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.