The Mechanic opens this weekend, and as you could probably tell from our review it’s not one of the best action movies of all time. It’s not even one of the best action movie remakes of all time, but then again what is?
Good question. Here are CRAVE Online’s picks for The 10 Best Action Movie Remakes of All Time. What’s the difference between a ‘remake’ and a ‘reboot’ you ask? That’s a good question too. We struggled with it and had to make some hard decisions (sorry, Batman Begins…), but in the end we came up with the following awesome action movie remakes. You’re welcome.
10. True Lies (1994), remade from La Totale! (1991)
Most people don’t know that True Lies is a remake, and as much as it pains us we have to be honest: we haven’t seen La Totale! either. But there’s no denying that the remake stands on its own as a pretty hilarious action comedy. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Harry Tasker, a secret agent with a suburban family who have no idea he’s saved the world more times than most men have shaved. One day Harry discovers that his wife has been having an affair and places his career on hold to use every espionage tool at his disposal to save his marriage. True Lies gets a lot of flack for dropping the action entirely in the middle of the film, but it comes back with a vengeance in the third act, which finds Schwarzenegger flying a harrier jet around a skyscraper and blowing away scores of terrorists to save his daughter, played by a young Eliza Dushku from Dollhouse. Wildly entertaining, just a little uneven.
9. 3:10 to Yuma (2007), remade from 3:10 to Yuma (1957)
A full 50 years passed between Delmer Daves’ original adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s short story and James Mangold’s exceptional remake, but you’d never know because Mangold’s version feels as fresh as movies get. Both films tell the story of a charismatic western villain (Glenn Ford in the original, Russell Crowe in the remake) escorted to a train – in Yuma, leaving at 3:10 – by a normal joe (Van Heflin, then Christian Bale) who just needs the reward money. The original is still well-regarded today, but Mangold’s exciting new take on the material featured a stellar cast – The Mechanic’s Ben Foster is absolutely magnetic as Crowe’s swaggering second-in-command – and action sequences that Daves’ original just can’t match. Brimming with memorable characters and thrilling shootouts, 3:10 to Yuma is one of the best westerns of the last decade. (Not that that’s saying much…)
8. Zatoichi (2003), remade from the Zatoichi series (1962-1989)
Japan’s wildly successful Zatoichi franchise starred Shintaro Katsu as a quirky blind samurai travelling the land and slicing up gangsters with a sword hidden in his cane. The original series panned 26 films and a television series with 112 episodes, and every one we’ve ever seen has been pretty damned great. (Our favorite: Zatoichi’s Cane Sword, the 15th film in the franchise.) The series lapsed for over ten years before Beat Takeshi took a crack at the classic character in 2003, turning the relatively straightforward adventures of Zatoichi into an epic music-driven samurai bloodbath starring Takeshi himself that somehow covers all the same material as the original stories. Zatoichi once again finds himself embroiled in a local conflict as warring gangs and assassins meet their demise one by one at the hands of the unassuming swordsman, who also doubles as a masseur. There’s one crazy swordfight after another, and the whole thing ends with a breathless tap-dancing musical number featuring the whole cast. Really.
(Oh yeah, and the 17th film in the original series – Zatoichi Challenged – was also remade as the pretty nifty 1980’s action romp Blind Fury starring Rutger Hauer and directed by Salt’s Phillip Noyce. Also recommended.)
7. The Magnificent Seven (1960), remade from Seven Samurai (1954)
Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai – still one of the best movies ever made, period – was heavily inspired by the western genre, making it kind of ironic that the western genre stole pretty shamelessly from Kurosawa’s films. (See #4 on our list while you’re at it.) At least they were pretty damned good remakes. John Sturges took Kurosawa’s story of a group of (seven) samurai hired by an impoverished town to defend them from bandits and turned it into a star-studded western featuring some of the biggest badasses in film history, including Yul Brynner, James Coburn, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. The chemistry is undeniable, the scenes classic – “I was aiming at the horse!” – and Elmer Bernstein’s score is one of the most memorable in film history. The remake was so popular that it led to three sequels and a 1990’s television series that ran for three seasons, but the biggest endorsement came from Kurosawa himself, who loved the film and even presented Sturges with a samurai sword.
6. Kill! (1968), remade from Sanjuro (1962)
Not so much a remake as adapted from the same novel, but screw it: same story, made years later? It’s a remake. Akira Kurosawa’s sequel to Yojimbo starred Toshiro Mifune as a wandering samurai who finds himself protecting a group of young political dissidents who stand up to the wrong corrupt politician and almost get everyone killed. Kill! starred the incredible Tatsuya Nakadai – who also played one of the villains in Sanjuro – as Genta, a former samurai trying not to get involved in bloodshed and mentoring Tabata (Etsushi Takahashi), a farmer seeking the glory of the samurai lifestyle. Kill! is more of a comedy than Sanjuro, featuring wacky side characters and a hero who’s a lot less stoic than Mifune, but the siege sequences are as thrilling as any samurai film ever made. Though relatively unknown, Kill! is one of our very favorite films. Action comedies don’t get much better than this.
