After all the movies that came out this summer, you might be wondering, “What wasn’t a remake?” As even box office analysts have a problem predicting hits nowadays, studios green-light more updates, remakes, “reimaginings,” and covers than ever before. Chances are you realize that She’s the Man is an update of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, but here are some lesser known remakes.
Disturbia (2007) — Update of: Rear Window (1954) The creators of Disturbia classify the film as “inspired” by the Hitchcock classic. With Disney Channel-transplant Shia LaBeouf taking over for Academy Award-winner James Stewart, the films are essentially the same, only the new version is sexed up for younger viewers. In the original, Stewart breaks his leg and must remain at home in a wheelchair all day, with nothing to do but spy on his neighbors with his telescope. When he thinks he’s witnessed a murder, the adrenaline factor intensifies. In Disturbia, LaBeouf is placed under house arrest for assaulting a teacher and, evidently unable to stomach trashy daytime TV, spies on his neighbors only to believe he lives next door to a serial killer. Which to watch: While some may try to convince you that Rear Window should be seen simply for its classic status, don’t buy into it. It’s not the best Hitchcock film to catch. Disturbia is a trendy update, but still satisfying. Either will do.
Whatever It Takes (2000) — Update of: Cyrano de Bergerac (1897) Don’t know this one? There’s a reason. Cyrano de Bergerac is a classic French play, centered on eponymous Cyrano, a French soldier-slash-poet with a big nose. He is in love with his cousin Roxane, but cannot convince her to love him back, as she loves one of Cyrano’s fellow cadets, Christian. Christian is beautiful but empty-headed, and cannot intellectually romance Roxane, even though he loves her. Cyrano creates Christian’s love letters and poems, and Roxane falls further in love with Christian. In Whatever It Takes (which you can see a few times a year at random hours on Comedy Central, so bad it is), James Franco marks his second movie role, and Red Bull makes its first on-screen appearance. Go, product placement! Which to watch: Unless you really like James Franco or Red Bull, it’s probably better to look at Cyrano de Bergerac. There are many versions of Cyrano, first produced as a play in 1897, but check out the 1990 Oscar-winner starring French actor Gérard Depardieu. If you aren’t in the mood for drama, another good alternative is Steve Martin’s 1987 comedic take, Roxanne.
City of Angels (1998) — Update of: Wings of Desire (1986) It isn’t often a remake takes a happy ending and throws it out — City of Angels is that sort of movie. Nicolas Cage, as angel Seth, falls in love with a doctor, Maggie, played by Meg Ryan. For some reason, Maggie can see Seth (and no one else can), and their friendship slowly builds to a quiet, unspoken romance. Unable to date an angel, Maggie becomes engaged to a co-worker. Seth meets a former angel, who chose to become human, and wrestles with the idea of changing for Maggie. In Wings of Desire, subtitled from the original German, Damiel falls in love with Marian, a trapeze artist who cannot see him. For Marian, Damiel considers becoming human. Which to watch: It isn’t that City of Angels is a bad film, but it cannot compare to Wim Wenders’s direction, which won him Best Direction at Cannes. City of Angels is a romance; Wings of Desire is a meditation on humanity.
Simon Birch (1999) — Update of: A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989) Owen Meany, one of John Irving’s odes to New England, follows the protagonist John and titular character Owen, best friends since childhood. Owen believes he is an instrument of God; John just wishes he knew who his father was, that his mother hadn’t died, and that he didn’t have a crush on his cousin. Simon Birch follows Joe and his best friend Simon, a little person. Joe wishes his mother wasn’t dead and he knew who his father was. Which to watch: Neither? To be fair, John Irving believed his book could never be properly translated to film, and barred the filmmakers from using any of the names in his novel, leading to the names in Simon Birch. Pick up the Irving paperback instead.
The Lion King (1994) — Update of: Hamlet (1599) Another film that claims to be a loose interpretation, The Lion King starts when Mufasa, the king of the lions, fathers Simba, the new heir to the African animal kingdom. Simba’s evil uncle Scar kills Mufasa and convinces Simba that the death is his fault. Overwhelmed with guilt, the young lion flees home into the jungle. In Hamlet, the titular prince is visited by his father’s ghost, who explains his death some months prior was no accident — Hamlet’s uncle Claudius slipped poison in his ear while sleeping, and soon married Hamlet’s mother to take over the throne. Hamlet exacts his revenge. Which to watch: The Lion King is the best-selling VHS tape of all time for a reason, but Hamlet is arguably the best of Shakespeare’s dramas. Read the play, watch The Lion King, and — if you have time — go and find the new Criterion edition of Kenneth Branagh (scene-stealer Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)’s four-hour version (1996).