The first-ever motion picture was made in 1878 and captured a few stills of a horse galloping; the filmmakers employed a fairly simple technique by today’s standards in order to produce the shot, using multiple cameras at once to document each segment of the horse in motion. The early 19th century saw motion pictures quickly evolve into animated films for entertainment purposes; soon, stories and characters took new life and amazed audiences with their innovation and creativity. However, as technology quickly improved, so did film-making techniques.
Today, it is fairly common to see movie remakes, where filmmakers build upon the works of the past and enhance them for modern audiences. Visual effects, audio outputs, and even characters can be revamped in order to give a film new life. Yet, this practice is not new; movie remakes have been around since the early days of film history.
Here, we look at some of the earliest examples of movie remakes; from Tea: The Twins’ Tea Party to The Ten Commandments, these remakes helped reshape the original films that made them so unique.
20 Playing Cards (1896)
As the earliest known film remake to date, Playing Cards is the 1896 remake by George Melies, a French director who was renowned for his achievements in the silent film era. The original film of the same name was produced by a man named Louis Lumière and was released earlier in the same year.
Like many early films, the story of Playing Cards was simple: a man and his three friends sit in a garden enjoying each other’s company around a deck of cards. Soon a young girl is called over, and the friends have some wine, laughing over their shared amusement. Interestingly, the film was considered lost until 1981 when it was rediscovered and restored for public viewing. Though Playing Cards is a simple remake, Melies included his own family as actors in the film and re-imagined the scene as his own.
19 Tea: The Twins’ Tea Party (1898)
Released in 1896, the original film entitled The Twins’ Tea Party saw two children fighting over a piece of cake. The girls go back and forth, having a childlike argument that ultimately, results in one of the girls being hit by the other. As the distressed tot begins to sob, her counterpart recognizes her mistake; the two hug it out in what makes for a sweet ending.
The film became so popular that a remake was produced only two years later by the name Tea: The Twins’ Tea Party. However, the remake is today considered lost and has not been seen since its original release. Nonetheless, the film is considered to be one of the earliest depictions of recognizable human faces on screens and was a smash hit for both British and American audiences.
18 Grandpa’s Reading Glass (1902)
Grandpa’s Reading Glass is a 1902 remake of the original 1900 film entitled Grandma’s Reading Glass. The remake sees the roles reversed, where instead of a young boy looking through his grandmother’s glass, a young girl looks through her grandfather’s glass. As the girl peers in, the surrounding objects are magnified in size, making for some surprisingly intriguing visual effects for the time period.
Grandpa’s Reading Glass features a young family that includes a mother and several children, all of whom find the reading glass and its effects to be curious. Despite the fact that it is silent, the film expertly portrays the sense of wonderment possessed by the young girl and makes for a sweet story centered on an average family.
17 The Great Train Robbery (1904)
Considered by many to be the first true film remake, The Great Train Robbery was a major success in 1903 and 1904 upon both its releases. Unlike many of its predecessors, The Great Train Robbery used multiple cameras, angles, and cuts to convey the action unfolding on-screen, challenging the limits of filmmaking for the time.
The plots of both films are similar. Here, we follow a group of outlaws as they break into a railroad office and later hijack a train in order to steal valuables from the riders. Six bandits soon team up and overtake a railroad operator and successfully escape with their loot. The final scene sees the operator get his revenge, teaming up with a posse to take down the bandits and avenge the disgruntled victims.
16 The Squaw Man (1918)
A popular silent western film of the time, The Squaw Man is a 1918 film directed by Cecil B. DeMille, a man known for his accomplishments during the silent film era. Though the original film of the same name debuted in 1914, The Squaw Man saw another remake in 1931, all of which were produced by DeMille.
When an English man named Jim takes the blame for crimes committed by his cousin, he travels out West to the Americas in order to escape justice. Soon, Jim buys a ranch and finds himself in a quarrel with another man, only to be saved by a young Native American girl named Naturich. As their relationship grows, Jim’s legal troubles only get worse. Like some of the other films on this list, the 1918 version of The Squaw Man is considered lost, though the film’s other two versions have been preserved.
15 The Battle of the Sexes (1928)
Directed both times by D. W. Griffith, The Battle of the Sexes is a comedy-drama that sees a twisted romance and affair unfold. Originally released in 1914 as a silent film, the movie was reproduced in 1928 in order to include sound and thus, give new life to the already popular story.
