"Scarface" (1983, Brian De Palma, from the original 1932 film directed by Howard Hawks)
Another remake / update / reimagining of a Hawks classic, Brian De Palma's "Scarface" relocates the iconic rise and fall crime opera from the tommy-gun gangster battles of the prohibition era to the cocaine wars of Florida in the eighties. De Palma and screenwriter Oliver Stone carved out a blood-drenched thug opera, a mix of the graceful and the garish that redefined a generation of gangster cinema and rap culture, with Al Pacino's guttural thug-in-a-suit spitting out dialogue like broken glass in a harsh Cuban accent and snorting small mountains of cocaine.
"The Fly" (1986, directed by David Cronenberg, from the original 1953 film directed by Kurt Neumann)
The original "The Fly" is less a classic than a memorable piece of fifties sci-fisploitation monster movie with a thread of madness. David Cronenberg keeps the matter transfer device and genetic swap but otherwise remakes the film from the ground up in his own image, turning the physical mutation of scientist Jeff Goldblum into a twisted beauty and the beast story. Goldblum charts the ecstasy and the agony of a man in mutating into a monster, part evolution and part designer disease, in a classic Cronenberg marriage of flesh and technology as modern body horror.
"Twelve Monkeys" (1995, directed by Terry Gilliam, from the original 1962 "La Jetee" directed by Chris Marker)
The first Hollywood blockbuster based on a low budget experimental short film, "12 Monkeys" takes little more than the premise and theme of Chris Marker’s "La Jetee," a first-person tale of time travel and obsession and haunting memory. Bruce Willis is the jittery, unstable agent from the devastated future, hopscotching through the pre-plague era to trace the origins of the apocalypse. In this method lays madness, which is familiar territory for director Terry Gilliam. He weaves the mind games and time travel conundrums of this millennial disaster movie with a mad poetry.
"Insomnia" (2002, Christopher Nolan, from the original 1997 film directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg)
Between his breakthrough hit "Memento" and his blockbuster smash "Batman Begins," Christopher Nolan helmed the American remake of the icy, sun-bright 1997 Norwegian noir, a murder mystery in the 24-hour daylight of the far north in summer. Al Pacino plays the L.A. cop in Alaska kept awake by the rays blasting through his hotel window, a visual scream that burns through to his conscience. Nolan shifts the moral ground from the snowballing moral corruption of the original to shades of guilt and accountability and Pacino's increasingly bleary and hallucinatory perspective becomes an evocative metaphor for his struggle.
"The Departed" (2006, Martin Scorsese, from the original 2002 "Infernal Affairs")
Martin Scorsese's Boston-accented reworking of the slick Hong Kong crime thriller from directing team Andrew Lau and Alan Mak wasn't Scorsese's first time at the remake rodeo – he made the very dark noir-drenched thriller "Cape Fear" even darker – but this one was a natural for the director of "Goodfellas" and "Gangs of New York." He turns the clever cat-and-mouse story of two rival informants scrambling to save themselves from discovery into a star-studded mob opera spiked with grimy underworld detail and juiced with adrenaline and suspicion. It became Scorsese's biggest hit and earned him his first Academy Award.