To keep this resource free, is compensated by certain providers listed below. Learn More To keep this resource free, is compensated by certain providers listed below. Learn More
A man wearing a cloak walks toward the camera with the sun behind him in this image from Legendary Pictures.
“Dune” and “Dune: Part Two” are prime examples of a book-to-film adaptation done right. (Image: Legendary Pictures)

Movie remakes are hardly new. Hollywood can’t resist them, with classic films as early as “The Wizard of Oz” retelling the stories of their silent film counterparts. Filmmakers go through phases of leaning heavily on remakes, many of which came out during the ’30s, ’80s, and early ’00s. These would’ve turned out to be all-time classics that few people knew were remade, while others could’ve been left alone.

Although the number of remakes is decreasing, the past decade has given birth to films revisiting everything from classic sci-fi to animated adventures. Some have breathed new life into familiar stories, while others left audiences yearning for the originals. This roundup celebrates the films that capture the essence of an original tale while offering a fresh perspective. We also take a critical look at those that fell short. So, grab your popcorn (or rotten tomatoes) for our take on the remakes from the past decade that were good, bad, and straight-up forgettable.

Best: ‘It’ (2017)

An evil clown in a church in this image from New Line Cinema
“It” brought a whole new generation of nightmares. (Image: New Line Cinema)

Often cited as one of the best horror remakes of all time, “It” was a massive commercial success, becoming the highest-grossing horror film ever at the time of its release in 2017. It received critical acclaim for its faithfulness to Stephen King’s iconic novel, strong performances, and effective scares, with Bill Skarsgård‘s chilling Pennywise psychologically scarring a new generation of children for life. The film features exceptional performances from Skarsgård and the young cast that effectively communicate the importance of childhood friendship and fears. The suspense is downright terrifying, but the film also sprinkles emotional and inspiring moments that leave audiences both disturbed and hopeful.

Make sure to check out “It” before it leaves Netflix on March 31.

Worst: ‘Annie’ (2014)

A man and a girl dancing in front of a parade in this image from Marcy Media
The 2014 remake of “Annie” wasted a lot of opportunities. (Image: Marcy Media)

“Annie” is a remake thoroughly guilty of unnecessary modernization, with the story and themes remaining unchanged — just underperformed and in leggings. The film makes an attempt to add layers of modern-day commentary through Annie’s (Quvenzhané Wallis) race swap and relocating her to a substandard foster care home rather than an orphanage. However, it missed a major opportunity to dig deeper and reflect on the harsh realities of many real kids in Annie’s position. The acting faced criticism, with many calling Cameron Diaz‘s portrayal of Miss Hannigan cartoonish and Wallis’ singing abilities weak. The film failed to recoup its budget and is now considered a critical and financial flop.

Want to decide for yourself? Watch “Annie” for free with ads on Tubi, and check out the 1982 original on Netflix.

Best: ‘A Star Is Born’ (2018)

A woman sings and a man plays guitar in this image from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
The fourth film adaptation of “A Star Is Born” has proven to be one of the best. (Image: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

When the idea to remake Barbara Streisand’s 1976 musical romance was first introduced, fans were skeptical, especially when they heard that out-there pop star Lady Gaga was filling the beloved actress’ shoes. It turns out they were wrong, with the film receiving widespread critical acclaim and eight Academy Award nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for Gaga. The 1976 version of the film was actually a remake too, with a 1937 early technicolor film and a 1954 Judy Garland classic preceding it. Each version was lauded by critics, but none was quite as well received as the 2018 version. The film updates the well-known story of the modern music industry, focusing on country and rock music instead of Hollywood and Broadway.

Both Bradley Cooper and Gaga delivered career-defining performances, and Cooper made an impressive directorial debut. The original songs, co-written by Gaga, are a major highlight, and themes of addiction are handled with nuance and empathy. This was an impactful and memorable remake that stood out for its fresh perspective and emotional performances, setting a new bar for how to artfully and sensitively update a beloved story.

Watch “A Star Is Born” with a Max subscription, or check out the 1976 and 1954 versions streaming on TCM.

Worst: ‘Point Break’ (2015)

A man looks back from the edge of a waterfall in this image from Alcon Entertainment.
Point Break” was one of the most forgettable remakes ever made. (Image: Alcon Entertainment)

2015’s “Point Break” looked cool, but it was an empty shell of action with no heart when compared to the 1991 cult classic starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves. While still an over-the-top action flick, the original film reveals a deeper message through clever philosophical conversations between Reeves' undercover FBI agent, Johnny Utah, and Swayze's charismatic surf gang leader, Bodhi. The unknown Australian and Venezuelan actors Luke Bracey (Utah) and Edgar Ramirez (Bodhi) attempted to recreate this element but didn’t have the acting chops, or a good enough script, to pull it off.

