10 directors who remade their own films

Feature Nick Horton 29 Apr 2014 - 06:14

Remakes can reflect a different era, a different take on the same story; sometimes, even when they're made by the same person...

Sometimes once isn’t enough. While many directors return to make sequels/prequels/inbetweenquels of their films, some go the extra mile and remake a film they’ve already done. Perhaps they weren’t happy with the first effort, or perhaps they’ve been offered more money, or the chance to reach a different (American) audience. Whatever the reason, the results are varied – here are ten directors who thought they could do better the second time…

Michael Mann – LA Takedown (1989) / Heat (1995)

Why do it? Because LA Takedown was a TV movie with accomplished yet pretty much unknown actors. Heat was a mega-budgeted Hollywood crime epic which brought together Pacino and De Niro while they were still at the height of their powers.

What’s different? Not as much as you think. The story is basically the same, but it’s the way Mann approaches the material that makes you realise this is a director who’s come a long way in six years. Imagine the difference between a child’s drawings and an adult’s. LA Takedown is a far leaner film in many respects, but Heat has the gravitas, the character development, and also a slightly different ending (no spoilers here though).

Which one is better? No question about it, Heat is Michael Mann at the top of his game. Grandiose and (perhaps overly) long, it is still the crime epic to beat. So well done on taking the original film and expanding significantly upon it.

See also: Michael Mann's Heat - how research created a classic thriller.

Michael Haneke – Funny Games (1997) / Funny Games (2007)

Why do it? Haneke apparently always wanted the original Funny Games to be an English language film. Its themes of screen violence impacting real life resonate more with an American audience, and the tone is much more in the same vein as American indie directors working at that time. Compare it with his other work, and Funny Games stands out like a sore thumb. So when offered the chance to finally get his wish, Haneke jumped at the chance.

What’s different? The actors. That’s about all. Haneke decided to make this a shot for shot remake of his original film, except this time set in the USA. So if you’ve seen the Austrian version, then you won’t need to bother with this.

Which one is better? Well, it turned out quite a lot of people had indeed watched the Austrian original, and so didn’t bother with this one. Which is a shame in some ways, because Michael Pitt is glorious in his lead psycho role, but ultimately the remake feels entirely redundant.

Cecil B DeMille – The Ten Commandments (1923) / The Ten Commandments (1956)

Why do it? The technology available to DeMille in the 50s was light-years ahead of what he had the first time around. Colour and sound had both become available, but better cameras, higher resolution, and the mighty VistaVision were all new introductions.

What’s different? The scale, if that’s somehow possible from the original epic. Over 100 minutes longer, he also packs in larger and more impressive set-pieces, gives the film over to mega-stars such as Charlton Heston rather than just actors (since the Paramount Decree of 1949 star power had gone stratospheric), and laid down the marker yet again for all other filmmakers.

Which one is better? For all the remake's grandiosity, and the fact that it most likely is the The Ten Commandments you think of when someone mentions the film, I’ll have to say that what Cecil B Demille achieved in the 20s is nothing short of breathtaking. Film form as we know had only really been defined seven years earlier, and only invented less than 30 years before, so to create an epic as we know and understand it today in that time is nothing short of monumental.

Alfred Hitchcock – The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) / The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Why do it? While Hitch in the 30s was a great filmmaker, Hitch in the 50s was an astounding one. He wanted another go round with one of his earlier, and his mind inferior, British films. It also served as a way to fulfil his contractual obligations to Paramount.

What’s different? Quite a lot, actually. The setting and characters are American, the film is in glorious Technicolor, and the length is much, much greater – the original was a sprightly 75 minutes, while the remake runs at a sometimes sluggish 120 minutes. We also get the Oscar winning song Que Sera Sera from lead Doris Day, a suitably charming lead role from Jimmy Stewart in place of the more buttoned up turn from Leslie Banks, and a change of setting from Switzerland to Morocco. It all still ends in the Albert Hall though.

Which one is better? A tough one, this. The later film is undoubtedly the work of a master, and feels like one. The first film is of a director feeling his way, and is a bit rough around the edges in part. Stewart and Day handle the tonal changes between suspense and comedy with far more aplomb, but the films length does take away some of the enjoyment. Plus Peter Lorre in the original is a far more sinister villain. But overall, it’s 50s Hitch.

Takashi Shimizu – Ju-on: The Grudge / The Grudge

Why do it? Because thanks to the success of The Ring remake, J horror was big business. Sam Raimi wanted a new horror hit, this fit the bill. And what better way to lend credibility to the project and convince the potentially sceptical fans of the original that this would be a meaningful remake than hire the original director?

What’s different? The entire narrative structure is far more logical in the remake – it’s less a series of loosely connected hauntings, than Sarah Michelle Gellar’s fight to discover why this is happening to her. She is the main thread the new film revolves around, and there are even various sub-plots for her character.

Which one is better? Depends on how you like your horror to be presented. The original mixes up traditional film form and is more like a short story anthology than anything us Western audiences are used to. This makes the entire film slightly unsettling, and hard to predict. By comparison, we feel we know where we’re going in the remake. On the other hand however, The Grudge is actually a bit more scary in a traditional sense than the original, which is a bit more psychological.

