We’ve watched them all so you know which versions you need to check out and which ones to avoid
Remakes are supposed to be exhilarating. Theoretically, they’re an act of artistic wish-fulfilment. Cinema plunges into its archives and rewrites the past to glorious effect. But then again, how often are you pumping your fist for a remake? When life is short and movies are too long, do you really need to see something where the hook is that you’ve seen it before?
After all, Olivier Assayas dedicated a whole film, Irma Vep, to the pointlessness of remakes. It’s the kind of dollar-grabbing activity you’d expect from Michael Bay or whatever magic money tree keeps funding these Spider-Man movies. So when Sofia Coppola, one of the most singular directors out there, comes through with a movie like The Beguiled, it’s a bit perplexing. But luckily, it’s all with good reason.
If you’ve not seen it, the 1971 version of The Beguiled with Clint Eastwood is one of those movies you can tell from any given frame was directed by a dude. Within a few minutes, Clint locks lips with a 12-year-old girl, and the women he later encounters are all hysterical (in the bad way). Coppola wanted to, as she told us, “retell the story, but this time from the female point of view.” And through her lens, a new experience is guaranteed.
The point is, auteurs like Coppola have distinct perspectives, and it’s radical to revisit old films through their gaze. Her karaoke cover of The Little Mermaid collapsed, so she did The Beguiled instead. Similarly, when other indie directors take on the remake gauntlet, it’s usually with the best intentions. The results, though, vary significantly, and some of these arthouse filmmakers really should have known better. With that in mind, here are the very best and very worst offenders.
BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (Werner Herzog, 2009)
The original: Bad Lieutenant (Abel Ferrara, 1992)
Ripping off Ferrara without permission or changing the title is, in itself, a task more tumultuous than Fitzcarraldo. Basically, Herzog flat-out lied and fooled nobody. “I wish these people die in hell,” Ferrara responded. “I hope they’re all in the same streetcar and it blows up.” That said, Herzog’s update boasts not just Nicolas Cage channelling Klaus Kinski, but also a gang of psychedelic iguanas crawling across the frame. Ferrara just can’t compete.
Was it worth it?: Yes. Both movies are deranged in their own compelling way, but Herzog edges it with surreal flourishes, and by landing the bitchier press quote: “I have no idea who Abel Ferrara is… Is he French?”
FUNNY GAMES (Michael Haneke, 2007)
The original: Funny Games (Michael Haneke, 1997)
In a swaggering ouroboros masterstroke, Haneke’s English-language debut is an exact replica of his own 1997 home-invasion thriller. Same script, same exteriors, same everything – just with American actors in Long Island. Due to the film’s deconstruction of Hollywood violence, Haneke demanded – in a weird, creepy way – that only Naomi Watts could play the lead. (It’s the same “just add Watts” trick from King Kong and The Ring.) And without those pesky subtitles, her piercing screams receive the undivided attention you don’t really want to give.
Was it worth it?: Yes and no. Haneke’s execution may be faultless, but to sit through both requires being a masochist and a Haneke completest. That guy really knows his demographic.
OLD BOY (Spike Lee, 2013)
The original: Oldboy (Park Chan-wook, 2003)
Insightful viewers spotted an apology in the opening credits: it’s billed as a “Spike Lee film”, not his usual “Spike Lee joint”. Could this be Lee openly disowning his director-for-hire remake and acknowledging it’s no Do the Right Thing? Probably. By swapping South Korea for Louisiana, the lifeless movie follows the same beats while mangling the iconic moments: Josh Brolin doesn’t eat a live octopus (excusable) and the single-take hammer sequence is now edited (inexcusable).
Was it worth it?: No. The only good thing to come from is that Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden is less likely to receive the Hollywood treatment.
A BIGGER SPLASH (Luca Guadagnino, 2015)
The original: La Piscine (Jacques Deray, 1969)
Most of Deray’s erotic drama boils down to four half-naked bodies lounging around a pool and exchanging lustful glances – until a murder disrupts the party. Guadagnino retains the sizzling tension and the watery death, except he electrifies it with rock ‘n’ roll tangents. Unlike the serene original, there’s Ralph Fiennes as a one-time producer of the Rolling Stones, Tilda Swinton as a mute David Bowie, and a specially recorded St Vincent track for the credits.
Was it worth it?: Yes. Guadagnino’s formula (update 1970s European cinema with eclectic music references) is a riot. Next up for him is Suspiria with a Thom Yorke soundtrack.
