As we all should know by now, remakes are all the rage these days. In lieu of taking a risk on a new idea, Hollywood would much rather revisit an existing property with a built-in fan base. This mindset applies not only to films, but also to popular TV shows. We’ve seen it numerous times before, and we’re about to see it once again with the Fantasy Island flick hitting theaters. These rarely ever work, and it’s easy to see why. After devoting years of your life to a favorite series, you grow attached to the world and characters on a much deeper level than you would when watching a two-hour movie.
As such, it’s particularly hard to capture the same magic when a new rendition comes along, be it on the big or small screen. Oftentimes, the creators either get bogged down doing a pale imitation or miss the point of the original work entirely. However, some filmmakers manage to find a balance, pleasing longstanding fans while achieving something that succeeds in its own right. If you’re still reading, then you agree that these diamonds in the rough should be appreciated for their accomplishments. Below are some of the very films and TV shows that managed to take an old, beloved blanket and weave an equally appealing quilt.
10. George of the Jungle (1997 Film)
Live-action versions of cartoons rarely have the same visual flair, as you lose much of the vibrancy and expressiveness of the animation and diminish the humor as a result. This film manages to buck that trend. Through Raimi-esque direction, streamlined production design, amusing characters, and an enthusiastic cast led by the superbly charming Brendan Fraser, the movie mostly retains the zany delight of the titular Tarzan spoof.
Any limitations in the format are offset by a healthy helping of self-awareness. The writers act like the fourth wall isn’t even there, constantly poking fun at the story with hilarious results, and it’s sold brilliantly by the over-dramatic narrator and tongue-in-cheek performances. Yeah, the script occasionally goes for the low-brow gag that makes you groan, but those groans are outweighed by the number of laughs you’ll get. It’s like watching a cartoon come to life, but not in a way that makes you feel insulted. Rather than being spoken down to, the audience is always in on the joke, which is exactly what you want in a comedy.
9. Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998 Film)
There’s something to be said for a franchise that’s lasted as long as Scooby Doo. Despite such endurance, the creative well was running dry in the 1990s, with the most high-profile appearance of Mystery Inc. being on an episode of Johnny Bravo. That all changed with this film. Placing Scooby and the gang in the midst of ominous swamps, ancient rituals, and real zombie pirates, this tale goes about as dark as you can go with the property without it becoming unrecognizable. The animation is more expressive and even horrific at times. The movie is more creative in its use of shadows, darkened colors, and ominous angles. The characters are developed as individuals, having pursued their own careers and become more cynical about monster mysteries. The well-executed plot twists cause an already creepy mystery to become downright morbid. These factors lend a level of maturity and sense of unsettling significance that was unheard of for Scooby Doo at the time. It was clear that this wasn’t just any old caper that the gang was tackling.
Even with this foreboding novelty, though, the film distinguishes itself through its faith in the formula. Zombie Island, despite its emphasis on real monsters, largely forgoes the gimmicks of prior Scooby Doo works and takes things back to basics. Mystery Inc. is back together; they don’t have any guest stars weighing them down; and the mystery that they’re unraveling is both well-constructed and interesting. At the end of the day, that is what really matters here, and it goes to show that you don’t always have to reinvent the mold. You can do what’s been done before as long as you do it well.
8. Lost in Space (2018 TV Series)
This is easily the best-looking show on Netflix. The sweeping landscapes, imposing extraterrestrial phenomenons, grandiose camerawork, and nearly seamless blend of CGI and practical effects put many blockbuster movies to shame and really hammer home the idea of embarking on a galactic adventure. However, all of that flash would be for naught without the substance at the center: the endearing endurance of the Robinson family.
To some members of today’s society, the concept of a nuclear family may seem like a bygone idea. By extension, a premise that’s essentially Swiss Family Robinson in space could come across as obsolete to cynical audiences. The creators of this series are perfectly aware of that and set out to update the formula while preserving its essence. In this version, the Robinson family is portrayed a little differently. For instance, the eldest daughter is adopted, so her relationship with her parents is slightly more guarded than her younger siblings. Also, the father has been away due to military service. Not only is he trying to reconnect and make up for lost time, but his wife and children must readjust to this new dynamic after having to operate without him for so long.
