11 Worst American Remakes Of Foreign Language Movies

Last week it was reported that a Hollywood remake of the South Korean zombie action movie Train to Busan was in the works. The movie will be produced by the Conjuring and Aquaman director James Wan and helmed by Indonsiean filmmaker Timo Tjahjanto.

Of course, Train to Busan is only the latest foreign language movie to get the US remake treatment. Hollywood has long been a place where original ideas take second place to making movies based on existing properties that have already been a success. While international cinema might not always have the built-in recognition factor of a franchise sequel or remake of an older American film, there’s no denying that it’s a source of great storytelling ideas. Why think of a new story when some guy in another country has already done it?

Unfortunately, very few Hollywood remakes of great foreign language movies are actually any good. In many cases, the American filmmakers take a great story but remove much of what makes the original so effective–whether that’s tone, style, or acting. Other times, the desire to make a movie more accessible to mainstream US audiences means that the darker, weirder, and ultimately more interesting edges of the original are blunted.

There are exceptions of course. Movies such as Matt Reeves’ Let Me In (remaking Let the Right One In), Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (Infernal Affairs), William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (Wage of Fear), and James Cameron’s True Lies (La Totale) all brought something new to the source material, and stand separate from the originals as great movies in their own right. But for every one of these, there are many more bad, silly, and utterly redundant remakes. Asian horror has been particularly badly served over the years, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for the Train to Busan remake. But while we wait for that movie with our fingers crossed, here’s a look at some of the worst US remakes of foreign language films.

11. Point of No Return (1993)

While many Hollywood remakes bring a more commercial edge to the material, there are some foreign films that are so commercial and accessible to start with, that you wonder why they bothered. Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita was an exciting and popular 1990 French action thriller that focused on a troubled young woman who is trained to become a highly skilled government assassin. Point of No Return has exactly the same plot, with Bridget Fonda standing in for Anne Parillaud, and John Badham (WarGames, Stakeout) directing. The results aren’t terrible, but it’s so close in style, look, and pace to the original that it becomes utterly redundant. La Femme Nikita was remade yet again in 2010, as a CW series that ran for three seasons.

10. Downhill (2020)

The Swedish black comedy Force Majeure was one of 2014’s most acclaimed films, and it centered on a great central idea–the fallout of a marriage after the husband abandons his family when he thinks they are about to be hit by an avalanche on a ski holiday (it misses them). Stars Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are good choices for the US remake, but unfortunately Downhill does absolutely nothing to improve–or even equal–the superb original. It struggles to find the right balance between biting drama and farcical humor, and yet again, only really exists because Hollywood prefers “safe” best to original ideas.

9. Godzilla (1998)

The classic Japanese monster Godzilla has successfully returned to Hollywood in recent years, but this wasn’t the case back in 1998. Director Roland Emmerich followed his 1996 alien invasion blockbuster Independence Day with this big budget, star-studded Hollywood update, and the results weren’t good. Godzilla was critically panned and swept the board at the Razzies that year, and was only a modest box office success. Some of the urban mayhem, as the Big G levels New York, is well staged, but there’s no escaping dumb plot, clichéd characters, and idiotic dialogue.

8. City of Angels (1998)

Wim Wenders’ 1987 German romantic fantasy Wings of Desire is one of the most celebrated and influential foreign language films of the ’80s. The Hollywood remake, City of Angels, is none of those things. Wenders’ magical meditation on love, death, and the afterlife is turned into an interminable melodrama in which Nicolas Cage’s weepy angel mopes around Los Angeles, pining after Meg Ryan. While the original film is deeply moving without being mawkish, the remake sees director Brad Silberling crank up the sentimentality to a laughable degree.

7. Diabolique (1996)

Diabolique is a remake of the 1954 French psychological thriller Les Diaboliques, that turns the eerie, gripping original into a silly, glossy melodrama. The plot is the same, and focuses on a wife and the mistress of a man, who conspire to kill him but then find themselves in a mess when the body disappears. But this big, expensive reworking throws the subtlety and dark wit out of the window and replaces them with ludicrous plot developments and over-the-top performances from the likes of Sharon Stone, Isabelle Adjani, and Chazz Palminteri.

6. Martyrs (2015)

Pascal Laugier’s brutal Martyrs was one of 2008’s most controversial movies, and it was one of the key films in the French extreme horror movement of the ’00s. The belated and unwanted US remake removes everything that made the original so effective, including the grueling horror, stylish filmmaking, and intelligence that Laugier brought to this story of a woman haunted by terrible, hidden memories from many years earlier. The results are a cheap, unlikable shocker–the original might not be the sort of film you’d want to watch a second time, but the remake isn’t even worth a first look.

5. Pulse (2006)

The Japanese horror wave of the early 2000s inspired many US remakes, but most turned inventive, scary, and idiosyncratic original films into bland and forgettable retreads. One of the worst was Pulse, a remake of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s terrifying 2001 movie of the same title. If you’ve seen the original, you’ll know how deeply strange and incredibly scary it is–and how impossible it would be to remake with any degree of success. And you’d be right. Director Jim Sonzero throws every horror cliché at the wall in an attempt to generate some scares, but the movie fails to even raise a vague chill.

4. The Vanishing (1993)

The terrible US remake of George Sluizer’s stunning French/Dutch thriller The Vanishing somehow seems even worse because it was directed by Sluizer himself. While the basic plot is the same–a man spends years investigating the sudden disappearance of his wife–the subtle, gripping, slowly unfolding tension of the original is replaced by empty, slick thrills, with hammy performances from Kiefer Sutherland as the husband and Jeff Bridges as the man responsible for the abduction. Worst of all, the original’s devastating ending is replaced by a safe, predictable resolution because, well, this is Hollywood.

3. The Eye (2008)

The Eye was yet another acclaimed and scary Asian horror movie ruined by American filmmakers. The original 2002 Thai film was directed by the Pang brothers and had a great central concept. A blind young woman is given a cornea transplant to help her see again–but she also starts seeing mysterious ghostly figures that might be causing a series of deaths. The US version takes the story but forgets the scares, and Jessica Alba’s terrible performance was rightfully nominated for a Razzie that year.

2. Ghost in the Shell (2017)

The live-action remake of Masamune Shirow’s manga and anime cyberpunk classic was hit by controversy even before it arrived in theaters, with many critics questioning why Scarlett Johansson had been cast as such an iconic Japanese character as Major Motoko Kusanagi. The film itself was very bad, the admittedly impressive visuals and faithful recreation of the original movie’s early scenes quickly giving way to a derivative, incomprehensible mess with lifeless characters and little of the source material’s intelligence and enthralling mix of action and mystery.

1. Oldboy (2013)

Eyebrows were raised when Spike Lee was announced as director of the remake of Park Chan-Wook’s 2003 South Korean masterpiece Oldboy. Lee is obviously a hugely accomplished director but nothing in his filmography suggested he was the right man to adapt Park’s dazzling, twisted tale of bloody revenge and dark family secrets. On the plus side, Lee does bring some directorial flair to the project, and Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen both deliver excellent performances. But the film was a pointless and plodding affair that brought nothing new to the table. Producers demanded that Lee drastically re-edit and shorten the movie, leading the director to remove his trademark “Spike Lee Joint” credit, and it was a major box office failure.

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