'Straw Dogs,' 'Scarface,' 'Swept Away': 10 Good, Bad and Unnecessary Movie Remakes
With Rod Lurie's "Straw Dogs" redo in theaters this weekend, THR's chief film critic takes a look at 10 of the best and worst remade films.
For decades, remakes -- the most recent being Rod Lurie's Straw Dogs -- as well as sequels were all but automatically considered to be inferior to their predecessors, by definition products made solely to capitalize upon the success of the originals with with devoted fidelity to their sources the only creative requirement.
This was technically not always true but, where sequels are concerned, it took a triumph on the order of The Godfather Part II to change the conventional wisdom, to seriously challenge the notion that first is always best. Similarly, there have now been enough interesting remakes to put the brakes on any sweeping generalizations. Still, many remakes are quite bad, the main reason being that, assuming the original was good enough to inspire an encore, it's difficult to make lightning strike twice, to reconstitute a positive creative dynamic in concert with a new cultural zeitgeist that will forge a strong audience response.
Remaking a famous old film is more often a bad idea than a good one. But one celebrated actor-filmmaker who could argue either position is Warren Beatty, who has made one hugely successful remake (Heaven Can Wait) and one turkey (Love Affair, a story that actually had been done twice previously). The odds may be against a great result, but anything is possible.
Five Fine Remakes
-- Casino Royale (2006), a James Bond yarn made 40 years earlier as an all-star spoof, went back to basics with a new actor to become one of the best Bonds ever, breathing new life into the longest-running series in film history.
-- Let Me In (2010), based on the much-admired Swedish original Let the Right One In from two years earlier, actually improved on its inspiration with a better cast and score, tighter storytelling and more evocative setting.
-- The Maltese Falcon (1941), Warner Bros.' third try in a decade at adapting Dashiell Hammett's novel, finally got it right thanks to John Huston's faithful adaptation and great cast.
-- Ocean's Eleven (2001) was based on a really terrible original (all apologies to the Rat Pack), so Soderbergh, Clooney and Co. clearly felt no constraints to making this Vegas tale, lightweight though it is, their own, with massively successful results.
--Scarface (1983) was a tall order to remake, since Howard Hawks' original from a half-century earlier is an undisputed classic, but a new breed of gangster fully warranted a new film in a whole new style, one that connected strongly with a modern audience.
Five Lousy Remakes
-- The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), which demonstrated that a story so strong that it helped kick off the whole 1950s sci-fi Cold War cycle might not be the ticket nearly 60 years later.
-- Get Carter (2000), a big-budget, synthetic Sylvester Stallone travesty of Mike Hodges' 1971 low-budget, gritty, British gangland classic with Michael Caine.
-- The Heartbreak Kid (2007), in which everything that was clever, droll and smart in Elaine May's 1972 original was made gross, idiotic and graceless by the Farrelly Brothers.
-- Swept Away (2002), in which Madonna confirmed once and for all that she would never be a film star, making something excruciating (along with then-husband director Guy Ritchie) out of Lina Wertmuller's 1974 Italian original about a master-servant power reversal.
-- The Vanishing (1993), a lamentable undertaking that displays director George Sluizer making a botch of his own 1988 Dutch original five years later, a scenario repeated more recently when Austrian auteur Michael Haneke remade, shot-for-shot, his own Funny Games, much as Gus Van Sant had reproduced Hitchcock's Psycho in another enterprise that can only be deemed entirely unnecessary.