The best movie remakes that are nothing like the original

Everybody knows Hollywood loves remaking classic movies, but that's not always a bad thing. There are plenty of fantastic remakes that do the original films proud. But what makes a truly remarkable remake? You need a filmmaker who will take a familiar idea and give it a brand new spin. After all, why reboot a movie if you're just going to tell the exact same story? Sure, there are plenty of boring copycats out there, but for every unimaginative reimagining, there's an amazing remake that feels nothing like the original.

The Last House on the Left (1972)

In 1972, Wes Craven shocked moviegoers with The Last House on the Left, the film that kick-started the rape-and-revenge genre. Bloody, brutal, and nihilistic, Last House is the ultimate exploitation film—complete with chainsaws, entrails, and molestation. So it might come as a surprise to learn it's a remake of Ingmar Bergman's Oscar-winning art house classic, The Virgin Spring.

Both movies tell the tale of a young girl who's violated and murdered after leaving home. In both films, her attackers coincidentally wind up at the girl's house, and when the parents discover what happened to their daughter, things get really bloody really fast. But other than the basic plot and few little details here and there, the two films are as different as, well, Wes Craven and Ingmar Bergman.

One movie is set in medieval Sweden, while the other takes place in 1970s New York. Everything is far gorier in Last House. There are no booby traps in Virgin Spring, and nobody has their private parts turned into a chew toy.

But really, the biggest difference between the two movies comes down to motivation. In The Virgin Spring, Bergman is asking questions about the nature of revenge and why God allows suffering. In Last House, it's all about the blood, with audiences cheering for the parents as they slash, shoot, and dismember the bad guys. Granted, the violence is far more troubling in Craven's film, but Bergman's movie leaves moviegoers with a lot more to think about.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

In 2005, Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne starred in a remake of John Carpenter's siege film, Assault on Precinct 13, and while it did fine with critics, it couldn't compare to the 1976 thriller. Of course, Carpenter's original wasn't exactly original. The filmmaker has admitted on multiple occasions that Precinct 13 was basically his version of Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo.

This 1959 Western finds John Wayne as a small-town sheriff guarding his jail against an army of Stetson-wearing assassins, so the parallels to Precinct 13 should be pretty obvious, as Carpenter's film focuses on a cop defending a police station against waves and waves of oncoming gang members. Both films end with a literal bang, and when it came time to credit himself as editor, Carpenter used the name "John T. Chance" as a nod to Wayne's character.

However, once you get past the basic plot details, these are radically different films. One takes places in 19th-century Texas, while the other is set in 1970s L.A. In Rio Bravo, the outlaws want to break into the jail to free a murderous inmate, while in Precinct 13, the gang members want to kill a man seeking shelter inside the station. In Hawks' film, Wayne's sidekicks are all lawmen and good guys, while in Carpenter's movie, our police lieutenant hero is forced to work with a charming convicted killer.

Most interestingly, Rio Bravo is laid-back, easygoing, and a lot of fun. Assault on Precinct 13, on the other hand, is dark, gritty, and never slows down for a second. While the heroes in the John Wayne Western have time for witty banter, romantic squabbles, and cowboy sing-a-longs, the cops and crooks in Carpenter's film are constantly loading their weapons, fending off attacks, and fighting for their lives.

The Thing (1982)

After putting his own spin on Rio Bravo, John Carpenter decided to straight-up remake The Thing from Another World. Directed by Christian Nyby (many argue it was actually directed by its producer, Howard Hawks), this 1951 flick is one of Carpenter's favorite films. But as far as remakes go, The Thing and The Thing from Another World are different creatures.

Sure, in both versions, an alien crashes into the snow. The evil E.T. then terrorizes humans and murders sled dogs. In both movies, the Thing has an aversion to fire, and it's defeated by a male pilot, but that's where the similarities end. The '51 film is set in the Arctic and focuses on a group of all-white scientists and soldiers. Instead of featuring an all-male cast, a woman plays one of the main characters in the remake. And when the monster shows up, he's a gigantic humanoid vegetable with a craving for human blood.

Fortunately, our brave heroes defeat the otherworldly threat, no doubt a Cold War metaphor for communism. The soldiers are like patriotic superheroes who know the power of teamwork, which makes it the complete opposite of Carpenter's remake. Set in the Antarctic, the '82 film focuses on a group of scruffy researchers (no soldiers, no women), and instead of fighting an "intellectual carrot," they're facing a slimy shape-shifter that absorbs and impersonates its victims.

As for teamwork, Carpenter ditches the positivity for paranoia. Instead of coming together, the "heroes" in The Thing are constantly suspicious of each other, never sure who's human. Alliances shift, factions form, and people turn on each other. Most importantly, while the heroes of the '51 film defeat the Thing and warn the world to "watch the skies," Carpenter gives us one of the most ambiguous endings ever, one as bleak and cold as Outpost 31.

