The First 10 Movie Remakes Ever Made
1. Une partie de cartes (1896)
The Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, were among the first filmmakers in history. They began making moving pictures in 1892, even patenting an early film camera called a cinematograph. They held their first private screening in 1895 to an audience of 200 people, followed by their first public screening later that year, where they presented ten short films.
One of Louis’s films was Partie d'écarté (1896), the title of which translates to Card Game, also known as The Messers. Lumière at Cards. This one-minute film shows two men sitting at a table on a patio, playing cards, while a third man watches them and a waiter brings wine. The third man pours the wine, and they all raise their glasses in a toast.
Later that year, director Georges Méliès remade the film under the title Une partie de cartes (1896), which translates to Card Party or Playing Cards. This was the first film of Méliès’s prolific career, and he even stars in it alongside his brother Gaston and his daughter Georgette.
The remake was filmed in Méliès’s own backyard. Gaston and another man play cards while Méliès himself smokes and reads a newspaper. He calls over Georgette and has her retrieve a woman with a bottle of wine. Méliès pours the wine and reads a story from the newspaper out loud, making the others laugh.
2. The Kiss (1900)
The Kiss (1896)—also known as The May Irwin Kiss, The Rice-Irwin Kiss and The Widow Jones—was one of the first films shown commercially to the public. Directed by William Heise for Edison Studios, this eighteen-second film depicts middle-aged actors May Irwin and John Rice sharing a kiss in a reenactment of a scene from the play The Widow Jones.
As this was the first kiss ever shown on film, it was considered shocking and obscene to critics and audiences at the time. The Roman Catholic Church publicly denounced it and called for censorship and moral reform. Some critics even called for the police to put an end to screenings of the film.
Four years later, Edison Studios remade the film with younger and more conventionally attractive actors. Interestingly, The Kiss (1900) was released without any controversy or public outcry, despite being longer and portraying more passion and physicality between the two actors.
Though the actress’s identity is unknown, the lead actor is known to be Fred Ott, who appeared in some of the earliest movies ever made. He starred in Edison Kinetoscope Record of a Sneeze (1894) and Fred Ott Holding a Bird (1894). He also co-directed Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1984), the first union of moving pictures with audio.
3. The Great Train Robbery (1904)
Considered the first narrative film in history, The Great Train Robbery (1903) was inspired by a real-life train robbery conducted by famed outlaw Butch Cassidy and his gang in Wyoming in 1900. This film would go on to inspire many tropes in the Western film genre, such as men being thrown off moving trains, high-speed chases on horseback, and gunshots forcing someone to dance.
Directed by Edwin S. Porter and produced by the Edison Company, The Great Train Robbery would become the most popular and commercially successful film of the pre-nickelodeon era. Throughout the film’s fourteen scenes, Porter used groundbreaking techniques that had never been done before, such as parallel editing, pan shots, jump cuts, cross cuts, and intercuts.
Fortunately for German-American director Siegmund Lubin, this was a time when copyright protection for films had not been established yet. In 1902 he founded the Lubin Manufacturing Company, which sold illegally copied prints of films by other directors, making Lubin one of the earliest practitioners of film piracy.
Lubin’s remake of The Great Train Robbery was identical to the original, with the exception of more violent content and more stylized production design. The Edison Company—which had its own checkered past when it came to piracy—went to court to stop Lubin from distributing his version. This action was instrumental in helping establish film copyright laws, though the Edison Company continued to distribute their own pirated and plagiarized material without consequences.
4. How a French Nobleman Got a Wife Through the 'New York Herald' Personal Columns (1904)
Personal (1904), a comedy short directed by Wallace McCutchceon, was a six-minute film about a wealthy young man who places a personal ad in a newspaper for a potential wife. He goes to wait at the designated meeting area, but becomes overwhelmed at the number of women who arrive. Flustered, he takes off running, and the women give chase.
The chase takes them beyond city limits, across a field, through a forest, and over a fence before one of the women finally corners the man. Spontaneously, he gets down on one knee and proposes to her. With the situation resolved, the man tips his hat to the rest of the women, and they walk off screen together.
