How Will ‘Road House’ Stack Up Against Other Successful Remakes?

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Photo Source: Laura Radford/Prime Video

The release of “Road House,” a remake of Rowdy Herrington’s 1989 cult hit of the same name, is stirring up excitement and questions alike for fans of the original. 

How will Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of the well-educated bouncer measure up to that by beloved Patrick Swayze? Will the new movie feature as many quotable lines? Will “Road House” land on the list of successful reboots, or will it end up, like so many before it, unappreciated and unwelcome? As legendary screenwriter William Goldman once succinctly wrote of the film biz, “Nobody knows anything.”

But there are some things we can glean from some of the most successful remakes of all time. Start with a master of the craft at the helm—or, at least, a rock-solid one—who has a proven track record directing films of the same genre. Then, give them plenty of creative latitude and a sizable budget. And hopefully, the director will be working from a strong screenplay. Finally, if there’s state-of-the-art movie magic that will heighten the original and help it come to life, then you just might have a hit on your hands.

There are two popular myths regarding remakes: The original needs to have been successful in its own right, and a certain amount of time must pass before the second swing. In reality, neither seems to have any true predictive power—see less-than-successful updates of classics like “Footloose,” “Carrie,” “Fame,” and “Psycho.”

But there is a common trait among hit remakes: The new version has to have a good reason to exist—an updated story, a new twist, better CGI—that goes beyond mere brand recognition.

Here, we dive into some of the most successful remakes in cinematic history to uncover the formula behind their triumph.

Remake: “His Girl Friday” (1940), dir. Howard Hawks

Original: “The Front Page” (1931), dir. Lewis Milestone

“His Girl Friday” has been lauded for its fast-paced dialogue, sharp wit, and strong performances from leads Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Oddly—unlike its source material—it didn’t get any Oscar nominations but has since entered the canon of the greatest cinematic comedies of all time. Hawks’ remake of Milestone’s “The Front Page,” itself an adaptation of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1928 play, brilliantly reimagines scrappy reporter Hildy Johnson as a woman (Russell), turning the original’s staid, boys’-club tension into a love-hate rom-com between Hildy and her editor (Grant), who also happens to be her ex-husband.

Reason to remake: Hawks and screenwriter Charles Lederer spun a serviceable tale into sassy, proto-feminist cinematic gold. 

Remake: “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001), dir. Steven Soderbergh

Original: “Ocean’s Eleven” (1960), dir. Lewis Milestone

This reboot of Milestone’s heist classic about getting the old gang back together earned over $450 million globally. It may seem like a tall order to recreate the movie-star magic conjured by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Angie Dickinson. But you have to hand it to George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, and Julia Roberts: Their performances outshine the original. Thanks to his chameleonic superpowers, Soderbergh resurrects and improves the wit and thrills of the original, creating an infectiously fun film that outplays its predecessor with every hand.

Reason to remake: Good bones—a stylish heist run by an ensemble of dashing A-listers—are worth reimagining if a director has the courage to do so.

Remake: “The Departed” (2006), dir. Martin Scorsese

Original: “Infernal Affairs” (2002), dir. Andrew Lau and Alan Mak

This American remake of Hong Kong action thriller “Infernal Affairs” grossed $291.5 million worldwide and won four Academy Awards, including best picture and best director. Scorsese, the grandmaster of mob dramas (“Mean Streets,” “Goodfellas”) gives a master class in his Boston-set retelling of Lau and Mak’s violent tale about a showdown between a gangster mole (Matt Damon) inside the Massachusetts State Police force and an undercover cop embedded in the Irish mob (Leonardo DiCaprio). “The Departed” changes the setting without taking anything away from the original, and the two films stand on their own. 

Reason to remake: A true maestro has the right to dabble in the work of other directors—and Scorsese doesn’t disappoint, while adding Hollywood heft.

Remake: “The Lion King” (2019), dir. Jon Favreau

Original: “The Lion King” (1994), dir. Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff

Favreau’s photorealistic CGI remake of Allers and Minkoff’s animated classic grossed over $1.6 billion worldwide. (Disney is never shy about returning to its own treasure trove of intellectual property; another good one is Bill Condon’s “Beauty and the Beast.”) Favreau had already proven his ability to go big with 2008’s “Iron Man” and 2016’s “The Jungle Book,” another Disney remake. His “Lion King” update wouldn’t exist were it not for the massive leaps in CGI technology since 1994. The ridiculously cool virtual-reality effects and its boffo box office earn the film a place on this list. 

Reason to remake: New CGI technology made Simba roar like never before. 

Remake: “Dune” (2021) and “Dune: Part Two” (2024), dir. Denis Villeneuve

Original: “Dune” (1984), dir. David Lynch

Villeneuve’s adaptation of the first novel in Frank Herbert’s seminal 1965 sci-fi series received critical acclaim for its stunning visuals, vast scale, and faithful interpretation of the source material. Villeneuve has already demonstrated his ability to portray the profundity and awe of a futuristic world (see 2016’s “Arrival” and 2017’s “Blade Runner 2049”). In his “Dune” films, he creates an epic saga featuring long takes, sonorous sound design, and wide shots reminiscent of John Ford’s films. Lynch’s adaptation, on the other hand, was reviled for its confounding, goofy screenplay, weird sandworms, and a wooden leading performance from Kyle MacLachlan as Paul Atreides.

Reason to remake: The original adaptation of Herbert’s opus was spiceless. 

So how will this new incarnation of “Road House” fare? As Swayze’s tough-as-nails bouncer, John Dalton, says in the original, “Expect the unexpected.”