Breathless (1983): It takes giant, swelling cajones to remake Jean-Luc Godard’s visionary breakthrough, and even bigger ones to replace Jean-Paul Belmondo with Richard Gere. Jim McBride (of the Francophilic ’60s mockdoc David Holzman’s Diary) had them. His secret: Aim for a similar reckless energy but make the material his own. Beginning with switching the nationalities—Gere’s two-bit crook gallivants with a French hottie in L.A.—his Breathless is its own thing: the Silver Surfer, not Bogie, is worshipped, our hoodlum is manic not laconic and the original’s stylistic tics aren’t even attempted. It even devises a different, nearly-equally-awesome capper.
City of Angels (1998): Of course, unfaithful remakes aren’t always a good idea. Ethereal and stubbornly arty, Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire also has a doozy of a romance plot: An angel falls for a human and wishes to cross over. It was only so long before some shameless sadist seized upon it; when they did, the results were gruesome: Nic Cage shooting moony eyes toward Meg Ryan, plus a completely unearned twist ending.
Ocean’s Eleven (2001): “It’s a movie fondly remembered by all who haven’t seen it,” Steven Soderbergh said of the 1960 Rat Pack original. The solution: make an actually entertaining all-star caper.
Swept Away (2002): Lina Wertmuller’s 1974 political powder keg becomes a vanity project for marrieds Madonna and Guy Ritchie. Let’s move on.
The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009): Furious that Werner Herzog was remaking his scintillating 1992 original, Abel Ferrara said he hoped the makers “die in hell” and “are all in the same streetcar and it blows up.” Herzog responded by saying he’d never seen the original and didn’t know who Ferrara was. Believe it: The only similarities between both films is the title and a lieutenant who is not good.
The Housemaid (2010): A delirious psychodrama about a family rocked by a horny maid, 1960’s The Housemaid is possibly the most cherished film in South Korean history—which is why Im Sang-soo’s remake completely inverses its setup, essentially doing the opposite. If only that had been a good idea ...