Original and Remakes.

  • Sorcerer (1977) over Wages of Fear (1953). I like Sorcerer better because it’s a more complex, fleshed out film. The ending also has a bigger impact over the original French film, and I think Roy Scheider gives an elegiac performance.

  • La Femme Nikita (1990) over Point of No Return (1993). American remakes of European films are generally abhorrent rejects that can’t touch the original for suspense, morally mixed characters, and ambiguous endings. That’s on display in spades here, with Besson’s Nikita being brilliant from beginning to end, while the American version is hollow and droll.

  • The Day of the Jackal (1973) over The Jackal (1997). The former is an almost documentary like thriller, while the latter is muddled and silly, with Richard Gere doing a bad Irish brogue.

  • Dial M for Murder (1954) over A Perfect Murder (1998). But just barely. You can’t beat Milland and Kelly, but the recent version with Douglas, Paltrow and Mortensen is about as good of a run as you could make.

  • The Island of Lost Souls (1933) over The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996). Dude, Brando has gotten weird since about 1970. That nuttiness works wonders in Apocalypse Now, but it does nothing but hinder this attempt to remake the classic (from H.G. Wells’ novel).

  • Get Carter (1971) over Get Carter (2000). Sly Stallone thought he could put his career back on track by remaking this revenge thriller. They even got Michael Caine (who brilliantly stars in the first) to have a cameo. The American version is DOA.

  • The Getaway (1994) over The Getaway (1972). Some will probably consider this heresy, but I like the chemistry between Baldwin and Basinger better than that of McQueen and McGraw. That’s just me though.

  • Insomnia (2002) over Insomnia (1997). The European version is a heady philosophical piece. The American remake is a more physical, action-oriented version of the same material. I like it more, especially since it gives us Pacino’s best work in a decade.

  • The Mummy (1999) over The Mummy (1932). I like the tongue-in-cheek humor of the recent version of this better than the plodding heaviness that is in the version starring Karloff.

  • Dracula (1992) over Draucla (1931) Francis Ford Coppola gets the romantic angle (tied up in Dracula’s long history) much better than Tod Browning. Also, given the state of technology and effects, Coppola’s looks so much better. Still, it’s hard not to love Legosi’s characterization of the Count.

  • Nosferatu (1922) equals Nosferatu (1979). The silent version by Murnau is hypnotic, but Werner Herzog matches the intensity with his own retelling. I like both for what they achieve: a really creepy vampire and a sad tale of horror.

  • Yojimbo (1961) over Fistful of Dollars (1964) over Last Man Standing (1996). Kurosawa and Mifune’s version is a bit better than Leone and Eastwood, but not by much. Both are vastly superior to Bruce Willis’s plodding vehicle (though I dig Walken’s nut bag killer).

  • For a Few Dollars More (1965) over Sanjuro (1962). In the respective sequels, I go with Leone’s slightly less campy Western, but again, they’re close in quality.

  • Seven Samurai (1954) equals The Magnificent Seven (1960) Both are classics in their own right. Mifune powers through the original, but the latter has better humor and chemistry among the ensemble cast.

  • The Thing (1982) over The Thing: From Another World (1951). But just barely. I liked the Hawks version quite a bit, but Carpenter’s remake is a bit more gritty and I love its ending, which makes perfect sense.

  • The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) over The Thomas Crown Affair (1999). The latter (with that steamy love scene between Brosnan and Russo) seemed to be right on track to be as good, if not better, than the McQueen and Dunaway version, but the last half-hour, and the stupid ending, ruin it completely.

  • Open Your Eyes (1997) over Vanilla Sky (2001) The European version is a little grittier, and the main characters are a bit more flawed. That makes the philosophical points more interesting, although Cameron Crowe does a pretty good job with the American version.

  • Alexander (2004) over Alexander the Great (1956) This gets more into the re-making of a myth, rather than a direct re-make. Still, they're close enough in narrative structure to fit the bill. Neither version is particularly stunning, though Stone's visual artistry lends itself to the material better. It's interesting to note that each version goes for a love triangle, but different ones; Robert Rossen's goes for the Oedipul complex, while Stone heads for the homoerotic. Different generations, different interests, I guess...

