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Introduction – Hollywood Remakes of Foreign Films

A popular facet of Hollywood filmmaking is the remaking of international films. When an international film performs well in other countries, that story will often be repackaged for an American audience. Sometimes this has been done to good effect, and classic American films are made, but often the film loses something in translation.

It begs the questions, “Why do it?” and “Should it be done?” The first is easy to answer. It is done because it is an opportunity to take a good story and make money with a new film. Some can argue, and it is true, that the international film would not have reached most American audiences. This can justify an affirmative answer for the second question. However, the success and accolades of the film Parasite give an example of why it should be encouraged to watch international films, not just wait for the remake

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The following list highlights some of the best international films that were remade for American audiences.

Infernal Affairs (Mou gaan dou) — The Departed

Infernal Affairs is a cop thriller about an undercover cop and a mole in a police department. Their objectives are to find out who the other one is. This concept is the basis for Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. The Departed went on to win Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay, and Best Achievement in Film Editing at the Oscars. Infernal Affairs did not receive any recognition at the Oscars when it came out in 2002. The Hong Kong film is arguably better than the American adaptation. And for those who wouldn’t want to watch the original international version because they know the story, the endings are entirely different. 

Brothers (Brødre) — Brothers

The Danish Drama, Brothers, tells the story of a Danish army officer sent to Afghanistan. His wife, daughters, and younger brother grieve when it is reported that he was killed. However, the older brother was taken as a prisoner of war and is not dead. While he is in captivity, his younger brother grows closer to his wife and daughters. The older brother ultimately returns to the family and battles with the trauma he suffered. The Danish film was directed by Susanne Bier (Bird Box) and was remade a few years later as an American film starring Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Natalie Portman. 

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M (M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder) — M

Director Fritz Lang helmed many classic and groundbreaking films in the history of cinema. One of his best is M. M tells the story of a city plagued by a serial killer preying on children. When the police are unable to capture the murderer, other criminals join in the man-hunt. This film was released in 1931 and is on IMDb’s Top Rated Movies list at #93 at the time of writing this article. The movie was remade in 1951, during the height of the Hollywood noir movement, but did not live up to the original German film.

Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai) — The Magnificent Seven 

The Akira Kurosawa penned and directed film Seven Samurai is one of a few brilliant films by the legendary director that has been remade for Western audiences. Seven Samurai is high up on IMDb’s Top Rated Movies list and tells the story of a poor village under attack recruiting seven unemployed samurai to defend the people and the town. The Japanese film was remade as The Magnificent Seven twice and has been the inspiration for other movies as well. Kurosawa’s version stands the test of time and will forever be a classic in film. 

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Open Your Eyes (Abre los Ojos) — Vanilla Sky

Open Your Eyes is a Spanish film that follows a handsome man, César, who tells his story to a psychiatrist from a prison cell in Madrid. A flashback reveals one night where César stays the night with Sofía after his birthday party. The next morning he wakes up to find his ex-lover, Nuria, offering him a ride. When they are on the road, Nuria purposely crashes the car, horribly disfiguring César. The following events in the movie become disorienting, and viewers have to follow closely as the film twists and turns. Open Your Eyes was remade into the Cameron Crowe directed Vanilla Sky. Tom Cruise plays the lead, and Penélope Cruz reprises her role as Sofia.

RinguThe Ring

Hollywood horror movies reigned king in the 80s, but there was a lull in the genre after that successful decade. Ringu was one of the films that helped revitalize the genre. Ringu is a Japanese film that tells the story of a reporter and her ex-husband investigating a cursed videotape that is rumored to kill whoever watches it seven days after they’ve seen it. The film was remade for American audiences with Naomi Watts as the lead and was a massive hit at the box office.

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The Intouchables (Intouchables) — The Upside

The Intouchables is yet another international film on IMDb’s Top Rated Movies list. This French film follows a young man, Driss, as he takes the job of caregiver to a quadriplegic aristocrat. The film was made for around $10 million and made over $400 million at the international box office. Approximately $10 million was all it grossed at the domestic box office. The film was remade into the financially successful The Upside, but it did not reach the heights of the original at the worldwide box office or with critics. While the American version had good performances from Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, the original is the better of the two. 


The above list is a small sample of the many phenomenal international films remade over the years. Many of these remakes did well, but many could not capture what made the original films memorable. The IMDb Top Rated Movies list is compiled from audience ratings to showcase the highest rated movies on its website. Three of the seven films listed above are high up on the list. These are a few of many international films on the list. 

While remakes can be great films in their own rights and can help the story reach a wider audience, the originals should be highlighted and credited for bringing excellent quality to film history. They are genuinely spectacular films that can give a fresh experience, and viewers should be encouraged to watch these original movies. We have picked out some of the best, and hopefully, this list gives you a solid starting point to delve into the international hits behind the remakes.

By Drew Alexander Ross

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