These changes help to modernize the show, but the creators still maintain the uplifting message about family sticking together through thick and thin. Through all the trials and tribulations, the Robinsons constantly find a way to persevere and strengthen their familial bond. Sure, the writing can be corny at times, but it has a charming innocence about it that’s sold well by the actors, all of whom are convincing as members of this tightknit group. In short, there are plenty of worse people to be lost in space with.
7. The Fugitive (1993 Film)
Although it may lack the ongoing suspense and subtlety in the characterization of the show, this is still an intense ride that succeeds in telling the core story in a condensed fashion without sacrificing the drama or mystery. Ironically enough, however, much of the success comes from everything surrounding the titular fugitive rather than the fugitive himself. Harrison Ford is fine enough as protagonist Dr. Richard Kimble, but he’s basically a variation on the irritable everyman he always is. The real star here is Tommy Lee Jones as Gerard. He’s condescending, unwavering, passionate, and charismatically dry. In short, you can’t take your eyes off him. Most of the film’s drama comes from him slowly unraveling the caper, as he’s a far more magnetic screen presence and engrossing character than Ford’s hero, harkening back to the hardboiled detectives of yesteryear while making the role entirely his own. This makes him ideal as a centerpiece.
The movie’s style echoes its film noir roots, the atmospheric lighting, slick script, and taut editing selling the apprehension. Combining this with the higher production values of a feature film allows for a heightened sense of peril, particularly with the stunts and the presentation, without becoming too over the top. The same goes for the updated time period, which is used to tell the story through more modern technology and tactics, but the filmmakers never take it far enough to forfeit the believability or mystique. The Fugitive confidently asserts itself as a skillful whodunit with a splash of urban ‘90s noir, delivering exactly what you would want in a contemporary, streamlined retelling of a mystery show.
6. 21 Jump Street (2012 Film) & 22 Jump Street (2014 Film)
Taking the premise of a boyish cop undercover as a high school student, which was already ridiculous, and bringing it into the modern era is such a stupid idea that it should have been a failure from the get-go. Luckily, filmmakers Phil Lord and Chris Miller specialize in fashioning gold from dirt. They are fully aware that audiences are going to roll their eyes from the start, so they use that as an opportunity for self-aware humor and frantically foul-mouthed fun.
These films scoff at the archetypes generally found in high school and college movies, appropriately playing up the characters’ surprise as they navigate an unfamiliar social hierarchy. In addition, the filmmakers also take effective shots at various clichés found in action flicks and their uninspired sequels. To top it all off, the humor is carried by the unexpectedly charming duo of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. In short, these two comedies are much cleverer than they have any business being.
5. DuckTales (2017 TV Series)
Much like with Lost in Space, it’s tough to tell a wholesome family adventure story in today’s jaded age without coming off as cheesy or condescending. This remake of the popular Disney Afternoon show skillfully preserves that sense of innocent adventure while mixing it with a quick wit, producing a sharply written update that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults. As many jokes as there are, very few of them feel forced, pandering, or insulting. Most are chuckle-worthy remarks which arise naturally from each situation, teetering on the edge of self-awareness without ever going so far as to pull you out of the experience.
As silly as it sounds, the series is not afraid to get serious with its band of cartoon birds. The script adds more character depth to Scrooge McDuck and his family than you might expect, and nowhere is this more beneficial than with Donald Duck’s nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie. The triplets all have distinctive personalities and motivations for traveling the world. You can actually tell them apart! The fact that they, along with the rest of the characters, are so well defined ensures the morals of each tale are delivered more potently and believably.
However, perhaps the most noteworthy aspect that sets this show apart from the original is the addition of Della Duck, voiced with infectious gusto by Paget Brewster. As the long-lost sister of Donald Duck and inexperienced mother to his nephews, she adds a fresh dynamic that not only helps to differentiate this show from its predecessor, but also makes nearly every scene she’s in simultaneously hilarious and heartwarming. How appropriate. The balance between those two traits sums up this series in a nutshell.
