We regret to inform you that the current barrage of Hollywood remakes will likely never cease. If anything, it’s getting worse. So prepare yourselves, people, for reimaginings/reboots/rewhatevers of films like An American Werewolf in London, The Crow, Dirty Dancing, American Psycho, Scarface, Romancing the Stone, and Weird Science. We kid you not.
Looking back at the last few decades, when remakes of classic, foreign, or just plain old movies really took hold, there are plenty that should be banished for all eternity — 1993’s The Vanishing and Spike Lee’s godawful Oldboy (2013) are high on our list. On the flip side, sometimes a remake can totally work. Here are three of our favorites.
William Friedkin was still riding high after The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973) when he decided to direct Sorcerer, a “personal project” based loosely on Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1953 film, The Wages of Fear (itself an adaptation of a best-selling novel).
The black-and-white French original impressed critics, but received a limited release in the U.S.; distributors considered it anti-American, and, honestly, the first hour is slow as shit. But Friedkin reworked its plodding start to set an international thriller tone, and then got down to business: An American oil well explodes in a South American village. Irish-American gangster Jackie Scanlon (Roy Scheider, in a role originally written for Steve McQueen) and three other criminal exiles are hired to drive trucks filled with nitroglycerine through 218 miles of dense jungle to stent the burning geyser. It’s a veritable suicide mission, but one with a life-changing payout at the end.
Sorcerer was a commercial flop, vastly overshadowed by the contemporaneous release of George Lucas’s Star Wars, but critics and film lovers still worship it. A 2014 high-def remaster restored Friedkin’s 35mm negative, along with the fantastic Tangerine Dream soundtrack, so now everyone can enjoy this overlooked treasure in all its original glory.
Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 sci-fi opus Solaris, based on the 1961 novel by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, is an epic arthouse mindfuck — long, slow, and totally bizarre.
Critic Roger Ebert revisited the classic Soviet film in 2003: “We can be bored,” he mused, “or we can use the interlude as an opportunity to consolidate what has gone before, and process it in terms of our own reflections.” Fine, whatever. But this explains why only the nerdiest of film nerds saw it when it was released in the U.S.
The concept behind it is pretty cool, though: A psychologist is summoned to a floating space station above the planet Solaris after a crew member kills himself and the remaining two cosmonauts go loco. Turns out the alien planet has figured out how to infiltrate the men’s minds, creating flesh-and-blood facsimiles of memories and people from their past. In the psychologist’s case, it’s his long-dead wife.
Enter director Steven Soderbergh (The Limey, Ocean’s Eleven, Logan Lucky, etc.), who distilled the weighty ideas behind Tarkovsky’s film and Lem’s book, cut the running time in half, and cast George Clooney and the ridiculously gorgeous Natascha McElhone as leads. The result is a visually stunning sci-fi psychodrama — an unusual combo, which is probably why it was a box-office dud. But we can live without robots shooting death beams out of their eyeholes for one goddamn film, right?
A Bigger Splash (2015)
Based on the 1969 New Wave thriller La Piscine (The Swimming Pool), A Bigger Splash takes its title from a 1967 David Hockney painting — and it’s as sensually striking as a Hockney, too, with its prurient, oh-so-lux “lifestyle porn” setting.
The original film was a huge hit in France, with 60s megastars Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, Maurice Ronet, and Jane Birkin. This saucy update (by Luca Guadagnino, who directed this year’s Oscar-winning Call Me By Your Name, as well as the upcoming remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic Suspira) has an equally impressive cast.
Alien-beauty Tilda Swinton plays Marianne, a Bowie-esque rock star recovering from throat surgery at her house on a remote Mediterranean island with her younger beau Paul (Dutch actor Matthias Schoenaerts). Their taciturn pool-fucking is soon interrupted by the arrival of Marianne’s manic, party-dog ex-lover and former producer Harry (Ralph Fiennes), who totes along his newly discovered sex kitten daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson).
From here it’s beautiful people in a beautiful setting, all behaving very badly until someone ends up dead in the pool. Don’t miss Fiennes dancing like a coked-up chicken to the Stone’s “Emotional Rescue” — easily one of our favorite movie scenes evuh.