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From ‘A Star is Born’ to ‘The Fly’: IndieWire’s 15 Best Movie Remakes of All Time

These masterpieces show that when done with directorial intention, rather than cynical commercialism, remakes can be some of the most inventive movies ever made.

The Best Movie Remakes of All-Time

The Best Movie Remakes of All-Time

5. “The Fly” (1986)

Jeff Goldblum The Fly

Jeff Goldblum in “The Fly”

David Cronenberg takes mid-century genre fun, injects it with gruesome gore and warped point-of-view, and somehow still made a film that was so good it became a mainstream hit. Jeff Goldblum plays a scientist who tests his teleportation breakthrough on himself and becomes a horsefly. Through incredible practical effects, the very graphic film is the peak of Cronenberg’s exploration of what became known as “body horror,” as the film meditates on disease and aging in ways that are as unsettling as the themes themselves. Yet while the film does push boundaries, underneath it is the core of a conventional 1950s monster film – the original “The Fly” was directed by Kurt Naumann and based on George Langelaan’s book – that positions us to search for and find the human buried beneath the horror.

4. “The Thing” (1982)

The Thing - 1982

“The Thing”


One of the joys of two great filmmakers working from the same source material is it reveals what is so distinctive about their cinematic and thematic worlds. In Howard Hawks “The Things” (1951), conflict is overcome by how professionals can work together; in John Carpenter’s world, what drives the horror is paranoia, fear and isolation, something he creates in this film with an intensity few filmmakers have ever matched. The terror is built shot by shot until it explodes. The practical effects and creature design are some of the best in film history. A film that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go, mostly because you need to watch it again immediately afterward.

3. “Heat” (1995)

Attention film students: There is no better filmmaking lesson than the ones you can gain from comparing a masterpiece to its first draft. The ideas are present in both, but what is laid bare is the craft that is normally taken for granted when the finished product is so exact. It is not an exaggeration to say Michael Mann made an early draft of “Heat” six years earlier with a TV movie, “L.A. Takedown.” Whole scenes, including the famous Al Pacino vs. Robert De Niro diner scene, exist in the original, and reveal Mann sketching, working to find the foundational structure to build his masterpiece. When it came time to do it for real – with stars, money, time, and an arsenal of the best below-the-line talent — watching the two films back-to-back brings to life how every beat, every movement, every frame of “Heat” is perfectly designed to maximize the emotion and intensity.

2. “A Star Is Born” (1954)

"A Star Is Born"(1954)

“A Star Is Born”(1954)

Warner Bros/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut will be Hollywood’s fourth version of “A Star Is Born.” The likelybest-case scenario for Cooper is his will be the second-best version of a story that dates back to the 1930s. Director George Cukor’s own career in Hollywood began at the end of the silent era and he brought to “Star” an expertise in the different ways Hollywood studio filmmaking can illicit big emotions, while the town guts its inhabitants with its own impressive arsenal. Never a flashy filmmaker, Cukor brings this all to the table for film that crosses musicals with the melodrama of a story of two lovers (Judy Garland and James Mason), who cross each other on the path between being nobody and a star. In the incredible musical numbers Garland releases some of her own painful, personal Hollywood truth, while Mason is also next-level amazing as his character’s fall from fame, fueled by alcoholism and a fragile male ego, is almost poetic. As his last walk into the ocean sunset marks his character’s end, it feels symbolic of the end of an era, as the crumbling studio system was in its final throes. The best film about Hollywood ever made.

1. “Imitation of Life” (1959)

"Imitation of Life"

“Imitation of Life”

Courtesy of FSLC

It could be argued that “Imitation of Life” is Hollywood’s best film about race, and the best film in director Douglas Sirk’s career, but it is without a doubt the best example of how remaking a film can be an incredibly creative and liberating endeavor. Yes, Sirk updates the racially dated 1934 version for a post-Brown vs. Board of Education, pre-civil rights time period, but not as much as you would think.

The story of the familial bond forged between two struggling mothers (one black, one white), who go on to find financial success, remains the narrative arc. Instead of it being the black maid’s waffle recipe that brings success, the white woman (Lana Turner) becomes, well, Lana Turner — a glamorous Broadway and movie star. Sirk adds a layer to the surface story, letting the audience get drawn into the melodrama of Turner’s #MeToo-like struggle of becoming rich and famous, while not being able to find enough time for her precocious daughter (the film’s other notable star, Sandra Dee).

As is often the case with Sirk, it’s what’s beneath the white characters’ top-line narrative that interests him. Beyond Turner’s diamonds and romantic conflicts are Annie (Juanita Moore) and her much lighter-skinned daughter Sara Jane (Susan Kohner) who are treated like part of the family, except they live very different lives that happen outside the home. With Sirk, the artifice of his surfaces serves as his characters’ golden cage that reveals the painful truth. The cut from teenage Sara Jane — who has been trying to pass as white, but is discovered by the enraged boy she was dating — to her mother working on Turner’s feet is one of the most devastating in film history.

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