4. Hawaii Five-0 (2010 TV Series)
If there’s one thing that CBS seems to specialize in (aside from bad sitcoms), it’s police procedurals, and they’ve used that specialty to halfheartedly resurrect various crime shows from yesteryear. However, the series that started this trend is the surprisingly fun remake of Hawaii Five-O. Although it suffers some of the same pitfalls as other American crime dramas on network TV, such as rapid-fire detective work and the occasional bombastic action scene, it transcends these flaws through the strength of its characters and use of location.
Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan’s amusing chemistry definitely helps them fill the shoes of McGarrett and Danno, bickering like an old married couple yet harboring profound respect for one another. To keep things fresh, they’re supported by a revolving door of other likable stars, ensuring that the team dynamic never becomes too stale. What’s more is that Hawaii remains a prime setting and is utilized often in the story. With its cultural history, exotic locales, and strong ties to the US Navy, the island essentially functions as a character in itself. All of this lends a great deal of personality to what could have easily been just another generic cop show.
3. The Untouchables (1987 Film)
It may not be the most subtle crime flick out there, particularly when it comes to the music and Robert De Niro’s hammy acting, but this remains a well-constructed, earnest, and engaging account of Eliot Ness’s war on Al Capone. On top of benefitting from the formidable screen duo of Sean Connery and Kevin Costner, the movie tells a fascinating story about the ugliness that arises from dealing with the criminal underworld. What are you prepared to do? How far are you willing to go? These questions inform the script and are represented appropriately by the various twists and turns throughout the narrative.
It’s tough to play it safe when dealing with such merciless crooks. As such, Ness slowly comes to terms with whom he must become when combatting this dangerous world, creating a compelling character arc and giving the tale plenty of thematic resonance along the way. When Capone finally goes down, the satisfaction comes less from his defeat and more from the hope that the Untouchables can finally find peace.
2. Maverick (1994 Film)
You could make the argument about whether this is really a remake or a continuation, especially considering original star James Garner’s presence in the cast. Despite that, this is clearly director Richard Donner’s story and his take on Brett Maverick. It’s a fun little tale that carries itself with casual charm. As the characters make their way to a big-time poker tournament, they constantly try to swindle each other in increasingly elaborate ways with increasingly hilarious results. A big part of this success comes from the charisma of Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, and the aforementioned Garner.
What makes it even funnier is that the sets, costumes, camerawork, and music are all on the level of a straight period piece. When you hear the anachronistic quips and generally easygoing attitude that permeate the film, it makes for such a wacky and oddly engaging contrast that it’s hard not to be swept up in the adventure with these smooth-talking gamblers. The vast majority of westerns in the last few decades have been violent, joyless affairs. Maverick subverts that trend with its sharp sense of humor and narrative sleight of hand. More impressively, Donner and company make it look easy.
1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982 Film)
Again, this may be more of a narrative continuation than a traditional remake, but after the bizarrely pretentious misfire of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, this follow-up effectively reestablishes the tone and dynamic that fans had grown up with. Widely hailed as the best Trek flick and the first true big-screen success of the franchise, The Wrath of Khan is a love letter to the original series that also tells a deeply personal tale about past mistakes and forging a new future. The script brilliantly develops its band of galactic explorers and their titular foe as they deal with being beyond their prime, ultimately deciding what to do with the rest of their lives and what kind of legacy they want to leave behind.
Such poignant material is given further weight by the cast, whose experience allows them to slip naturally back into their characters with graceful subtlety and introspective soulfulness. This is especially the case with Ricardo Montalbán. His electrifying performance as the titular villain just oozes charisma and authority, his seething anger and passion combining seamlessly with his sharply measured demeanor to make him a force to be reckoned with whenever he’s onscreen. Thus, his conflict with Kirk is given a Shakespearean reverence by Nicholas Meyer’s operatic direction, making every victory and defeat equally palpable. Even with all of this flair, however, the film never loses sight of what made Star Trek so beloved in the first place. The themes of new life arising from past struggles and letting go of previous grievances echo Gene Roddenberry’s hopeful vision of the future, and it’s this hope that sticks with you even after all of the hardship and sacrifice. Though the film boldly goes where no Trek tale had gone before, it thankfully continues its mission of optimism throughout the film frontier.
Do you agree with this list? Which TV adaptations do you think rank among the best? Feel free to share your thoughts below.
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