Pale Rider (1985)

Based on the novel by Jack Schaefer, Shane is one of the all-time great Westerns. This 1953 film follows a mysterious gunfighter (Alan Ladd) who wants to settle down with a small-time rancher and his family. But when an evil cattle baron tries running the homesteaders off their property, Shane is forced to put on his gun belt, give up his new life (and love for the rancher's wife), and deliver some Old West justice.

This classic story had quite an impact on Clint Eastwood, as the star unofficially remade the movie with Pale Rider. Playing the enigmatic Preacher, Eastwood rides into a downtrodden mining camp, befriends the locals, and then picks up his pistol to defend the miners from a powerful gold tycoon. In addition to the structural similarities, both movies feature scenes where the main character and his new buddy work together to remove an immovable object (a tree stump in Shane, a rock in Pale Rider), and both have scary moments where a cold-blooded gunslinger—standing on a porch—shoots down a well-meaning hothead. And of course, both movies end with our hero riding into the distance, with an obsessed kid calling out after them.

Despite all the similarities, there's one enormous, otherworldly difference. Shane is a flesh-and-blood human. The Preacher is the ghost of a dead gunfighter. Granted, the Preacher's backstory is a tad ambiguous, but we see his body is covered in bullet woods, and he can seemingly disappear at will. The big bad guy hints several times that the Preacher reminds him of someone he once killed, and Eastwood only shows up after a little girl asks God for a miracle, summoning the six-shooting specter. Even Eastwood called his character an "out-and-out ghost," making Pale Rider a supernatural version of Shane.

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

Little Shop of Horrors (1986) is a big, brassy musical about a nerdy little florist (Rick Moranis) and a man-eating plant with dreams of world dominance. Directed by Frank Oz, this over-the-top monster flick features a sadistic Steve Martin who tortures his patients, a giant Venus flytrap singing a song called "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space," and narration by a glitzy Greek chorus from Motown. As you can probably guess, the film was inspired by an off-Broadway play, but if you go further back, you can follow Little Shop's roots back to 1960, when schlockmeister Roger Corman directed the black-and-white original.

While the basic plot is the same for both movies, the 1960 version wasn't a musical, and Audrey Jr. (Audrey II in the '86 film) wasn't an evil extraterrestrial trying to take over the world. The blood-hungry plant is far more talkative in the remake, but the biggest difference—other than the lack of music—comes down to the ending. The finale of Corman's film is a lot darker than what Oz ended up shooting (though that's not entirely his fault). In the '86 remake, our hero (Moranis) saves the world from Audrey II's invasion, but in the black-and-white version, the main character (Jonathan Haze) is devoured by Audrey Jr. and turned into the most horrific flower in history.

12 Monkeys (1995)

One of the best sci-fi films of the 1990s, 12 Monkeys takes place in an apocalyptic world that's been ravaged by a super virus. The survivors live underground and, hoping to find a cure, they plan on sending a prisoner (Bruce Willis) back in time to discover more about the disease's origin. What happens next involves a freaky rendition of "Blueberry Hill," an out-of-his-mind Brad Pitt, and timey-wimey plot twists that will leave you reeling.

With Terry Gilliam behind the camera, 12 Monkeys certainly feels like an original movie, but its basic premise was lifted from a French film called La Jetée. Directed by Chris Marker, La Jetée shares a nearly identical plot with 12 Monkeys, only instead of a virus, humanity has been wiped out by a nuclear holocaust. And just like the prisoner in 12 Monkeys, the hero of La Jetée is haunted by a childhood memory of a man being gunned down at an airport. Of course, in both films, the hero eventually discovers that thanks to the curse of time travel, the guy he saw shot down at an airport was his future self, and now he's stuck in a never-ending time loop.

It's a grim ending, but what truly sets these movies apart—other than a cackling Brad Pitt—is that 12 Monkeys is filmed like a traditional movie while La Jetée is experimental art. Shot in 1962, this black-and-white French film is only 28 minutes long. Stranger still, the story is told with still images. For nearly half an hour, the film unfolds through a series of photographs, one after another, with a narrator telling the story. If you need subtitles, it's almost like reading the world's most mind-bending picture book, one about the power of memory and the inescapability of time.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

In 1992, Abel Ferrara dragged audiences down into the muck and mire with Bad Lieutenant, a cop drama/religious metaphor starring a nude Harvey Keitel. Then 17 years later, Werner Herzog (who claimed he'd never seen the original) released his own version of the same story, a film titled Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, a head-trip of a police procedural that featured an insane Nicolas Cage and way more iguanas than the original.

So other than the semi-similar titles, what do these two films have in common? Well, almost nothing. (Herzog doesn't even like to call his film a remake. And Ferrara doesn't like to acknowledge the remake exists and wishes everyone involved had died in a streetcar accident.) Both movies revolve around police lieutenants suffering from drug addiction and gambling debts, but don't feel sorry for them because they're horrible people. After those superficial details, the movies go down different and disturbing paths.

