We all know how bad remakes can be. Many are overdone, with too much CGI and too little acting, while others stray way too far from the original to truly be considered a remake. While we could debate the worst remakes all day, there’s really no point, because they are better left in the past. Luckily, sometimes all the right factors come together and you get something familiar but also new and interesting. For science fiction films in particular, some of the most influential and successful past films were revolutionary at the time, but as moviemaking technology made such huge leaps over the past few decades, the difference is stark. On the other hand, CGI doesn’t necessarily make a movie good. So which remakes are actually worth the effort?
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
To start off with a really great one, I’d argue that both the original and the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers are neck and neck for which is best. The first film, released all the way back in 1956, was in black and white and centered around a fictional small town called Santa Mira. Kevin McCarthy stars as Dr. Miles Bennell, a man who sees his town fall into hysterics as people start to believe that their relatives are being replaced by imposters who look just like them. Soon enough, Miles and his ex-girlfriend Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) find themselves in the middle of a true alien takeover, as people around them quickly get taken and replaced by new versions grown from alien pods.
The film made a huge impact, both on the science fiction genre and movies in general. Because of this, it was no surprise when Invasion of the Body Snatchers was remade in 1978. The movie successfully adapts the story to a more modern setting and presents it in a new way. The movie stars Donald Sutherland as a scientist working at a lab in San Francisco with Elizabeth Driscoll, played by Brooke Adams, who believes that he boyfriend isn’t acting like himself. The story is very similar to the original but shocking in a different way, with an ending to rival the best out there. On top of that, it also stars Leonard Nimoy and Jeff Goldblum, the latter of which features in another remake on this list as well.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Fear not, this isn’t about the 2001 Planet of the Apes by Tim Burton, which in all honesty, I didn’t know existed until I wrote this article. While the original series of films from the 60s and ‘0s were cutting edge for the time, especially considering how little they could do in terms of special effects back then, the reboot series of films that began in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, starring Andy Serkis, James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, and many more big names, are magnificent films on their own and as remakes.
Seriously, who would’ve thought that movies about apes revolting against humans would work so well not once, but twice, with completely different audiences and moviemaking techniques. While the new films are great stories with complex characters and worldbuilding, they are worth seeing simply for the acting of cast members like Serkis, Karin Konoval, Richard Ridings, and more, who bring real humanity to the ape characters, which are created through performance capture and special effects. The Rise of the Planet of the Apes films are an example of a remake that does justice to the original while also being a true example of how far moviemaking has come over just a handful of decades.
The 1982 cult classic science fiction horror movie The Thing is technically based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr., but it’s also a remake of the 1951 black-and-white movie The Thing from Another World, which is also referred to as The Thing. The original film focuses on a team of U.S. Air Force crew members and a handful of scientists who find an alien frozen in ice in the Arctic. Wanting to study it, the trouble comes after they accidentally defrost the creature, only to find that it is still alive and very murderous.
The 1982 remake is directed by John Carpenter, whose name alone should convince you of the movie’s integrity as a hit horror film. Starring Kurt Russell as the helicopter pilot MacReady, the movie follows a group of scientists and researchers in Antarctica who discover the titular “Thing,” a creature that induces paranoia in the group due to its ability to look like someone else. As you might expect, this leads everyone to suspect one another as they start ending up dead. With a cast that also includes Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Richard Masur, T.K. Carter, and more, the movie has amazing performances and in-depth characters, which are only amplified by the more expansive special effects capabilities compared to in 1951.
A truly international icon of a character, the ginormous prehistoric monster first came onto the scene in the 1954 film Godzilla, growing in prominence through the 30 or so Japanese films that followed featuring the character. With such appreciation, it makes sense that other people have attempted to make their own version of Godzilla, to varying degrees of success. Well, in the case of 2014’s Godzilla, the Warner Bros. film directed by Gareth Edwards, the remake was very successful. With modern CGI to depend on, the film presents a more grounded take on the classic franchise, starring the likes of Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, and Sally Hawkins.
The movie introduces the cast of “monsters,” also known as kaiju, who the world initially fears and wants to destroy. The 2014 film brings a lot of humanity and subtext to the original story, creating a version of Godzilla that you can more easily sympathize with, which is saying a lot considering it’s a huge monster that doesn’t speak. Vastly different from the first Godzilla films of the ’50s, that’s part of what makes the new film series so good — it keeps many classic elements of the Godzilla story, while also weaving in more modern ideals and capabilities.
