Movie remakes, as much as we all complain about them, are not new, nor are they particularly symbolic of a lack of originality. While there have certainly been some ill-conceived retreads over the years, as well as some what’s-the-point shot-for-shot retreads — 1998’s Psycho could be described as both — there are also some cases where the newer product is so much different from the former that it can be considered its own animal.
When compiling this list of the 12 Remakes That Are Completely Different from the Movies They’re Based On, we sought to pick films so different in tone and plot points that they could be seen as a completely new viewing experience by the people encountering them who are familiar with the originals. That said, let’s get started!
12 Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956/1978/Body Snatchers/The Invasion
The latest remake of the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers shares a few familiar surnames — namely “Bennell,” “Driscoll,” and “Belicec,” as well as similar concepts; but that’s about where the similarities end. In The Invasion (2007), the primary thrust of the story is driven by Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman) as she fights to survive and protect her son from an alien epidemic. The focus of the original is aimed more at Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) and his love interest Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter).
The 1956 version is a well-made thriller in spite of its obvious B-movie stature. This is updated in the 1978 version, which pieces together a massive ensemble consisting of Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, and Leonard Nimoy, along with a noticeably higher budget and superior production values. Every one of these films functions as its own separate entity, but perhaps most different of all is the Abel Ferrara-directed Body Snatchers from 1993, which transplants the metropolitan settings of the other three films for a remote military base in Alabama and chooses a teenage girl and her father as the primary protagonists. Body Snatchers returns the series to its B-movie roots, and Ferrara’s direction is quite good compared to some of his other films. He also benefits from a strong cast, including Gabrielle Anwar, Meg Tilly, Forest Whitaker, Terry Kinney, and R. Lee Ermey.
11 The Stepford Wives 1975/2004
The original version of The Stepford Wives, based on Ira Levin’s dark bestselling satire of 1972, treated its source material with respect. It did so by sewing in threads of black comedy in what was otherwise a white-knuckle horror film about a strong woman, whose world turns into a nightmare after she moves to Stepford with her husband. Quickly realizing there is something wrong with the women of her idyllic community, Joanna (Katharine Ross) feels like she is about to become the target of whatever is claiming the personalities of her friends.
In the 2004 film, director Frank Oz pulls in a stellar cast consisting of Kidman, Christopher Walken, Matthew Broderick, Bette Middler, Glenn Close, and Faith Hill, but ultimately strikes the wrong chord, filling his film with too much goofball comedy and not enough of the unnerving paranoia that made Levin’s book and the 1975 adaptation such classics. It is a similar juxtaposition to the Tim Burton Dark Shadows film and its two previous television incarnations.
10 Scarface 1932/1983
Scarface (1983) came 50 years after the original, so it was able to get away with a lot more in terms of sex, violence, and rampant debauchery. Even so, the 1932 version caused quite a bit of controversy for the time, as it was one of the more violent pictures of the day.
While director Brian De Palma’s later version is very much a remake in spirit, it alters so many of the film’s characters and events that you can watch and enjoy it without using the Howard Hawks’ version as a measuring stick. In Scarface (1932), the events follow Tony Camonte (Paul Muni) as he goes from small-time henchman to bonafide crime lord in Prohibition-era Chicago. This story is transplanted to 1980s Miami and the growing drug trade for De Palma’s flick. This time around, the character is Tony Montana (Al Pacino), a Cuban-American immigrant. While both films end in similar fashion, De Palma makes many deviations in his 170-minute epic compared to the 95-minute original, as one would expect. Both are incredibly satisfying films.
9 La Totale/True Lies
Many casual movie-watchers may not realize the connections between La Totale and True Lies. However, the 1991 French comedy was an obvious inspiration for director James Cameron’s 1994 action-packed thriller, so much so that one might question its inclusion on this list. When watching the two back-to-back, however, the differences become clear.
True Lies, being an Americanized remake, is heavier on violence and makes the comically absurd attempt of trying to sell us Arnold Schwarzenegger in the package of a drab family man no one could ever believe is secretly a super-spy trained in the ways of espionage and killing people with his bare hands. What makes it so funny in True Lies is that Cameron believes we can actually suspend our disbelief long enough to fall for it. La Totale is funny for the opposite reason of its casting being so purely credible. Thierry Lhermitte is believable in this role wherein Arnold is not. However, Cameron makes up for the lapse in casting judgment by giving us some pretty thrilling action sequences.
8 L.A. Takedown/Heat
Michael Mann’s made-for-television film L.A. Takedown would later become the basis for Heat, his big budget pairing of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in their pre-Righteous Kill days when they were actually good. Scott Plank and Alex McArthur are the dueling professionals in the original — one a tough Los Angeles cop and the other a ruthless armed robber, respectively. Other than the obvious differences of casting and runtime — L.A.T. is 97 minutes to Heat’s 170 — the film has mostly different set-pieces throughout, leading right up to a climactic apartment raid instead of Heat’s more stylized airfield showdown.
L.A. Takedown is certainly not a bad film, and you can see that for yourself if you’re able to hunt it down on YouTube; but the restraints of the budget, along with the not-fully-developed maturity of Mann as a filmmaker, keep it from reaching the mark set by its director’s later effort.
7 Cat People 1942/1982
The only two things the 1942 and 1982 versions of Cat People share in common are their titles and concepts (and, if you want to get technical, the names of their major characters). In the 1942 original, an American man marries a Serbian immigrant but their happy union takes a turn for the worst over her seemingly irrational fear that by being intimate with her husband, she will turn into one of her land’s fabled cat people.
By 1982, director Paul Schrader was able to go a lot further with the previous effort’s interrelated concepts of sex and violence, delivering a stark horror-thriller in which Irena (Nastassia Kinski) transforms into a deadly black leopard whenever her sexuality is awakened. The original is a fantasy noir B-movie that does for suspense and paranoia what the later film does for excess. Coincidentally, they’re both a lot of fun to watch.
