Did you know that one of your favorite movies is probably a remake? Indeed, in the film industry, it seems that imitation really is the highest form of flattery. Directors and producers are constantly being inspired by previous films, and in turn are remaking them into something of their own. Sometimes these remakes will even surpass the quality and positive reception of the original film.
In fact, some of Hollywood’s biggest box office hits are remakes! These days, there are so many remakes, sequels, adaptations, and reboots that it's rare to watch a movie that's completely original. Though we all expect remakes to be tired retreads, some of the movies on this list are actually fantastic films in their own right that have overshadowed their original movies.
Interestingly, it turns out that the Japanese film industry has played a substantial role in deciding what Hollywood will produce. As you’ll see, four of the films on this list are based on Japanese films.
Sure, we all know that Spider-Man is a remake (and a remake of the remake, and so on), but what about those remakes that fly under the radar?
Read on for the 15 Movies You Had No Idea Were Remakes.
15 The Ring
The horror film The Ring, directed by Gore Verbinski, will long live in our memories as one of the most terrifying, creepy movies of all time. Be honest— how long after watching the movie were you afraid of turning on your television, out of fear that the ghost of Samara would jump out of it and murder you?
As classic as the 2002 version of The Ring is, it’s important to acknowledge its origins. The film was based on a 1998 Japanese horror film called Ringu, directed by Hideo Nakata. The story is similar to that of the remake, focusing on a videotape that causes the viewers to die within seven days of watching it.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two films is that while Hollywood’s The Ring was a much bigger box office hit, Ringu was far better received by critics upon release.
14 The Parent Trap
When we think of The Parent Trap, we think of the sweet and innocent days of Lindsay Lohan, playing both red-haired twins Hallie and Annie. We also lament the loss of the lovely Natasha Richardson, and relish in Dennis Quaid’s iconic smile. This 1998 film, directed by Nancy Meyers, is truly a classic romantic comedy for the ages.
But The Parent Trap with Lindsay Lohan is not the original! The original Parent Trap, directed by David Swift, was released in 1961, and stars Hayley Mills as blonde-haired twins Susan and Sharon. In the 1961 version, one twin is from California and the other is from Boston, but apart from that, the 2002 Parent Trap follows the original very closely.
Sadly, something missing from the remake is the song and dance performance of “Let’s Get Together”. How cute would Lindsay Lohan have been performing that number?!
13 The Departed
Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, and Mark Wahlberg, The Departed has an A-list cast and won four Oscar awards back in 2007.
But Scorsese and his cast cannot get full credit for the success of this great movie, as the film was a loose remake of Infernal Affairs, a 2002 Hong Kong thriller directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak.
In the original, the film is set in Hong Kong, as opposed to The Departed, which is set in Boston. Essentially, the remake was highly Westernized, and received far more accolades than did the original Hong Kong version.
Even so, within the Hong Kong film industry, Infernal Affairs won several high-ranking awards, and can be credited for inspiring one of Hollywood’s greatest films.
12 What a Girl Wants
If you were a tween or teen in the early 2000s, then you will know and love the Amanda Bynes classic, What a Girl Wants, directed by Dennie Gordon which, alongside Bynes as heroine Daphne Reynolds, stars Colin Firth as the dashing Lord Henry Dashwood and Kelly Preston as beautiful single mom Libby Reynolds.
Given this movie’s modern feel, it might come as a surprise to learn that there is an older version of this film from 1955, The Reluctant Debutante, directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Rex Harrison, Kay Kendall, Sandra Dee, and Angela Lansbury!
Neither films received overtly positive reviews, but nor were they failures by any stretch of the imagination. For an easy watch and feel-good ending, both versions would be an appropriate choice.
11 Cape Fear
Apparently Martin Scorsese is a big believer in film remakes, as this is the second of his films that has made this list. Cape Fear, a 1991 thriller starring Robert De Niro, Juliette Lewis, Nick Nolte, and Jessica Lange, is based off the original 1962 version, directed by J. Lee Thompson, of the same name.
Scorsese, in remaking the film into his own, decided to give a nod to the original by giving cameos to Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, and Martin Balsam— all three of whom starred in the original.
It’s hard to say whether one version is better than the other. Both have an all-star cast and a stellar director. Sadly, the original may have been a bit too ahead of its time, as its release provoked some condemnation for the film’s content.
Sure, Flubber did not get great reviews from film critics. But nonetheless, it sure was popular at the box office! As one of Robin Williams’s iconic films, we will always love Flubber as the cult classic that it is.
But the Flubber directed by Les Mayfield is not the original film. In fact, it was based on the hilarious 1960s film The Absent-Minded Professor, directed by Robert Stevenson.
As a 1960s Disney comedy, we can love The Absent-Minded Professor for its slap-stick humor and old-school vibes, but it is hard to imagine that it could be better than a film starring the talented and late Robin Williams. Whatever the consensus, we can be grateful to the original for being the inspiration for the hilariously terrible Flubber.
Even if you live under a rock, you still probably know the timeless quote by Al Pacino, “Say hello to my little friend!” Indeed, Brian De Palma’s 1983 classic crime film, Scarface, is probably one of the world’s most well-known movies.
Which is why it may shock you to learn that the Brian De Palma version is not the original, and is in fact a remake of a 1932 film going by the same name, and directed by Howard Hawks. Obviously, this original version is not nearly as scandalous or as raunchy as the 1983 version.
Not to mention that the 1983 version will not be the only remake out there. A new remake is in the works - Diego Luna, the Coen Brothers, and David Ayer have all been rumored to be involved.