The Invisible Man
Definitely one of the most recent remakes on this list, I’m referring to the 2020 film directed by Leigh Whannell and starring Elisabeth Moss. The movie is a quasi-remake of the 1933 film starring Claude Rains and Gloria Stuart, and both are based on the book of the same name by H. G. Wells. The original film is about a man who becomes invisible after a special experiment. The transformation eventually drives him crazy, with the man performing darker and darker acts while invisible, eventually committing murder.
The 2020 version of The Invisible Man takes this basic premise to a whole other level, with Moss’s character Cecelia running from her abusive genius ex-partner, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). After Adrian’s apparent suicide, Cecelia starts to think that he faked it all in order to torment her while invisible, a capability he developed through advanced technology. For Adrian, the goal is to make Cecelia go insane as revenge for her leaving him. The concept of the film is extremely well-executed, and it’s a truly thrilling psychological horror film.
Along with Moss and Jackson-Cohen, it also stars Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, and Harriet Dyer as Cecelia’s support system who try to help her even when they think she’s experiencing paranoia and hallucinations as a side effect of the trauma she went through while dating Adrian. The Invisible Man perfectly blends social commentary with brutal science fiction-based horror to make one of the best horror movies, and remakes, in recent years.
In 1995, Sylvester Stallone starred in a film called Judge Dredd, based on the pre-existing comic book character of the same name. As with a lot of Stallone movies, the film is so bad, it’s good (though even that’s debatable). Set in 2080, Stallone plays Judge Joseph Dredd, a “street judge” who is allowed to serve his own justice, no matter how intense, to criminals on the street. It’s a good enough movie, but the 2012 remake is arguably much, much better.
The movie, named just Dredd, stars Karl Urban as the iconic character, seeking out justice in a dystopian future. Dredd is filled with fantastic actors who were more up-and-coming at the time of release, like Lena Headey, Olivia Thirlby, Wood Harris, and Domhnall Gleeson, and all of the characters are much more multidimensional than their 1995 film counterparts. Seriously, the remake had a very low bar to pass in terms of filmmaking and story with Dredd, but it actually went a bit about that, becoming quite a good sci-fi movie in its own right.
War of the Worlds
Another H. G. Wells story adapted for the screen, The War of the Worlds began as a 1953 film starring Gene Barry and Ann Robinson. The film was a major success both critically and at the box office, and it really does a fantastic job bringing a complicated science fiction story to life with the limited capabilities of the time. The War of the Worlds has a serious legacy in American history, so taking on the story for a remake was a big task. Of course, some might argue that if it’s Steven Spielberg behind the camera, it’s not an issue at all.
Well, Spielberg directed the 2005 remake, War of the Worlds, starring Tom Cruise, Miranda Otto, Tim Robbins, and a young Dakota Fanning in one of her early, impressive performances. Having made a few classic films himself, Spielberg knew what he was doing, and he perfectly adapted the major themes of the original story, while creating an action-packed, realistic alien antagonist. With so much time between the two versions, the differences, at least visually, were always going to be stark, but Spielberg also weaves in current social and cultural issues to make it more relevent to the moment.
The original The Blob film, which was released in 1958, stars none other than Steve McQueen as main character Steve Andrews. The film is about an alien blob organism that crashes to Earth and continues to consume and grow as it travels. Luckily for fans of this story, both the original and the 1988 remake are great films and true cult classics. In the 1988 version, directed by Chuck Russell, the blob is changed from being an alien creature to being a product of an unknown government organization, a biological weapon gone wrong — or right?
Kevin Dillon and Shawnee Smith star in the movie, which focuses on more modern themes of conspiracies and distrust in the government or other establishments. Like others on this list, the remake has better special effects, which obviously makes the movie more intense and scary, but it also is a true product of 1980s-era cinema, which particularly shines through the science fiction genre creations. Whether you like the original or remake best, you can’t deny that both are worthy of appreciation.
Okay, so I know that there is always a lot going on in the Star Trek universe, with many series, films, spinoffs, sequels, and so much more. But this is all about the series of films that started with 2009’s Star Trek, which reintroduced the world to the characters of the original Star Trek television series. Chris Pine takes on the role of James T. Kirk, who William Shatner first played, and Zachary Quinto portrays Spock, originally played by Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy actually plays an older version of his past character in the new film series, which is handled brilliantly, and there are plenty of more familiar names on the character list.
Other standout performances in the reboot are Zoe Saldana as Nyota Uhura, Simon Pegg as Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, and John Cho as Hikaru Sulu, while Karl Urban plays Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy and the late Anton Yelchin is Pavel Chekov. With such a fantastic cast and sci-fi aficionado J. J. Abrams at the helm, 2009’s Star Trek presents a perfect reboot of the classic story in a new, contemporary form, while also standing as a singularly emotional action-adventure. The reboot series of films also includes two sequels: Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond.
