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The 18 Best American Remakes of Foreign Movies

20 December 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Colten Hartman

Twelve Monkeys

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)

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)

THREE MEN AND A BABY

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)

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)

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)

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)

samara The Ring

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)

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)

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)

Let-Me-In-movie

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.

 

 

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  • I would add Sorcerer by William Friedkin which is a remake of The Wages of Fear by Henri-Georges Clouzot which is one of those rare remakes that is actually almost as good as the original.

    • Tinderbox

      Not a remake. They’re both adaptations of an original source novel.

  • Ana

    An interesting list with some genuinely good American films on it but I would say you’re using the term ‘re-make’ rather loosely. In some cases ‘inspired by’ would be more accurate, for example 12 Monkeys/La Jetée. In other cases the directors themselves would disagree with the implied dependence of their film on another vaguely similar one, for example Reservoir Dogs/City on Fire.

    • cinemaftw

      Even its there is resemble in City on Fire and Reservoir Dogs, the principal aspect that make the second one highly regarded, such as non-chronological timeline and the fact that the heists itself is never show, a not present, so even if we call the movie a rip-off is a rip-off with some new qualities that make them a far superior film

  • Jose Alberto Hermosillo

    We are what we are. Jungle to jungle, Everbody is fine.

  • Kate

    Interesting list, though it’s hard to take your opinions seriously when you don’t even know how many Oscar nominations Brad Pitt has had. (or more that you couldn’t go and check your facts).

  • jamesmerendino

    True lies was not the highest grossing movies of all time when it came out. Not even close. It made 379 mill worldwide. It cost 115 mil. it did alright.

    • Max Conoley

      And Jurassic Park came out the year before. It grossed more that 2.5 times what True Lies made.

    • Brian Lussier

      It wasn’t even #1 of its year, it was #3, after Forrest Gump and The Lion King.

  • Colten Hartman

    Author Edit Notes:
    – Brad Pitt’s Nomination was the only one he had received to THAT date.
    – “Re-Make” is the word used due to the fact that there was heavily borrowed themes and content from the original material
    – True Lies was in fact not the highest grossing, butt the most expensive movie ever when it was released
    – There is a lovely documentary on how much Tarantino took from City on Fire called Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?. It can be found on vimeo by director Mike White.

    Thank for your input everyone and keep on reading TOC!

    • Brian Lussier

      In fact, True Lies was not even the highest grossing film of its year, coming in third, after Forrest Gump and The Lion King.

  • Michael Gregg

    #10 is dead wrong. The original ‘Let the Right One In’ is by far the superior film. Two of it’s strongest points are it’s beauty and originality….of course when you’re dumbing down foreign art for the American consumer, originality isn’t a consideration. I’m rambling. Re-watch both films. This is a smart horror film, and smart films do not need to be remade…smart people can keep up with subtitles.

    • Colten Hartman

      Author Note:
      I absolutely agree. But, this list is simply the about remakes and how good they are. Not how much better they are than the original material.

      • Michael Gregg

        I actually did go back and re-watch the remake, and based on that criteria, it is fit for inclusion. However, upon further viewing, my own opinion concerning the irrelevance of it was solidified. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have your art remade for the sake of an alternate audience, especially when the remake is, scene for scene, an exact duplicate of the original, save minor details. I expect money helps…but damn.

        • Francine Tieko Aoki

          The same happened in Funny Games. They replicated it scene for scene and i never understood why.
          Thank you for clarifying it for me.

    • Matheus Storpirtis

      Actualy, the original swidish movie is infinitly less violent, less interesting and less smart then the book from wich it is based of. It was a somewhat fine movie, but very, very weak if you had contact with the sorce material.

      • mike5446g

        I had heard that, and the book is in my queue. I understand that the castration is given background as well, and I’ve always wanted to know the backstory there.

    • Dan Pegram-Brown

      It explains in the introduction: “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.”

  • José Rafael Solis Corps

    Unless Die Trapp-Familie was also a musical, I can’t agree that The Sound of Music is a “remake”. The musical version of a movie it’s not its remake.

    • Cygnifier

      Not necessarily so. High Society (1956) is a remake of the Philadelphia Story (1940) — it also happens to be a musical, but that was simply a part of the adaptation process and doesn’t change it’s inherent nature as a remake of the same story.

