Remakes have been a part of the studio machine since at least as far back as 1904 when the groundbreaking “The Great Train Robbery” was reshot and resold. In the century-plus that followed, remakes have gotten a bad name for themselves and, to some, are indicative of the creative vacancy of the mainstream entertainment industry. But look closer and you’ll find that many filmmakers are doing wonderful things by taking old stories and making them new again, either by adding visual flair or injecting nuance where, perhaps, there was little to be found before. Some of the best movies of the last decade were remakes. And these, we dare say, were the 10 best.
Runners-Up (alphabetically): "About Last Night" (2014), "Benji" (2018), "The Crazies" (2010), "Frankenweenie" (2012), "Ghostbusters" (2016), "The Jungle Book" (2016), "Murder on the Orient Express" (2017), "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (2013), "A Star Is Born" (2018), "We Are What We Are" (2013)
10. "Let Me In" (2010)
Tomas Alfredson’s modern classic Swedish vampire drama “Let the Right One In” was only two years old when Matt Reeves remade it for American audiences, but “Let Me In” is anything but a superfluous rehash. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz bring their own pain and warmth to their characters (a bullied boy and the immortal vampire who takes a shine to him, respectively), and Reeves adds a handful of gruesome shocks that make Alfredson’s icy original seem more brutal than before. “Let the Right One In” is the more mature and graceful film, but “Let Me In” is an expertly crafted crowdpleaser, equally valid but made for slightly different tastes.
Walt Disney Studios
9. "Pete’s Dragon" (2016)
Of the recent spate of Disney blockbuster remakes, David Lowery’s “Pete's Dragon” is by far the loosest. Lowery transforms the original, quirky and bizarre musical into a focused and elegiac family fantasy about an orphaned boy raised by a dragon in the woods, and the family who wants to bring him back into the world without fully understand what he might lose in the process. Gorgeously photographed and sensitively acted, the new “Pete’s Dragon” is its own beast, full of charm and love and ambition, and arguably better than the original.
8. "True Grit" (2010)
The first time the Coen Bros. took a stab at remaking a classic film it was “The Ladykillers,” and we’ve all collectively agreed not to speak about that. Their second, “True Grit,” is a modern western classic. Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar-nominated for her big-screen debut, plays Mattie Ross, who hires the gruff and eccentric gunman Rooster Cogburn to hunt her father’s killer. Jeff Bridges takes over the Cogburn role from John Wayne (it’s the role than won Wayne an Oscar), and he makes the character over within the Coens' vivid vision of the west as ruled by loutish miscreants, all of whom lack the moral fiber of a teenage girl. A fantastic western from start to finish, filled with impressive detail and memorable performances.
20th Century Fox
7. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (2011)
One of the most intriguing decisions any blockbuster franchise made this decade was to restart the “Planet of the Apes” series not by remaking the original, but by remaking the fourth film in the series, the underrated “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” (1972). Directed by Rupert Wyatt, the loose remake also tells the story of Caesar, the first intelligent ape who led a rebellion against his human oppressors. But without the baggage of multitudinous prequels, “Rise” is free to weave a distinctive new version of the sci-fi tragedy, in which a helpless animal forms attachments to humanity, only to watch his faith go unrewarded and punished before finally fighting back. Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar over the course of the three rebooted “Apes” movies is perhaps the most accomplished piece of motion-capture acting filmed so far, and the intelligence and sensitivity with which “Rise” sets up his journey is nothing short of stellar.
Walt Disney Pictures
6. "Cinderella" (2015)
Disney’s original “Cinderella” is a triumph of animation, but the 1950 film's story and characters were undeniably underdeveloped by contemporary standards. Kenneth Branagh’s luminous remake can’t hold a candle to the original’s historical significance to the medium, but it tells the superior version of the story, fleshing out Cate Blanchett’s “wicked stepmother” character into a nuanced and sympathetic villain and giving Ella (Lily James) and her Prince Charming (Richard Madden) more time than ever to build a romantic bond before fate -- or at least, the magical stroke of midnight -- tears them apart. The remake views Ella not as a victim but as a principled heroine whose nobility emerges in ways that her persecutors cannot comprehend, let alone stifle. Branagh's “Cinderella" is one of the greatest fairy-tale movies.
