The Top 10 Science Fiction Movie Remakes Of All Time

The Colin Farrell-starring sci-fi remake Total Recall is readying for release this weekend (read Movieline’s review here) and while Len Wiseman's adaptation of the 1990 Paul Verhoeven film that mixes up bullets, muscles and abstract notions of Cartesian dualism and the specious present isn't the worst thing in the world, it is hardly memorable. (A bit of an unfortunate situation, as the whole thing is about memory.) Still, it's important that we don't present ourselves as the type of dweebs who get all hung up over sci-fi remakes. Sometimes, they're damn good, as this list of ten shall prove.

10) War of the Worlds, Steven Spielberg, 2005

No masterpiece, but a thrilling piece of work with some genuinely shocking imagery. Despite the four year gap, this was the first major mainstream film that was able to take 9/11 imagery and have it make sense in an entertainment context. It lacks the cheeseball zip of the 1953 version, but it certainly works on a visceral level.

(It is not my top adaption of the H.G. Wells story, however. That will forever go to Jeff Wayne and his 1978 prog rock opera. The dorks in the back know what I'm talkin' about.)

9) The Omega Man, Boris Sagal, 1971

Charlton Heston is so secure in his house he's not going to pay those cloaked mutant zombies no never mind!

A quick shot of a vaccine prior to the deployment of biological weapons in a Russian-Chinese war keeps Heston alive, but his wits keep him safe. When he discovers he's not the last person alive, he takes the fight direct to the horrible clan of beasts.

The Omega Man is a remake of The Last Man on Earth, but also based on the novel I Am Legend. This was, of course, remade again into a film starring Will Smith which will not be seen anywhere on this list. The Omega Man is also notable for featuring an interracial love story back in 1971. Who said Heston's politics were wholly predictable?

8) The Wiz, Sidney Lumet, 1978

No one said you'd be able to ease on down this list without some challenges.

Look, The Wiz is a cool flick. Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Richard Pryor and music by Ashford and Simpson. Maybe Diana Ross doesn't have the same je ne sais quoi as Judy Garland, but I've found that most friends of Dorothy are friends of the Supremes, too.
And, yes, it's sci-fi. The wizard's practically steampunk.

7) Solaris, Steven Soderbergh, 2002

While Andrei Tarkovski's version from 1972 is certainly the heavier of the two, Soderbergh's streamlined and very slick production is a fascinating tone poem on loss, regret and memory.

Those looking for action will find the film almost lifeless, but if you get on its wavelength you may find it quite rewarding. It ranks as one of the best gifts one filmmaker ever gave to another, as James Cameron used his considerable clout as producer to secure a budget that everyone had to know would never be recouped.

6) 1984, Michael Radford, 1984

The 1954 version with Edmond O'Brien is a good enough adaptation, but this gem of new wave cinema really captured the essence of Orwell's dystopian universe. This movie tends to get forgotten, overshadowed by Terry Gilliam's Brazil, with which it shares many story and formal similarities. Nevertheless, John Hurt's sympathetic portrayal of Winston Smith is one of his great performances, and the heavily washed out cinematography from Roger Deakins is quite extraordinary. The Eurythmics' soundtrack album did a number on me as a kid, as well.

5) Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Phillip Kaufman, 1978

Leonard Nimoy as a sexed-up pop psychologist in '70s San Francisco. I think it's a given this should be on ALL the top ten lists.

Loaded with lots of gratuitous nudity and plenty of icky gore, you'll be shocked when you discover this one was actually rated PG. 1978! It's got Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright owning a groovy mudbath parlor and that iconic last shot of the very hirsute Donald Sutherland pointing at the camera, making THAT SOUND.

Dammit, I'm gonna go on a limb and say this is a remake that's better than the original.

4)  12 Monkeys, Terry Gilliam, 1995

A riff on Chris Marker's miraculous short film of still images, La Jetee, this fatalistic time-travel tale is bursting with visual creativity but stays on course as a gripping, propulsive doomsday race. Bruce Willis lets his tough guy guard down a bit and no matter how many times I see this it, the ending always gets to me. By Gilliam standards, it’s his least weird movie; by Hollywood standards, a real standout.

3) Battlestar Galactica, Michael Rymer, 2003

Wait, who said anything about including TV? Well, when the material is this good you make special considerations. Besides, the 1978 BSG did have a theatrical release, and the miniseries that aired on 2003 ranked with the best entertainment that came out that year.

(The fact that the original played in theaters then went to TV, as opposed to a TV show that went to the movies, is the reason that Star Trek isn't on this list. In my mind, it makes sense.)

This whacked-out Mormon parable (some say) was the perfect science fiction treatment for the onset of Bush's War on Terror. There has probably never been a more paranoid show on television and its interplanetary setting oftentimes led to a more constructive forum in which to discuss the issues of the day. Our heroes' attitudes swung left and right, but loyalty never wavered. I swear to you I'd still take a bullet for Edward James Olmos if the old man needed me.

If you've been putting it off (or were scared away by some naysayers who didn't like the conclusion), check out the 2003 miniseries. Then take the week off as you blaze through the rest of the seasons.

2. The Thing, John Carpenter, 1982

I've seen The Thing at least ten times. And every time, during the blood testing sequence, I jump. If John Carpenter bills himself as The Horror Master, I think we can safely call this his masterpiece.

