Article by: Dan Clark
With the release of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I thought I’d look at other American remakes of foreign films. Looking back on the list I realized it’s full of less than stellar titles. There are plenty of films that have long been forgotten, or simply remembered for their wretched quality. Even with that I attempted to form a list of the Top 10 American Remakes of Foreign Films. Here goes nothing…
#10 – The Next Three Days
Remake of: Anything for Her (French Title: Pour Elle)
I understand we aren’t starting off on the strongest foot here, but I was actually a fan of The Next Three Days. This film stars Russell Crowe as a man who attempts to break his wife out of prison for a crime he feels she was wrongly accused of. With all of his real life issues, Crowe does make it hard to like him at times, but you cannot deny his talent. While this won’t go down as one of his greatest roles, he does a solid job of playing a man who has simply run out of options. Elizabeth Banks, who plays Crowe’s wife, is capable in her role as well. She is able to ride that line of innocent victim and secret psychotic . You wonder if her character is actually innocent, or if she has the ability to take the life of another person. In addition to the main leads, the director’s final climatic escape was full of well designed sequences that really ratcheted up the tension. Perhaps low expectations allowed me to enjoy this film more than I should have, but in the end I felt it was good enough for the 10 spot.
#9 – EDtv
Remake of: Louis 19, King of the Airwaves (Quebec Title: Louis 19, le roi de ondes)
Canada is still considered a foreign country, right? I think being made in Quebec makes it a safe choice. If South Park has taught me anything, it is a completely foreign land that can easily be blamed for all the world’s greatest problems. Besides being a remake of a Canadian film, EDtv also has the pleasure of being in the “Double Movie Club”. You know, when two films come out that are extremely similar. This year Friends with Benefits had No Strings Attached, Tombstone had Wyatt Earp, and EDtv had The Truman Show. Then next year we have the dueling Snow White films Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. It always seems strange to me how often that occurs. Though EDtv was a disappointment at the box office, it has gained fans as the years have gone by. It helps that the hyper reality that was shown in the film has become truer today than ever. In a world filled with Kardashians, Hiltons, and Real Housewives, the idea of EDtv seems like a relief from that insanity.
#8 – Three Men and a Baby
Remake of: Three Men and a Cradle (French Title: Trois homes et un coufflin)
I’m not going to lie, I was surprised myself to find out that Three Men and a Baby was actually a remake. It was in fact a remake of a French film that had pretty much the exact same story. While the original was unknown to most of America, the remake was huge at the box office. To be fair, the original French version didn’t have the greatness that is Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg, and Ted Danson. I mean, when you have those three aces in your deck why would others even bother playing a hand? The possibility for them to compete was washed away the moment Selleck and his mustache walked onto the set. Even with those amazing three, it does feel dated when you watch it today. Luckily enough you can still find some harmless fun in there. The three main leads are not surprisingly very likeable. Each plays the part of “clueless guy not ready to be a father” quite well. Plus, you have to give a film that was directed by Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, some major geek cred. Sadly enough, there are rumors that this too will be remade by Adam Sandler’s production company. I can see it now… Adam Sandler is attempting to put on the kid’s diaper with Rob Schneider standing in the corner yelling; “You Can Do I!” Then, wait for it… the baby craps onto Sandler’s face. Then, in a stroke of directing genius, the camera pans back to Schneider who then says, “He did it!” (Otherwise known as your basic instant hilarity.)
#7 – Let Me In
Remake of: Let the Right One In (Swedish Title: Låt den rätte komma in)
This is when I feel like we hit some really good movies. Let the Right One In was looked at as a game changer in the horror genre. Injecting a vampire into a coming of age tale seems like a gimmick on paper, but it ended up really working. The filmmakers were able to establish a huge sense of heart that made the horror even more effective. Aiding in their effort were the strong performances they received from their two main leads. It’s not often that you get such strong performances from child actors. Of course, when an American remake was announced there was a huge amount of apprehension. Why remake a movie that came out so recently? It had struck a chord with a lot of the American audience already making a remake even less necessary. Matt Reeves answered that question by directing a tremendous film. Reeves made the film his own, but was able to stay true to the vision of the original. Some do argue that Let Me In is a basic carbon copy of Let the Right One In, however I disagree with that assumption. I felt it differentiated enough from the original to more than legitimize its existence. One way was in Reeve’s ability to build tension. That ability really aided the pacing throughout the early portion of the film. It helped avoid some of the lagging the original was guilty of. In addition, the child acting Let Me In was on par, if not better, than the original. Most notably I felt Kodi Smith-McPhee was a better lead than the original. Let Me In did exactly what it set out to do. It made a great film that would easily appeal to the American audience.
#6 – 12 Monkeys
Remake of: The Jetty (French Title: La Jetée)
This remake is a little different than the rest of the list so far due to the fact that it was based off of a short film. That fact gave the filmmakers a lot more leeway with their own vision. That leeway also creates a new challenge though. Taking a short story and expanding it to feature length is a tricky endeavor. Think about TV shows that attempt to do a movie version of their show. Very rarely does it lead to success. Sometimes changing the format is too much to overcome. Interestingly enough, even with that challenge 12 Monkeys is easily one of the more underrated films of the last twenty years. When people think of the best Science Fiction of the 1990’s, you hear Terminator 2 and The Matrix, but rarely is 12 Monkeys mentioned. It’s a shame because even though 12 Monkeys didn’t redefine the genre like those films, it was able to achieve what all great Science Fiction hopes to accomplish. That is to create a narrative that goes beyond a simple fight of good and evil. It uses a decent amount of social commentary to hammer in the film’s theme. While the idea of a bleak future isn’t new, it was done with great effect. Throw in a number of great performances and you have one high quality remake.