Terminator: Dark Fate
While Terminator: Dark Fate is sort of a part of the original film series canon (the Terminator universe is really all over the place), the movie is an attempt to restart the super successful franchise with a familiar, yet new story, so I’m going to count it here. The 2019 film features Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton returning to their memorable roles of the T-800 Terminator and Sarah Connor, respectively, but the real stars are Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes. Davis plays a character named Grace who is sent back to 2020 from 2042 to protect Reyes’s Dani Ramos. Initially assumed by some to be a Terminator herself, Grace is actually an enhanced human super-soldier who must save Dani, as she plays a key role in the Resistance of the future.
Again, the storyline here is familiar, with similar themes and plot points to the original, but with Grace and Dani, there’s a very strong relationship between the two women that anchors the film and makes it feel wholly unique. Terminator: Dark Fate is arguably one of the best franchise films in recent years. Unfortunately, for any fans out there like me, the movie was deemed as not a big enough success at the box office, and no more movies have followed.
Mad Max: Fury Road
While the Academy Awards should never be the main indicator of a film’s merit, the fact that Mad Max: Fury Road, a dystopian sci-fi film, was nominated for Best Picture, says a lot. Genre movies rarely get any major nominations (though they should), but this was a case in which the beauty and quality of the movie just couldn’t be ignored. After 30 years, the Mad Max franchise, which originally starred Mel Brooks, was given a new start in the form of 2015’s remake, Mad Max: Fury Road.
Directed by George Miller and starring Tom Hardy in the title role, the movie burst onto the scene for a variety of reasons, including the stunning visuals and cinematography style. While the title may say “Max,” it could be argued that the movie actually puts most of the focus on a new character named Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron. If you’ve seen the movie, then you know that it was the right decision. Hardy’s Max is also amazing, but Furiosa is a force to be reckoned with. Along with the compelling two main characters, everything about Mad Max: Fury Road was a success. The movie is a true piece of cinema, and it really might even be the best Mad Max film yet.
I Am Legend
The history of I Am Legend actually goes back quite a ways, with the story originally being based on the book of the same name by Richard Matheson. But before the 2007 film starring Will Smith, the book was adapted two times for the screen. First, there was the 1964 film The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price, along with 1971’s The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston. Both films are critically acclaimed and an important part of film history, which is why taking on this story with 2007’s I Am Legend was a bit of a big deal.
Smith plays the lead role of Neville, the supposed last man on Earth after a virus wipes out everyone. The only human-like creatures left are mutated, nocturnal, and antagonistic. The success of this remake depends on Smith’s performance, and I Am Legend is arguably a career-best. The movie also presents a stylistic, deteriorating world that you can’t help but be sucked into. It’s definitely a successful modern adaptation of a sci-fi classic like The Omega Man.
Comparing a science fiction film from 1933 to one from 2005 is difficult, as they’re obviously going to be very different. But with King Kong, the original movie is an obvious classic, no matter how unrealistic the special effects look. It’s definitely on the status of Godzilla in terms of iconic monsters, with the two coming head to head in the recent Godzilla vs. Kong. While the more modern Kong: Skull Island is also fantastic, this entry is all about the Peter Jackson-directed movie starring Naomi Watts, Andy Serkis, Jack Black, and Adrien Brody.
Firstly, Serkis is definitely the right person to take on the creature of King Kong, and as most people know, he has a history with Jackson playing Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Along with that, Jackson adapted the classic sympathetic monster story to the current entertainment industry and society expectations, while also presenting the story in a way that honors the classic movie and history of filmmaking.
Starring Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum, 1986’s The Fly is a remake of the 1958 film of the same name. Directed by David Cronenberg, who is also behind other sci-fi horror hits like Videodrome and Scanners, the 80s version of The Fly is one of the landmark films that truly defined the decade. The movie embraces the gore and intense special effects of the era, while also highlighting the best parts of the original, particularly in how Goldblum’s character’s mental condition slowly deteriorates alongside his physical state. In fact, Cronenberg’s version certainly elevated the legacy of the original, while also being distinct enough that it’s not very easy to compare the two. As with most remakes on this list, the use of a bigger budget and modern special effects really allowed the movie to move to a whole new level, and Cronenberg brought his unique vision to the classic story.
The Denis Villeneuve adaptation of Frank Herbert‘s classic science fiction novel has been highly anticipated ever since it was first announced. Most people are well aware of David Lynch‘s 1984 adaptation, starring Kyle MacLachlan as the protagonist, Paul Atreides. Focusing on a conflict between two major influential families on a strange planet, Dune is an epic adventure tale with intensive world-building. To say that the 1984 film was divisive would be putting it mildly, but over time it has become a cult classic. Then came along the new adaptation, which has the benefit of truly extensive special effects and CGI to create a beautiful lush world.