Directed by Edwin S. Porter, How a French Nobleman Got a Wife Through the 'New York Herald' Personal Columns (1904) was a nearly identical shot-for-shot remake of Personal. One difference is that the remake begins with the wealthy young man primping in front of his mirror in preparation for the meeting with his prospective wives. Another difference is that the man falls into a lake during the chase, and the woman of his choice wades into the lake to embrace him.
That same year, Personal was again remade as Meet Me at the Fountain (1904) by director by Siegmund Lubin. Once again, the man falls into a lake, but this time he’s snatched up by an unattractive woman. The last shot of the film shows the man cringing as his ugly bride joyfully kisses him.
5. The Squaw Man (1918)
Famed director Cecil B. DeMille made his debut with The Squaw Man (1914), a film based on a play about a British officer who takes the blame for his cousin’s embezzlement crime. The officer flees to Wyoming, where he manages a cattle ranch and marries a Native American woman.
In 1918, in an attempt to prove his theory that a good film was based on a good story, DeMille remade the film. The remake was a financial success, as it cost $40,000 and made a profit of $350,000.
Years later, when big-budget Western films such as In Old Arizona (1928) and Billy the Kid (1930) became more popular, DeMille decided to capitalize on that trend with another remake in 1931. Unlike the previous versions, this one was a talkie instead of a silent film. It cost over $722,000 and lost nearly $150,000 when it was released, though critic reviews were generally favorable.
The Squaw Man still has the distinction of being the only film remade twice by the same director. Oddly, the original was the only version to cast a Native American actress as the officer’s wife. She was played by Winnebago actress Lillian St. Cyr, who also went by Red Wing. Her husband, James Young Deer, was Hollywood’s first Native American director and producer.
6. Brown of Harvard (1918)
In 1906, the Broadway play Brown of Harvard, written by by Rida Johnson Young, debuted at Princess Theatre in New York City. It ran for 101 performances that year. Five years later, the first silent film adaptation was released, which became the film debut of comedic actor Edgar Kennedy, a key player in many Hal Roach films.
Brown of Harvard (1911) involves a popular Harvard University athlete named Tom Brown, who attempts to help his fiancé’s brother, Wilfred, with his reputation and love life. Wilfred, a habitual gambler, owes money to a man named Victor Colton, and is secretly romantically involved with the sister of Gerald Thorne, a high-ranking varsity crew member. On the day of a champion boat race, Victor schemes to expose the relationship to Gerald, prompting him to abandon the race so Harvard’s team will lose.
Though the 1918 remake also took place at Harvard University, the director, Harry Beaumont, filmed in Southern California. At the time, the Washington State University football team was there for the 1916 Rose Bowl, along with their coach, William “Lone Star” Dietz, and they became extras in the film.
Another remake came out in 1926, and it deviated significantly from the source material. Instead of Wilfred and his predicaments, this version focuses on the title character, Tom Brown, and his rivalry with fellow student athlete Bob McAndrew, as they compete in varsity, football, and for the affections of a professor’s daughter. This was also the film debut of John Wayne and Robert Livingston, who appeared as uncredited extras and later went on to have celebrated careers.
7. Forbidden Fruit (1921)
The Golden Chance (1915) was a film by Cecil B. DeMille about a financially struggling seamstress named Mary, played by Cleo Ridgely. When her alcoholic husband wastes all their money, Mary takes a job as an escort for a handsome millionaire, who she falls in love with. In the end, her husband is killed by police over an extortion plot, leaving Mary free to be with the millionaire.
A surviving print of The Golden Chance is currently kept at the George Eastman Museum in New York, the world’s oldest museum dedicated to photography. Though the film’s synopsis in the American Film Institute Catalog claims that Mary quickly marries the millionaire, the film itself ends only with the implication that she will, as DeMille wished to leave it open to interpretation.
DeMille remade the film as Forbidden Fruit (1921), this time starring Agnes Ayers as Mary. The remake further emphasizes the rags-to-riches theme of the story, with dream sequences where Mary imagines herself as Cinderella. In this version, Mary’s husband is more abusive and controlling, providing even more obstacles to Mary’s happy ending.