The Battles of the Sexes follows a woman named Marie as she sets her sights on a well-off but married man named J.C., who begins to fall for her advances. Soon, J.C.’s wife and children uncover his indiscretions and prepare to take matters into their own hands. What results is a wild story full of betrayal, action, and at times, even love!
14 The Awful Truth (1929)
The Awful Truth is another film that saw not just one remake, but two. Originally released in 1925, the silent film followed lovers Norman and Lucy after a painful divorce. When their community gets wind of their scandalous divorce which includes rumors of both parties being unfaithful, they team up in order to prove that there is no bad blood.
The 1929 version included sound, but followed a similar story between the two misunderstood lovers. The Awful Truth concludes with both Norman and Lucy realizing that neither of them cheated and that they both still have a love for one another. Unfortunately, the 1929 film is presumed lost, though other versions of the film still remain.
13 The Unholy Three (1930)
Starring one of the most prolific and beloved actors of the early 20th century, The Unholy Three sees the versatile Lon Chaney as both Professor Echo and Mrs. Grady. Like some of the earlier entries on this list, The Unholy Three is a talkie remake of its silent original which was released only five years earlier in 1925.
When a zany ventriloquist recruits a strong man and a little person to join him in a burglary gang, the trio sets off to find easy targets to scam. Their plan includes Echo disguising himself as a woman named Mrs. Grady, who sells exotic pets to wealthy patrons. Here, Echo uses his ventriloquy skills to fool customers into believing their pets can talk. The gang embarks on a slew of wild burglaries, targeted at the rich customers they scammed at their makeshift pet store.
12 The Miracle Man (1932)
Directed by Norman McLeod, The Miracle Man is a drama film that centers on a man named John Madison: a crook who flees to California in order to evade capture for a violent assault. While in California, John meets a spiritual healer, the Patriarch, who has a great reputation among his peers.
Believing that a close relationship with the Patriarch will be to his advantage, John calls on his love interest Helen to join him in California and dupe the spiritual healer. To their surprise, however, the Patriarch is shown to be capable of producing miracles and even restores a man’s ability to walk! The Miracle Man follows as John begins to confront and change his ways of the past, all the while, falling more and more enamored with his accomplice, Helen.
11 Seventh Heaven (1937)
Originally released in 1927 and stylized as 7th Heaven, the 1937 remake Seventh Heaven put a new spin on this romantic drama. Both films were based on a play of the same name by Austin Strong and follow a man as he yearns to increase his status in life and fall in love with a beautiful woman.
When a sewer worker named Chico rescues a girl named Diane from being arrested and later, from committing suicide, the two are drawn together in an unlikely way. Chico brings the distressed woman back to his 7th-story apartment which she describes as heaven, where the two must convince the police that they are indeed married. As their relationship intensifies, their troubles are made worse by an impending war and Chico’s uncertain draft status. The remake of Seventh Heaven uses sound to enhance the fated romance between Chico and Diane in a way that the original silent film could not.
10 The Dawn Patrol (1938)
Remade eight years after its original, The Dawn Patrol is an American war movie that centers on tragedies and hardships associated with World War I. Here, we see a band of fighter pilots as they grapple with the death that surrounds them and the pain associated with carrying out orders of such a violent nature.
The fighter pilots are constantly tested both during and outside of battle, with many experiencing severe emotional distress as a result of their military duties. The Dawn Patrol is a heart-wrenching story that focuses entirely on the effects of war, though it seems to highlight the brotherhood between pilots in a surprisingly sweet way.
9 The Thief of Bagdad (1940)
The Thief of Bagdad is a film that has been remade in various decades including the 1940s, 1960s, and even the 1970s. The original film, however, was produced in 1924 during the silent era and was shot entirely in black and white. Nonetheless, The Thief of Bagdad is a stellar example of an early action film that includes high-energy sword fighting and heroism.
As the earliest remake, the 1940 film of the same name follows a similar structure to the original. Here, the rightful ruler named King Ahmad is forced from his kingdom by a ruthless villain named Jaffar. The King must join forces with a thief in order to reclaim his throne and win over the beautiful princess in the end.
8 Spring Parade (1940)
A German film, Spring Parade has an interesting historical background unlike some of the other entries to this list. Originally released in 1934 under the same name, Spring Parade was produced during the onset of the Nazi regime which ultimately forced the filmmakers to relocate in order to protect their Jewish contributors.
