We live in an age where most cinema either has been or will get recycled — adaptations, sequels, prequels and, yes, remakes. With Poltergeist hitting theaters this Friday, itself a remake of Tobe Hooper’s 1982 horror classic, what better time to look back at the worst redos ever to come off the Lack of Inspiration Assembly Line.
20. PSYCHO (1998)
Remake of: Psycho (1960)
Virtually identical, shot-for-shot and line-for-line, to Alfred Hitchcock’s immortal film, Gus Van Sant’s Psycho is more replica than remake, not so much interpreting the material for a contemporary audience as proving to them that genius can’t be made by mimicry. At worst, of course, Psycho ‘98 is redundant, a faint carbon copy of a masterpiece. At best it’s almost an experimental film — if nothing else, an intriguing failure.
19. DISTURBIA (2007)
Remake of: Rear Window (1954)
Another of Hitchcock’s greatest films was duly contemporized with Disturbia — though this time quite a bit more loosely. “Inspired” by Rear Window, as it was cautiously billed, the teen-friendly Shia LaBeouf vehicle no doubt introduced a generation to the definitive thriller setup of the ’50s: a man confined to his room must watch helplessly as a crime gets underway right outside his window. A fruitful enough premise that it can sustain another film — even one this meager.
18. ALFIE (2004)
Remake of: Alfie (1966)
Alfie didn’t simply star Michael Caine; Alfie was Michael Caine. And Jude Law, even at the height of his charm, is no Michael Caine. Thus it hardly surprised anyone that a remake exchanging one charismatic Englishman for another would disappoint commensurate to the quality of its star. Still, given the freewheeling licentiousness of its hero, Alfie had an opportunity to be thoughtful about modern attitudes toward casual sex, seizing upon the nearly 40-year chasm between 1966 and 2004 as its covert subject. That it couldn’t be bothered is typical of its laziness.
17. A PERFECT MURDER (1998)
Remake of: Dial M for Murder (1954)
Why yes, it’s another modern interpretation of a Hitchcock classic: A Perfect Murder turned to the master’s 3D chamber drama Dial M for Murder as grist amid the ’90s erotic thriller boom, trading out the theatrical intricacy that made the original so delightful for something more salacious and flatly spectacular. Pretty routine maneuvers, for a rote thriller of its variety, but still cause for dismay. Material this juicy shouldn’t be squeezed dry.
16. ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (2005)
Remake of: Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
It’s an axiom of Hollywood that if the original was lean and rigorous, the remake will be ludicrously over-the-top — as if instead of merely sacrificing the integrity of a film they feel compelled to actively pervert it beyond recognition. Scarcely has the principle been illustrated as frustratingly as in the case of Jean-Francois Richet’s Assault on Precinct 13, which undermined the spartan purity of John Carpenter’s best film by blowing it up to ungainly blockbuster proportions.
15. ROBOCOP (2014)
Remake of: Robocop (1987)
A common fault of the remake is misunderstanding: those in charge of making something new of old material don’t quite get what made that material interesting in the first place. Few fail on this account to the same degree as the recent Robocop, which sidled up to one of the great satires of the 1980s and saw in it an excuse to make a vacuous action movie. Verhoeven’s film is very much about the excesses of vulgarity — indeed, it’s reproachful of them. So naturally Robocop 2.0 doubled down on precisely the sins the original aspired to condemn.
14. THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (2005)
Remake of: The Amityville Horror (1979)
The original Amityville Horror was never exactly inviolable, nor in fact even particularly exemplary among the grisly haunted-house slashers of the 1970s. How hard, in other words, could it be to fuck up? Well, they somehow found a way. A trite film here descends into bottomed-out inanity, forgoing an effort to muster an original idea and instead cobbling its attempts to scare together from so many familiar sources that it practically qualifies as pastiche.
13. CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005)
Remake of: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Though it justified its existence, if only barely, by remaining considerably closer to the Roald Dahl source material than the beloved Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Tim Burton’s Day-Glo sugar-rush of a film nevertheless proved an insufferable sit, veering between dark and zany where a more moderate register would do. In retrospect, too, Charlie seems the point at which Johnny Depp went from inspired to unbearable — the first dismal performance in a career that hasn’t really recovered since.
12. GODZILLA (1998)
Remake of: Godzilla (1954)
Before Gareth Edwards redeemed the long-disgraced kaiju franchise with last year’s gloomy spin, Roland Emmerich, poet laureate of the disaster film, embarrassed us all with a thinly veiled cash grab pretty obviously intended to capitalize on the success of Jurassic Park. As if lifting Spielberg’s T-Rex-teasing tricks weren’t galling enough, Emmerich even copied the much-beloved velociraptor: thus Godzilla ‘98 featured baby monsters running amok in New York, an indignity we didn’t gladly endure.
11. THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1996)
Remake of: The Nutty Professor (1963)
As a comic performer Jerry Lewis was no stranger to the ridiculous, but as a director he was well-versed in style — hence why his Nutty Professor, for all its low-brow humor, is in formal terms a film of some distinction. Lacking that panache, Eddie Murphy simply leans on the only gimmicks at his disposal: fat suits, wigs, outlandish costumes, and all manner of facial and bodily prosthetics, the lot of combined to equip Murphy for a dozen different roles. The only trouble is that none of them are funny.