#5 – True Lies
Remake of: La Totale !
At this point in his career, we have come to know James Cameron as one of the biggest innovators in all of cinema. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny the guy is a masterful visionary. Even a filmmaker of the caliber of Cameron didn’t shy away from remaking a foreign film. In True Lies, Cameron took the story of the original and added in plenty of American special effects to make a true blockbuster. There was the perfect combination of fun, action, and comedy that you want in a summer film. Action sequences were well choreographed and the use of both special and practical effects allow the film to hold up today. A great cast that includes Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jame Lee Curtis, Bill Paxton, and in one of her first major roles, the geek icon that is Eliza Dushku. True Lies was simply the total package that proved sometimes America does do it better.
#4 – A Fistful of Dollars
Remake of: Yojimbo
Sergio Leone is one of the greatest names in the Western genre. His “Man with No Name” trilogy has stood the test of time, and is still looked at as one of the greatest movie franchises of all time. That trilogy actually started with the remake of Akira Kurosawa’s classic Yojimbo. With two of the greatest movie icons attached to a film, it’s hard for it not to be great. Both Leone and Kurosawa are masterful at creating an amazing atmosphere. The cinematography, score, and pace all compliment each other to great effect. When Leone created A Fistful of Dollars he didn’t dictate his vision based upon the rules that were already established in the western genre. He took what former western greats did, like John Ford, and completely made it his own. Besides Leone’s direction, you also have the icon that is Clint Eastwood, in what may still be his most career-defining role. Spaghetti westerns changed the film industry forever, and A Fistful of Dollars helped begin that revolution.
#3 – The Ring
Remake of: Ringu
Every so often, a horror film comes out that helps redefine the genre. Duplications shortly follow that attempt to piggyback on the success of the previous blockbuster. For example, Halloween helped inspire the 1980’s slasher phenomenon. While in the 1990’s Scream’s breakout success invigorated the genre once more. Then in the early 2000’s The Ring burst onto the landscape. A remake of the Japanese film Ringu, The Ring provided American audiences an eerie imagery style they hadn’t seen the likes of before. That style, as well as the story format in which it was placed, made it an instant horror classic. Even today you can hear people whispering “Seven Days” into a phone. Of course, like all horror staples before it, The Ring inspired a slew of imitators. While films like The Grudge managed to find success, none quite hit the mark like The Ring. The Ring even inspired people to state that it surpassed the quality of the original. Some may scoff at that notion, but being able to even argue that fact is a great accomplishment.
#2 – The Magnificent Seven
Remake of: Seven Samurai (Japanese Title: Shichinin no Samurai)
Seven Samurai is clearly one of the greatest films ever made. A statement that is true for pretty much every Akira Kurosawa film. Most of the world’s greatest filmmakers point to his works as one of their largest inspirations. His knack for storytelling crosses all borders. The plot may be simple, but the message is universal. That is one reason Seven Samurai has be consistently remade. Out of all the remakes that have been created, The Magnificent Seven has steadily held its ground as the best of the bunch. It’s not hard when you have the direction of John Sturges and the likes of Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, and Charles Bronson starring in your film. The Magnificent Seven is one of the best examples of how to properly Americanize a foreign film. You instill what made the original successful. For example, The Magnificent Seven established quality characters that were dynamic and easy to root for, just like the original. That alone is a huge accomplishment. Establishing one quality protagonist is hard enough, so to expand it beyond that is nearly impossible. It kept the same story and themes as the original, just changed the location. It seems easy enough, but at times when remakes are done you get a lot of changes for change sake. Sometimes a change of scenery is the only major alteration you need.
#1 – The Departed
Remake of: Infernal Affairs
One thing I quickly noticed when creating this list was that some of the greatest names in cinema history have taken part in remaking a foreign film. Greats like Cameron, Sturges, Leone, and of course the director of The Departed Martin Scorsese have all created a film based upon another’s work. With remakes, like with all films, the outcome of the quality of it is greatly dictated by the inspiration of its creator. If that inspiration is purely profit, you will most likely wind up with a less-than-stellar film. However, if someone legitimately feels a great movie can be made from another you can be left with a rare gem. Call me gullible but I tend to believe Scorsese is a man who makes films without profit in mind. His mindset is what helped make The Departed such a great film. Not only was The Departed the only remake of a foreign film to win Best Picture, it was also Scorsese’s first Best Director win. Though that may do more to delegitimize the Oscars then legitimize this movie. The Departed was full of some of the greatest actors of this generation and past who all provided first-rate performances. Like all Scorsese films, it was also accompanied by an amazing soundtrack. To me “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by Dropkick Murphys will always be linked to this film. Scorsese is a man known for his New York routes so it was surprising how authentic this Boston felt. While this may not be Scorsese’s best film, to me it is the best foreign film remake ever created.