Classic movies are ones that we watch over and over again; however, sometimes there is no excuse for watching black and white films while paying thousands of dollars for HD boxes and flat screen TVs. There are a handful of movies whose plots so detailed, and whose dialogues so vivid, that they simply need to be adapted to a modern audience. Move over Michael Curtiz, there are new sheriffs in town. As the merger of Disney and Pixar and the Coen Brothers‘ successful filmography attests, sometimes two heads are better than one.
Lest we be accused of having unconventional tastes, many of these films appears on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Movies.” Additionally, all have the added qualification of having endured two editions of this list (released in June 2007). The films are all pre-Y2K, and so are ripe for re-adaption at the hands of today’s directors. It’s only fair that the young and the beautiful of Hollywood today have their 15 minutes (or more) in the following classic plots.
15. Citizen Kane
This 1941 mystery drama directed by and starring Orson Welles was nominated for Academy Awards in nine categories, and won Best Original Screenplay. The classic plot involves a newspaper tycoon who was taken from his home as a young boy when gold was discovered on his property. One can only wonder whether Welles would be rolling in his grave or nodding approval to an adapted “Citizen Trump.” This movie could conceivably be a remake and quasi-autobiographical. The question would then become whether Donald Trump would assent to anyone other than himself to play himself. Perhaps his campaign team could devise a way to time the film for release just before the November elections. Spoiler alert: Rosebud is Kane’s childhood sled. It’s unclear whether Trump did much sledding growing up in Queens, but if he were to star in a feature film, he would probably insist on directing it himself, based on his approbation (or lack thereof) of his campaign manager.
14. The Sting
This is a 1973 flick from the director George Roy Hill, who gave us Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Basically, the story follows a pair of con men who go after a criminal banker to avenge their murdered friend. The setting is 1936 Chicago, and the scene involves pre-betting on horse races at an off-track betting parlour with information allegedly wired from Wells Fargo. The cast includes a characteristically handsome Robert Redford paired with a dapper Paul Newman – a duo who had worked on Butch Cassidy only three years earlier in 1969. The screenplay (by David S. Ward) actually was written for an overweight and rough-around-the edges type, but Newman wanted to play the role, and so Ward adjusted the script to fit his thespian persona. Though the plot, replete with a twist ending, really needs no modification, we might imagine Paul Newman lookalike Patrick Wilson in plot involving betting on cock fights.
13. The Usual Suspects
This film gave an entirely new meaning to the term “twist ending.” Produced in 2005, the film is now 20 years old, and still has a cult following among crime drama fans. The film opens with a shooting aboard a ship, resulting the death of one Dean Keaton. The film involves investigation into the murder by the FBI. A complex network of crime reported in a flashback leads to a fabled Turkish mob boss, Kaiser Söze. The plot centers around the identity and whereabouts of this elusive persona. The film earned an Academy Award for “Best Original Screenplay” and Kevin Spacey won an award for “Best Supporting Actor” for his role as the cerebral palsy-stricken “Verbal,” a con man who survived the shooting of the opening scene and turns informant. It’s common knowledge among TV-drama buffs that Spacey is currently busy with House of Cards (whose fifth season is expected to be released in 2017), so this re-make would have to include another, well, “usual suspect” (perhaps Ryan Gosling?)
12. An American In Paris
This 1951 musical was directed by Gene Kelly, the filmmaker, dancer, actor and singer extraordinaire, who gave us Singin’ in the Rain and Hello, Dolly. He starred in many of the films he directed, including this one. He stars alongside Nina Foch, as a World War II veteran working as a painter in Paris. The plot involves unrequited love, and love triangles, and star-crossed lovers, and is set to the music of George Gershwin’s 1928 orchestral composition of the same name. As Mel Gibson‘s Producers (2001), Stephen Schwartz’ Wicked (2003), and famously Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton (2015) have shown, musical theatre is on the rise, and films should be no exception. It is high time that someone like Rob Marshall (who brought us the screen versions of Chicago and Into the Woods) or Jason Moore (of Avenue Q and Pitch Perfect) got their hands on this time-honored and classic tale.