PSYCHO (Gus Van Sant, 1998)
The original: Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
Van Sant has done outré movies like Gerry, Last Days and Paranoid Park, but nothing was more daring than his shot-for-shot remake of Psycho. And by daring, I mean deliberately making a film nobody could enjoy. Not only did Van Sant fastidiously copy and paste one of the most famous movies of all time, but he had the gall to add Vince Vaughn. You know, in case anyone saw Hitchcock’s version and thought, “Hmmm. This is really rewriting the language of cinema, but it could really use with that unfunny Republican loudmouth from Dodgeball.”
Was it worth it?: No. An experimental filmmaker goes one experiment too far.
DRIVE (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011)
The original: The Driver (Walter Hill, 1978)
There’s debate over whether Drive counts as a remake. While none of it’s official, Refn undeniably took inspiration from Hill’s genre flick, and so did James Sallis when penning the source novel. In both, “The Driver” (a common-enough name) is an ultra-cool getaway speedster who balances low expenses with high stakes. Ryan O’Neil and Ryan Gosling sought to shed their romcom personas, and so they gravitated towards the neo-noir aesthetic and minimal dialogue. The latter was reborn as an actor worth taking seriously, at least on tumblr.
Was it worth it?: Definitely. Hill’s original a total chore. Refn revs it up (and not like how Baby Driver made me want to claw out my eyes) with slicker visuals, black humour, and a road-ready soundtrack.
A WOMAN, A GUN AND A NOODLE SHOP (Zhang Yimou, 2009)
The original: Blood Simple (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, 1984)
What if the Coen brothers had directed Tampopo? Or, better yet, what if the director of Hero did an ultra-silly screwball remake of Blood Simple? Gone is the slow, murky terrain of Texas, and in comes colourful costumes and a set design more redolent of Chinese operas. Nevertheless, Yimou sticks to the Coens’ plot (albeit relocating the action to a noodle restaurant) and explores an aspect of humanity that’s recognisable worldwide: mankind destroying itself through utter greed.
Was it worth it?: Not really. Yimou’s drastic makeover is admirable as a concept, but it’s a mess and the twists are ruined if you’ve seen the original. The Coens reportedly loved it, though.
12 MONKEYS (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
The original: La Jetée (Chris Marker, 1962)
The action-packed 28 minutes of Marker’s sci-fi look book consists of a voiceover and several black-and-white still photographs. Basically, it’s a really arty PowerPoint presentation, complete with the same time-travel story and twist to come later with Gilliam’s dazzling update. The remake, for obvious reasons, differs greatly, with Bruce Willis zapped from 2035 to 1990, where he meets Brad Pitt and finds him as irritating as we do now in 2017.
Was it worth it: Yes. Like the plot itself, Gilliam uses technology to enhance a moment in history, and he hasn’t made a decent movie since. Sans Soleil next?
PRINCE AVALANCHE (David Gordon Green, 2013)
The original: Either Way (Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, 2011)
After a string of studio flops, Prince Avalanche was Green returning to his lo-fi roots. The story itself mirrors that. Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch spend a lonesome summer painting roads in a desolate landscape, wondering where it all went wrong. It’s wonderful – until you realise the best bits, apart from the Explosions in the Sky score, are nearly identical to the Icelandic original. Which makes you wonder why he bothered. (Incidentally, Green nearly remade Suspiria with Isabelle Huppert. Imagine that. You can’t, can you?)
Was it worth it?: Yes, for Green, because most people didn’t know it was a remake. But otherwise, no – seek out Either Way, instead.
YELLA (Christian Petzold, 2007)
The original: Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962)
Carnival of Souls has influenced several filmmakers, including David Lynch, but Petzold adds a coy workplace spin. In the original, a wide-eyed woman survives a car crash and feels like she may as well be dead. Could there be a majorly signposted Shyamalan twist ahead? In Yella, something similar happens, except Nina Hoss traverses through offices and masterminds business deals for her shady partner. Through her eyes, the world of venture capitalism feels eerie, and the ghostly interruptions hint towards something unresolved within Germany’s past.
Was it worth it?: Yes. Carnival of Souls hasn’t aged well, and Yella trumps it with added psychological complexity.
And one final shit-show...
THE RETURN OF W. DE RIJK (Steven Soderbergh, 2015)
The original: 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
Soderbergh may have Logan Lucky coming out soon, but he spent the intermittent years since Side Effects in movie hibernation. Sort of. His supposed retirement led to an odd hobby of remixing movies (like how you might fiddle with the settings on VLC Player) including a black-and-white rescored edit of Raiders of the Lost Ark and – bizarrely – an abbreviated version of 2001. Which means less build-up, more HAL. On the soderblogh, he wrote, “If it’s not THE most impressively imagined and sustained piece of visual art created in the 20th century, then it’s tied for first.” So why meddle with it?
Was it worth it?: No. It’s not even available online anymore – the Kubrick estate made him remove it.