Ferrara's film is set in New York and follows a cop investigating the rape of a nun. Herzog's movie takes place in post-Katrina New Orleans and focuses on a police officer trying to solve the murder of several illegal immigrants. While Ferrara's film is dark, depraved, and all around miserable, Herzog's version is chaotic, crazed, and kind of hilarious. As for the main character, Keitel's cop doesn't have a name, while Cage goes by Terence McDonagh.

And as pointed out by Nathan Kamal of Spectrum Culture, the '92 version is a "Christian allegory" about forgiveness, something Keitel never finds as he's gunned down in the streets. As for the insanely corrupt Cage, he gets away with his crimes scot-free—an ending that matches up perfectly with Herzog's bitter, cynical view of humanity.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes kicked off one of the best trilogies in cinematic history and gave us a hero for the ages with Andy Serkis' Caesar. But while this Rupert Wyatt movie was meant to reboot a classic franchise, it also works as a remake of the fourth film in the original series: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Rise screenwriters Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa admitted there were intentional connections to Conquest, and multiple fans have pointed out similarities between the films.

Both movies follow an ape named Caesar who leads a primate revolt against his human captors. But the Caesar of the remake is far more benevolent than the original Caesar (Roddy McDowall). Serkis' character is a Moses-type who leads his fellow apes to freedom, while McDowall's Caesar is driven by righteous anger, vengeance, and the desire to fight back against his captors. 

As for the settings, Rise takes place in modern times, whereas Conquest (filmed in 1972) takes place in the totalitarian 1990s, an era when apes are used for slave labor. In Rise, we witness the birth of the Simian flu, which wipes out most of humanity, but in Conquest, our characters live in a world where a plague has killed off all cats and dogs, thus setting up humanity's need for primate pets. It should also be pointed out that—as misguided as it may be, though well-intentioned—Conquest is a political allegory about racial discrimination, while Rise focuses on subjects like animal cruelty.

But perhaps the most important distinction is that in Rise, the apes only use spears in their battle against the humans. In Conquest, the chimps are killing bad guys with machine guns.

Pete's Dragon (2016)

When David Lowery (A Ghost Story, Ain't Them Bodies Saints) remade Disney's Pete's Dragon, he borrowed the elevator pitch and tossed everything else out the window. Seriously, if you compare the 1977 original to the 2016 remake, you could sum up the similarities in one sentence: "An orphan boy named Pete befriends a magical dragon named Elliott." Other than that, these two movies are totally different beasts.

Most notably, the original Elliott was rendered with hand-drawn animation, while the new dragon is completely CG. The '77 Elliott is covered in scales, but the new one looks like a fuzzy green dog. Pete's backstory is wildly different, as well. In the first film, the red-headed orphan is a runaway, desperately fleeing a backwoods family that treats him like a slave. In Lowery's version, Pete's parents died in a car crash, leaving the boy stranded in the forest where he's rescued by his dragon pal. And speaking of forests, the '77 movie takes place in a New England fishing community, while the 2016 film is set among the lumber mills of the Pacific Northwest.

In addition to the redneck psychos chasing after Pete, the '77 version also features a snake oil salesman who wants to chop Elliott into bits and use him for medicine. The 2016 movie doesn't really have a mustache-twirling villain; instead, bad guy duty falls to a hot-headed lumberjack played by Karl Urban. While he does try to capture the dragon, he eventually sees the error of his ways. And whereas the original finds Pete taking shelter with a lighthouse keeper, the new version finds the boy living with a Park Ranger.

Of course, the biggest difference between the two films is that the original is a musical, while there's not a single show tune in the remake. That's probably a good thing because we're not sure if Robert Redford could've pulled off the whole Mickey Rooney song-and-dance routine.

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

While there were a couple of cranks who thought Antoine Fuqua's remake of The Magnificent Seven was rotten, this 2016 remake was actually a fantastic film that featured a mustachioed Denzel Washington and a cowboy Chris Pratt fighting against an army of gunslinging assassins. True, it might not compare to the 1960 version—starring legends like Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn—but the remake was able to take the original (itself a remake of Seven Samurai) and give the story some much-needed updates.

Most notably, the makeup of the Seven is much more diverse, which is a far more accurate depiction of life in the Wild West. (According to the Smithsonian, in the 1800s, one out of four cowboys was African-American.) There's Denzel in the lead as the black-clad Sam Chisolm, Byung-hun Lee as a Korean assassin, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as a Mexican outlaw, and Martin Sensmeier as a Comanche brave. Plus, one of the most important characters is played by Haley Bennett, which is a big upgrade from the first film where the only woman with lines is a generic love interest.

While the John Sturges original was set in Mexico and dealt with Mexican farmers fending off bandits, the Antoine Fuqua remake is set in the U.S. and follows a group of townsfolk defending their property from a psychopathic robber baron. The villain in the original (played by Eli Wallach) is actually a more complex character than the over-the-top sadist played Peter Sarsgaard. It's also important to point out that Denzel's character is partly driven by revenge, while Brynner's man in black is fighting for the farmers solely because it's the right thing to do. Both movies have their pros and cons, but at the end of the day, they're both pretty magnificent.