Tell me if you’ve ever heard this one before: “Why are there so many movie remakes these days? Doesn’t Hollywood have any original ideas anymore?” To a certain extent, I agree with that sentiment. I mean, it’s a crime that any studio would even imagine remaking or rebooting Scarface. But, wait. What’s that you say? Scarface has already been remade? When did this happen? 1983!? What are you talking about? That’s when the original Scarface came out. You know, the one with Al Pacino. “Say hello to my little friend!”
The truth is, 1983’s Scarface is a remake. It’s a remake of the 1932 film by Howard Hawks. That’s just it, though. The Brian De Palma Scarface is so popular, and so beloved, that I think most people would arguably say that it’s better than the original. And, as somebody who has actually watched the original, that’s no small feat, because 1932’s Scarface is excellent. That’s the purpose of this list—to shine a light on all the remakes that prove that maybe some films do deserve to be remade. Maybe just not remade again. I’m looking at you Scarface.
Oh, and spoiler warning for some of the plots up ahead.
As mentioned in the intro, the original Scarface is a masterpiece in early crime cinema. Produced by Howard Hughes and directed by Howard Hawks, the film, which stars Paul Muni as Antonio “Tony” Camonte, was actually based on a novel of the same name by Armitage Trail, and was loosely based on Al Capone. The film takes place in Chicago and is about the rise and inevitable fall of the mob boss. It’s actually really similar to the remake, with the bizarre sister-love and everything. The only difference is that it takes place in Chicago rather than Miami, and doesn’t involve a Cuban expatriate.
But, that’s actually a really big difference, since Al Pacino’s Tony Montana is arguably more compelling than Muni’s portrayal of Camonte. 1983’s Scarface is bigger, louder, more violent, and just more interesting. Written by Oliver Stone, Pacino’s performance is a real barnburner, and nobody drops the F bomb like Tony.
I’m sorry, but not even Samuel L. Jackson can curse and shoot and scream like Al Pacino. Add in Michelle Pfeiffer snorting that “white gold,” as Bruno Mars would sing, and you have a tawdry, pulpy, gangster film for the ages, and one that is arguably better than the slightly playing-it-safe original.
The Fly (1986)
The Fly is another one of those remakes that actually has a pretty admirable original film (and a great sequel in Return of the Fly!) that is sadly often forgotten because of its stellar remake. Directed by Kurt Neumann and starring David Hedison, Patricia Owens, and Vincent Price, the 1958 original of the same name plays out more like a mystery. Like the remake, it also concerns a teleportation device that mixes the DNA of a man with a fly, but it also focuses on the scientist’s wife, Helene (Owens), who is being suspected of murder because her scientist husband was found crushed in a hydraulic press. Nobody, of course, believes that her husband has swapped bodies with a fly, and a lot of the film reveals how this whole mess even occurred.
David Cronenberg’s The Fly, starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, however, is disgusting. It’s also about a scientist messing with a teleportation device when a fly gets in the contraption, but it’s a total gross-out. The film won an Academy Award for best make-up, and for good reason!
Goldblum’s transformation from man to mutant is sickening, but in the best sort of way. Cronenberg’s The Fly is a lot more visceral and terrifying than the original. And, Goldblum’s performance really gets underneath your skin. It’s a perfect example of “body horror,” and one of the most horrific movies of all time, making it arguably superior to the original.
The Thing (1982)
1951’s The Thing from Another World is a great, great film, and one deserving of your time. Directed by Christian Nyby and based on the novella, “Who Goes There?,” the plot concerns a crew of scientists and pilots who uncover an alien body frozen in ice that thaws out and attacks the men who are isolated and trapped. The monster effects are cool, and it’s all the more harrowing in black and white. “Keep watching the skies” for this masterpiece in horror.
But, John Carpenter’s The Thing is a whole other monster. Literally. Whereas The Thing from Another World is a masterclass in character dynamics with a plant-based monster, The Thing is a masterclass in tension and paranoia with an alien parasite that hides in other lifeforms' bodies. Kurt Russell leads the pack and it’s absolutely terrifying. Its' slow pace seems like a detriment at first, but it only adds to the mounting horror. It’s one of the most memorable horror movies of all time and even surpasses the original, which is definitely saying something.
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
And, here comes the controversy. George A. Romero’s 1978 masterpiece about a band of survivors fighting their through a mall is often considered one of the greatest zombie movies of all time. The film, which is a commentary on consumerism, is gloriously violent, with amazing special effects by Tom Savini, and it’s thrilling throughout. When it comes to the original Dead trilogy, the middle entry is often considered the best in the series.
And yet, I still think there is an argument to be made for the Zack Snyder 2004 remake being better than the original. I think it all comes down to your preference in zombies. Do you like the slow, shambling kind presented in Romero’s vision (Which makes the consumerism angle even clearer), or, do you like the fast, running kind? It’s tough, but I think Romero’s makes for a better commentary, but Snyder makes for the better zombie movie. It’s certainly scarier, and Snyder’s music video style really works here. I’ll watch either any day of the week, but I prefer Snyder’s version.
Cape Fear (1991)
Another slightly controversial pick, 1962’s Cape Fear, directed by J. Lee Thompson, and starring Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, and Polly Bergen, is about a rapist (played by Mitchum) who gets put away in prison and gets out wanting revenge. He terrorizes the lawyer who put him away, and it’s a race to get the man back in prison, where he belongs.
The original is fantastic, but there’s just one problem. It doesn’t star Robert De Niro in a film directed by Martin Scorsese. Whereas Robert Mitchum’s Max Cady was scary, Robert De Niro’s Max Cady is creepy. His performance really makes your skin crawl in a way that Mitchum’s just doesn’t, and it’s for that reason alone that the remake is arguably superior to the masterful original.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.