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How does the new Magnificent Seven stack up against the originals?

We crunch the numbers – which are all the number seven – to determine the best between Seven Samurai and the two Magnificent Sevens

Published: Friday, 23rd September 2016 at 2:36 pm

In 1954, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa made Seven Samurai, a historical epic based around a group of warriors uniting to protect a village. 6 years later, it was remade by John Sturges as The Magnificent Seven, a western that subbed gunslingers for the sword-wavers. 66 years on, the story has been remade again by Antoine Fuqua as another western starring Chris Pratt and Denzel Washington, which is out in cinemas today.


Extrapolating that time scheme, we have just another 726 years until we can expect another remake – but we won’t be waiting ‘til then to cast our judgement, because today we’re here for a seven-off.

Over seven special categories I’ll be scoring all three films out of seven, for rounds based on action, plot and certain key elements, for an overall winner to be revealed at the end. For ease of understanding, the 1960 and 2016 versions of the Magnificent Seven will be referred to as 1960 Seven and 2016 Seven.

Make sense? Good – because it’s time to get this septet of scrutiny off to a start.

1. Length


Both the 1960 and 2016 Sevens come in around a reasonably pacy 2 hours, and cover a lot of ground in that time. By contrast, Seven Samurai is LONG, lasting around 3 and a half hours including a brief interval.

With that said, the extra time never feels wasted and builds up a much richer near-novelistic story, and oh my God this is an iconic film that’s over 70 years old and does not need my half-baked analysis.

In summary, it’s a draw.

Seven Samurai: 5/7

1960 Seven: 5/7

2016 Seven: 5/7

2. Action


This section comes cached in seven questions.

  1. Does the film include a bit where Denzel Washington unnecessarily rears up his horse to shoot a man without changing his facial expression?
  2. At any time, does a young Robert Vaughn from Hustle weirdly rub his face down a door to signify death?
  3. Does an old lady beat anyone to death with a gardening implement?
  4. Do the heroes pointlessly spin their weapons before holstering them every time, even if there’s nobody watching and they must have wasted a lot of time over the years dropping guns while practicing to do this?
  5. Do the baddies politely lie down after being tapped with a stick?
  6. Do you get the uncomfortable sense that some of the horses were like, genuinely hurt making the battle scenes, and it spoils your enjoyment of the film somewhat?
  7. Did you feel the need to make gun fingers and go “pow pow” a lot after watching?

Sadly, while each of the films makes great strides in some of the categories no one of them is able to triumph in all. I’ll give this round to the 2016 Seven, because to be honest no matter what you think of remakes fight choreography has come on a bit.

Seven Samurai: 4/7

1960 Seven: 5/7

2016 Seven: 6/7

3. Quippage


Seven Samurai is a little light on snappy one-liners, with most of the humour coming from the antics of Toshiro Mifune’s wannabe Samurai Kikuchiyo and a few monobrowed miscreants at a nearby town.

A few years later in 1960 the quip quotient, or “quitient” is a little higher with a few gems like “You don't happen to have an older, grateful sister, do you?” from Steve McQueen’s Vin slipping in. Yul Brynner doesn’t quip much, because he’s Yul Brynner.

But now we’re in 2016, when all blockbusters need to be packed with tension-busting one-liners preferably winked out by Chris Pratt, and while many of them hit home the barrage of wordplay and mugging might have you end up longing for the days when everyone just laughed at the funny samurai falling over.

Seven Samurai: 4/7

1960 Seven: 6/7

2016 Seven 5/7

4. Casting


All three films have pretty solid casts, from the stern yet humorous Takashi Shimura of Seven Samurai and the stone-cold authority of Yul Brynner to Chris Pratt basically just doing what Chris Pratt does in every film.

2016 Seven is arguably the starriest ensemble, with four bonafide celebrities among its lead seven (Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke and Vincent D’Onofrio) compared to 1960 Seven’s focus on Brynner and Steve McQueen, but they all do pretty good work with the material they’re given.