6 The Nutty Professor 1963/1996
The Nutty Professor tells the tale of Julius Kelp in the 1963 original (Sherman Klump in the 1996) version, a good-hearted professor, who drinks a special potion that turns him into the suave (and horribly obnoxious) Buddy Love. In the later version, which did well enough to spawn a sequel, Murphy’s character has the added characteristic of being morbidly obese. As a result, his potion not only changes Klump’s mind, but it also changes his body to a much leaner form.
While it’s definitely interesting to see Jerry Lewis’ take on the character the first go-around, Eddie Murphy’s version infuses more heart, more FX, and a modern comedic sensibility. In so doing, it has aged remarkably well, which cannot be said for Lewis’ original. The types of comedy presented in these two films, along with the vastly different interpretations of the lead characters make them completely different films in spite of their shared pedigree.
5 Point Blank/Payback
Point Blank (1967) and Payback (1999) are both adapted from the same Donald E. Westlake novel, The Hunter, and are as different as remakes get. Director John Boorman tries to make Point Blank, a sometimes brutal noir thriller, into a work of art. In contrast, Brian Helgeland and Mel Gibson’s collaboration is as subtle as the hammer Gibson takes to his toes in one of those prolonged torture scenes he has become known for throughout his Christ-complex of a career.
While that may sound like a criticism, it did not stop us from enjoying Payback for what it is — mindless action fare. But if you want something with substance, the original is still the movie for you. On a somewhat cool note, it’s rare to have one novel adapted into two different films that allow you the option of either feeding your mind or turning off your brain altogether.
4 When a Stranger Calls 1979/2006
The 1979 When a Stranger Calls can sometimes feel disjointed because director Fred Walton structures it as two different films. What most people remember it for is the tense opening sequence — “Have you checked the children?” — which is only about 23 minutes of a 97-minute film. After that, it bizarrely switches gears into a story about two men — the child-killer responsible for all the mayhem in that opening and the cop-turned-P.I. determined to make sure he never has the chance to kill again. The film is essentially more character study than horror movie.
The 2006 remake doesn’t dare take such chances. Instead it stretches the famous opening scene into almost 90 minutes and feels watered-down as a result. If you want to see a superior rehash of When a Stranger Calls, stick with the made-for-Showtime sequel When a Stranger Calls Back from 1993. It’s creepier and more coherent than the original.
3 Major Payne/The Private War of Major Benson
Major Payne often flies under the radar as a remake because of how it differs in style from its predecessor, The Private War of Major Benson. While the latter is light family comedy fare, the former is a showcase for its lead star. The plots are almost identical. A hardened Major takes command of a struggling ROTC program and becomes an unlikely father figure while drumming up an equally unlikely relationship with a female doctor. But Damon Wayans gives his film a distinctive personality from the Charlton Heston vehicle of 40 years prior.
Wayans’ standup and sketch comedy backgrounds made him feel more at ease in the role than did Heston. As such, he needed less help from his cast. Add to it an immensely quotable script, and Major Payne had no trouble in shedding the skin of its predecessor.
2 Point Break 1991/2015
Sometimes movie remakes can surprise you by sounding like terrible ideas, setting your expectations extremely low, and then rising above them. Point Break 2015 is not one of those remakes. It is exactly as bad as one might think it is, especially if they are familiar with the 1991 original and — fan or not — acknowledging of what a wacky idea that superior version was in the first place. The 1991 effort had the benefit of a stronger overall cast, a better director (eventual Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow), and the force of nature that is Gary Busey.
Busey is nuttier than squirrel turds, but he can turn in some pretty likable performances, and this was closer to his Lethal Weapon days than his time on Celebrity Apprentice, so he’s playing with a lot more charm here, and a lot of his lines are laugh-out-loud funny. The new Point Break is humorless, watered-down, and seems to exist entirely for the stunts, forgetting to infuse some actual heart and soul along the way.
Differences are many and range from the small — President helmets instead of President masks, YouTube shout-outs — to the large — PG-13 timidness, lingering on stunts to avoid story development, the fates of the female leads, completely rewriting the joy out of the Busey character-equivalent, a senseless beating from Bodhi to Johnny Utah, and pretty much the entire Johnny Utah character.
1 Out of the Past/Against All Odds
Out of the Past, a classic noir thriller starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas, hit theaters in 1947 and would go on to be added to the National Film Registry by the U.S. Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” It hits all the right genre marks with a protagonist in over his head, a vicious femme fatale, and a gritty world of deceit and hopelessness.
That made it all the more unusual that the 1980s — a decade known for embracing the “Hollywood ending” — would attempt to undertake it with the remake Against All Odds. The 1984 hit starring Jeff Bridges, Rachel Ward, and James Woods was well-received, but aside from bringing back Greer in a supporting role, it bears little resemblance to its source material. Instead of a gas station owner like Robert Mitchum’s original character, Bridges plays an aging professional football player. He is commandeered by a seedy old acquaintance using something from his past to blackmail him into finding a mysterious woman on the run. He locates her, but keeps her location a secret. The two fall in love — or appear to — before things go south.
While Against All Odds doesn’t exactly have the happiest ending, it’s a great deal more upbeat than Out of the Past, and the female lead is less villainous and more sympathetic, making for a completely different experience that allows you to watch both flicks with a fresh set of eyes. No, Against All Odds isn’t a classic like its predecessor, but it’s a solid effort and deserves at least one watch.
We know each of the remakes on this list will give you an entirely different experience from their original source material, but we also know the list is hardly exhaustive. What are some completely different remakes we missed? Also, do you agree or disagree with our picks? Sound off in the comments section below!