Not all remakes are bad. Some of them are even better than the original. These 13 thriller remakes are among the best.
The 1991 remake of the 1962 classic film managed to stake its own claim as a true classic of the thriller genre. Cape Fear was directed by Martin Scorsese, and stars Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, and Jessica Lange. When Max Cady (De Niro) is released from prison, he tracks down his former lawyer, Sam Bowden. Cady, who believes that Bowden hid evidence that could have let him out of prison sooner, will stop at nothing to get his revenge.
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This remake of The Narrow Margin had a lot to live up to. While Narrow Margin doesn’t quite reach the echelons of the RKO classic, it certainly makes for an effective and terrifying thriller. And changes to the original ending mean that even veteran fans will be shocked.
The Thomas Crown Affair
Remade in 1999 as a Pierce Brosnan vehicle, The Thomas Crown Affair follows NYPD detectives trying desperately to track down a painting stolen by billionaire Thomas Crown (Brosnan). Faye Dunaway, the romantic lead in the original, also stars in this well-received remake. The Thomas Crown Affair is currently available with a Hulu subscription.
Yes, The Departed is a remake. The 2006 Scorsese film is based on a 2002 Hong Kong thriller called Infernal Affairs, rewritten by William Monahan, born and raised in Dorchester, to evoke the proper Bostonian setting. If you haven’t seen the original, it’s well worth a watch. A prequel, sequel, television series, and video game followed in Hong Kong after the first movie’s success.
The Man Who Knew Too Much
The only film on this list to be remade by the same director, 1956’s The Man Who Knew Too Much is an infinitely more polished second take on Hitchcock’s 1934 film. Hitchcock himself still had affection for the first version, calling it the work of a “talented amateur.”
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The Good Thief
In 2002, Nick Nolte starred in The Good Thief, a British remake of the 1955 French film Bob le fambeur. Nolte plays Bob Montagnet, a heroin addict and thief who must finish one last job. Nolte’s performance makes this film a truly great remake.
This 2001 classic may have usurped its 1960 source material. George Clooney and Brad Pitt’s chemistry easily rivals that of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. The remake was so popular that it spawned two sequels. And, in 2018, we’ll be getting another reboot—Ocean’s 8, starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, and more is slated to hit theaters in the summer.
The 1983 version of Scarface, despite initial mixed reactions, is now considered one of the best mob movies of all time. Based on the 1932 gangster film of the same name, 1983's Scarface swaps out Chicago for Miami and Paul Muni's Italian immigrant gangster Antonio Camonte for Al Pacino's Cuban refugee-turned-drug kingpin Tony Montana. It was and is among the most violent movies ever released, and had a huge impact on the movie industry, not least in that it launched Michelle Pfeiffer’s career.
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One of Christopher Nolan’s earlier films, Insomnia is a remake of a 1997 Norwegian film. When a 17-year-old in Alaska is killed, LAPD detectives (Al Pacino and Martin Donovan) arrive to help solve the crime. When Pacino’s character accidentally shoots and kills his partner, he begins experiencing insomnia, causing him to struggle even harder to solve the teen’s murder.
The Manchurian Candidate
Alright, we will in no way claim that the 2004 version of The Manchurian Candidate outshines its source material. But it is a very solid thriller, filled with fantastic performances from Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, and Liev Schreiber.
The Postman Always Rings Twice
Although this 1981 remake also fails to eclipse its predecessor, The Postman Always Rings Twice is worth seeing for two reasons: Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange’s insane chemistry and its gritty, modern take on noir.
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The story of Heat’s genesis is a strange one. Originally meant to be a television show, writer and director Michael Mann wrote a pilot that became the TV movie L.A. Takedown. Unsatisfied with both the television series and the movie, Mann took another shot at the material six years later, giving us the classic Heat.
The Maltese Falcon
Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon was a sensation when it was released in 1929—such a sensation that within 12 years, it would be adapted into a movie not once, but twice. The first film, premiering pre-Hayes Code, offers more overt references to the sexual situations of the novel, but the second is a true classic. Humphrey Bogart’s performance as Sam Spade became the archetype for the hardboiled detective.
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Featured still from "The Maltese Falcon" via Warner Bros.