8 Fatal Attraction
Who could possibly forget the film that reminded us of the potentially devastating consequences of cheating!? That’s right, Fatal Attraction, directed by Adrian Lyne and starring Michael Douglas, Glen Close, and Anne Archer, will stay in our minds forever as the creepiest film of the 1980s.
However, Fatal Attraction is not the original. In 1980, James Dearden, the film’s screenwriter, wrote and directed a short film called Diversion, which is essentially a shorter, more simple version of Fatal Attraction. Producers saw potential in this short film, and asked Dearden to elaborate on characters and plot— and luckily he did, as we would not otherwise have one of Hollywood’s greatest thrillers.
It’s often actors and directors who receive the most attention for a film. This time, the screenwriter, Dearden, deserves some credit too.
7 City of Angels
Who could forget one of Meg Ryan’s classic romance films from the 1990s, City of Angels? In this romantic fantasy film directed Brad Silberling, Meg Ryan and Nicolas Cage fall in love. The twist? Nicolas Cage is an angel!
The number of films with this plot line seem endless, and you might have thought that City of Angels was one of the first.
Of course, this is not so. City of Angels was loosely based on the 1987 German film Wings of Desire, or Der Himmel über Berlin, directed by Wim Wenders. The remake has a far sadder ending, but the general premise of both films remain similar. Even so, the original Wings of Desire is more highly regarded than City of Angels, despite the latter having the Hollywood A-list cast.
6 Scent of a Woman
Another Al Pacino classic, Scent of a Woman won Pacino an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1993. Directed by Martin Brest, the film centers around a womanizing, abrasive, and slightly off-kilter war veteran who is blind (Pacino). Along with Pacino’s incredible performance, the film was generally received positively, although criticized for being too long.
Given Pacino’s Italian descent, it seems appropriate that Scent of a Woman is a remake of the 1974 Italian film going by the same name (Profumo di donna, in Italian), directed by Dino Risi and starring Vittorio Gassman.
The 1992 Hollywood remake generally received more accolades. However, the Academy in the 1970s recognized a good film when it saw one, awarding the Profumo di donna an Oscar for Best Foreign Film.
5 You’ve Got Mail
Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail stands as one of the most iconic 1990s romantic comedies, starring everyone’s favorite on-screen couple, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, as they form a romantic relationship through only online correspondence.
Many wouldn’t know, however, that the film is loosely based on an older version entitled The Shop Around the Corner, directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart. In the 1940 version, of course, the correspondence is done by letters.
Although there is no official acknowledgement that You’ve Got Mail is a remake of the film, the credits do acknowledge the original play for which both films are based off of: Miklós László’s Parfumerie. Unofficially, however, the original film is acknowledged by naming the bookstore in You’ve Got Mail “The Shop Around The Corner”.
4 The Magnificent Seven
We are all familiar with Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke— among others. Although the movie itself was not overly praised, the cast certainly was, and the film generally made for an entertaining, action-filled two hours.
The 2016 version of the film is a remake of a 1960 version by the same name, directed by John Sturges, and which received generally positive reviews.
However, both these films are remakes of the original 1954 Japanese version, entitled Seven Samurai, or Shichinin no Saumurai, and directed by Akira Kurosawa. Obviously, in this original version, rather than being about American cowboys in the Wild West, the film is about Japanese samurais.
All three films are entertaining, but obviously are vastly different based on when they were released and their cultural differences.
We’ve all seen some of the American adaptations of Godzilla, and probably some Japanese versions as well. Considering Godzilla has been named the longest continuously running movie franchise ever by the Guinness Book of World Records, it’s hard to keep track of where it all originates from.
In fact, the original Japanese film was released by Toho film studio in 1954, and was directed by Ishirō Honda. Even then, however, there was some influence from the film King Kong: Toho film studio saw the success of the 1952 release of King Kong and decided to take a whack at it with Godzilla.
Sure enough, the film was met with high praise, and went on to influence of 29 remakes, adaptations, and sequels. And, whichever one of these may be your favorite, we’ll always know the 1954 version as the first.
2 Shall We Dance?
Does it get much better than a film starring Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Susan Sarandon, and Stanley Tucci? Shall We Dance?, directed by Peter Chelsom, is one of those timeless— albeit corny— dance movies that we could re-watch over and over again.
What makes it all the more interesting is that it is a remake of a 1996 Japanese film of the same name (or, in Japanese, Sharu wi Dansu?). While the original is based in Tokyo as opposed to Chicago, the plot lines barely differ apart from that.
However, what is different about the two is that the original Japanese version was dramatically better received than was the American version, with a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and winner of several Japanese Academy awards.
1 Out Cold (Casablanca)
Who else misses the snow/skate/surf comedy films from the late-1990s and early-2000s? Out Cold, directed by The Malloys, remains one of the best of this niche genre. And, if you watch carefully, you’ll notice that the movie is a loose remake of Casablanca, directed by Michael Curtiz.
Different from most of the other films on this list, Out Cold purposefully makes good-natured fun of Casablanca. The flashback scene of Rick and Anna in Mexico, with the film’s theme song “Island In The Sun” by Weezer serving as the background music (used for the same purpose as “As Time Goes By” in Casablanca), remains one of the highlights of the film.
This time, there is no question that the original Casablanca is the better of the two films— and Out Cold puts on no airs that it should be otherwise! But we can love it for what it is, which is a hilarious spin off the original.
Are there any other surprising remakes you can think of us? Let us know in the comments!