The original was largely focused on a straightforward cops-and-robbers plot, while the remake tried to insert the quest for enlightenment into the criminal group’s motivations. This shallow and unrealistic philosophy eroded the down-to-earth feeling of the original and made audiences less invested in the fate of the gang. Modern filmmaking and effects should’ve helped the action of the remake seem more impressive than the 1991 version, but underwhelming directing and editing robbed the surfing and skydiving scenes of the visceral thrill that made the original so iconic. This was a thoroughly forgettable reboot and a lesson to filmmakers to leave cult classics alone, especially if you aren’t ready to invest in actors of the same caliber as the original.

You can rent or buy “Point Break” on Amazon Prime Video, but we suggest you save your money and check out the 1991 original streaming on Peacock.

Best: ‘Little Women’ (2019)

A girl in a nightgown lying on the floor in this image from Columbia Pictures
Greta Gerwig’s whip-smart “Little Women” adaptation was a fresh take we didn’t know we needed. (Image: Columbia Pictures)

Louisa May Alcott’s classic coming-of-age tale for women has been adapted to film seven times. As a millennial, I will always be attached to the 1994 Winona Ryder version of “Little Women,” but that doesn’t mean I can’t find a place in my heart for Greta Gerwig‘s smart 2019 interpretation. The film breaks up the linear timeline of past adaptations, interweaving past and present events for the March sisters to show the impact of their childhood experiences on their adult lives. It gives each March sister more agency, showing us Amy's (Florence Pugh) artistic struggles, Jo's (Saoirse Ronan) fight for independence, Meg's (Emma Watson) pragmatism, and Beth's (Eliza Scanlen) quiet strength.

While at its heart it’s still a tale of family, love, and ambition, the 2019 remake emphasizes the societal constraints faced by women in the 19th century and how that affects the characters’ choices. With a clever script that resonates with modern audiences, beautiful cinematography and period design, and powerful performances from the all-star ensemble cast, “Little Women” is easily one of the best remakes of the decade.

You can watch Gerwig’s “Little Women” on Hulu.

Worst: ‘Ben-Hur’ (2016)

A man and woman in ancient dress embrace in this image from Paramount Pictures.
Why make a B-tier update of a multi-Oscar-winning classic? (Image: Paramount Pictures)

1959’s “Ben-Hur” about a fictional Jewish prince who becomes a follower of Christ was a cinematic behemoth, winning 11 Academy Awards and featuring one of the most iconic chariot races ever filmed. The 2016 version was packed with over-the-top CGI that tried and failed to outdo the action scenes of its predecessor. The cast is mostly little-known actors since it seems they spent the talent budget to secure Morgan Freeman, who’s about as close in ethnicity to his character, the Arab Sheik Ilderim, as Welsh actor Hugh Griffith in blackface from the 1959 version. Not only did it fail to fix dated issues like this, but an underwhelming screenplay left characters one-dimensional and the plot predictable, largely losing the complex themes of faith, forgiveness, and revenge that made the original impactful.

The film was a commercial flop and received negative reviews for its lack of originality, weak performances, and overly commercial visuals. This is one they should have left to the pages of history.

Since 2016’s “Ben-Hur” is available to rent or buy only, we recommend going straight for the 1959 classic on TCM.

Best: ‘West Side Story’ (2021)

Three women in dresses in this image from Amblin Entertainment.
“West Side Story” was overdue for a culturally sensitive retelling. (Image: Amblin Entertainment)

Steven Spielberg‘s 2021 remake of “West Side Story” made a big splash at the Academy Awards when it received seven nominations and one win. A Romeo-and-Juliet retelling set during an immigrant wave from Puerto Rico in the ’50s, the Broadway musical and 1961 film do come across as dated when viewed through the lens of modern immigration politics. The remake didn’t update the period, allowing the story to be of its time while drawing parallels to today. This reboot is a great example of when using unknown actors improved the story, as the predominantly Latino cast addressed the problematic portrayal of Puerto Rican characters in the 1961 film. Incorporating Spanish dialogue without subtitles added authenticity and tangibly demonstrated the language divide.

Spielberg's direction is evident in the film's vibrant cinematography and dynamic dance sequences, and breakout star Rachel Zegler‘s portrayal of Maria was particularly applauded. This is a film that succeeds in paying respect to its origin while remaining conscious of the issues that date earlier versions, recontextualizing the story to resonate with modern-day audiences.

You can watch “West Side Story” streaming on Disney+.

Worst: ‘Robin Hood’ (2018)

A man shoves another man against a wall in this image from Summit Entertainment.
2018’s “Robin Hood” made very little sense on all levels. (Image: Summit Entertainment)

While the English legend has seen more than two dozen film adaptations of varying quality over the years, “Robin Hood” in 2018 was one of the biggest duds of them all. The film tried to do a creative mishmash of styles that fell flat, providing a gritty, dark origin story for our hero, CGI-heavy action sequences, a dash of slapstick humor, and as many historical inaccuracies as they could cram into one film. Modern slang, anachronistic costumes, boring and expensive action sequences, and Jaime Foxx’s unidentifiable accent clashed with the medieval setting, leaving audiences confused. Critics have called the characters one-dimensional and forgettable, the plot predictable, and the film lacking in charm and originality. This was a poorly executed reboot, as demonstrated by its critical and commercial failure.