11. The Natural
The 1984 sports drama The Natural is a, dare I say, natural candidate. Robert Duvall, Robert Redford, and Glenn Close team up in this film about a baseball player who was renown for his talent in his youth. It is based on a 1952 novel of the same name. The film seems cheery and innocent, until an attempted assassination, moreover at the hands of mysterious young femmes fatale played by Barbara Hershey and Kim Basinger. Hobbs (played by Redford) is the target of the attacks, embroiled by virtue of his being on a baseball team involved in a conditional bet placed on a game between the team owner and a Judge. Basinger’s methods involve trying to serve him adulterated food. In the days of CSI and Forensic Files, this plot deserves to be revamped. Much of the film was actually shot in New York’s War Memorial Stadium, under the directorship of Barry Levinson (he of Wag the Dog and Good Morning, Vietnam).
10. Sunset Boulevard
Billy Wilder makes several appearances on AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies; four of his films make the cut, and so we took two of them. This one is a classic that could certainly stand to be filmed on one of today’s modern mansions that populate the urban topography of Los Angeles, for example any of these. The film actually takes its name from the boulevard that runs through Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. The film stars William Holden as screenwriter Joe Gillis and Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, has-been silent film star. A chance occurrence bring these two together, and, though this is more of a macabre emotional drama than a suspense film, it also opens with a murder, in fact, of the main character. The entire film is told through a flashback from the dying narrator’s point of view. Gloria Swanson (born in 1899) had actually been silent film star. The plot is tragic and timeless, and it would take a bold and self-assured modern actress to play a modern Norma Desmond. Hidden in the screenplay of this timeless classic are Joe Gillis’ sage word to his counterpart: “there’s nothing tragic about being 50. Not unless you try to be 25.”
9. Some Like It Hot
This classic from 1959, and also from Billy Wilder, only gets better with time. Still, it could certainly stand to be re-imaged in a modern setting. Much like Tootsie, Mrs. Doubtfire, and countless others, this movie involves some consequential gender-bending. It features the timeless Marilyn Monroe, as well as Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis. It all starts when two ne’er-do-well gang men find the speakeasy in which they work raided by police. They disguise themselves as female singers, and board a train bound for Miami. Tony Curtis’ character alternates between Joe and Josephine, the former vying for Marilyn, “Sugar Kane’s” heart, alongside Jerry (Jack Lemmon), whose female counterpart, Daphne, wins the attention of Shell Oil heir Osgood Fielding III. Unless Wilder’s film is to be outshone by Tyler Perry’s Madea, or the Wayan brothers’ White Chicks, current filmmakers hereby are encouraged to update the plot.
This film noir from Otto Preminger simply screams for modern attention. Another in the crime genre, the original film premiered in 1944 and involves the criminal investigation of a successful advertising executive (Gene Tierney) who was shot in the face in her apartment. The criminal investigator, Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) looks into all facets of her life, garnering information from all of her associates. Gradually, he falls in love with her. This could easily be adapted into a psychological thriller for today’s audience, in fact, it outright deserves to be. David Fincher, who lays claim to Gone Girl (2014), and Zodiac (2007), and Seven (1995), would be an eligible candidate for the projects. Based on his repertoire, he would almost certainly find something to surprise even those of us who are intimately familiar with the plot twists of the original. If the film’s namesake can come back from the dead, her film certainly should.
This is number 58 on the American Film Institute’s list. Appearing in 1940, it was the third film in the ever-growing line of Disney’s animated features. This film is a whirlwind of classic pieces from all the great names in classical music, such as Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, J.S. Bach, and the list goes on. The film, while childish at first glance, is understood to be a series of vignettes, based on folklore, creatively adapted for animation like so many pearls on a string. The film conception of the film was intended to boost Mickey Mouse’s waning popularity. The musical conductor, Leopold Stokowski, after meeting a Disney representative in New York, was so keen on the idea of the project, that he conducted the music pro bono. The musical score – perhaps the film’s most legendary feature – is not just an anthology of the classical canon; in addition to the familiar Beethoven and Schubert are the counter-culture composers like the Russian Muggorsky, making for an eclectic and memorably medley. It is true that part of the movie’s charm is no doubt its model status for its genre, but something like Fantasia 3-D would surely be something worth lining up at the box office for.
The authority of this list would be severely undermined were it not to include a Hitchcock film. Vertigo, strictly speaking, means a dizziness, or one’s perception that objects around them are moving when in fact they are not. James Stewart plays “Scottie,” who is asked by a friend to follow his wife, Madeleine. In the process, Madeleine and Scottie become enamoured of one another, only to lead to Madeleine’s tragic death by apparently suicide. Scottie, unable to help owing to his condition of the film’s title, is distraught. She is gone forever, or is she? Kim Novak has two roles in this dynamic and scintillating plot, which would be big shoes to fill for a modern actress. But if this film proves anything, lookalikes are easy enough to come by. (N.B. This film actually contributed to the popular usage error of the term “vertigo” to mean fear of heights (a paranoia from which the protagonist also suffers).
