There’s nothing new in Hollywood, says everyone who likes to criticize. We are, according the public, stuck in a rut creatively. All studios can do is remake, reboot, and “requel” franchises already proven successful rather than come up with something new. Our theatres are infested with retreads of superior movies and countless iterations of big robots punching each other.
The truth is, there was never a time when Hollywood wasn’t spinning its wheels in the mud. Frankenstein and Dracula were just another in a long line of adaptations of their source materials dating back to earliest days of cinema. The fact Universal is now planning a Marvel-style universe of classic monster films merely harkens back to the days of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, or even the times Abbot and Costello ran afoul of the beasts.
There’s a reason these formulas work ad nauseam. Long ago, something universal tapped into audiences. One could argue that treading over territory again could only serve to ruin the foundations, but so far that theory doesn’t hold water; the lesser adaptations are quickly forgotten, the most iconic remain indelible.
Sometimes, however, the film in question doesn’t recognize its predecessor. There’s a distinct difference between ripping off, remaking, and paying homage. Wherever the following films wind up on that spectrum is for you to judge.
15. The Good Son is The Bad Seed
In 1993, the world was Macaulay Culkin‘s for the taking. Home Alone and its sequel had turned him into a superstar and FOX was dying to place him in another muppet-friendly family comedy. At the same time, the studio had seen the success of The Silence of the Lambs and decided the two would be perfect for each other. Novelist Ian McEwan was hired to pen a script about absolute evil personified – a B-list horror movie with an A-list cast.
What he came up with shares striking similarities with the Academy Award winning 1956 film The Bad Seed. Both feature an inexplicably evil child with a mother convinced of their inherent goodness. There are major differences, specifically the perspective. In Seed, possibly due to the Hays Code, the violence is only implied and inferred through the mother’s growing suspicion. In Son, the violence is explicit, witnessed by Culkin’s cousin played by Elijah Wood.
14. Obsession is Vertigo
This entire list could be filled with the inspiration Brian De Palma took from Alfred Hitchcock, but most of it would amount to mere homage reworked into a unique voice. His most overt, however, is 1976’s Obsession. Cliff Robertson stars as a successful real estate man whose wife and child are kidnapped, then die in an explosion during the ransom handoff. Years later, he begins to fall for a woman (Genevieve Bujold) who bears a striking resemblance to his late wife.
From there, it deviates slightly from the master of suspense’s classic, though the plot still hews very closely to Vertigo, which finds Jimmy Stewart falling for a dead ringer for his late lover, only to learn she played a role in the initial tragedy.
13. Body Double/Disturbia are Rear Window
De Palma only once more came close to blatantly lifting plots from Hitchcock in 1984’s Body Double. He borrows both from Vertigo and Rear Window. Bill Maher impersonator Craig Wasson stars as an out of work actor with claustrophobia (as opposed to Jimmy Stewart’s acrophobia), hired to look over a swanky apartment while the owner is out of town. While there, he spends his time playing voyeur, watching a nude woman dance through a telescope. Soon, he uncovers a plot to kill the woman.
D.J. Caruso’s Disturbia is essentially Rear Window if it were YA fiction, with Shia Labeouf tied to an ankle monitor (as opposed to Stewart’s broken leg) under house arrest. Through binoculars, he not only romances one neighbour, but begins to suspect another is a serial murderer.
12. The Island is Logan’s Run
Michael Bay‘s flop The Island draws inspiration from numerous science fiction works, but none more than the 1976 thriller starring Michael York. In both, characters live in a futuristic compound under a strict set of rules. In both, the characters are led to believe the outside world is too desecrated/infected to live in. Logan’s Run‘s society executes everyone when they turn 30. The Island has a lottery that allows one member to leave the society – ostensibly for organ harvesting.
