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Take two! Movie remakes we love — and hate

"Ocean's 11" and "The Thing" improved on their originals, but "Karate Kid" and "Planet of the Apes" flopped.
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Two movies with familiar titles hit theaters this week. "Footloose" is indeed a remake of the 1984 Kevin Bacon dance film, while "The Thing" is really a prequel to John Carpenter's 1984 horror classic. (Why the same title, if it's a prequel? Hollywood is confusing.)

Specific titles aside, mention the words "movie remake" and most people have a fairly negative reaction. Hollywood's lazy, many fans moan. Why are there no original ideas anymore? Leave our classic memories alone!

But the individual films can surprise you. Sometimes they take a whole new twist on an old favorite or even improve on a cheeseball classic. Other times, they're as bad as we feared, and the words "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" go ringing through our minds.

We asked a few movie writers to share their favorite — or least favorite — movie remake.

'The Thing'
Yes, the prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 movie "The Thing" is coming out this week.  Carpenter's movie itself was a remake of a 1951 film, Howard Hawks' "The Thing From Another World." And for my money, it's the best remake out there, of any film, ever.

Carpenter's classic follows a group of scientists at an isolated polar base who stumble across an alien frozen in the ice — and when they wake it up, it's not exactly friendly. "Thing From Another World" is a fine film on its own merits, still thrilling and creepy half a century later. But 1950s special-effects couldn't possibly do justice to the novella's villain, a frighteningly unstoppable shape-changing monster. Carpenter, along with obsessive effects wizard Rob Bottin, had the tools and the imagination to get it right. Kurt Russell makes a perfect grizzled, distrusting hero for a story about not knowing who to trust. Ennio Morricone's soundtrack is wonderfully icy and subtle. And unlike a lot of horror movies, "The Thing" never falls prey to making the characters behave stupidly just to get a cheap shock — it's remarkably well-crafted, delivering big as a gut-level scarefest and a psychological thriller. —Christopher Bahn

'Ocean’s Eleven'
Perhaps the best remake of a beloved movie that wasn’t a particularly good original is Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 “Ocean’s Eleven,” a remake of the 1960 Rat Pack epic. When we think of the glory days of the Rat Pack, we think about the music and the Vegas show and JFK and any number of things before we recall the Pack’s cinematic ventures like “Ocean’s Eleven” or “Robin and the Seven Hoods.” And that’s because those movies are long, and kind of boring, and not particularly memorable.

So when Soderbergh announced his remake 40 years later, most moviegoers, if they remembered the Sinatra version at all, did so with a hazy and nonspecific sort of good will — the property was familiar, but only the most die-hard of old-school ring-a-ding-dingers felt particularly attached to it. It helped, obviously, that the Soderbergh movie was a terrific caper flick on its own, assembling a new millennial pack of beloved stars (George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Bernie Mac) for a high-tech robbery of three of the swankiest casinos on the Vegas strip. If you don’t know the original “Ocean’s Eleven,” it’s a movie that hits all the right bells and whistles on its own, and if you have seen the 1960 version, odds are you probably prefer the 2001 movie and its own brand of thrills and laughs. —Alonso Duralde

'Karate Kid'
“The Karate Kid” is one of the definitive films of the 1980s movie canon, as much a part of that generation as Cabbage Patch Kids, Transformers and those “One to Grow On” PSAs that accompanied Saturday morning cartoons. It includes the best music montage ever (nobody ever has matched the magic of “You’re the Best"). It boasts the best sports competition ever. (What an amazing coincidence that Daniel LaRusso had to fight every one of his Cobra Kai enemies along the way!) It also features some of the best quotes in moviedom ("Sweep the leg," "Wax on ... wax off"), as well as one of the greatest villains in Billy Zabka's Johnny Lawrence.

The 2010 remake changed the scenery and moved everything to China. Jackie Chan is always delightful, and Jaden Smith (son of Will and Jada) was fine. If you hadn’t seen the original, you probably thought that this was an OK film. But for those who did … it could never measure up. There’s only one “Karate Kid,” and Daniel LaRusso’s crane kick resonates more powerfully today than any attempts to remake it. —Craig Berman

'Planet of the Apes'
Yes, the original "Planet of the Apes" was no "Citizen Kane." But did those maniacs really have to blow up our memories? Damn them all to remake hell! Sure, the ape getups in the 2001 sequel look less like they were bought off the Toys R Us discount shelf during the prop guy's lunch break than the original outfits. But when I watched that 1968 film (over and over again on Saturday afternoons back when we got only five channels), I cared about Cornelius and Zira and the rest. I can't say the same for their modern equivalents.

Mark Wahlberg is no Charlton Heston. And the ending? Let's just say the Lincoln Memorial is no Statue of Liberty. When will they quit monkeying around with our memories? —Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

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