It’s when we turn to the diversity and gender makeup of the casts that things get interesting. 2016 Seven wins props for its diverse cast, which has an impact on the story (Denzel Washington’s Sam Chisum gets many askance looks when he first rides into town) without becoming its entire focus, as director Antione Fuqua has implied is the point.

1960 Seven is less diverse, though focuses on rescuing Mexican villagers rather than Caucasian settlers like the new remake, which brings a bit of colour to proceedings. All the cast in Seven Samurai are Japanese, though it seems nitpicky to take a 1954 film set in the Warring States era of Japan to task for that.

Roles for women are pretty scarce in all three unfortunately, though Haley Bennett’s recruiter at least gets to shoot a gun as the only speaking woman (more or less) in the 2016 Seven. 1960 Seven’s Mexican belle Petra (Rosenda Monteros) is pretty paper-thin.

So unexpectedly Seven Samurai may have the crown when it comes to (comparative) gender parity, with the film including THREE female characters who have their own dialogue and agency (even if that agency is limited to wanting to respectively bang a Samurai, burn alive or slowly beat a bandit’s head in with some sort of hoe).

Seven Samurai: 5/7

1960 Seven: 5/7

2016 Seven: 6/7

5. Awkward inclusion of the word “magnificent” in film dialogue


No-one in 1960 Seven, as far as I can tell, actually speaks the word “magnificent”, which seems like a grave oversight akin to only hiring 7 gunfighters to battle a whole bunch of bandits.

Unfortunately, 2016 Seven’s corrective is to have voiceover awkwardly declare that the heroes “truly were….magnificent” in the final line of dialogue, which is obviously much much worse.

So the winner? It has to be Seven Samurai, which unexpectedly DOES include the word magnificent (at least in the translation I watched, which admittedly had the samurai warriors calling each other “jerks” all the time) when untested rich-kid Katsushiro (Isao Kimura) excitedly tells grim swordsman Kyūzō (Seiji Miyaguchi) that he is “a magnificent person”. Unintentionally pleasing.

Seven Samurai: 6/7

1960 Seven: 3/7

2016 Seven: 2/7

6. A poignant sense of pyrrhic victory in a time of immense social change


1960 Seven has a go at this when Yul Brynner trots the “Only the farmers won. We lost. We'll always lose,” line out at the close of the film, but considering the film’s generally pretty bright ending (including a nice romantic bit for the annoying kid Chico) it sits a little uneasily, the pathos tacked on. Also, having the two most famous actors survive is a cop-out. Just saying.

2016 Seven fares a little better because it actually has the cojones to kill off some of the bigger stars (no spoilers here), but the historical context of a world moving on from gunfighters etc doesn’t really seem present. It’s just a bit sad that the nice cowboys died.

But Seven Samurai? Seven Samurai NAILS this. The towering graves topped by lonely swords? The skilled swordsmen cut down by crude gunfire? The poignant bittersweetness as the villagers celebrate, and the Samurai glumly sneak away to their eventual doom? Perfection.

Seven Samurai: 7/7

1960 Seven: 4/7

2016 Seven: 4/7

7. A bit where all the heroes awkwardly stand in a line of seven


2016 Seven is ALL OVER THIS SHIT, with our heroes sitting on horseback, standing and walking in formation a few times throughout the film despite its impracticality for any activity besides chorus lines. 1960 Seven does it slightly less ostentatiously, but it happens once or twice in the film and it's great.

Sadly, Seven Samurai neglects this crucial tenet entirely. It’s like they weren’t even trying.

Seven Samurai: 0/7

1960 Seven: 6/7

2016 Seven: 7/7

But there can be only one winner…


And it’s the viewer, because all three films are fun watches! Each of them have their merits (some more than others in different areas), but they all succeed in being entertaining, and each film individually does nothing to detract from the power of the other two. Remakes don’t erase the originals from existence, and can encourage you to revisit or appreciate old movies more.

So yes, that’s the message here today. Plus the fact that it’s quite difficult to make a scoring metric from values taken out of seven, which I didn’t realise until after I’d already started writing this piece.

But mainly the other thing.


The Magnificent Seven remake is in cinemas now


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