Remakes have been big in Hollywood pretty much since the moment there was enough of a back catalog for a remake to be a feasible. The action movie, where the hero (or group of heroes) uses brains, brawn and witty dialogue to triumph over a series of increasingly difficult physical challenges, until they finally triumph over the villain, often back-lit by the warm glow of an explosion, has become a mainstay of the movie-watching experience. And the action movie remake promises a special something: the chance to combine beloved characters and iconic sequences with the best of modern technology. Here are ten of the most successful action remakes in recent years.
10: Robocop (2014)
The original Robocop, directed by Peter Weller, won acclaim not only for its action sequences and effects, but also for its surprisingly keen look at dystopic themes and the costs of big business. ‘Acclaim’ in this case translated to a total domestic gross of over $53 million and two sequels. This year’s remake, starring Joel Kinnaman and Gary Oldman is only recently out of theaters and has earned a domestic gross of only $58,607,007 thus far. With its budget estimated at $100 million, this would qualify it for ‘major flop’, except that its performed well overseas. Taking non-American sales into account, the 2014 remake’s worldwide gross is $242,688,965, setting it up as a success, and the tenth most successful action movie remake.
9: Total Recall (2012)
Considering the original came out in 1990, it seems sort of premature to remake Total Recall. But I suppose with the advances in special effects technology, the lure was too great to resist. Fans of the original cite the movie’s unrelentingly fast pace, twists and somewhat warped humor as what made the story of the man who finds out his memories are implanted fakes great. The remake swapped out Arnold Schwarzenegger for Colin Farrell, and pulled in a worldwide gross of $198,467,168, off of a reputed budget of $125 million. The general consensus is that the remake’s stunning visuals leave the original’s in the dust, but that its paring down of the plot removed the heart- and the ability to keep the audience’s attention.
8: The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)
The 1974 action thriller, starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw grossed over $16 million and left a mark on the audiences. Especially those who worked in public transit: even today it’s highly unlikely you’ll find a train scheduled to leave Pelham station at 1:23. The remake updated the story for a post 9/11 world, with Denzel Washington playing a the subway dispatcher thrown into the role of hostage negotiator, opposite John Travolta‘s villainous turn as Ryder, the leader of the hijackers. The remake performed well in theatres, with a total gross of $150,166,126, twenty-three million of which came from its opening weekend. However, reviewers were less giving- Roger Ebert may have put it best when he explained that “There’s not much wrong with Tony Scott’s The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, except that there’s not really much right about it.”
7: Contraband (2012)
2012’s Contraband, which starred Mark Wahlberg as a man who agrees to smuggle counterfeit bills in order to protect his brother from a ruthless drug lord was the remake of the 2008 Icelandic film Reykjavik-Rotterdam. The remake recruited the original’s star, Baltasar Kormaku, to direct, and his deft touch helped it sail into a worldwide gross of $96,262,212. The reviews were generally neutral, claiming that while it didn’t redefine the genre, it was a well paced and fully entertaining yarn.
6: Shaft (2000)
The original Shaft movies were major hits of the blaxpoitation and action genres, with Richard Roundtree’s charismatic hero, John Shaft carrying two sequels: Shaft’s Big Score and Shaft in Africa. The first in the franchise was a hit, grossing $12,121,618 in the US by the end of its release year, over ten times its estimated budget, making it one of MGM’s most profitable movies that year. The 2000 remake starred the inestimable Samuel L. Jackson in the title role- as the nephew of the original John Shaft, and had a strong run, earning twenty-one million on its opening weekend, and a worldwide gross of $107,196,498. Moviegoers generally reviewed the film well, praising Samuel L. Jackson’s charismatic turn in the title role.
5: Man on Fire (2004)
Denzel Washington has established himself as a trustworthy action lead: give him a plot and he can carry it right through to the thrilling end. 2004’s Man on Fire was no different, with Washington playing a burnt out ex-CIA agent turned bodyguard ready to burn the world down to find his charge (played by Dakota Fanning). The original was a modest success, but well reviewed, taking in an estimated gross of half a million dollars. The remake was a far splashier affair, taking in a worldwide gross of $130,293,714, nearly twice it’s reported $70 million budget, though reviewers were often put off by the extreme violence in the movie’s final act.
4: Payback (1999)
Despite the discrepancy in titles, 1999’s Payback is a remake of the 1967 masterpiece Point Blank. The original garnered an estimated $3.5 million in rentals, and is widely considered to be a classic revenge drama, notable for its seamless incorporation of film noir elements into the plot and brilliant camera work. The remake starred Mel Gibson as the man seeking vengeance for the betrayal of his wife and best friend, and had an estimated budget of $90 million. Its worldwide gross of $161,626,121 easily made back the budget, and audiences were generally entertained by the premise, though it didn’t match up to the sheer stylistic achievements of Point Blank.
3: Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)
The 1974 original remains infamous for crashing ninety-three cars within the ninety-seven minutes between opening and closing credits. While we don’t know if Dominic Sena’s 2000 remake matched or exceeded that level of vehicular chaos, it definitely succeeded. Starring Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie, the film grossed over two hundred million dollars worldwide, twenty-five million of which came in on opening weekend. Off a ninety million dollar budget, that counts as a major success. But despite monetary successes, but the critics weren’t big fans. Rottentomatoes.com gave Gone in Sixty Seconds a critical score of twenty-five percent, complaining of a nonsensical plot and even worse- boring car chases.
2: The Italian Job (2003)
The original was the pinnacle of cool, with Michael Caine bringing debonair charm to the role of a just-released convict planning to use the traffic system of Turin and exceptionally cool cars to steal a massive amount of gold. So, in 2003, Mark Walhberg took up the role of Charlie Croker, for a star-studded remake that also included Charlize Theron, Jason Statham and Donald Sutherland. The remake was a financial success, earning $176 million worldwide off a $60 million budget. And more than financial success, audiences loved the movie, with the mini-cooper car chases and the easy way the cast played off each other.
1: The Karate Kid (2010)
But at the end of the day, it’s not car chases or explosion that makes the audience love an action movie. It’s the heart, which is why we root for John McClane and the rest of the underdogs. And the original Karate Kid, about a kid taking up martial arts and finding himself along the way, won audience hearts to the tune of a $90 million domestic gross and three sequels. 2010’s remake moved the setting from the United States to China, and gave the role of Mr. Han to martial arts icon Jackie Chan, with Jaden Smith playing the role of bullied newcomer. All of which, according to the numbers, were roaring successes, making back its $40 million budget with a $55,665,805 opening weekend. It has since earned a worldwide gross of over $350 million, widespread audience appeal, and imbd reports a sequel’s in the works.