5. Terminator (1984), remade from the Outer Limits episodes ‘Soldier’ and ‘Demon with a Glass Hand’ (1964)
Another unofficial remake, James Cameron once confessed that his tale of a soldier going back in time to save the future was inspired by episodes of The Outer Limits. A little too inspired, apparently, since writer Harlan Ellison – who reportedly really liked Cameron’s film – charged Terminator’s production companies with plagiarism due to unmistakable similarities to two Outer Limits episodes he wrote: ‘Soldier,’ about a soldier who goes back in time and saves his adopted family from an enemy who follows him from the future – and ‘Demon with a Glass Hand,’ about a robot who looks like a man and also goes back in time to defend the future. He must have had a point since Orion Pictures settled out of court and gave Ellison a vague credit in all future releases of the film, but although Ellison’s episodes may have inspired Cameron it’s his film that truly stands the test of time. Michael Biehn stars as a soldier charged with protecting Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton), whose son – not even conceived yet – will one day save humanity from machines bent on destroying their creators. Terminator also starred this guy you may have heard of named Arnold Schwarzenegger and inspired some pretty good sequels (and some pretty crappy ones too).
4. A Fistful of Dollars (1964), remade from Yojimbo (1961)
Like The Magnificent Seven, Sergio Leone’s breakthrough western was closely based on one of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai pictures, very specifically Yojimbo. Both films tell the story of a mercenary for hire who pits two warring gangs against each other in a hellish small town in the middle of nowhere, but unlike director John Sturges Sergio Leone was pretty coy about it, refusing to give credit to Kurosawa for a film that many consider to be an almost shot-for-shot remake. Kurosawa was even quoted as saying, “It is a fine film, but it is my film.” In many ways it’s also Clint Eastwood’s: his dynamic performance as ‘The Man With No Name’ rocketed him to superstardom. Watch both films and the similarities are completely unmistakable – same plot, same characters, same shots – but Leone’s version is still an incredible action film in its own right, reinvigorating the western for decades to come with its violent, amoral take on a genre that had turned stodgy in the years preceding it.
3. The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), remade from every other Three Musketeers movie ever
The Three Musketeers has been remade more times than we’d care to count, from the flighty 1948 Gene Kelly version to Peter Hyams’ amazingly choreographed but poorly acted – and dimly shot – The Musketeer in 2001. (The Young Guns-ish 1993 version with Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen and Chris O’Donnell isn’t all that bad either.) But the best by far remains Richard Lester’s epic double feature. With the best cast ever assembled for a Musketeers adaptation – including Oliver Reed, Michael York, Charlton Heston and Faye Dunaway – Lester’s rollicking first film is as witty and exciting as a story about protecting an adulterous Queen’s honor could be (really witty and exciting, that is), and the second takes a daring dramatic turn as the world crumbles around our dashing heroes in a no holds barred climax. Michael York gets all the craziest choreography, darting around the sets like a handsome spider monkey, but it’s Oliver Reed who anchors the series as the melancholic leader, Athos. Oh yeah, and these movies are sexy as hell, with Raquel Welch camping it up as an adorably clumsy sexpot.
2. The Last of the Mohicans (1992), remade from The Last of the Mohicans (1936)
James Fenimore Cooper’s original adventure novel has been adapted more times than we can possibly remember, but that’s only because Michael Mann’s Last of the Mohicans is the most memorable version. Mann’s adaptation of the 1936 film version stars two-time Academy Award-winner Daniel Day Lewis in his only ‘movie star’ role to date as Hawkeye, a white man raised by Mohicans during the French-Indian War. Hawkeye refuses to join the war effort but is forced into battle after saving the two daughters of a British general from Magua, a Huron chief with a blood vendetta against their father. Magua’s played by Wes Studi, whose calm fury makes him one of the most best movie villains in history. “When the Grey Hair is dead, Magua will eat his heart. Before he dies, Magua will put his children under the knife, so the Grey Hair will know his seed is wiped out forever.” Damn, that’s harsh. The battle sequences are epic, Daniel Day-Lewis makes a dashing hero, and the thrilling final race against time is one of the most dramatic movie climaxes ever. The Last of the Mohicans is just plain one of the best adventure movies of all time. Maybe the best.
1. Casino Royale (2006), remade from Casino Royale (1966) and the Climax! episode ‘Casino Royale’ (1954)
Was there every any doubt? Martin Campbell’s pulse-pounding remake of Casino Royale put James Bond back on the map, taking the character seriously for the first time in decades with a pretty damned faithful retelling of Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel. Originally adapted as an absurd comedy with David Niven in 1966 and an all-but-forgotten episode of the 1950’s TV series Climax! that co-starred Peter Lorre as the villain LeChiffre, Campbell’s remake became an instant classic with its powerful combination of thrilling action sequences and note-perfect character work. Daniel Craig smoldered as 007, who over the course of the film becomes a hardened killer through torture and betrayal. From the breathless opening parkour chase to one of the craziest car crashes in history, Casino Royale made is the best Bond film yet, and it’s one of the best action movies ever made. Period.