The 5 Best Fantasy Film Remakes

As a rule remakes are rarely better than the original films.  Keeping in spirit how much I hated the 2014 remake of Godzilla (1954), I thought I would be positive this time and list Monsterminions’ five all-time favorite fantasy film remakes. I’ll follow up on my top five stinkers on a later date.

No. 1. The Ten Commandments (1956). De Mille’s opulent 3 hour and 40 minute remake of his 1923 silent epic improves in so many areas, although the silent is extraordinary with remarkable use of two-color process for key scenes including the parting of the Red Sea.  However, I prefer the colossal remake with rousing score by Elmer Bernstein, cinematography by Loyal Griggs (Shane, 1953), and visual effects led by John P. Fulton (The Invisible Man, 1933) and a bevy of other talents. Plus you have Heston, Brynner and a terrific supporting cast of veterans. Likewise, I also prefer William Wyler’s remake of Ben Hur (1959), which won 11 Oscars. Here are some shots from the 1923 film.

The Ten Commandments_1923_Moses

The Ten Commandments_1923_Red Sea

No. 2. Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). I saw this in a movie theater in Hammond, Indiana. Initially I was disappointed, because it featured a down-beat ending, but the film has improved with age and I now consider it to be outstanding and standing on its own merits. Don Siegel’s film (1956) was an allegory for outsider threat during the McCarthy era.  I’m seeing pure monster movie in the remake. I also like the cast with Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright and especially Leonard Nimoy who tries to rationalize the odd occurrences happening.

The remake was lensed by academy nominee Michael Chapman (Raging Bull, 1980). The film has a warm but unusual palette of greens and blues hinting of an urbanized landscape infected with an alien presence. I also love Ben Burtt’s (Star Wars, 1977) sound design for this film, which lends creepy aura with use of theremin (?) and other synthetic alien sounds.  Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) also employs the use of effective and scary prosthetic props, pods and transformations (no CGI in 1978! Yippee!). Yes, that’s Jerry Garcia playing the banjo with the boxer!

bottin_with thingNo. 3. John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). I missed this in the theater in 1982 and later watched it on an MCA Laserdisc.  The film blew me away. However, it’s really more of a faithful adaptation of John W.  Campbell Jr.’s Who Goes There? (1938) rather than a remake of the Howard Hawk’s film The Thing from Another World (1951). Nonetheless, it is usually considered a remake. I like the ’51 film better, but the Carpenter movie has improved with age and the creature effects are arguably some of the finest ever rendered. The FX were a successful collaboration of several artists including Rob Bottin, Roy Arbogast, Stan Winston and several others. Dean Cundey lensed the film, using wide shots to emphasize isolation. This is also accented with one of Ennio Morricone’s finest scores.

On a side note, I even liked the recent retread The Thing (2011), which extensively deployed the use of computer rendered graphics as well as some prop effects.  I guess it’s hard to make a bad alien in the ice vs. isolated people movie.

No. 4. Dawn of the Dead (2004). I was pleasantly surprised when I watched this when it came out. Even George Romero liked this film and Ebert gave it three stars. Zack Snyder is a talented director who is proponent of CGI (only Sucker Punch, 2011 misses for me). However, for Dawn of the Dead he opted for traditional makeup effects (there might be some CGI shots) but changed the pacing by having the zombies move like predators, rather than scavengers (a gimic used successfully in 28 Days Later, 2002).

I still like Romero’s original better, but the remake is excellent too.