Like its predecessor, the remake also stops short of concluding the story with a wedding. Instead, it juxtaposes a dream sequence of Cinderella being fitted with a glass slipper with a scene of Mary’s millionaire beau playfully taking off her shoe and kissing her foot.
8. Long Fliv the King (1926)
Before transitioning to feature-length films and talkies, comedic actor Harold Lloyd starred in 188 silent short films, including His Royal Slyness (1920). In that film he played an American book salesman who travels to the fictional kingdom of Thermosa to impersonate a prince, while the real prince goes to parties and neglects his royal duties. The prince was played by Lloyd’s brother, Gaylord Lloyd, who went uncredited for his role at the time.
In addition to comedy, His Royal Slyness contained relevant political satire, as the Russian Civil War had been underway when it was released. While posing as the prince, Lloyd’s character must contend with a revolutionary uprising, as the peasants of the kingdom seek to overthrow the monarchy. Not only that, a local princess is tasked with choosing a husband, and doesn’t realize the prince she’s courting is an imposter.
Interestingly, the remake, Long Fliv the King (1926), starts off with the princess as the main focus. While shopping in New York, she receives word that her father has died, and she has 24 hours to find a husband or forfeit the throne. So she marries a commoner, played by Charley Chase, and brings him back home with her. Now tasked with ruling an unfamiliar country, Chase’s character must also contend with a villainous prime minister who wants the kingdom for himself.
Long Fliv the King featured Oliver Hardy as the villain’s sidekick, a small role he took prior to becoming one half of the famed comedy duo Laurel and Hardy.
9. The Battle of the Sexes (1928)
The second D.W. Griffith film to be released to the public, The Battle of the Sexes (1914) was a silent melodrama filmed over the course of five days. Though most of the film has been lost, one brief scene has survived, and is owned by film critic and curator Iris Barry.
In the film, Donald Crisp plays Frank, a married man who begins an affair with a beautiful young neighbor, played by Fay Tincher. Furious on her mother’s behalf, the man’s daughter, played by Lillian Gish, confronts the mistress with a revolver in hand, intending to shoot her. Instead, they unexpectedly strike up a partnership and hatch a scheme to make Frank realize the error of his ways.
The only surviving scene depicts Frank’s wife and children taking a booth at a restaurant. The children notice their father and his mistress sitting at the booth beside them, and they rush their mother out of there before she can notice.
When Griffith remade the film as a talkie fourteen years later, he turned it into a comedy. This time the mistress, played by Phyllis Haver, is a conniving gold digger who seduces a real estate tycoon for his money. The tycoon, played by Jean Hersholt, leaves his wife and children for her. Rather than be schemed into realizing his wrongdoing, Hersholt’s character has a revelation when he witnesses a violent fight between his mistress and her drunk lover.
10. The Unholy Three (1930)
The silent film The Unholy Three (1925) revolves around three former sideshow performers: a ventriloquist named Echo, played by Lon Chaney; a strongman named Hercules, played by Victor McLaglen; and a midget named Tweedledee, played by Harry Earles. Having lost their jobs in show business after a violent incident with a heckler, they turn to a life of crime.
Also part of this unusual team is Echo’s pet ape, who was actually played by a three-foot-tall chimpanzee. Through use of camera tricks and perspective shots, director Tod Browning made the chimpanzee look gigantic. In some brief shots where Echo is shown from behind, dwarf actor Earles took Chaney’s place, making the ape appear much larger.
Two of the original main actors reprised their roles for the 1930 remake, directed by Jack Conway. Once again, Chaney played Echo and Earles played Tweedledee. However, McLaglen could not loan out his contract with Fox, so Hercules was played by Ivan Linow. The ape was played by Charles Gemora, a former makeup artist who made a prolific career out of playing gorillas.
The remake was the last film Chaney ever made, and his only talkie. Despite battling throat cancer at the time, he successfully pulled off four different vocal impersonations in his role as the ventriloquist. He died seven weeks after the film’s release.