  • Nacho Mancilla

    Maybe I’ll get lapidated for saying this
    But I think David Fincher’s A Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, should also be here.

    • Brian Lussier

      Well, hell, I thought it was WAY superior to its Swedish counterpart myself!

      • FlyteBro

        Hehe, I have the same trouble with this remake, as with Insomnia. Fincher’s remake is yet another example of how Hollywood is so afraid of showing real despair, and again it boils down to one moment: The rape scene.

        In the original film, it’s a gut-wrenching display of brutality that is so disgusting, you literally cheer when the tables turn and she gets her revenge.

        In the remake, it’s a less violent and much shorter sequence. Sure, it still means the rapist is a horrible person, but as we have been sheltered from experiencing the full extent of just how terrible his actions were, the revenge isn’t as heartfelt, which again has huge implications on her character and the whole movie.

        • John Camargo

          I think Fincher’s version of the rape escene es pretty disturbing and LONG…everytime I re watch the movie I skip that scene… and..This version is not Hollywoodesque…Fincher movies are independant..made in big studios…

    • Alex Reid

      I have always thought of the remake as British for some reason.. maybe because of Daniel Craig

    • Antonio H. Foglia

      It shouldn’t be on this list because David Fincher version is an adaptation from the book, as it is swedish version.

  • FlyteBro

    Nolan’s Insomnia is a terrible remake and a perfect example of everything wrong with Hollywood. The original is a dark and clever film about one man’s descent into his own personal hell, and Nolan repainted it into a standard hamfisted Hollywood fare about a good cop catching a bad man. Yuck!

    • Brian Lussier

      Dont know about you, but I saw All Pacino’s Will Former as very flawed, not merely a good cop, as you put it. I agree with you about the film not being as good as its model, but I disagree with your oversimplification of the main character.

      • FlyteBro

        Fair point. But I think it all boils down to one scene: In the original film, the detective goes into an alley and shoots a dog to get a hold of a used bullet. BOOM! He murders a dog for his own personal gain. That’s such a powerful scene, which signifies that his character is beyond redemption, and he is no longer any better than the man he is chasing, which is the whole point of the movie.

        In Nolan’s remake, the same dog is already dead and decaying when Pacino shoots it. It signifies… not much. Sure, it means he’s a crooked cop, but it’s still very clear cut who’s good and bad, and the film ends with some atrocious dialogue about doing the right thing. BARF!

  • Peter Freydl

    Funny Games is Austrian, not German.

  • Brian Lussier

    Avatar, remake of Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai and The New World? Oh, wait! I forgot, Avatar sucked!

    • Klaus Dannick

      Dances With Wolves is an American film.

  • FlixtheCat

    The Departed is a dumbed down remake of the original, and Let Me In is sub-par as well as cheapens the love story by changing the dynamic between the kids.

  • Gines Velazquez

    thank you, you give me some thing to view

  • Akhil Dev

    What about “vanila sky” ? I don’t see that in this list. A filmmaker can never create something original. I mean 100% original, he is bound to be inspired from the movies he watch, books he read , music he listens too. But I think there is a great deal of difference between these three words – inspiration, remake and ripoff.

  • Miroslav Maric

    original ‘let the right one’ in is a masterpiece

  • Eve Shaw

    Girl with the dragon tattoo, no brainer for me, the original version was by far the superior of the two.

  • Mariano Rossi

    The list is nice, and gave me a lot of ideas about what to watch, but i think you spent most of the time praising the american version instead of giving a more balanced comparision between the original and the remake.

  • Oscar Medina

    Where’s ‘Shall we Dance’?

  • DyanSwan

    I disagree with Three Men and a Baby and The Birdcage being on this list.

    Three Men and a Cradle was charming, Three Men and a Baby was the usual Hollywood hack version of a French film.

    As for The Birdcage (aside from Robin Williams speech on modern dance, which was IMO brilliant) seemed to be a scene by scene copy (not remake) of the French original.

  • FlixtheCat

    The Departed is watered down, dumbed down tripe that takes all the subtle elements of the original and turns it in to on the nose crime fodder for a dumb audience.