The 1980’s saw the release of many beloved blockbusters and cult favorites. However, remakes of those movies have almost universally fared poorly. So, we decided to figure out if there were actually any good remakes of 1980’s movies…
Remakes have a deservedly bad reputation. First, Hollywood comes up with the bright idea of trying to recapture the magic of a fan favorite film by doing it over again with an updated cast and director. They expect fans of the originals to show up in theaters and pay for it. They try to “change up the formula” by making it more modern, or ramping up the production values. It doesn’t usually work. Remakes are usually just an uninspired excuse to recycle beloved characters and stories, and audiences know this. So they stay away, the movie flops, and then a few years later we forget about the remake altogether.
You would think that with as many fun and entertaining films that were released in the 1980’s, it would only be a matter of time before we got a successful remake. We have gotten some good remakes of 70’s films, and even some decent remakes of 90’s films (think Nolan’s Insomnia, Disney live action remakes). But I am here to report we have only really gotten one, maybe two solid remakes of classic 1980’s films. The terribleness of films remaking 1980’s films is actually quite remarkable. Look them up on Rotten Tomatoes and a large majority of them have scores in the low teens to single digits. I may have stumbled on the most terrible category of film yet.
But, it would be unfair to say remakes of 1980’s films are terrible as a whole. So, here are ten of the best examples which range from not bad to pretty darn good. (Note, I did not consider remakes of 80’s television shows, movies only shown on television, or short films. There are actually a good number of good 80’s TV show remakes as feature films. This list is only feature films based on feature films released during the 1980’s.)
#10 – Pet Sematary (2019)
Premise: Dr. Louis Creed and his wife, Rachel, relocate from Boston to rural Maine with their two young children. The couple soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near their new home. When tragedy strikes, Louis turns to his neighbor Jud Crandall, setting off a perilous chain reaction that unleashes an unspeakable evil with horrific consequences.
The Original Film: A 1989 cult classic horror film, perhaps not as popular as some of its contemporaries, but popular enough to merit a sequel. It performed well in theaters, but critics’ opinions were mixed. The film just didn’t offer enough to be anything other than a generic horror film, although the Stephen King-sourced story did provide some thrills.
The Remake: After the success of the remake of It, people were hungry for more Stephen King adaptations. This one did fairly well at the box office, but received mixed reviews, just like the original. Surely it will be appreciated for its up-to-date production values, and takes the source material in a little bit of a different direction, but like most remakes failed to provide a good enough reason for it to exist in the first place.
#9 – City of Angels (1998)
Premise: This is the story of an angel who wanders the Los Angeles area invisible to humans. As the demise of an individual approaches, he spends time near them and becomes visible while acting as their traveling companion during their trip to the great hereafter. His discovery of distraught heart surgeon Maggie inspires him to forego his immortality and exist on earth with her as a feeling and mortal entity.
The Original Film: Loosely based on Wings of Desire, a German film from 1987. In this film, immortal angels comfort the citizens of Berlin. Considered an art film, it received accolades for its colorful cinematography and inspirational direction.
The Remake: This version was a big budget fantasy romance starring Nick Cage and Meg Ryan. It was a hit at the box office, but I think has been forgotten because of its formulaic plot.
#8 – Evil Dead (2013)
Premise: Mia (Jane Levy), a drug addict, is determined to kick the habit. To that end, she asks her brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), his girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) and their friends Olivia (Jessica Lucas) and Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) to accompany her to their family’s remote forest cabin to help her through withdrawal. Eric finds a mysterious Book of the Dead at the cabin and reads aloud from it, awakening an ancient demon. All hell breaks loose when the malevolent entity possesses Mia.
The Original Film: Sam Raimi’s 1981 official feature film debut. It was both gruesome and funny – something that hadn’t really been seen before. It became a cult hit because of how it pushed boundaries.
The Remake: 2013 violent horror film which performed well in theaters and received accolades from the horror film community. It wasn’t funny/goofy like the original, but has plenty of gruesomeness.
