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For those of us still clinging to the illusion of youth – I’m 29, but humor me – this has been a mighty distressing summer. The reboot of “Spider-Man,” for example, seemed utterly superfluous to those of us who remember 2002 like it was yesterday; to the new generation of teenagers ogling Andrew Garfield’s more haunted-looking Peter Parker, however, Tobey Maguire’s first outing in the Spidey-suit is a kindergarten memory, if it’s a memory at all.
More alarming still is a new take on a film whose posters I can still remember adorning the cinema marquees of my childhood, but is now deemed so venerable as to be past the territory of sequels or spinoffs. Yes, “Total Recall” – which stood only 22 years ago at the cutting edge of FX blockbuster terrain – is now old enough to suffer the indignity of a remake, and “Underworld” director Len Wiseman is the man filling Paul Verhoeven’s shoes.
Just the other day, I watched with consternation as a trailer for the shiny new “Recall” played before a crowd gathered for “The Dark Knight Rises,” many of whom evinced no recognition of the film that came before it; “That looks clever,” a young woman in my row whispered to her boyfriend, while I saw my life flash before my eyes. (If this latest product of Hollywood’s recycling factory disconcerted me, spare a thought for my dear godfather, a concert violinist who does frequent film score work and has now played on both “Recalls,” scored by Jerry Goldsmith and Harry Gregson-Williams, respectively. “When I get given sheet music for a third version, that might be my cue to retire,” he remarked drily to me.)
Wiseman’s “Total Recall” – which underlines its remake status by cribbing the title of Verhoeven’s film, not the Philip K. Dick story at its source – opens on Friday. I haven’t seen it yet; for all I know, it’s terrific, though I have my reasons to be on guard.
That it’s a remake, however, isn’t in itself one of them. “Remake” is often regarded as something of a dirty word by cinema purists, one generally greeted with groans when it pops up in pre-production news snippets – but there are plenty of examples of remakes that don’t merely serve executives’ most craven, conservative commercial instincts. Instead, they can also serve as courageous reinterpretations of porous works, heartfelt valentines to pristine ones or welcome reversals of past, potential-laden failures.
So it seemed an appropriate time to round up a list of 10 great remakes – ones that successfully revive, reimagine or reframe the films that came before them, reminding us that the “r” word needn’t necessarily be an “argh” one. As I combed my memory for good examples, considering everything from Philip Kaufman’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” to Christopher Nolan’s “Insomnia” and beyond, I encountered more choices than I’d initially expected.
Criteria become stringent, if not quite set in stone: the films had to be in conversation with their cinematic predecessors, not just the literary or theatrical source material that, in some cases, links them. And I settled on only one film per director: bad news for the likes of Steven Soderbergh and Martin Scorsese, both of whom had a pair of titles in my shortlist at one point or another.
Some of the films in my Top 10 comfortably exceed their initial screen treatments; others stand beside them as proud companions or homages. Some are still regarded in certain quarters as sacrilegious; others’ reputations have so dwarfed the originals that many don’t know they’re remakes. I’m glad of them all. Check out my choices in the gallery below, and be sure to share your own in the comments.
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