Bill Nighy's Oscar nomination and the top 10 movie remakes of all time

From Nighy's performance in Living to Martin Scorsese's crime drama The Departed, here are the times Hollywood remakes got it right

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Once upon a time, "remake" was a dirty word in Hollywood, usually symbolising an inferior retread of a beloved classic. But these days, it seems filmmakers have got a grip, and come to understand how to take a film and improve upon it.

As a case in point, this awards season, Bill Nighy has earned both Oscar and Bafta nominations for his role in Living, a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru. Here is our pick of the other best remakes ever made.

Dune: Part One (2021)

A troubled production led David Lynch to practically disown his 1984 version of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi blockbuster novel. Denis Villeneuve, on the other hand, created a masterpiece. Delivering a six-time Oscar winner, a perfect symphony of visual effects, performance and Hans Zimmer’s score, Villeneuve turned Jordan and Abu Dhabi into the shimmering desert planet of Arrakis.

Part Two, which is due this November, will have fans pumped to see Timothee Chalamet return as Paul Atreides, the heir of a noble family haunted by disturbing visions. The Lynch film has now been consigned to history.

The Departed (2006)

Martin Scorsese is no stranger to remakes, turning the 1962 noir Cape Fear with Robert Mitchum into a (slightly) over-the-top tale with Robert De Niro as vengeful ex-con Max Cady. But it was his reboot of the 2002 Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, which featured Andy Lau and Tony Leung, that truly produced a classic — and, finally, won him a Best Director Oscar.

Leonardo DiCaprio is the cop and Matt Damon the crim, both in deep cover, though it’s Jack Nicholson as mob boss Frank Costello who steals the show. The original was great, but this was stellar.

Living (2022)

Tackling any Akira Kurosawa film is fraught with danger, but Oliver Hermanus’s Living is a beautiful, poignant take on the Japanese maestro’s 1952 movie Ikiru. Adapted by acclaimed novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, who elegantly transposed the action from Tokyo to 1950s London, the parallels between these two island nations, and the reserved qualities of those that live there, loom large.

Filling the void left by original star Takashi Shimura, Bill Nighy is also a marvel as Williams, the bureaucrat who sets out to leave a legacy when he discovers he has months to live.

The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway brought panache to the 1968 original, a tale of a heist-pulling criminal and the insurance investigator on his tail. Yet, at a time when Hollywood remakes generally had a bad rep, John McTiernan’s 1999 version, with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, was rightly applauded as superior.

Stylish and suave, it even paid due tribute to its predecessor by casting Dunaway. A thoroughly slick and entertaining experience.

The Thing (1982)

Originally a 1951 B movie, The Thing From Another World, inspired by John W Campbell’s novella Who Goes There?, this story of a team in the Arctic who discover a frozen alien life form was reanimated by horror maestro John Carpenter.

Oddly, the film was a critical flop on release, but over the years, its status as one of the all-time-greats has grown exponentially. An Ennio Morricone score, Kurt Russell at his grisly best and Rob Bottin’s staggering creature effects all contribute, but it's Carpenter’s masterful control of tension that wins out.

Insomnia (2002)

Christopher Nolan’s reputation was already growing thanks to his second film Memento, but he truly stepped up to the plate with his next movie. A rigorous, intelligent take on the 1997 Norwegian crime thriller starring Stellan Skarsgard, Nolan recruited Al Pacino to play the cop haunted by guilt and unable to sleep as he faces near-constant daylight in the wilds of Alaska while on a murder investigation.

With Pacino offering one of his more low-key turns, it was the late, great Robin Williams, playing the creepy antagonist, who elevated this to something ice-cool.

Scarface (1983)

Arguably one of the most influential remakes of all time. The 1932 original, starring Paul Muni as an Al Capone-inspired Chicago gangster was a lean, mean Howard Hawks-directed production.

When Brian De Palma got his hands on it, casting Al Pacino as a Cuban immigrant turned Miami mobster Tony Montana, he created a tale of excess that would inspire hip-hop artists (see rapper Scarface) and moviemakers (see New Jack City, with Wesley Snipes) for years to come. Phrases such as “Say hello to my little friend” have become embedded in the public consciousness.

The Fly (1986)

Like Carpenter’s The Thing, David Cronenberg re-worked a black-and-white B movie, Kurt Neumann’s 1957 effective sci-fi/horror, in which a scientist turned into a human/fly hybrid after an experiment goes wrong.

Cronenberg notched up the gore and black humour, giving Jeff Goldblum one of his most definitive roles (until Jurassic Park) as eccentric boffin Seth Brundle. Cronenberg’s biggest hit of the 1980s, it flipped the Neumann film on its head to create a visceral story about mankind’s hubris run amok. The scene involving the acidic fly "vomit" is still unforgettable.

True Grit (2010)

The Coen brothers have always been directors who trade in idiosyncratic originals. But if you’re going to do a remake, you might as well take on a stone-cold classic. That being Henry Hathaway’s 1969 Western, starring John Wayne as the US marshal Rooster Cogburn, the film that won the actor his only ever Oscar.

Jeff Bridges takes over the role, sent by a young girl to pursue the outlaw who killed her father. Roger Deakins’s cinematography, meanwhile, perfectly captures the Wild West at its dusty best.

West Side Story (2021)

In advance of Steven Spielberg’s remake, critics were sceptical about the director taking on the seemingly peerless 1961 film, which came from the Romeo and Juliet-inspired Broadway show.

But Spielberg was at his most inventive with this tale of rival New York gangs, delivering thrilling song-and-dance sequences. So much so, other directors were off their chairs applauding. Guillermo del Toro called it “intoxicating, Heisenberg-level pure, uncut Cinema”, the perfect way to describe this musical masterpiece.

Updated: March 01, 2023, 5:55 AM