#7 – The Karate Kid (2010)
Premise: When his mother’s career results in a move to China, 12-year-old Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) finds that he is a stranger in a strange land. Though he knows a little karate, his fighting skills are no match for Cheng, the school bully. Dre finds a friend in Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), a maintenance man who is also a martial-arts master. Mr. Han teaches Dre all about kung fu in the hope that Dre will be able to face down Cheng and perhaps win the heart of a pretty classmate named Mei Ying.
The Original Film: One of the most classic 1980’s films out there. Characters Daniel LaRusso and his karate master Mr. Miyagi are pop culture icons, as is the phrase “Wax on, wax off”. The film was a big hit, loved by both audiences and critics, went on to have 4 sequels and a television show (also a TV show spin-off), and single-handedly made Karate cool again.
The Remake: 2010 film takes place in China, but otherwise echoes the story of the original. In the case of Mr. Miyagi, they cast the most obvious choice of Jackie Chan. This film did very well at the box office, and was well enough received by critics for a remake, but still doesn’t compare to the culture-shifting original film.
#6 – Red Dragon (2002)
Premise: Ex-FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) is an expert investigator who quit the Bureau after almost losing his life in the process of capturing the elusive Dr. Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). After a series of particularly grisly murders, Graham soon realizes that the best way to catch this killer, known as the Tooth Fairy, is to find a way to get inside the killer’s mind. For Graham, that means confronting his past and facing his former nemesis, the now-incarcerated Lecter.
The Original Film: 1986’s Manhunter, based on the 1981 Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon. A sequel of that book inspired Silence of the Lambs, but in this film is where the infamous Hannibal Lecter makes his debut. Directed by Michael Mann (who’s name oddly shows up on this list more than once), the film was a dud at the box office and was lambasted by critics for being too stylish in a genre that doesn’t need style.
The Remake: Brett Ratner-directed prequel to Silence of the Lambs, takes the name of the original novel, comes hot on the heals of the 2001 sequel to that film. Anthony Hopkins returns as Hannibal Lecter, which audiences loved. The film was a hit at the box office, and received mostly positive reviews. However, its premise does tread into the territory we’ve already seen in Silence of the Lambs, and for this reason loses some points for originality.
#5 – Ghostbusters (2016)
Premise: Paranormal researcher Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and physicist Erin Gilbert are trying to prove that ghosts exist in modern society. When strange apparitions appear in Manhattan, Gilbert and Yates turn to engineer Jillian Holtzmann for help. Also joining the team is Patty Tolan, a lifelong New Yorker who knows the city inside and out. Armed with proton packs and plenty of attitude, the four women prepare for an epic battle as more than 1,000 mischievous ghouls descend on Times Square.
The Original Film: Like Karate Kid, the 1984 original Ghostbusters has to be considered one of the most quintessential of all 80’s films. This film, with a fantastic cast of Bill Murray, Dan Akroid, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, and Rick Moranis is well loved and extremely popular to this day. The film was a big hit at the box office, and inspired a sequel.
The Remake: This is a weird one. It’s a pseudo-remake with an all-female lead cast, and leans much more towards comedy than the original. This is a very controversial film because of not the gender switch was seen as a gimmick, and in doing so it encroached on the hallowed ground of the original. However, the film was still moderately successful at the box office, and earned more critical praise than is typical for a remake/reboot of a beloved film.
#4 – Men Don’t Leave (1990)
Premise: After her husband’s death, Beth Macauley (Jessica Lange) moves into an inexpensive Baltimore apartment with her two sons, Chris (Chris O’Donnell) and Matt (Charlie Korsmo). When Beth accepts a job at a local grocery store, Chris grows bitter and falls for an older woman (Joan Cusack), while 9-year-old Matt hides his grief behind a new interest in burglary. As the Macauleys adjust to their new life, they learn that sticking together is the only way to overcome their loss.
