Classic Comedies and the Remakes You Didn't Even Know Existed

Classic Comedies and the Remakes You Didn't Even Know Existed

Feb 12, 2014

We live in an era of remakes. Most of them are big and obvious, like the impending release of RoboCop, a movie that dared tread upon ground that is sacred to movie geeks. Others don't announce their origins quite so loudly or proudly. You can be guaranteed that many of the people who head out to see About Last Night this weekend don't realize that it's actually a remake of a 1986 film of the same title.

When horror, sci-fi or action movies get remade, people have a habit of raising quite a stink, but comedy remakes seem to fly under the radar more often than not. Hell, sometimes a movie will come and go with hardly anyone even noting it was based on anything else in the first place. Some of the films below are genuine classics and others are minor gems, but they all have one thing in common: a remake that's either long forgotten or completely disassociated from the original. Let's see how they stack up.


The Original: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)

The Remakes: The Money Pit (1986) and Are We Done Yet? (2007)

The Basic Premise: A family moves into a new home, only to realize it's a total mess that will require more than a few headaches to fix. Comedy hijinks of all kinds ensue! 

The Changes: Although the jokes are coarser, The Money Pit remains structurally similar to the original in all of the major ways (except quality). However, the first remake looks downright subtle next to Are We Done Yet?, which say a proposed remake of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House rewritten to be a sequel to the 2005 film Are We There Yet? In other words, this story went from silly and lovable to loud and obnoxious over the course of three movies.

The Better Film: The charming Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House wins this one fairly effortlessly. Not even Tom Hanks can make The Money Pit really worth your time, and the less said about Are We Done Yet?, the better.


The Original: Can't Buy Me Love

The Remake: Love Don't Cost a Thing

The Basic Premise: A high school nerd convinces a cool, popular girl to be his girlfriend for a few weeks. What begins as something temporary quickly blossoms into something real. Comedy hijinks of all kinds ensue!

The Changes: Although both films follow a similar formula and reach the same conclusion: nerd likes girl, nerd uses financial/technical prowess to get her to temporarily date him, true love prevails. In Can't Buy Me Love, the Patrick Dempsey offers his dream girl $1000 to be his girlfriend for a month. In Love Don't Cost a Thing, Nick Cannon offers to repair a damaged car in exchange for two weeks of dating. Of course, the first film is lily white and the remake is cast mostly with African-American actors.

The Better Film: Neither is an undisputed classic, but the original still lingers at the fringes of '80s cinema while the remake has all but vanished from public consciousness.


The Original: The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

The Remake: You've Got Mail (1998)

The Basic Premise: Two people who can't hate each others' guts don't realize that they're falling in love as anonymous pen pals. Comedy hijinks of all kinds ensue!

The Changes: Thanks to the time period in which they were made, these are two films that you wouldn't know were connected in any way unless you knew what you were looking for. In Ernst Lubitsch's original, the two secret lovebirds are coworkers at a gift shop in Budapest, unaware that they're corresponding and falling in love while growing to hate each other at work. In Nora Ephron's remake, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan play rival bookstore owners who fall for each other through a magical, brand new thing called the Internet. Technology aside, Lubitsch's is more of a traditional screwball comedy and Ephron's take is very much a gentle, late '90s rom-com.

The Better Film: Although both films are beloved by two separate fan bases, we have to give the edge to The Shop Around the Corner, which is a wittier, tighter and (strangely enough) less dated experience.


The Original: To Be or Not to Be (1942)

The Remake: To Be or Not to Be (1983)

The Basic Premise: In Nazi-occupied Poland, an acting troupe finds themselves embroiled in all kinds of intrigue and must use their theater skills to save themselves from certain doom. Comedy hijinks of all kinds ensue!

The Changes: Despite being made four decades later, Alan Johnson's remake is remarkably similar to Ernst Lubitsch's, often replicating exact lines of dialogue. There are other minor tweaks, like certain characters being combined and removed, but for the most part, Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft stick fairly close to the path set by Jack Benny and Carole Lombard.

The Better Film: The '42 version is widely considered to be one the best comedies ever made. The '83 version is not. That's not to say it's a bad film, but if given the option to watch one or the other, go with the one that's been made part of the esteemed Criterion Collection.


The Original: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)

The Remake: Guess Who (2005)

The Basic Premise: An interracial couple cause a huge stir when they announce their engagement, forcing prejudiced family members to examine their own beliefs. Comedy hijinks of all kinds ensue!

The Changes: In the nearly 40 years that separate these two films, a great deal changed about how people view race in America. In Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are utterly aghast when their daughter brings a black fiance home. In Guess Who, Bernie Mac is just grumpy and annoyed that his daughter would dare date the whiter-than-white Ashton Kutcher. By the very nature of their times, the original is a political, thoughtful and ponderous movie and the remake is just a silly movie about an overbearing father.

The Better Film: There's no point on picking on a simple but amusing comedy like Guess Who, but Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is one of the most famous American films of all time and it's mighty difficult to live in that shadow. In a way, abandoning all of the politics and going for straight comedy was probably a wise choice.


The Original: Cactus Flower (1969)

The Remake: Just Go with It (2011)

The Basic Premise: In order to pursue a relationship with a lovely woman, a man must fake being married so he can mask an earlier lie. Everything gets a little confusing and everyone gets a little confused. Comedy hijinks of all kinds ensue!

The Changes: After he bastardized Mr. Deeds Goes to Town with 2002's abysmal Mr. Deeds, Adam Sandler turned his attention to Cactus Flower. In terms of overall structure, both films are similar enough, albeit modified to fit their perspective eras. The biggest changes come in tone, with the Sandler version relying on more crass jokes. Cactus Flower is a smaller, simpler movie and its origins as a stage play are obvious, but it's really hard to go wrong with any movie that puts Walter Matthau in the lead role.

The Better Film: There's a basic rule that should govern your life at all times. It goes something like this: Walter Matthau is always, always going to be more worthy of your hard-earned time than Adam Sandler. This generally applies to their movies, too.




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