George Sluizer – Spoorloos (1988) / The Vanishing (1993)

Why do it? Sluizer’s original Dutch film was hailed as a masterpiece in some quarters – the tale of a man who spends years hunting for answers after his girlfriend is kidnapped, only to come to the attention of the kidnapper himself, is a dark and stark portrayal of obsession and the nature of evil. It had credibility, a certain Euro-cool, and by remaking it, it seemed like Hollywood could compete with the Miramax-inspired indie revolution at the time. Either that or they dumped a massive pile of money on Sluizer’s drive.

What’s different? Again, one is a dark and stark portrayal of obsession and the nature of evil. The other is a Hollywood film in which goodies fight baddies, and there is a mystery to be solved, and not just pored over to an unrelenting ending. Speaking of endings, this is the classic case of changing one which is powerful and perfect, to one which is not so good. In fact it’s pretty terrible. The films may share a name, but that’s about all.

Which one is better? Just don’t even bother with the remake, even if it does feature Kiefer Sutherland and Sandra Bullock.

See also: the top 22 haunting endings to modern movies.

Ole Bornedal – Nattevagten (1994) / Nightwatch (1997)

Why do it? Nattevagten was an underground cult hit about a uni student taking a night janitor’s job. It played well on initial release, and garnered a fair bit of praise, but crucially didn’t break through. Perfect for the Weinsteins, who swept in and hired Bornedal to do it all again – but this time in English.

What’s different? Not too much really. They’re both atmospheric in the same way, both play out in similar terms of story, and both have the same set-pieces. The remake is considered glossier than the original, which in turn has been criticised for its apparent misogyny.

Which one is better? It depends on who you’d prefer in your film – a young Sofie Grabol (from The Killing), a very young Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (from Game Of Thrones), or fresh from Trainspotting Ewan McGregor, plus a mental Nick Nolte. Otherwise, they really are too close to call.

Gela Babluani – 13 Tzameti (2005) / 13 (2010)

Why do it? Why indeed? What do you do if you’ve made a universally-acclaimed Sundance Grand Jury prize winning debut feature? Go to the USA and remake it with a bunch of action stars of course.

What’s different? The Statham. Also a load more back-story for every single character in the film. Gone is the stark black and white aesthetic and pared-back narrative, replaced instead with bloated motives for everybody. There are really no surprises in the remake, and instead you’re given a terrible mirror version where every good choice in the original has been altered for the worse.

Which one is better? Well, I would say the original. But it doesn’t have the Stath.

The Pang Brothers – Bangkok Dangerous (1999) / Bangkok Dangerous (2008)

Why do it? The Pang Brothers went on to direct horror franchise The Eye, but this was their original mega-smash. Nicolas Cage’s production company duly took note, and bought the rights in order to give Cage a new action vehicle.

What’s different? One is a successful action flick. The other is borderline unwatchable. Guess which is which? The 2008 Bangkok Dangerous changes the original’s deaf/mute hitman to a hitman with a deaf/mute girlfriend (because Cage had to have dialogue). It also lost most of the elements which made the original engaging, and instead replaced them with a pedestrian plot and leaden direction. It did gain another amazing wig for Nicolas Cage though.

Which one is better? The original, insofar as it’s actually watchable.

Sam Raimi – Evil Dead (1981) / Evil Dead II (1987)

Why do it? Sam Raimi’s directorial debut was a big deal. Made on a miniscule budget, Raimi’s film helped redefine horror for a new generation, shook up traditional filmmaking techniques, and made home video a viable market for film releases. But while it seemed a no-brainer that he would follow it up on an increased budget, and for a wider release next time round, it wasn’t until the failure of Crimewave that the idea began to gain ground. While titled a sequel, it’s most definitely the first film redone on a bigger budget, and designed to relaunch Raimi’s career and remind everyone of his talent.

What’s different? Evil Dead II is far less of a straight horror than the original, and instead a comedy-horror, which is what people now associate with the first Evil Dead trilogy. Raimi and Bruce Campbell’s greater experience allows them to be a bit looser with their characters, and you can tell that this isn’t so much of a re-tread as the filmmakers getting things perfect this time round while still expanding upon their original mythos.

Which one is better? It’s a hell of a tough call, but I think Evil Dead II wins out. It’s far more rewarding on repeat viewings, and really did set the bar for comedy-horror. Evil Dead II is the film you wish you could make, while Evil Dead is the film you think you might be able to make (if you were a genius).

Honourable mentions

Of course, many filmmakers get their big break from remaking some of their earlier short-film work. But rather than a full-on remake this is more the director getting the chance to showcase their promise on a far larger scale, or revisiting a previous beloved calling card. Some great examples of this include…

George Lucas – Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB / THX 1138

Neill Blomkamp - Alive In Joburg / District 9

Paul Thomas Anderson – The Dirk Diggler Story / Boogie Nights

Tim Burton – Frankenweenie / Frankenweenie

Jalmari and Juuso Helander - Rare Exports Inc / Rare Exports: A Chistmas Tale

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