie was made without one man in it.  I agree, it was amazing not to see a single man on film, and it was a good film.  It’s basically about a married woman who discovers her husband is cheating on her with a perfume counter girl. Serious heavyweight actresses were in the original – Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Joan Fontaine and while it doesn’t stand up to today’s standards – it was a great film of it’s time.  However, when they made the 2008 version with Annette Bening, Meg Ryan, Debra Messing, Eva Mendes and Jada Pinkett Smith (why Annette, why??), it was horrible.  The story seems outdated, and it completely lacked the sting and fun of the original. Mostly it tarnished the original to new audiences with such a poorly written, bland update.

 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner/Guess Who

I don’t know who possibly thought the 1968 original, which was a movie of such significant political and social ramifications that dealt delicately with the issue of interracial marriage and race relations in the 1960’s, should ever be a comic vehicle for Ashton Kutcher.  Seriously?  Who says remake, with a younger Sidney Poitier… totally a movie for Ashton.   Actually suggesting that bringing home Sidney Poitier is even comparable to bringing home Ashton Kutcher is all kinds of f’d up.  The Guess Who remake tried to make it a mad-cap comedy with the change-up being that a black girl brought home a white guy to meet her family. Wow, how topical for 2005? Really on point Sony Pictures.

See also: Fame, Poseidon, Arthur, The Stepford Wives, Alfie, When A Stranger Calls


3 Responses to “I TOTALLY RECALL the original – Best & Worst Movie Remakes”

  1. Elisabeth Fitzgerald August 3, 2012 at 10:42 am

    Can I nominate every horror movie for worst? We did not need another Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th. Those remakes offended me on a deeply personal level. ;-)

  2. Claudia Maittlen-Harris August 3, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    I stayed out of most of the horror b/c at this point, they’ve remade even the shitty films. Yeah, I agree – it’s not necessary, and could there be a better dead high school boyfriend than Johnny Depp? I think not.

  3. August 13, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Amen on The Women! That remake ruined an awesome movie – and completely missed the point. It was originally a movie about catty, jealous women that didn’t morph well into a girl-bonding movie. Plus, there was already the delightful musical remake with June Allyson, Leslie Nielsen, Ann Miller, Agnes Moorehead and Joan Collins.

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