No. 5. The original Hammer remakes of Dracula, FrankensteinThe Mummy, and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1950’s). These are all smashing remakes —no, better to say retelling of the Universal films. It’s hard to compare Horror of Dracula (1958) a remake of the Lugosi vehicle Dracula (1931), which was really a film adaptation of a stage play. The Hammer version is a better film. I also love Hammer’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), starring Peter Cushing as Holmes and André Morell as Watson, with Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville. For my tastes that film is right there with the Rathbone/Nigel Bruce classic. Some folks even prefer the British TVM film (1988) starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Tobe Hooper’s Invaders from Mars (1986).  Faithful homage to the 1953 Menzies’ classic.  I prefer the monsters in the remake.
  • Dino DeLaurentis’ King Kong (1976). I’m going to ruffle some feathers with this pick.  I’ve never thought this film gets a fair shake.  For my money it is far more entertaining than Peter Jackson’s inept and miscast 3 hour borefest.  So what if Kong is Rick Baker in an ape suit?  Except for a few terrible shots of a mechanical Kong, designed by Carlo Rambaldi, I like the monster in this film.  It looks like a big gorilla. It also features a wonderful score by John Barry and Oscar nominated cinematography by Richard Kline (The Andromeda Strain, 1971). I find more technical merit in designing big mechanical arms that pushing pixels on a computer.  Kudos to those guys that won an Oscar for Special achievement Award 1977.


  • The new Gamera films are all pretty good, including Gamera: The Brave (2006).  I like them a lot better than the Godzilla Millenium Series that came out of Toho during the same period, and they are generally well-constructed lively monster films with terrific man-in-suit and prosthetic special effects.
  • Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979). Werner Herzog’s solid and minimalistic retelling of the Murnau classic.

Next up the stinkers….


6 Responses to “The 5 Best Fantasy Film Remakes”

  1. Super article, Barry. I wholeheartedly agree with your “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers” and “The Thing” picks! As well as the great Hammer films. “Dawn Of The Dead”, while entertaining, wouldn`t make my cut, though. Your honorable mentions are interesting. I like the “Invaders From Mars” remake quite a bit myself. Cool, creepy monsters in it! And Louise Fletcher {“Nurse Ratchett” from “One Flew Over The Cuckoo`s Nest”} scarfing down a frog whole, too! ….what else do you possibly need to satisfy your monster movie cravings? LOL. You make some valid points about “King Kong” (1976) getting a raw deal BUT I do like the Peter Jackson 3-hour opus better. Not to say I don`t enjoy the `76 film on a different level! How can you NOT like Jessica Lange in a small dress? She was certainly a nice dish back in the day………major weakness of the `76 film: NO dinosaurs shown on Skull Island….only a giant snake! Which disappointed me as a kid when my dad took me to go see this at the drive-in when it came out and STILL sucks today! In my opinion the 1933 and 2005 films are much better.

    • Jackson’s Kong will be in my worst remakes list of all-time, although it has fans. Another plodding film with video game graphics and worse -a terrible cast. The only thing I liked about it was the short b/w stop-motion recreation of The Spider Pit scene, available as a supplement. I like the Dawn of the Dead remake, but perhaps a reach at top 5.

      • I thought the graphics in “King Kong” were pretty well done. I`m shocked at how you dislike them. As far as the cast goes, I thought it was a mixed bag at best. I feel Adrian Brody was acceptable. Naomi Watts was good for the most part. In her defense, she will always be in Fay Wray`s shadow! The supporting cast minor players I thought were good. My BIG problem was the casting of JACK BLACK as Carl Denham. Decent actor in the right roles and types of films (comedies/dramas) but he was an inappropriate choice by Jackson for this version. He was very annoying in too many scenes. Good music score I thought! The creature effects I LOVED in the movie! One of the better uses of CGI done since 2000. Compare it to the junk shown on the SYFY Channel today….just saying! The spider pit sequence was excellently done! Very creepy and unsettling.

      • Dan is the extended version of Kong which has additional prehistoric creatures worth watching?

        From Barry’s iPhone


  2. Perry Armstrong Says:

    One more vote of support for the 1976 ‘King Kong’, being the only version of the story to elicit a genuine emotional response from me (aided in no small part by John Barry’s superb score).

  3. Dan Brenneis Says:

    Barry- so sorry it took 3 LONG years to answer ya back about the KIng Kong extended version and the creature scenes….sadly I have never seen the extended cut nor do I own it on disc (yet) Here`s hoping those added elements help the film.

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