  • Frankenstein (1931) over Frankenstein (1994) The former is a pretty good example of the early horror genre; straightforward attempts at chills and thrills. The latter is a silly, overly complex, and ridiculous piece of crap.

  • Godzilla (1954) over Godzilla (1998) True, the Japanese original is often over-the-top and unintnetionally funny; but at its heart, it cleverly identifies the fear of the Atomic Age for a generation of people who had just witnessed the bomb in action. The latter American film has none of the fear in it, and for all its big-budget cast and special effects, it's dead at its core.

  • Assault on Precint 13 (1979) over Assault on Precint 13 (2005) The John Carpenter orginial is a gritty thriller with the faceless mob as the enemy (and that works). The re-make feels like it has to add a layered plot, which is a huge mistake because it careens out of control very quickly.

  • The Italian Job (2003) over The Italian Job (1969) The original is a strange mix of bright, hippie-influenced 60's colors grafted onto a fairly confused and tame thriller. The remake is a fairly convincing and more serious take on the material, while still keeping some of the light, breezy style.

  • Scarface (1983) over Scarface (1932) Maybe not by a ton, but I think De Palma's version is grittier since it's not so obviously taken from Capone's life. Pacino gives another great performance, and the remake has seeped its way into popular culture (rap/hip-hop, sports, etc.) in a way that few movies do.

  • Once a Thief (1991) over Once a Thief (1996) While the original isn't all that great, the American version (made for TV) is awful. Strangely, these are both directed by John Woo.

  • The Killers (1946) over The Killers (1964) Like the two Italian Jobs, these films aren't strictly remakes because they make big changes to the plot. In this case, the '46 film-noir version with Burt Lancaster is just a little bit better than the '64 version starring Lee Marvin. Scary thing about that latter one? It's Ronald Reagan's last film, and he looked the exact same when he got elected president over 15 years later.

  • Gaslight (1944) over Gaslight (1940) No offense to the original, which is a fine British adaptation of a then recently hit play, but the American version four years later has much higher production values, and better people associated with it (George Cukor directing, a cast with Joseph Cotten, Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer and Angela Lansbury). More importantly, the American re-make doesn't drastically change the plot or characters, so it works out pretty well.
Author Comments: 

Which do you like better, the original or the remake? Here’s a small list to get the discussion started. I look forward to other people’s responses to these, as well as other pairings they have seen and which they like more.

Great list, reminiscent of bertie's copycat movies list or UncRoger's shorter remakes list. I'm psyched to see Sorcerer get the nod, as I was amazed at how good it was despite my never having heard of it. I think I also prefer it to Wages of Fear (I review them both here; I saw Wages first).

A technical note: if you want to suppress the bullets at the beginning of your "comments" lines, put an underscore at the beginning. For example:

_I like Sorcerer better... [snip]

That bullet suppression is good to know. Thanks.

It's good to finally find someone who agrees on the Sorcerer/Wages of Fear thing. Every critic I've ever heard of talk about both absolutely rips SSorcerer as a weak rip-off, which I don't understand. I think it has a little to do with the fact that Friedken went the more physical route over the existential philosophy. I just think Sorcerer is better in every way.

Have you seen either version of The Italian Job ? I've never seen the original, but the remake was a riot. Although I read it wasn't really a remake - completely different plot. Same basic premise, though, young thief with older mentor, big heist.

I haven't seen either. I hear they are both good in their own ways.

The other thing I want to track down is the British version of The Bourne Identity (1988), a made-for-TV thing.

Wages of Fear and Sorceror certainly is an interesting comparison. You're right about the critics hating Friedkin's film, and I'm sure the circumstances of making it and releasing it didn't help; if you've never read Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls there is a great section on the making of Sorceror and Friedkin's slow spiralling out of control. I like both films quite a bit because they seem to be going for different things. Both create great tense atmospheres, but I thoroughly enjoyed the barely repressed homoeroticism in Wages of Fear, something that was missing for the most part in Sorceror. Those French...

Johnny Waco

I'd like to read Biskind's book; I've heard it's a page-turner.