Some forget it is a remake of Howard Hawks' The Thing From Another World, a fine film, but Carpenter's version is a bubbling cauldron of great tough guy characters and outstanding set pieces that'll have you cheering and puking at the same time.

1. The Fly, David Cronenberg, 1986
It was close, but this one squeezes ahead just a little bit. It's Goldblum that makes it, really - the way he calmly remarks “That's disgusting” as he discovers his new way of eating sugar. (If you haven't seen it, words won't do justice.) And the fact that he can sell lines like “Drink deep, or taste not, the plasma spring!”

Apart from its nifty high concept and groundbreaking special effects, The Fly is a true transcendent work in the way it treats its characters. Who'd have ever expected you'd be crying at the end of what looked like just another gross-out? Certainly no one who'd only seen the '58 version with Vincent Price.
So there are our ten. If we've done our job, we've pissed you off. Feel free to let us have it in the space below. Just go easy on The Wiz, is all I ask.

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  • Karen McBride says:

    Just for mentioning the prog-rock "War of the Worlds," you get a gold star from me. Let's sing it together now: "UUUUUUUUUUH-LAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

  • robbushblog says:

    Yeah, ummmmmm, The Wiz is terrible.

  • filmfather says:

    "I've seen The Thing at least ten times. And every time, during the blood testing sequence, I jump."
    You and me both. And strangely, I enjoy the fact that it makes me jump each time, even after umpteen viewings. I think a big part of it is, like Sutherland at the end of Body Snatchers, "that sound" -- that shriek that the blood/thing lets out as it leaps from the petri dish.

  • bradslager says:

    Kudos on the 12 Monkeys inclusion. I always appreciate that from both a story standpoint and how Gilliam gave us a technologically advanced future that was not pure dstopian, nor pure antisceptic gloss. It felt organic.

    • KevyB says:

      But lower than the Battlestar Galactica TELEVISION SERIES? Sorry, no. There were good parts to the new BG, but it was NEVER more watchable than looney-toons Bruce Willis.

  • Forever Autumn says:

    YES! The rock opera will always be better than any movie version. I'm only bummed that the live performances don't cross the pond very often--if at all...

    On a side note, my brother and I started to sing the "uuuu-aaaahs" as "duuuuuude loooooove" during the height of WWF wrestling in the 90s....

  • David Williamson says:

    I was trying not to, but The Wiz in any top ten list is just wrong. Well if it's on the Top 10 list of worst movies, well OK then. But agreeing with that little mistake, no can do. I wonder why you had to put in that lead-in sentence, like you are defending what you know is a bad choice. Don't get me wrong, I love all the artist in the film. It just didn't come together as it should have with that list of actors. The rest of the list is great, i enjoyed War of the Worlds, I thought it was a decent attempt at recreating it. I do think Omega Man deserves to be higher up on the list, maybe number 2 or 3. Any way, great list.

  • Dave says:

    1978 Battlestar Galactica was on TV first before hitting theatres. The series pilot was filmed with both television and theatrical release in the plan and additional scenes added to make the theatrical version a complete story (i.e. Baltar's execution).

    Otherwise, a good list

  • As this list of ten shall prove.

  • Kudos for The Wiz mention and pointing out teh steampunkishness of indeed, the whole film. Prob not right for this list but everything else perfect, including #1.

  • I guess it's a good thing this isn't called Best Top 10 Remakes. The Last Man on Earth is miles above The Omega Man and we don't have to suffer through the star being as shirtless as Matthew McConaughey. I would pick I Am Legend over Chuck Heston vs the albino hippies.

    • KevyB says:

      ALL versions of I am Legend have been many MANY grades below the original novel. Read the novel and then try to imagine none of these movies ever happened.

  • don by says:

    I agree with others, The Wiz was not good.

  • Bill Drendel says:

    I’d put War of the Worlds, BSG, The Fly, and The Thing in that order, at the top for great remakes.
    12 Monkeys is one of my all time favorite films and I would put it at #1, except that to call it a remake of La Jetee is a huge stretch.
    La Jetee is more of an avant garde story board sketch than an actual movie. It is mostly comprised of still shots.
    Yes, it was the inspiration for 12 Monkeys, but that’s about as far as it goes I think.
    As far as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I really think the original was better than the remake, although I did like the remake a lot.

  • Anderson Fry says:

    Calling "Galactica" a remake is a stretch. By that token "Doctor Who" (2005), "Quatermass" (in its various story incarnations, most notably "Quatermass And The Pit") could be in here. And I'm sure there's plenty more.

    The '54 "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" is the third version of that one.

    The remake of "The Blob" is better than the original.

    The 1980s BBC "Day Of The Triffids", arguably better than the original Hammer movie.

    "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes" is better than Burton's "Apes" (despite the in-jokes insisting it's a prequel to the Heston thread).

    If you're going to include "12 Monkeys" as a remake of "La Jetee", then you can have Lucas' "THX 1138" as a remake of "THX 1138: 4EB Electronic Labyrinth."

    "Spy Who Loved Me" is a remake of "You Only Live Twice" (you can argue it's not sci-fi, but look at the evidence.)

    "Captain America" kicks the ass of the Albert Pyun Cannon version. (And "The Incredible Hulk" does the same to Ang Lee's "Hulk")

    Oh. And then there's "Prometheus", being basically a remake of "Alien". But that would have to be on the "Worst Of..." list.

  • robbushblog says:

    The Blob remaked is not better than the original with Steve McQueen. Blasphemy!

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