11. Enemy Mine is Hell in the Pacific
John Boorman’s 1968 WWII drama tells the story of two soldiers – one American (Lee Marvin) and one Japanese (Toshiro Mifune) – marooned on an uninhabited island. Marvin and Mifune are the only two actors that appear in the film. Despite their differences in language, culture, and the fact that their countries are at war, they must work together to build a raft to reach a larger island.
Wolfgang Petersen’s 1985 science fiction film tells the story of two intergalactic warriors – one human (Dennis Quaid) and one alien (Louis Gossett Jr.) – marooned on an uninhabited planet. Despite their differences in language, culture, and the fact that their species are at war, they must work together to…do you see where this is headed?
10. Never Say Never Again is Thunderball
Sean Connery returned to play James Bond – a role he swore off over a decade earlier – in 1983. Though not considered officially cannon, it was an adaptation of the same novel as 1965’s Thunderball. The film happened only due to a long-debated fight over the rights to the novel; author Ian Fleming had worked with Kevin McCrory to turn Thunderball into a film outside of Eon Productions.
Even retrospective reviews of Never Say Never Again say it’s the worst Bond film ever made (said reviews came again before the release of Die Another Day). The story is in fact, similar to the 1965 adaptation, but the script is too cheeky for its own good.
9. The Roommate is Single White Female
There have been so many copycats of Single White Female that it’s become a running joke, but – much like Disturbia – The Roommate is the teen version, stripping the original’s explicit sexuality down to tame implications and loading up the soundtrack with young people music. Leighton Meester plays the Jennifer Jason Leigh role, who is so obsessed with roommate Minka Kelly that she frightens away or kills anyone who stands between them and, just like Female, dies her hair to resemble her.
8. Heat is L.A. Takedown
Michael Mann’s epic cop/criminal drama Heat was a long-gestating story that he felt he just didn’t get quite right the first time around. After his first success with 1981’s Thief, Mann became heavily invested in television – creating and directing the pilots for Miami Vice and the less successful Crime Story. The technical advisor on both films, a retired police officer, related a story about running into a known criminal that he didn’t know whether to shoot, arrest, or have a cup of coffee with. When NBC commissioned Mann for another television pilot, he took the 180-page script he’d created based on that story and shot it under the name L.A. Takedown.
Heat and L.A. Takedown have identical plots, and while the latter is generally well-regarded – especially for a TV movie – it lives today in the shadow of its remake. Heat runs the length of the original script, fleshing out characters from the 92 minute original.
7. The Fast and The Furious is Point Break
The Fast and The Furious, in retrospect, is an unlikely film to jumpstart a soon-to-be eight film franchise. It’s a small scale undercover cop drama, far away from the cars-parachuting-from-airplanes big budget extravaganzas it has become.
If there’s a film that The Fast and The Furious most resembles, its the 1991 surfer-bank robber cult classic Point Break. In a lot of ways, Furious is more Point Break than its 2015 remake. The most significant detail retained in Furious is the clear cut sexual tension between Paul Walker‘s cop and Vin Diesel‘s thrill seeking criminal – despite there being a female love interest. Such a theme was explored almost tongue-in-cheek in Kathryn Bigelow‘s film, spelling it out in ridiculously obvious ways. There’s no room for such cleverness in Furious, which doesn’t seem to even realize just how in love with each other Walker and Diesel are.
6. A Perfect Murder is Dial M For Murder
After Andrew Davis brought us The Fugitive – the rare action film nominated for Best Picture – there were high hopes for further projects. Unfortunately, Davis’ film turned out to be a fluke, and he returned to his Steven Seagal-esque roots with dreck like Chain Reaction and Collateral Damage. The last hope that Davis might recover was a loose re-imagining of Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder.
Though featuring an early role for Viggo Mortensen and a terrific turn from character actor David Suchet, A Perfect Murder is a huge disappointment. Based on the same play as Hitchcock’s, the plot is, however, heavily rewritten. Rather than clever, it’s convoluted. Michael Douglas seems bored as the murderous husband.
