We’re going back to the beginning.

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The key to making a good remake is to make a good movie. I know that seems painfully obvious, but somehow filmmakers seem to get caught up in various factors surrounding remakes. They either focus too much about updating the special effects or making it more “logical”, or they don’t care at all and are just out to make a quick buck (never a winning formula).

Another factor in why remakes tend to suck is just in the selection of the movie. If you’re remaking a classic, you’ve set a high bar which, 9 times out of 10, you will not reach – especially if you’re convinced you have to put your own twist on it to make it worthwhile. If, on the other hand, you’re remaking a movie that was just good, or was mediocre, you have room to improve on it without getting hung up on finding “faults” with the original.

Also, just as a general rule, filmmaking is hard. There are so many traps you can fall into. Considering that, a great movie is almost a miracle. Making the same movie great a second time is, uh, really a miracle.

That said, good remakes do exist. Here are some of the best:

Dawn of the Dead

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In their list of the top films of the 2000s, Bloody Disgusting put the 2004 Dawn of the Dead at number 8, saying this: “Truly, you can analogize the two films based on their zombies alone – where Romero’s lumbered and took their time (in a good way), Snyder’s came at us, fast, with teeth bared like rabid dogs. He truly made his own version of Dawn of the Dead, his own way, with a distinctly 21st century sensibility.”

That’s a refrain you hear from critics a lot – that remakes should try to be their own thing. The point isn’t to try to be different, though, it’s to make your own movie, which is what this did. And, to be fair, there’s not a ton the two movies have in common beyond the basic setup. They could have called it something else and gotten away with calling it an “homage” than strictly a remake.

The Ring

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The Ring was famously the first of many American remakes of “J-Horror” films, and still the best. This is arguably the most sensible kind of remake, where porting a story from one culture to another is enough to make it completely its own thing. Fans will disagree on which film is better (the American version has higher production value but is arguably less thematically coherent) but I think it’s pretty clear that this was a decent remake, at the very least.

Evil Dead

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Who’d have thought an Evil Dead movie without Bruce Campbell or Sam Raimi would be remotely decent, let alone as good as this 2013 reboot/remake/”loose continuation” was?

I think it’s pretty clear why this remake worked: it recognized what made the original film so radical, which was the gore effects that were extreme for viewers at the time, and it focused on updating that for modern viewers. So while this does echo some of the original film’s plot points, it appealed to the 2013 version of Evil Dead fans by giving them what they want. It also fleshed out the plot and made it, frankly, more engaging. I’d argue that the original Evil Dead film is more beloved for what it did for the genre and for beginning the franchise than for itself. The plot of the original movie is straightforward and kind of shallow; this added more layers to it.

Fright Night

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While the original Fright Night is a classic, the 2011 remake, written by ex-Buffy writer, Marti Noxon, updates it in a few important ways beyond simply “modernizing” it. The pacing here is masterful – while it’s a weakness of the original, it’s one of the best parts of this version. The other best part is the setting, which ties in the disappearing students plot point with the town’s post-recession decay, adding a thematic layer that wasn’t really there in the original. Colin Farrell is surprisingly menacing as a vampire, too, and who can resist David Tennant in anything?

The Fly

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The 1958 version of The Fly, with Vincent Price, is actually kind of underrated. It’s classic, Vernian sci-fi, for sure, but it has a subtle, creeping horror that’s still effective. And the tiny fly creature’s eerie “help me” at the very end, is simultaneously silly and disturbing.

The 1986 version’s plot is much different. It’s more linear, and not presented as a mystery. And, probably because of the times, it has more confidence in its effects, so it’s a lot more gruesome (and less silly) on that front. This is the kind of premise that’s hard to screw up if you don’t go over the top. There aren’t a lot of ways to show a man fuse with a fly that aren’t going to be disturbing.

The Thing

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The Thing remake is one of those movies, like Goodfellas, that people are surprised to hear even was a remake. Also like Goodfellas, the original is a classic in its own right. Still, John Carpenter’s 1981 version is the one people remember, and for good reason. Who can forget the special effects – the alien transformations, the spider head thing! And, equally important, the original didn’t include the idea of the alien copying people. It was just an 8 foot tall “superior being”. Carpenter’s version, which is actually closer to the original short story, is far creepier.

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I saw 'Mars Attacks!' in theaters when I was five. I still think it's the greatest horror movie for five year olds ever made.