Remakes are a staple of the movie industry. From classic films to modern masterpieces, filmmakers are constantly trying to breathe new life into old stories. Remakes offer the opportunity to reintroduce beloved characters and storylines to a new generation, or to re-imagine a classic tale in a fresh way. Think of the way that Disney movies are repeatedly remade time and time again, giving each generation their very own Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty.
Remakes, however, are about more than revisiting old stories. They’re about taking risks, pushing boundaries, and exploring new possibilities. Disney’s upcoming release of The Little Mermaid is exploring inclusivity in this adaptation, with the casting of Halle Bailey as Ariel inciting racially motivated backlash from the darker yet not so obscure corners of the internet. Of course, inclusivity should be a much more widely welcomed change than it often is, and the ongoing resistance with diverse casting and storytelling is an indicator of how far we have yet to go. Although race has seemingly dominated much of the conversation surrounding The Little Mermaid, and the importance of this representation has likewise been evident; the film has a great deal else to offer with what seems to be a creative and fresh tone. Halle Bailey has stated that the film will offer a new perspective on Ariel’s choices, making her decision to sacrifice her voice less about chasing a boy and more about her own autonomy.
While some retellings are brave and advance social politics, some simply offer an opportunity to expand the imagination. With each remake, we’re given the chance to ask ourselves: What if we took this story and flipped it on its head? What if we changed the setting or the characters? What if we added a twist that nobody saw coming? The possibilities are endless, and the results often outsell the originals.
In this list, we explore 15 movies that you may not have known are actually remakes. These films range from action-packed adventures to heartwarming dramas, from children’s classics to heart-pounding thrillers— all of which have held their own as respected and independent projects.
15 A Star is Born (2018)
A Star is Born is a timeless tale of love, fame, and tragedy that has captivated audiences for decades. The story has been adapted for the big screen a total of four times, with each iteration bringing a fresh perspective to the classic tale. The first adaptation of A Star is Born was released in 1937 and starred Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. The film was a critical and commercial success, and effectively cemented the story’s place in cinematic history. The 1954 version starring Judy Garland and James Mason went on to be widely regarded as one of the greatest musicals ever made. Similarly, the 1976 version starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson was equally praised for its raw emotion and powerful performances. The 2018 adaptation that stars Bradley Cooper alongside the ever-versatile Lady Gaga may be the one that you are most familiar with. The film received widespread critical acclaim and numerous awards, including an Academy Award for Best Original Song, Best Picture, Best Actor (Cooper), and Best Actress (Gaga). The film’s portrayal of addiction and mental health issues struck a chord with audiences, and the chemistry between Gaga and Cooper was palpable even during their stage performances later on.
The many adaptations of A Star is Born serve as a testament to just how perennially relevant and powerful the heart of the story is. Perhaps in another generation or two there will be a fifth adaptation— and if it is anything like its predecessors, it’s certain to move and inspire many.
14 It (2017)
This Stephen King horror classic has terrified audiences since its original publication in 1986. The story follows a group of misfit kids known as the Losers Club, with the unlikely gang of brave children facing off against a demonic clown named Pennywise. This nightmarish antagonist preys on the children of their town, Derry. Bill, the leader of the so-called Losers Club, is determined to fight the wicked clown after the disappearance and death of his little brother Georgie. The story has been adapted for the screen twice, with the first film being released as a two-part television miniseries in 1990. The miniseries starred Tim Curry as Pennywise, and despite some dated special effects, it remains a cult classic to this day. The 2017 adaptation, however, took the horror to a new level with Bill Skarsgård’s terrifying portrayal of Pennywise coupled with the modernized special effects to do the project justice. Building upon the renowned work of Stephen King as source material, It is certainly a classic of the horror genre and has been a fan favorite for decades across various mediums.
13 Casino Royale (2006)
The 1967 film Casino Royale was a satirical spy comedy loosely based on Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name. The film featured notable names of the day such as Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, and David Niven. Despite mixed reviews upon its initial release, it became an instant classic and helped to catapult the character of James Bond into immortality. It is no wonder that Eon Productions went on to make dozens of James Bond films, with the 2006 release of Casino Royale retelling the 1967 classic.
The 2006 film Casino Royale was the 21st installment in the James Bond franchise, and starred Daniel Craig in his debut as Agent 007 (inheriting the role from Pierce Brosnan). The film follows Bond as he attempts to bankrupt a terrorist financier in a high-stakes poker game. It was a critical and commercial success, and may just be one of the best Bond films ever made.