10. TOTAL RECALL (2012)
Remake of: Total Recall (1990)
Hollywood ought to stop remaking Paul Verhoeven movies — the lot of them clearly beyond their apprehension — but they no doubt won’t. Len Wiseman’s Total Recall is a good example of how feeble the result always turns out to be: drab where the original was ecstatic, meek where the original was fierce. It’s no less than the very height of by-committee mediocrity, a blockbuster designed to target the usual four-quadrant audience but without any interest in craft or ideas.
9. VANILLA SKY (2001)
Remake of: Open Your Eyes (1997)
Vanilla Sky must have seemed an auspicious vanity project for Tom Cruise, who bought the rights to Open Your Eyes after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and planned to remake it as star and producer. And who better to hire to direct than Cameron Crowe, the man who brought him such glory and acclaim the year before with Jerry Maguire? But sentiment and star power were the last things needed to translate an impressionistic science-fiction story for American audiences, who rightly laughed Vanilla Sky off as the try-hard dreck it was always destined to be.
8. QUARANTINE (2008)
Remake of: [REC] (2007)
Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza’s [REC] was among the earliest “found footage” horror movies, and, with its authentic style and slow-boil patience, remains something of a high water mark for the trend. Quarantine, the (inevitable) American remake, is not so much a bad film as a totally pointless one, replicating the hard-won thrills of its predecessor while bringing nothing new to bear on the material. It’s just the sort of gesture Hollywood is routinely castigated for: thievery of ingenuity. Shameful.
7. PAYBACK (1999)
Remake of: Point Blank (1967)
Tastefully billed as a second adaptation Richard Stark’s The Hunter rather than an official remake of John Boorman’s Point Blank, Payback nevertheless remains in the shadow of its superior forebear. Where Point Blank found in Stark’s hardboiled Parker novel a crisis of the spirit that was practically existential — and realized that dilemma with a formalist verve inspired in large part by the French nouvelle vague — director Brian Helgeland approached his remake with a predictably meager sensibility and dull sense of style.
6. MR. DEEDS (2002)
Remake of: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
If you’re going to risk violating the sanctity of a Hollywood classic by carelessly remaking it, there are, I would expect, more promising candidates to fill the shoes of Gary Cooper than Adam Sandler — a casting decision so audacious it almost, if not quite, deserves recognition for bravery. But while Sandler naturally disappoints in place of Cooper, it isn’t by the nearly the same degree that director Steven Brill — the man responsible for Little Nicky and the “iBabe” sketch in Movie 43 — disappoints in place of Frank Capra, a step down about as drastic as switching out filet mignon for a week-old Big Mac.
5. GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS (2000)
Remake of: Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
You’ve heard of a labor of love? The original Gone in 60 Seconds was veritably Herculean: car enthusiast and privately wealthy maniac H.B. “Toby” Halicki not only wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film, but recruited its cast and crew, provided its clutch of demolished muscle cars, and performed its potentially deadly driving stunts all on his own, permanently injuring himself in the process. The remake pissed on that legacy by phoning its every image in — a pretty dire case of Hollywood sanitizing a work of true grit.
4. THE WICKER MAN (2006)
Remake of: The Wicker Man (1973)
Yes, the bees.
3. RED DRAGON (2002)
Remake of: Manhunter (1986)
Brett Ratner, god among hacks, made Red Dragon for one reason: to make money. That is, to make money by selling another Hannibal Lecter adventure to audiences accustomed, after Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, to seeing their favorite flesh-eating psychiatrist as immortalized by Anthony Hopkins. But Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon was already adapted, and perfectly, as Michael Mann’s unimprovable Manhunter. Every flicker of intelligence, every solar flare of style, every moment of vigor or wit was snuffed out by Ratner’s lifeless remake.
2. THE VANISHING (1993)
Remake of: The Vanishing (1988)
A curious case: In 1988 the Dutch director George Sluizer made Spoorloos, or The Vanishing, a singularly harrowing love story and one of the best horror films ever made. In 1993 he was brought on to remake the film in Hollywood, with Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland … and somehow the result is one of the worst horror films ever made. How could a man of such obvious talent so thoroughly ruin his own great film? The Vanishing is such a trainwreck, in fact, that some have credited Sluizer with deliberately sabotaging the film in order to take a stand against remakes, or in order to guarantee that the original would be the more fondly remembered film. In any case it certainly is and always will be.
1. PLANET OF THE APES (2001)
Remake of: Planet of the Apes (1968)
Ah yes. The only heartening thing about Tim Burton’s abysmal Planet of the Apes, besides the fact that the two most recent Apes films thwarted any chance of a Burton-led sequel, is that history has already judged it irredeemable. There aren’t many films as unanimously reviled as this one has become in the decade and a half since its release — no doubt because, as the novelty of its once cutting-edge effects has worn off, all that remains now is the insipid little thing at its core. Decades from now, I suspect, people will remember this Planet of the Apes for its signature image alone: Mark Wahlberg looking up in horror at the monkey-ified Lincoln Memorial, much as everyone in the theater looked up in horror at the screen.