5. Bridge Over The River Kwai
Though this became a classic movie in 1957 (and appears on the American Film Institute’s list), it is based on a 1952 novel by the French novelist Pierre Boulle (who also wrote Planet of the Apes). The plot centers around World War II prisoners at a Japanese camp, ordered to build a bridge in intense heat and deplorable conditions. They take orders from Japanese Colonel Saito, who is himself under intense pressure to finish the bridge to save himself from the necessity of ritual suicide. Some prisoners attempt to escape. The film was directed by David Lean and stars William Holden (whom we’ve seen in Sunset Boulevard). The ending is morbidly reminiscent of Hamlet, but the movie testament to cinema’s poignancy. To adapt this film for a more modern audience would surely be as challenging as worthwhile. Though the stakes would be high, POWs of the Persian Gulf War, or any of ISIS’ hostages, would be suitable candidates for a storytelling like this one, if the director chose to veer from the original plot. Unfortunately, turbulence remains in international relations, and we can only be grateful that it’s on a smaller scale.
4. The African Queen
This movie was released in 1951, and was also based on a novel (by C.S. Forester, published in 1935). Like many other movies on our list, it is the product of a certain historical moment during the World Wars; it is set in German-controlled East Africa, and the plot involves two missionaries, Rose and Samuel (who are siblings), working in East Africa while a German colony. Charlie, the operator of the steamship of the film’s title, routinely delivers provisions. When war breaks out between Germany and Britain, though Charlie warns them, the siblings decide to remain. Soon after, Samuel dies of a fever, but Rose survives (thankfully, as she is played by an unflappable Kathryn Hepburn). Rose and Charlie must navigate the steamer out of Africa and away from the German gunboat. The entertaining and exhilarating plot alone are enough to inspire a re-make, but the film was also a commercial success. It earned $4 million at the box office upon its release, and won Humphrey Bogart an Oscar for Best Actor.
3. Apocalypse Now
What promises to be more exciting than a renegade Army Colonel? One who is insane, and played by a ripened Marlon Brando, of course. The 1979 epic war film directed by king of cinema Francis Ford Coppolo himself is a testament to that. This classic film was shot in the Philippines, but is set in Cambodia, where Kurz (Brando) has set himself up as a god among the indigenous Vietnamese. Decapitation, deception, and grenades all figure in this cinematic tour-de-force. The Army Captain sent to disenfranchise Kurz is a role that Martin Sheen apparently found hard to stomach; he suffered a heart attack while on set, and Coppola himself suffered a nervous breakdown. At least none of them lost their heads in real life. All this anxiety was caused by the film having gone over budget, but it was clearly unwarranted; the film grossed $150 million and won the Palme d’Or – the highest honor bestowed at the Cannes Film Festival.
2. The Thin Man
This classic film dates all the way back to 1934. It is about a detective, recently retired, who once again answers the call of duty by the daughter of a long-lost friend, who asks him to investigate her father’s murder. The detective is played by William Powell, whose wife is played by Myrna Loy. The film is among the best known products of W.S. Van Dyke, who also directed Tarzan the Ape Man just a few years earlier. It was produced by MGM, and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, and features one of cinema’s earliest canine film stars, Asta, a wire-haired terrier played by Skippy. The film did wonders for Skippy’s career, and earned him spots in several later films, including Bringing Up Baby (1938). This film is less common among the classics, and so could easily be re-interpreted. Re-casting Asta, however, would be no small task.
Children who came of age in the 1990s might find this hard to believe, but this adventure film is already over 20 years old. Starring the late Robin Williams, it was directed by Joe Johnston, whose repertoire includes Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, and Jurassic Park III. The clever plot involves a young man and his friend becoming trapped in board game, and are released twenty-five years later by a pair of unwitting players. Based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg, the film proved to be a successful career move for actresses Kirsten Dunst and Bonnie Hunt. These actresses have aged so gracefully, they could even appear in the reprisal that we hope to see within the next decade or two. Thankfully, it looks like they might have a chance to do so; Sony Pictures announced plans to remake this classic film at the end of last year.
Sure, if these films are remade, we risk the possibility that no actress can possibly stand the test of super-high definition technology from which Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman were protected; however, given the magic worked by make-up artists, we trust that modern starlets are in good hands.
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