12 Dune (2021)
Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel Dune has proven to be a difficult book to adapt to the big screen, with a number of ambitious projects falling apart before production could even begin. David Lynch took a crack at it in 1984, and despite the huge following that the book enjoys, was a commercial disappointment that failed to do justice to Hebert’s complex world-building and storytelling. Undaunted by this history, director Dennis Villeneuve brought forth a shining new adaptation in 2021, which starred Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya. With the success of this adaptation, fans can anticipate the continuation of Paul Atreides’ journey through the desert planet of Arrakis with a sequel due for release on November 3, 2023.
11 Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
The 1960 film Ocean’s 11 starred five members of the Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, and Dean Martin. The ensemble brought life to the tale of a group of World War II veterans who plan to rob five Las Vegas casinos in one night. The film was successful, but it wasn’t until the 2001 remake starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon that the story became a pop culture phenomenon. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film was praised for its witty script, stylish direction, and charismatic performances. The remake spawned two sequels, Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen, and the female-led spin-off Ocean’s Eight in 2018. A still-untitled prequel to be directed by Jay Roach is in development.
10 True Grit (2010)
True Grit, the classic Western novel by Charles Portis, has been adapted twice for the big screen. The first adaptation was in 1969, starring John Wayne as U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn. The film won Wayne an Oscar for Best Actor, but some critics felt that it lacked the grit and realism of the book. The 2010 remake, directed by the Coen Brothers and starring Jeff Bridges as Cogburn, was praised for its more faithful adaptation and strong performances from Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, and Matt Damon as Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards, though it did not win any of its categories. Overall, the Coen Brothers’ True Grit stands out as a worthy adaptation that captures the tone and themes of the novel while also delivering strong performances and direction.
9 The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The Wizard of Oz is a beloved classic tale that has captivated generations since it was first published in 1900. Though a silent film was made ten years after the book’s release, its most widely recognized adaptation is the 1939 musical film directed by Victor Fleming.
The 1939 adaptation of The Wizard of Oz was a technological marvel for its time, utilizing groundbreaking special effects and vivid Technicolor imagery to transport audiences to the magical world of Oz. Judy Garland starred as Dorothy Gale, a young girl from Kansas who is swept away to a fantastical world where she encounters a host of memorable characters, including the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion.
Behind the scenes, however, the production of the film was not quite as uplifting as the colorful scenery and charming musical numbers that we see on screen. For starters, there was the firing of the original director, Richard Thorpe, after just two weeks of filming. Victor Fleming was brought in to replace him and went on to direct the majority of the film.
Several scandals involve the actors portraying the Munchkins of Oz. There were rumors that the actors were being mistreated on set and underpaid. Stories about unjust work conditions, however, were mostly buried beneath rumors that the Munchkins were party animals on and off set. The last surviving Munchkin actor, Jerry Maren, denied this and claimed that pay was as low as $50 a week. He explained: “There were a couple of kids from Germany who liked to drink beer. They drank beer morning, noon, and night, and got in a little trouble. They wanted to meet the girls, but they were the only ones.” While stories of rambunctious Munchkins have been part of the film’s lore for decades, more serious allegations have come to light more recently. In his posthumous memoir, Judy Garland’s ex-husband Sid Luft claimed that some of the Munchkin actors sexually molested Garland. Furthermore, it is rumored that Garland was placed on a strict diet and encouraged to abuse amphetamines and barbiturates in order to remain thin.
Despite these controversies, The Wizard of Oz remains a beloved classic and continues to enthrall audiences to this day. Its timeless story and unforgettable characters have made it a cultural touchstone that has endured for over eight decades, and its impact on popular culture is undeniable. In fact, a remake by Kenya Barris is in the works.
8 The Mummy (1999)
The iconic 1999 adaptation of The Mummy, starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, is actually a remake of the 1932 horror film of the same name. Fraser stars as adventurer Rick O’Connell, who accidentally awakens a mummy from its centuries-long slumber and thus unleashes a curse that threatens the world. Joining forces with Weisz’s quirky intellectual Evelyn, the pair take on an epic fight full of adventure, mystery, and romance.
7 Scarface (1983)
1983’s Scarface is a gripping crime drama directed by Brian De Palma and starring the legendary Al Pacino. What many viewers may not know is that this epic tale of power and corruption is actually a remake of a 1932 film of the same name. As opposed to the original that takes place in Chicago, the remake follows a journey from Cuba to the neon-lit streets of Miami as a fearless immigrant claws his way to the top of the criminal underworld. With its thrilling action and a raw, gritty portrayal of the drug trade, Scarface is a bona fide classic that continues to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
The film is not without its fair degree of backlash. Cuban-Americans and Cuban immigrants have chided the film as a damaging representation of Cubans as criminals and traffickers. In this age of social awakening on long-perpetuated racial stereotypes and ideas, it’s hard to sweep this valid criticism under the rug. Nevertheless, the criticism has not had a notable impact on the popularity of the film, though this could not be determined for certain without further installments and revivals.
