This list contains those movies that were once the great idea of a foreign director. Now they’ve been taken in by American film makers and re-interpreted with American actors and a different cultural feel.
Sometimes we watch movies and think instantly about a remake of them: what we would add, what they should have changed, what they did wrong. All of these go into how we see our remakes, and more, of course. But it is these films, most of them groundbreaking, that have exercised the idea with a spectacular flair.
“Rip-off” is harsh word for a shameless retelling with no true spirit. It is especially useful to describe those that don’t pay respect to their inspired material. However, sometimes a remake is so well done, so meticulously crafted, that a new film of all its own is born.
We are not trying to say that all the remakes on this list are better than their originals, in most cases, they simply aren’t. But among the large pile of Hollywood remake trashes, these are definitely the ones worth checking out.
18. Brothers (2009)
Original Version: Brødre (2004) (Denmark)
It takes a lot to make an effective commentary about what hell military service can be like. Tobey McGuire is spot on with his performance, and Jake Gyllenhaal always delivers. But it is the absolute chilling realism that one experiences through McGuire’s character being forced to kill his compatriot.
Beating someone to death is one of the most gruesome and personal ways to murder. You’re up close and able to see their body and life force give way. The lead pipe being the weapon is just an afterthought of how much more awful this forced task is. Few films portray PTSD as effectively as this film. It’s a poignant commentary on the minds of psychologically damaged returning soldiers.
17. Three Men and Baby (1987)
Original Version: Tres hommes et un couffin (1985) (France)
There is something to be said about the financial success of a film, especially if it is not a big budget blockbuster. This film was the highest grossing that year and the chemistry between the actors is at least part of the reason why. The story is heartwarming, the writing hilarious, and the plot on par with a classic from the same year, Raising Arizona.
This movie shows a lesser explored recurring theme in comedic films: gender role swapping shock. Films such as Big Daddy and The Hangover owe at least some of their hilarity to this concept. Though, it is best to avoid the sequels of this one; the original will stand as a great American interpretation of its French inspiration.
16. Scent of a Woman (1992)
Original Version: Profumo di Donna (1974) (Italy)
Al Pacino is going to show up more than once on this list. His acting ability is a shining example of versatility. Going from the Godfather films to something like this later on is an incredible task when one thinks about how polar opposite the roles he is playing are. However, he does it seamlessly.
The film is one that builds the soul and provides one of Pacino’s most remarkable performances ever. Winning an Academy Award is no trifle, and receiving one was long overdue for Pacino. Count them, SEVEN nominations, before he received his nod from the American Academy. Both Godfather and Godfather: Part II, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and the others are just names of great movies that were graced with his presence. It takes quite a performance to deliver that little statue, and Pacino made this remake a piece of evidence for his case.
15. Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986)
Original Version: Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932) (France)
This film was the first R-rated film Disney ever released. It’s got sexuality, homelessness, cross-class commentary, and dogs that hate their owners. You know, the usual. Somehow Nick Nolte was able to give imagery of these deep concepts with a panache that made this film into a hilarious story of understanding one’s fellow man, even though each is from a completely different world.
Bette Midler is always strange to see on screen, but Richard Dreyfuss has always delivered. Both have great performances to match Nolte’s bum, even as he makes friends with their dog by scarfing its food and they stay their hoity-toity selves.
The movie is a great story about a solitary man being accepted and finding out that his place among people is wanted and welcome as he enriches their lives. Any film that builds the soul while making you laugh is worth praise. This being a remake, and a strong film on its own, means viewers can get two different opportunities for such an indulgence.
14. The Birdcage (1996)
Original Version: La Cage aux Folles (1978) (France)
Robin Williams was (R.I.P.) an absolute master of character acting. His ability to create and exercise a particular character is almost unmatched in all of 20th century cinema. Nathan Lane is one of Broadway’s biggest stars. Gene Hackman is a delight in any film. Diane Wiest is an incredible talent. Putting them together in a film that hearkens back to drag-themed films, such as Some Like It Hot, obviously would make for a wonderful film whose story you can conclude with “hilarity ensues.”
Though it had all the potential to fail, and almost does at points, it is an insight into the caricature of gay men as couples. It is not a common theme, but is executed with over the top performances, and wacky antics. The finale of forgiveness is a bit forced, but the production is really a show about how wacky Robin Williams can be if given all the room in the world to do so.
13. The Ring (2002)
Original Version: Ringu (1998) (Japan)
This entry is probably one of if not the best horror remakes of all time. The Ring gave viewers a powerful trip into the concept of morality. Most horror movies can be entered knowing that characters are going to die. This one gave them a timeline that couldn’t be avoided without solving the puzzle. It is definitely a progenitor to films such as the Saw franchise, and even can be stretched as far as films like Crank. It asked the burning question, “What would you do if you knew you were going to die (soon)?”
There is also something to be said about the visual aspect of the movie. Never letting up from its cold monochromatic palate, even the video tape itself is a short film on how to torment a viewer with eerily silent-toned imagery. Watching it once is not a difficult task, but not squirming at least once throughout is. The Ring is a standalone manifestation of how remakes can be done well. It is also a strong enough piece of evidence as to why they should be done at all.
12. Insomnia (2002)
Original Version: Insomnia (1997) (Norway)
Pacino is an actor, plain and simple. This film, a product of the brilliant Christopher Nolan, follows a cop that has committed a grave mistake. It’s not a new storyline, but Nolan has a way with film. He takes viewers through the ringer by the hand with this one. Insomnia is something all movie watchers have felt, and Pacino, of course, is able to wear it like a costume.
The story is intense and engaging, while also keeping the viewer on their toes. However, it should also be noted that this film features Robin Williams in one of the strangest years of his career. He starred in three films in 2002 as a psychopathic murderer. This one, though, is the best. Take that and watch the film. You won’t be disappointed.
11. Ripley’s Game (2002)
Original Version: Der Amerikanische Freund (1977) (Germany)
John Malkovich is one of the most powerful actors ever to grace any screen. He can be every different kind of person with a mastery that only can be described as authentic. From his role as Lenny in Of Mice and Men, to his role as Cyrus the Virus in Con Air, he is as versatile as they come. Now, put an extremely well written story in front of him, and you’ve got magic waiting to happen.
The Ripliad series’ main character, Thomas Ripley, provides Malkovich an opportunity to exercise his acting muscles during a paramount time in his career. The twists and turns of the story are masterfully adapted to the American medium and Malkovich gives Ripley a calculated quality that is absolutely chilling. Winstone is also spectacular as the thug Reeves. All in all, the film is a perfect example of how to give actors the ability to make a story come to life. Especially when inspired by a foreign influence.
10. Let Me In (2010)
Original Version: Let the Right One In (2008) (Sweden)
This movie could be on this list simply because of how amazing its adapted material is. Let the Right One In is simply one of the greatest horror movies ever made. The intimacy of a child, mixed with its manifestation as a gore-thirsty monster, is a combination that could freeze the sun.
Chloe Grace-Moretz’s unquestionable acting ability and virtuosic performance make the character even more terrifying. Horror movie remakes from Scandinavia are few and far between. Luckily for America, we let the right one in.