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. Smashing a Jersey Mosquito (1903)
A comedic fantasy film entitled A Jersey Skeeter (1900) portrayed a New Jersey farmer complaining about the size of the local mosquitos, which have been pestering him. Out of nowhere a giant flying mosquito swoops down, seizes him, and carries him away.
This was directed by Arthur Marvin, who also directed Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1903), the first film to ever star the famous detective character. He also worked as a cinematographer for over 400 other films.
A Jersey Skeeter was remade by Edwin S. Porter on behalf of the Edison Company. The remake, entitled Smashing a Jersey Mosquito (1903), pits a husband and wife against a giant mosquito invading their home.
The husband and wife use various household items as weapons, but keep missing the mosquito and accidentally destroying mirrors, picture frames, and even the dining room table. Finally they wound the mosquito, and when the husband jumps on it, a massive explosion takes place that destroys the room.
4. Smith's Wife Inspects the New Typewriter (1903)
In a comedic short film entitled She Meets with Wife's Approval (1902), a suspicious wife visits her husband's office to see the young woman who's been hired as a secretary. She sees the secretary is hideous, and leaves satisfied and confident in her husband's fidelity.
Once the wife is gone, the secretary removes the ugly mask she was wearing, revealing that she and the husband conspired to trick his wife so she wouldn't suspect their affair.
Edwin S. Porter, employed by the Edison Company, remade this film as Smith's Wife Inspects the New Typewriter (1903). The only difference between the remake and the original is that the wife brings her child with her when she visits her husband's office.
5. Oh! Shut Up (1903)
Not much is known about the film Shut Up! (1902), except that it was shot at Biograph Studios in the Bronx district of New York. The remake, however, has a surviving synopsis from the Edison Catalog.
Yet another remake directed by Edwin S. Porter, Oh! Shut Up (1903) takes place in a bedroom. A very drunk man tries to enter the bedroom without waking up his wife, who is asleep in the folding bed. However, he drops a water jug, and the wife wakes up angry.
As she begins lecturing him, the man tries to silence her by squirting seltzer in her face. This only makes her angrier. Desperate, the man closes the folding bed with the wife still inside.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.