The movie also features an all-star cast that includes Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, and more, and it’s gotten a great critical response. Of course, the purpose of this list isn’t to compare the original to the remake, but rather to highlight the notable remakes in general. Thankfully, the new Dune delivered on expectations with an ambitious first part (with a sequel on the way), and whether or not people prefer the original or the remake, 2021’s Dune is a very successful remake.
Alita: Battle Angel
I don’t know if the 2019 live-action film Alita: Battle Angel is better than the original Battle Angel OVA from 1993, as that’s up to you to decide. But I believe that the new movie adaptation is a lot better than people first thought, and certainly a worthwhile remake. Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel has the director’s distinct style, and the visual design and special effects are totally spectacular. Along with that, Rosa Salazar is amazing casting, and she holds the remake together. She’s a major acting talent, and only recently has Hollywood seemed to notice.
Of course, add in Christoph Waltz, Mahershala Ali, Keean Johnson, Lana Condor, and more in the supporting cast, and it’s an exciting and well-acted sci-fi adventure. While the original is still seen as the best version of the story by many, the remake is different enough to stand on its own. The film got positive reviews from critics but didn’t do as well as they hoped at the box office, leading the future of a possible Alita franchise to be uncertain. But as time passes, the fanbase of Alita: Battle Angel only seems to grow and become more devoted, and even in 2021, there have been mentions of a possible sequel by Rodriguez and fans.
While this might be a divisive opinion (even though it truly shouldn’t be), the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot is a really great remake. End of discussion. Directed by Paul Feig, who also did Bridesmaids, A Simple Favor, and many more familiar titles, the 2016 Ghostbusters brings a whole new feel to the franchise, with four brilliant comedic actors at the center of the story. Starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones, the story presents these women as capable and intelligent characters — with Wiig’s Erin a professor at Columbia University and McKinnon’s Holtz an engineering physicist — who decide to investigate and start a business in ghost hunting.
While the movie got a great critical response, it was “controversial” due to the all-female main cast, with many older fans against the casting. The movie disappointed at the box office, leading to the decision that there be no sequel, but despite that, Ghostbusters is still an original movie bringing a bright new perspective to an old franchise. It’s also a fantastic example of a remake that opens up a traditional story through representation to allow more people to see themselves in the characters. If just for the young girls who now imagine themselves hunting ghosts, 2016’s Ghostbusters is worth it.
I still have a lot of questions for director Steven Soderbergh about why he decided to remake the Andrei Tarkovsky film Solaris – which many believe to be one of the best sci-fi films ever made — at this point in his career. In 2002, Soderbergh had just released the hit heist film Ocean’s Eleven, while Erin Brockovich came out in 2000. Solaris really felt like a 180-degree turn from his past few films, but it surprisingly turned out to be the right decision, as Soderbergh successfully adapted the classic movie into a fresh take on the familiar story.
In Solaris, Soderbergh’s constant collaborator George Clooney plays psychologist Dr. Chris Kelvin, who is sent to connect with a crew operating a space station orbiting a planet called Solaris. When he arrives, he finds most of the crew gone due to various factors, with the two survivors, Dr. Gordon (Viola Davis) and Snow (Jeremy Davies), unable to explain what happened and reluctant to try. They say that Kelvin will understand once he experiences it himself, and soon enough he does, seeing realistic projections of his wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone), who has been dead a long time.
While the original film goes really abstract and focuses on the visuals, Soderbergh chose to dive into the characters and emotional themes. Maybe the director knew that he could never match Tarkovsky’s expressive style, which is true, and so he focused on his own strengths. Sure, 2002’s Solaris is likely not better than the original, but that’s not the question here. It’s whether or not Soderbergh created something interesting and worthwhile, and he definitely did.
The Dark Knight Trilogy
As you might know, there are plenty of screen versions of the comic book character Batman, but The Dark Knight Trilogy is arguably the best out there (as of right now). The series consists of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises, starring Christian Bale as the eponymous superhero. With Christopher Nolan directing, the trilogy has a clear vision, with an emphasis on character development and the visual feel. Throughout three movies, Bruce Wayne goes on an intensely personal journey, facing off against gritty, dark villains like Heath Ledger in his posthumous Oscar-winning performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight.
On top of Bale and Ledger, the whole series is filled with major acting talent, including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, and the list goes on and on. Even if you prefer a different rendition of Batman, you have to admit that Nolan and the team behind these movies really took the classic comic book story and transformed it into something intense, honest, and action-packed.