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Debate Club: The 5 best Universal remakes

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Feb 19, 2020

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

Not all remakes are bad ideas. In honor of Universal Pictures' new The Invisible Man, which is advertised as a feminist reimagining of the H.G. Wells novel (and a pretty great Claude Rains film), we thought we'd focus on the studio's rich history of remaking classic works.

Granted, Universal's woeful Dark Universe was a disaster, but the company has had plenty of success beforehand breathing new life into old properties.

Below are five great examples.

The Mummy (1999)

No, we're not talking about the ill-fated Tom Cruise version from 2017. No, we mean the surprise Stephen Sommers-directed hit from 1999, back when Brendan Fraser was an entirely reasonable hunky-with-a-sense-of-humor-about-it lead (and Rachel Weisz would be in something this silly).

This is cheesy and fun and not really much about the Mummy at all, which makes it even more pleasant. It also set up a so-so sequel that featured a character called "The Scorpion King," played by a wrestler who (get this) wanted to be an actor named Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

The Wolfman (2010)

Short on subtlety (although c'mon, it's about a damn werewolf) but chock full of narrative bombast and exquisite sets and costumes (*chef's kiss*), The Wolfman remake is an indulgent, pranky delight, featuring the Oscar-winning makeup work of maestro Rick Baker.

Benicio Del Toro is our tragic hero here, and while he lacks the self-loathing that made Lon Chaney Jr.'s portrayal so heartbreaking, he brings a vital physicality to the role that's often terrifying. Meanwhile, Anthony Hopkins hams it up as the father harboring a secret, Emily Blunt looks lovely and worried, and Hugo Weaving is ... well, Hugo Weaving. Full moon filmmaking at its finest. - Contributed by SYFY WIRE's Bryan Enk

12 Monkeys (1995)

Unlike several other films on this list, 12 Monkeys wasn't a remake of a Universal movie — or even of a feature-length movie. Drawing inspiration from the iconic 1962 short La Jetée, director Terry Gilliam gives us a bleak future in which Bruce Willis' prisoner character is sent back in time to determine when the plague that decimated humanity began.

12 Monkeys earned two-time Oscar winner Brad Pitt his very first Academy Award nomination as the psychotic Jeffrey Goines, and the film has lost little of its ability to make our eventual annihilation seem like a grim inevitability. If anything, it helped give birth to the wave of dystopian/post-apocalyptic thrillers that have littered the multiplex this century.

King Kong (2005)

Peter Jackson's sprawling, overlong and often breathtaking remake of the 1933 King Kong both stays true to the original while updating most of its more, uh, problematic tendencies.

Mainly, Jackson uses technology and the ever-expressive Andy Serkis to make us truly understand what the big ape is feeling, and foregrounding his friendship with Naomi Watts' Ann Darrow gives the movie a heart it didn't have before. The ending still sort of breaks us.

The Thing (1982)

We'll actually stand up for the 2011 remake/prequel, but obviously we're talking about John Carpenter's 1982 classic. The Thing is actually featured in the new horror film The Lodge, and its mere appearance upsets us: when that movie is on the screen, you know something bad's going to happen.

A critical disappointment at the time, Carpenter's version is now considered a masterpiece and in fact more beloved and well-known that the film it was remaking. And yeah, it's still really gross.

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