If you’re in the mood for a cringeworthy watch, “Robin Hood” is streaming on Hulu. For a better version to compare it to, try Ridley Scott’s 2010 film on AMC+ starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett.

Best: ‘Dune’ (2021)

A man and a woman in space gear look out on a lake in this image from Legendary Pictures.
Sci-fi fans finally got a visual representation that did justice to a beloved novel. (Image: Legendary Pictures)

While there was a pretty ropey “Dune” movie in 1984, the 2021 “Dune” is more of a fresh adaptation of Frank Herbert‘s classic sci-fi novel than a remake of that film. Two of Hollywood’s most talented young performers of today, Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya, lead a fantastic cast that gives us memorable portrayals of the story’s complex characters. Remaining faithful to the source material, its breathtaking visuals flesh out and bring to life the vast desert planet Arrakis and its fantastical creatures, like giant sandworms, treating book fans who have waited a long time to see the rich universe done justice on film.

A solid script brings home the story’s themes of ecology, colonialism, and religious fanaticism while placing a heavy focus on character development that will keep fans invested in the heroes throughout the three-part saga. The multiple-film endeavor allows pacing slow enough to capture the scope and complexity of the original novel while keeping it exciting enough to avoid the snooze-fest of the 1984 adaptation.

“Dune” is streaming on Max, and “Dune: Part 2” is currently playing in theaters.

Worst: ‘The Lion King’ (2019)

A CGI baby lion is held in the air in this image from Walt Disney Pictures.
“The Lion King” wasn’t original enough to justify the cost. (Image: Walt Disney Pictures)

The live-action remake of “The Lion King” in 2019 is a controversial choice, as some consider it to be a groundbreaking milestone in CGI filmmaking, while others, like me, find it unnervingly uncanny. The film is a photorealistic shot-for-shot remake of the 1994 animated classic, which many felt didn’t add anything to the story to justify its creation or its $260 million price tag. The hyper-realistic animation struggles to capture the expressive emotions of the hand-drawn characters, and the animal faces lack the nuance needed to convey a full range of feelings. The songs are lesser performances of their earlier counterparts, except for the addition of a slightly out-of-place Beyonce song to the soundtrack. Critics panned the lack of originality, and while it performed well at the box office, we agree with the experts that this is a movie we have seen done better before.

Both “The Lion King” remake and the animated classic from 1994 are available to stream on Disney+.

Best: ‘Death on the Nile’ (2022)

A man with a fabulous mustache scowling in this image from 20th Century Studios
“Death on the Nile” is the best of the new Poirot series compared to its ’70s counterpart. (Image: 20th Century Studios)

Although many other “Best Remakes” lists mention “Murder on the Orient Express,” I’m personally too much of a fan of Albert Finney’s hysterically spot-on portrayal of Poirot in the 1974 film to rate the remake higher. I don’t, however, feel the same way about “Death on the Nile,” whose 1978 adaptation starring Peter Ustinov didn’t live up to Finney’s performance in “Murder on the Orient Express.” As a major Agatha Christie geek, I found Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of the legendary Belgian detective Hercule Poirot to be short on quirks and humor. However, given the darker tone of the new Branagh-directed Poirot films, “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Death on the Nile,” and “A Haunting in Venice,” I can appreciate his more serious take on the character.

“Death on the Nile” has the best visuals of the three, using vibrant colors, movement, stunning cinematography of Egypt, and gorgeous period design to capture the carefree rich of the swinging ’30s in all their vibrant glory. As psychology-focused detective Poirot would surely approve of, the adaptation deeply explores the relationships between the characters on the boat, adding layers of complexity and intrigue that weren't prominent in the 1978 film. Stylish, fun, fresh, and yet still familiar, “Death on the Nile” is my favorite Christie adaptation of recent years.

Watch both Branagh's “Death on the Nile” and the 1978 version on fuboTV.

Worst: ‘Mulan’ (2020)

A young woman shoots an arrow in the mountains in this image from Walt Disney Pictures.
“Mulan” is a great example of what not to do when doing a remake. (Image: Walt Disney Pictures)

I’m really trying hard not to come for Disney too much in this list since I already wrote an article doing just that, but it’s forcing me. Disney is by far the most egregious offender for soulless remakes, and “Mulan” is one of their worst. The live-action remake ditches the beloved songs, the comedy, Mushu the Dragon, and the themes of filial piety and coming of age. Instead, it grasps supernatural elements like “chi,” portraying Mulan as a preordained warrior with superhuman abilities who simply has to embrace her true identity. This is a big deviation from the animated awkward girl who uses sheer determination to continue learning hard physical skills, eventually becoming strong enough to fight in a man’s war. That story both seemed more realistic and gave a better message to kids. Who can honestly relate to finding supernatural abilities inside themselves?

On the other hand, realizing that hard work is your superpower is something we all go through. Flat performances and generic action sequences earned “Mulan” a critical thrashing, and we won’t even get into the cultural insensitivity since this is Disney after all.

“Mulan” is available on Disney+, but should definitely be skipped in favor of the 1998 animated classic on the same platform.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.