In 1940, the film was produced by American filmmakers and sees a gypsy predict a young woman’s future. Soon, the woman meets and falls in love with a musician, just as expected. As their romance begins to unfold, the gypsy is proven right as the couple finds success in their careers and in their love lives.
7 The Virginian (1946)
Another western film, The Virginian follows the titular rancher as he falls for a young school teacher, Molly, who finds herself out west for her career. As she begins to adapt to life in Wyoming, she falls more infatuated with the Virginian who helps acclimate her to this new way of living.
The original film was released in 1929 and is based on the novel of the same name by Owen Wister. The story was even loosely adapted into a television series in the 1960s. Nonetheless, The Virginian is a great movie for lovers of the classic western and incorporates many staples of the genre.
6 The Jazz Singer (1952)
The Jazz Singer is a 1952 film that stars Peggy Lee and Danny Thomas. When a young war veteran, Jerry, disappoints his entire family by following his dreams of becoming a successful entertainer, he is shunned by those he loves most. Coming from a family of Jewish cantors, Jerry is expected to follow the same path.
Jerry chooses to chase his dreams despite the pain it brings his family. However, in the end, the family is able to reconcile once Jerry’s talent begins to speak for itself. The Jazz Singer is a remake of the 1927 original of the same and follows a nearly identical story to its predecessor.
5 The Prisoner of Zenda (1952)
Another film that saw multiple adaptations, The Prisoner of Zenda is a 1952 color movie that re-imagined the black and white original film of the same name. Here, we focus on a royal family as they carry out a highly anticipated coronation of the new King Rudolf. Yet, when his cousin is recruited to stand in place for him during the ceremony, things begin to take a turn for the worst.
Soon, chaos ensues as the throne becomes increasingly more vulnerable. With wild impersonations, betrayals, and even romance, The Prisoner of Zenda is a fast-paced watch, perfect for lovers of adventure.
4 The Million Pound Note (1954)
This next film is adapted from Mark Twain’s short story entitled “The Million Pound Bank Note.” The One Million Pound Note saw its first release in 1914 as a silent film. However, nearly 40 years later, The Million Pound Note was produced not only with sound but also in color.
Here, we follow the main character, Henry, as he struggles to make ends meet as an American sailor overseas. After a chance encounter with two wacky brothers, Henry finds himself in possession of a banknote that promises to completely changes his life. If Henry can avoid spending the money, he will be promised a job and more security. The film is hysterical; watching Henry parade himself as a wealthy man leads to some hilarious encounters between the sailor and other high-class elites.
3 The Swan (1956)
The Swan is a 1956 remake that tells the story of a princess on her journey to find love. When Princess Alexandra attempts to win over Prince Albert in order to regain the throne, she finds he is more interested in being around her brothers than showing her any attention.
In a bid to win the prince over, Alexandra uses her tutor, a man named Nicholas, the make Albert jealous. As her scheme unfolds, she finds herself further from both men than she expected and in the middle of a confusing love triangle. The Swan is a remake of a 1925 silent Hungarian film of the same name.
2 The Ten Commandments (1956)
Cecil B. DeMille has shown up quite a few times on this list as a director who has gone back and remade his previous films. The Ten Commandments is another example of such, where DeMille recreated his original 1923 silent film and made it into a sound, technicolor production in 1956.
The religious epic follows Moses on a journey of self-discovery, one that leads him directly to God. When Moses, is sent away from Egypt, he must find a way to free other Hebrews from slavery and further build his connection with God. This film is a great watch for lovers of history and heroism, regardless of one’s religious identity.
1 The Phantom Carriage (1958)
As one of the latest films on this list, The Phantom Carriage is a 1958 horror film that is a remake of a 1921 film of the same name. Here, we follow as three drunk men recount a ghostly story on New Year’s Eve: if the last person to die in the year is considered to be a bad person and a sinner, he is doomed to drive what is known as the phantom chariot, picking up other lost souls for the next year.
When David Holm dies on New Year’s Eve, he becomes a victim of this fate. He is then visited by a ghost who travels with him through time to confront his misdoings of the past. Bone-chilling and at times, sad, both the original and remake of The Phantom Carriage are worthwhile watches for fans of classic horror.