Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.
It's popular to say that we hate remakes — that if something is good enough to prompt filmmakers to remake it, they should just leave it alone. But that's not always true. If anything, a great piece of art can be inspiring enough to spur other great artists to try to create their own interpretation of the work, or to spin it off in an entirely new direction.
So this week for Debate Club, we look at the best sci-fi and horror remakes, movies that did their own thing in their own way by working with something we already knew.
I Am Legend (2007)
One of Will Smith's biggest hits — in America, only Independence Day and (yikes) Suicide Squad have grossed more — this adaptation of the Richard Matheson novel was also an updating of the Charlton Heston 1971 thriller The Omega Man (and the 1964 Vincent Price cheapie The Last Man on Earth). Gone was the lovable Will of Men in Black and Hitch; with I Am Legend, the Oscar-nominated actor called upon the acclaimed dramatic work he'd done in Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness to play a virologist roaming a post-apocalyptic New York, convinced he can find a cure to save what's left of humanity.
Before Francis Lawrence started directing Hunger Games sequels, the filmmaker gave us this deeply mournful and intense monster movie. Warning, though: if you're a dog person, you may have a very tough time with a scene involving Smith and his faithful companion Sam.
War of the Worlds (2005)
It seemed odd that Steven Spielberg wanted to do his take on the old, almost hoary alien invasion tale; hadn't he done this extra-terrestrial stuff plenty of times? But Spielberg, along with an extremely game Tom Cruise, took the H.G. Wells novel (and the Orson Welles radio play, of course) and turned it into something urgent and terrifying, a film that tapped into our post-9/11 anxieties and the growing sense that the world was careening out of control… and maybe even ending. Perhaps the most underrated of all of Spielberg's movies, it's the one that, at times, seems the most wildly, horrifyingly unhinged.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
The nice thing about the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is that it can work as a metaphor for whatever age you happen to live in: The idea of monsters living disguised among us is irresistible; it's no wonder it gets remade every few decades. (There's even another one currently in development.)
Our favorite is still the 1978 version, a Philip Kaufman nightmare with an unreal cast, including Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, and even Kevin McCarthy from the original. The movie feels as paranoid and untrusting as its era, and its final scene is an absolute crusher.
The Fly (1986)
"I'm working on something that will change the world — and human life as we know it." Any savvy viewer of genre cinema knows that if someone makes such a proclamation, watch out: things are about to go horribly wrong. That's even truer of the 1986 version of The Fly, which followed the 1958 horror film, itself an adaptation of a 1957 short story.
Meet Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), a brilliant scientist developing teleportation technology who forgets the first rule of working in such a dangerous, cutting-edge industry: don't get drunk one night and send yourself through the machine without first ensuring that an unsuspecting housefly isn't in there with you. David Cronenberg is a master of body horror, but The Fly might very well be his most sickening and disturbing creation — not to mention a perfect metaphor for the fear and death of the AIDS era.
The Thing (1982)
The best movie made from Who Goes There? — sorry, 1951's The Thing From Another World and 2011's The Thing — is John Carpenter's claustrophobic, paranoid thriller. Carpenter reunited with his Escape From New York star Kurt Russell for this tale of a bunch of researchers in Antarctica who discover that a pretty nasty alien has slipped into their facility.
This is a real guy's-guy drama — the ensemble includes Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Richard Masur and Richard Dysart — but in The Thing, these manly men are no match for a creature that's meaner and more cunning than they could possibly imagine. And nearly 40 years later, the effects hold up really well — which is to say that this film contains some of the most disgusting images ever put on screen.