5. Assault on Precinct 13 is Rio Bravo
There are few films in John Carpenter‘s filmography that are not, in one way or another, a remake of Howard Hawk’s classic Western Rio Bravo. In it, Dean Martin and John Wayne play Deputy and Sheriff, respectively, of a small town forced to hold off a powerful rancher’s violent gang. Carpenter has replayed this siege scenario countless times, in everything from The Fog to Ghosts of Mars.
But his second directorial effort, Assault on Precinct 13, is almost a direct translation of the film, replacing the villains with a bloodthirsty L.A. gang intent on entering the eponymous precinct. 13 didn’t fare well with American audiences, but received critical acclaim in Europe, leading Carpenter to further directorial opportunities.
4. The Last House on the Left is The Virgin Spring
You wouldn’t expect a gritty, violent exploitation film to be inspired by an Ingmar Bergman film, but Wes Craven‘s debut borrows heavily from 1960’s The Virgin Spring – which won Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. House simply strips Spring down to its core elements. It follows two teenage girls on their way to a concert who run afoul of a band of outlaws and are subsequently raped and murdered. The outlaws then take shelter in the home of one of the girls’ parents, who exact their bloody revenge.
3. Dead of Winter is My Name is Julia Ross
Arthur Penn’s little-remembered 1987 thriller Dead of Winter is notable for an eccentrically creepy performance from Roddy McDowall and yet another villainous turn from Lethal Weapon 2‘s Jan “Diplomatic Immunity” Rubes. The plot concerns a young actress (Mary Steenburgen) who takes a mysterious gig at a remote, snowed-in mansion, but soon realizes her hosts have much more sinister reasons for prolonging her stay.
The 1945 noir My Name is Julia Ross, based on Anthony Gilbert’s novel The Woman In Red, hews much more closely to the novel. Winter’s major changes include the ambiguous, probably homosexual relationship between McDowall’s assistant character and Rubes, and the actress concept (the original film and novel use the ruse of a live-in personal assistant). Also, like so many loose remakes, the setting has been transplanted from London to America.
2. Drag Me To Hell is Night of the Demon
Sam Raimi‘s long-awaited return to the horror genre contains every hallmark of his early work. The horror is at once gruesome and absurdly funny – like The Three Stooges if their bits featured bloodshed. For PG-13 horror, Drag Me To Hell pushes the limitations of its rating to every possible extreme, featuring numerous gross-out bits and plenty of gore.
It also contains numerous elements that mirror Jacques Tourneur’s 1957 British film Night of the Demon (or Curse of the Demon). Where Hell‘s banker Alison Lohman wrongs a gypsy who curses her, Demon follows a psychiatrist investigating a Satanic cult. Both characters are subject to a curse transmitted through an object that will kill them in three days. The only way to escape both curses is to transfer the object to another person, damning them instead. Both feature an intense (in Hell‘s case, also hysterical) séance scene and, finally, both climax at a train station.
1. Countless films and TV shows are Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Jack Finney’s science fiction novel The Body Snatchers – first serialized in Collier’s in 1955 – has itself been adapted four times theatrically. The first, released a year after publication, may be the most faithful, though 1978’s updated version with Donald Sutherland and Jeff Goldblum only changes the setting from a small town to San Francisco. 1993’s Body Snatchers changes the setting once again to a military base. And the less we talk about 2005’s The Invasion, the better.
The Body Snatchers, it seems, is one of the few works always relevant enough for a remake or alteration every generation. The underlying fear of losing one’s humanity – or Capgras Delusion – can be applied to any period in history, and since the 50s, the allegory has been hitched to communism (allegedly), suburbia, the 70s “me-generation,” the U.S. government, the military, high school (The Faculty), childhood (Invaders From Mars), marriage (I Married a Monster From Outer Space) and countless others.
It even found its place in video game history with the Sega Genesis/Super NES game Zombies At My Neighbours. With the newly changing political climate, one can surely expect another version soon enough.
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