6 Insomnia (2002)
Insomnia is a 2002 psychological thriller directed by Christopher Nolan and featuring yet another stellar performance by Al Pacino. Insomnia is a remake of a 1997 Norwegian film of the same name. The film follows two detectives sent to investigate a murder in a small Alaskan town, but as their investigation deepens, they find themselves increasingly sleep-deprived and entangled in a web of deception, guilt, and suspicion. Nolan’s masterful direction and Pacino’s gripping performance make this remake a worthy addition to Hollywood’s most revered thriller films. With a hauntingly atmospheric setting and twists that will keep you guessing until the very end, Insomnia is a captivating retelling of the psychological semi-noir original.
5 You’ve Got Mail (1998)
A favorite among rom-com fans, You’ve Got Mail is the story of two characters: Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), the owner of a small independent bookstore in New York City, and Joe Fox (Tom Hanks), the owner of a large bookstore chain called Fox Books. They both meet in an online chatroom and develop a friendship, without knowing each other’s real identities. Meanwhile, Joe Fox opens a new Fox Books store near Kathleen’s bookstore, which threatens the survival of her business. As they continue to correspond anonymously online, they begin to fall in love with each other. However, when they finally meet in person, they discover each other’s true identities and their opposing business interests.
What you may not know is that while this heartwarming classic graced the big screen in 1998, it is a retelling of the 1940 film The Shop Around the Corner (the title of which is referenced in the name of Kathleen Kelly’s bookstore). The original is worth a watch, with the story taking place in the beautiful city of Budapest.
4 The Departed (2006)
This 2006 crime thriller directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson tells the story of two young police officers—one working undercover in a criminal organization and the other a mole for the criminals within the police department. The hugely successful film is in fact a remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, with the remake gearing into production shortly after the original’s release. The Departed is widely considered to be superior to the original on account of its top-notch performances, intricate plot twists, and the always masterful direction of Scorsese. With multiple Academy Award wins, including Best Picture and Best Director, The Departed solidified its place as one of the greatest crime films of all time.
3 The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Like the last film, this thrilling 1999 crime drama stars Matt Damon— this time as the titular character. Mr. Ripley is a cunning con artist who infiltrates the lives of the wealthy American socialites in 1950s Italy. The Talented Mr. Ripley, which was filmed entirely on location in Italy, is a remake of the 1960 French film Plein Soleil. Like its successor, the original story is of a charming and enigmatic young man who becomes embroiled in a web of lies, deceit, and murder as he tries to maintain a fraudulent, extravagant lifestyle. With stunning cinematography and an unforgettable performance by Damon, The Talented Mr. Ripley is a remake that takes the original to new heights, captivating audiences with its tension, suspense, and surprising depth.
2 Man on Fire (2004)
The 2004 action thriller directed by Tony Scott and starring Denzel Washington follows the story of John Creasy, a former CIA agent who takes a job as a bodyguard for a young girl in Mexico City. When the girl is kidnapped, Creasy sets out on a path of vengeance, determined to track down those responsible and bring them to justice. This gripping tale of vengeance, remorse, and paying debts in more ways than one is a worthy remake of a 1987 film of the same name, which itself was based on the novel by A. J. Quinnell. While the original film was praised for its gritty portrayal of violence, the remake took the many facets of the story to a deeper level, making remarkable use of Scott’s signature visuals and Washington’s intense performance.
1 The Woman in Black (2012)
The Woman in Black is a vastly underrated horror-thriller from director James Watkins, starring Daniel Radcliffe as the lead character of Authur Kipps. In both this adaptation and the 1983 original novel by Susan Hill, Kipps is a young lawyer who travels to a remote village to handle the affairs of a recently deceased client. As he begins to unravel the mysteries surrounding the eerie and foreboding Eel Marsh House, Kipps discovers that the village holds a deadly secret. Before the big screen adaptation, Hill’s novel was brought to life in the 1989 television film of the same name. The Woman in Black was a significant milestone for Daniel Radcliffe, as it marked his first leading role after the conclusion of the Harry Potter franchise. The film showcased Radcliffe’s range as an actor, and his performance was praised by critics and audiences alike—further cementing Radcliffe’s status as a leading man in Hollywood.