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20 Awesome Foreign Movies That Should Be Seen Before Their US Remakes

20 October 2013 | Features, Film Lists | by David Zou

remakes originals

Remakes are nothing new to Hollywood, but there’s been quite a surge of them since the turn of the millennium, a great deal of those based on foreign-language movies. And not classics, recent foreign-language movies. When did it become the In Thing to immediately snap up the rights to an English-language remake every time a foreign movie gets a bit of attention? Not that I’m totally against remakes, or even remakes of recent movies. The Magnificent Seven was released only six years after Seven Samurai, and that’s a great example of how to do a remake right. The Departed, though hardly Scorsese’s best, springs to mind as well.

The problem is there’s just too much chaff to separate. For every Insomnia or A Fistful of Dollars there’s ten of Vanilla Sky or Taxi or The Eye. I’m hoping the planned remakes of following films can at least attempt to hold up to their originals, but every time I see something like One Missed Call or The Uninvited, that hope dies just a little bit. In the interest of inserting a bit of culture into people’s movie-viewing habits, I would strongly recommend checking these out.


20. Dinner for Schmucks


The Original: Le diner de cons (1998). A simple enough comedy conceit: arrogant businessman Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte) attends a weekly dinner, to which his acquaintances all bring along an idiot to mock. Pierre believes he has found the perfect dolt in the form of Francois Pignon (Jacques Villeret), but an unexpected back injury leaves Pierre stuck with his target all night.

The Remake: Paul Rudd and Steve Carell take on the roles of business man and dolt respectively, but the Anchorman co-stars don’t generate an iota of the laughs that their previous collaboration merited. Director Jay Roach (whose credits include Austin Powers and Meet The Parents) is at the helm of this overstuffed flick, which contains more decent comic actors than it does actual laughs.

What’s Missing? The remake doesn’t have the heart to be as mean spirited and acerbic as its Gallic forebear, and Roach wastes his cast’s talents by replacing witty wordplay with grating slapstick.


19. Quarantine


The Original: [Rec] (2007). Kind of a mutant crossbreed of Blair Witch and 28 Days Later, this Spanish horror proves quite how intense found-footage movies can be when handled right. [Rec] is an extremely lean beast too, clocking in at under 80 minutes, but given its intensity, you’ll be grateful of that fact.

The Remake: Quarantine came extremely hot on the heels of its Spanish antecedent, but with such a killer premise you can hardly blame the producers for not hanging around. A TV reporter and her cameraman are following fire crew who are called to an incident at an apartment block. The residents have become infected with a mystery disease and are turning rabidly violent. Once again, you’re with the cameraman all the way…

What’s Missing? The religious connotations are replaced with something a little more political, but otherwise Quarantine slavishly sticks to [Rec]‘s blueprint. The predictably glossy American version lacks some of the ferocious realism of the Spanish original, though.


18. Three Men and a Baby


The Original: Trois homes et un couffin (1985), which translates as Three Men and a Cradle not a Coffin, by the way. That would’ve been an altogether more disturbing prospect. The basic premise will likely be familiar (if only through the remake), with three bachelors faced with looking after a baby that gets left at their swish pad. Like its American offspring, it had a sequel (although, as the title suggests, 18 ans après arrived in a much tardier fashion than the US follow-up).

The Remake: In the 80s, casts rarely came more starry than the central triptych of Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg and Ted Danson. They may not have much pulling power now (or any, Guttenberg’s case), but there’s charm to spare in this still-likeable family movie, which regurgitates the original plot almost verbatim.

What’s Missing? Not much to be fair, which could be why it still stands as the highest-grossing US remake of a French movie.


17. Shall We Dance?


The Original: Shall We Dance? (1996). It’s rare when a Japanese movie that’s not a horror or animation arrives on our shores to critical fanfare. In fact, this sweet little movie feels almost European, with its lightly-handled romantic flourishes. An office-cubicle drone finds his spirit invigorated when he gets involved in a spot of clandestine ballroom dancing, much to the chagrin of his suspicious wife.

The Remake: Richard Gere starred in the Hollywood remake. He plays a Chicago lawyer who impulsively signs up for dance lessons in the hope of getting to know Jennifer Lopez, but finds he has a fondness for the rhythms. Susan Sarandon is his other half, and Stanley Tucci and Richard Jenkins have fun support roles.

What’s Missing? The cultural transplant just doesn’t work here. Within the Japanese setting, the boogying did feel a bit taboo, but modern metrosexual (and Chicago star) Gere would have no need to mask his passion. And the student and teacher fail to reach the same respective levels of amiable naivety and enigmatic allure as their Japanese counterparts.

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  • Tony

    How is The Point of No Return/La Femme Nikita not on this list?

  • alexbal

    Oldboy should be on the list, even when the remake (Spike Lee) hasn’t been released…

  • Jiggy

    Also consider My Sassy Girl (Korean), and Starbuck (French/Canadian) I think Vince Vaughn is in the remake.

  • José Rafael Solis Corps

    So, you don’t put the original name of “Open your eyes” in the original language, like you did with the films in French and Italian? Way to to. The name of the original in Spanish was Abre los ojos.

  • dirkmcquigley

    Add The GIrl with the Dragon Tattoo to your list. Much better than the version w/ Daniel Craig.

  • Red Lagoon

    This was a good read! Good job! But please this movies are showing up on every list already. Bring something more fresh!!!