The Original Film: A 1981 french film titled La Vie Continue (Life Goes On). Besides #2, probably the only original film on this list that is less well known than its remake. I couldn’t find a lot of information on this film, but it was a romantic drama and seems to have been well received.
The Remake: Ranks high on this simply because, unlike most of the other films on this list, it received high praise. It is a well-made and well-acted drama. Remakes very rarely earn such praise. Joan Cusack and Jessica Lange received accolades for their performances. However, the film wasn’t popular at time of release, and has all but been forgotten now.
#3 – Fright Night (2011)
Premise: Charley (Anton Yelchin) is a high-school senior who’s in with the “in” crowd and dating Amy (Imogen Poots), the most sought-after gal on campus. But trouble enters his world in the form of Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell), a charismatic new neighbor. After witnessing some unusual activity next door, Charley concludes that Jerry is a vampire. Of course, no one believes him. After seeking advice from illusionist Peter Vincent (David Tennant), Charley sets out to destroy Jerry himself.
The Original Film: Another beloved B-movie horror film, but this time actually loved by audiences and critics from the moment it was first released. The 1985 film did fairly well at the box office and remains popular as a cult hit. The film has that 80’s movie magic which is difficult to replicate, but somehow…
The Remake: They did it! The remake is actually pretty good! Maybe not as creative as the original, and certainly missing that 80’s camp feel, but still pretty entertaining. Starring the very much missed Anton Yelchin, and with delectable performances by David Tennent and Colin Ferrel, the remake at least equals the fun level of the original.
#2 – Heat (1995)
Premise: Master criminal Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) is trying to control the rogue actions of one of his men, while also planning one last big heist before retiring. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Hanna (Al Pacino) attempts to track down McCauley as he deals with the chaos in his own life, including the infidelity of his wife (Diane Venora) and the mental health of his stepdaughter (Natalie Portman). McCauley and Hanna discover a mutual respect, even as they try to thwart each other’s plans.
The Original Film: 1989’s L.A. Takedown, which was also directed by Michael Mann. Okay, so I cheated a little bit to add this film to the list. The original film was actually going to be a pilot for a television show that didn’t get picked up. So Mann released it as a television film first, and then it was released on VHS and later DVD. So, it does violate my rule of no TV films, but at the same time it was released as a feature film, just not in theaters. Anyway, the original was well received besides the acting. Mann used his experience to create his 1995 remake.
The Remake: A tense crime thriller, pitting the infallible Robert De Niro against a sly Al Pachino. The film is a classic crime film, and one of veteran filmmaker Michael Mann’s best. It was well received by critics and audiences at the time of its release, and made money at the box office. Today, the film has held up well, and is one of my personal favorites (which is why I had to add it to this list!).
#1 – Hairspray (2007)
Premise: In 1960s Baltimore, dance-loving teen Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) auditions for a spot on “The Corny Collins Show” and wins. She becomes an overnight celebrity, a trendsetter in dance, fun and fashion. Perhaps her new status as a teen sensation is enough to topple Corny’s reigning dance queen and bring racial integration to the show.
The Original Film: A 1988 comedy, written and directed by comedian John Waters with great cast (including the late Jerry Stiller). Waters takes his talent for subversity and turns it down a little, to create a film that parodies those music-focused coming-of-age films of the 60’s and 70’s, but still maintaining a strong and important message. The film wasn’t very successful when it was released, but has become a cult hit, and inspiration for a hit broadway musical.
The Remake: A very well received, well-casted, smash-hit of a remake. It was almost as well received as the nearly perfect original film. Hairspray is an anomaly. This is exactly what every Hollywood exec hopes to achieve when they greenlight a remake of a beloved film, but almost always the film utterly fails to live up to expectations. Not this one. It not only exceeds expectations, but manages to take the fun of the original and recreate it for another generation. John Travolta in drag could have gone very very wrong, but it didn’t. Against all odds, it worked!