5. "Evil Dead" (2013)
Sam Raimi’s low-budget, independent, raw, ultraviolent and hyperkinetic cult classic was remade by Fede Alvarez into a raw, ultraviolent and hyperkinetic film that’s no less daring or subversive or grotesque for being paid for and released by a studio. In the remake, a group of young friends convene at an isolated cabin in the woods to help Mia (Jane Levy) battle her addiction to heroin, but along the way they accidentally release an ancient evil force that possesses Mia and tries to mutilate and destroy them all. The new “Evil Dead” captures Raimi’s virtuosic storytelling -- and reminds us all just how limp and conventional most modern camerawork really is -- while subverting audience expectations about where this remake is going, and how despicably it’s going to get there. It’s just as frightening and bizarre as the original, remake or no.
4. "Suspiria" (2018)
Dario Argento’s hypnotic and hallucinogenic “Suspiria” defies conventional critical analysis, and searching its nightmarish surrealism for deeper meaning may have been beside the point. So it was bold as hell of Luca Guadagnino to remake “Suspiria” and to infuse the spooky narrative, about a ballet school run by witches, with vibrant political and social symbolism. Dakota Johnson stars as Susie Bannion, an American dancer studying under the great Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), and veering further and further into the school’s matriarchal world of empowerment and violence. As dense as the original is ephemeral, Guadagnino’s complex and ambitious new take on “Suspiria” is the mirror image of Argento’s classic and may reveal itself to be its own kind of horror classic as time goes on.
3. "It" (2017)
The cries that the two-part feature film “It” adaptation isn’t technically a remake of the two-part mini-series “It” adaptation have fallen on deaf ears; even the bloody format is the same. Andy Muschietti’s new version doesn’t have Tim Curry’s iconically horrifying chuckle as Pennywise, but the first half is more interested in Stephen King’s demonic clown as an insidious influence than as a scene-stealer. The story of a small-town “Loser’s Club,” comprised of adolescent outcasts who band together to conquer their fears -- as personified by Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård, absolutely terrifying) -- has been transported into the late 1980s and now takes on a truly epic quality. “It” is a superbly produced horror-thriller that doubles as a sharp and meaningful coming-of-age allegory. The follow-up, “It: Chapter Two,” can’t stick the landing, falling prey to tedious mythologizing and an over-reliance on flashbacks, but Chapter One stands perfectly well on its own, and is so frightfully effective it could be destined for classic status.
2. "Silence" (2016)
In Scorsese’s “Silence,” a failure to be Christ-like is not a failure to be Christian. That’s not necessarily the reading one gets from Masahiro Shinoda’s original film version of Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel about Christian persecution in Japan in the 17th century. The author was reportedly unhappy with that first adaptation, and Scorsese seems determined to explore the story in a different way. “Silence” stars Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as Jesuit priests investigating claims that another member of their order has publicly renounced his faith under pressure from the Japanese government, who are eager to root out the western influence by any means necessary. Along the way, they too are challenged to give up their beliefs in exchange for an end to their suffering and the suffering of those they know. The film may be a tale of persecution, but it’s not a simple “us vs. them” propaganda narrative; Scorsese seems most eager to frame the story as a thoughtful treatise on the seeming impossibility of genuine faith in a world of danger, doubt and endless complications. It’s as fine and nuanced a work as any the filmmaker has ever crafted.
1. "Little Women" (2019)
You know what they say about not fixing what ain't broke, but Greta Gerwig’s remake of “Little Women” fixes parts of Louisa May Alcott’s original novel, and its many adaptations, that some of us didn’t even realize needed fixing. Gerwig’s adaptation changes the timeline of the story, reframing it as a story being written instead of using the authorship of “Little Women” as a climax, and in so doing allows the love affair of Amy (Florence Pugh) and Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) to play as the most important relationship. (Previous adaptations sometimes made it seem like an afterthought, or worse, creepy.) The bold and welcome changes don’t end there, but Gerwig blissfully keeps the majority of the wonderful, timeless story intact. The cast is as fine as any ever assembled -- no easy task -- and the family squabbles, the romance, the humor and the progressive themes are as radiant as ever, and arguably more intelligently presented than in any previous rendition.