9 Foreign Films That Did Not Translate Well As American Remakes

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They always look so good on paper.

Hollywood executives, in search of their next big hit, see a film that was a runaway success overseas and think, “Now, if we could just replicate that for an American audience, we’ll be raking in the box-office receipts!”

Unfortunately, time and time again, ticket sales have proved it isn’t that easy. And by the time the movie hits the big screen over in the States, Meg Ryan’s getting hit by a truck, critics are panning the film, and audiences are yawning…or just not showing up.


Here are nine cautionary examples of foreign-film successes that turned into flops in the States for any producers who want to claim an overseas hit as their own and export it for American audiences.

1. Oldboy (2013) and Oldboy (2003), South Korea

What the Original Got Right

General butt-kicking-ness? The fight scenes are generally regarded to rank among the best in movie history, what with their ingenious use of running shots and tight spaces. The plot is complicated and twisty in a good way, and actor Choi Min-sik imbues the lead character with an enormous sense of pathos and purpose as he embarks on a revenge quest that toes the line between fulfillment and madness. To go along with, er, octopus mistreatment.

“Old Boy” (2003)/Tartan Films (via IMDb)

The fact that Choi is a devout Buddhist and went through emotional distress while eating the four octopuses used for takes in the movie—he said a prayer for each one—makes you admire his commitment to the performance even more.

What the American Remake Got Wrong

This is one of those that should have been a slam dunk. Spike Lee, visionary director: check. Josh Brolin, accomplished and talented actor in the lead: check. But the American version suffered, mainly from comparison to the Korean version. It had nothing new to say. Its fight scenes weren’t nearly as impressive. The octopus just kind of swims around in a tank. The remake ended up grossing about $5.2 million worldwide, which, compared to its $30 million budget, was not that great.

A Critic’s Take

“The revenge in Oldboy is neither sweet nor sour; it’s just drab.” —Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

Watch the original Oldboy on Amazon here and the American remake here.

2. Death at a Funeral (2010) and Death at a Funeral (2007), United Kingdom

What the Original Got Right

In the grand tradition of British comedies, Death at a Funeral is clever and dark while also being silly and slapstick. The setup—a dysfunctional family getting together for a funeral—gives the ensemble cast plenty of opportunities to play off each other as the situations get more and more ludicrous.

The lack of big stars in the cast makes it so that everyone gets his or her moment in the sun, and they all fall into an easy chemistry that makes them a believable group of family and friends—one full of people that would believably be at each other’s throats as the awkwardness and emotions surrounding the gathering flare up.

What the American Remake Got Wrong

While not a shot-for-shot remake, the American version hews very closely to the British one…which came out just three years prior. So, by its very nature, it has to contend with being a retread of something that was just in theaters.

With Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence in the lead roles, the remake loses much of the ensemble aspect of the original and becomes more like the rest of the cast orbiting around the planets of Rock and Lawrence.

“Death at a Funeral” (2010)/Screen Gems (via IMDb)

The American version is a little more broad than the British version and borders more toward the offensive. Plus, Peter Dinklage, who was also in the original, is back to remind every one of the movie that was.

A Critic’s Take

“The stellar cast is wasted on scatological humor, running jokes that are run straight into the ground, and corpse-centered slapstick that’s less inspired than Weekend at Bernie’s.” —Richard Roeper

Watch the original Death at a Funeral on Amazon here and the American remake here.

3. The Tourist (2010) and Anthony Zimmer (2005), France

What the Original Got Right

It’s a twisty case of mistaken identity, with a little bit of spy intrigue and double-crossing thrown in. The chemistry between the two leads, Yvan Attal and Sophie Marceau, proves to be a big selling point for the film, which is important because most of the plot revolves around the two of them navigating through treacherous situations and keeping each other close for their own purposes, while also harboring some intriguing secrets.

“Anthony Zimmer” (2005)/StudioCanal (via IMDb)

The film’s settings—Paris, Nice, and Ibiza—give the film an exotic feel, and the action set pieces thrive on tension and solid stunt work. It’s a fun watch all around.

What the American Remake Got Wrong

The beautiful scenery was there, as was the star power, given that it featured Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Unfortunately, not much else remained from the original. Depp, deep into the scene-chewing portion of his career, and Jolie don’t come anywhere near the rapport of Attal and Marceau.

The plot lacks life and the ending is a “twist” that’s obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention. That said, it did end up making $278 million at the box office. So I guess it can’t be called a flop, per se.

A Critic’s Take

“The tin-eared script … could serve as a model on how to botch suspense, character, romance and wit. The alleged ‘surprise’ ending has been telegraphed so far in advance even the actors look bored breathless having to act the damn thing out. The Tourist reaches its own kind of perfection—it fails on every conceivable level.” – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Watch Anthony Zimmer on Amazon here and The Tourist here.

4. The Uninvited (2009) and A Tale of Two Sisters (2002), South Korea

What the Original Got Right

Put simply, this is the highest-grossing Korean horror film of all time, and it was the first to be screened in the American theaters. We’re talking the original here, not the American remake.

It matches imaginative and genuinely horrifying videos with an ingenious plot that blends elements of the natural and supernatural to keep the audience guessing with twist upon twist. It’s a profound treatise on grief and the haunting sensations—both literal and figurative—felt by those who endure unimaginable tragedy. And it shows just how much pain we can cause each other if we’re not careful.

What the American Remake Got Wrong

Much like another remake we’ll get to in a second, The Uninvited loses a lot of A Tale of Two Sisters’ bite because it’s watered down in an attempt to be more palatable to American consumers.

The scares just aren’t there, at least compared to the Korean original. The American version also gives its audience less credit and lays the ending twists out nice and neatly, while the Korean version leaves it more open to interpretation and begs repeat viewings.

“The Uninvited” (2009)/Paramount Pictures (via IMDb)

Once is enough for the American remake. It takes a Korean masterpiece and turns it into just another mediocre mid-aughts American horror flick.

A Critic’s Take

The Uninvited is a mess of styles and stolen ideas, including a plot twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan roll his eyes and dialogue straight from a CW scene generator. This hardly scared the horror partisans the night I saw the film. For almost 90 minutes they cracked up and sassed the screen.” —Wesley Morris, Boston Globe

Watch A Tale of Two Sisters on Amazon here and The Uninvited here.

5. The Eye (2008) and The Eye (2002), Hong Kong

What the Original Got Right

The premise does a lot of heavy lifting with this one. A violinist who has been blind since the age of 2 gets a corneal transplant. She’s happy to have her eyesight back, but that soon turns to dismay when she realizes that her new eyes give her the ability to see people’s gruesome demises before they happen. Pretty cool, right?

In the tradition of many Far East horror films, The Eye contains some pretty gnarly imagery that makes audiences squirm in their seats and, hidden among the gruesomeness, actually contains a bit of a sweet story about the importance of companionship and support in the face of isolation and loneliness.

The film’s success begot two sequels and three remakes.

What the American Remake Got Wrong

Director David Moreau says he was shut out of the editing room during post-production: never a good sign. His movie ended up being pretty tame and was ultimately mild enough to earn a PG-13 rating, meaning it could appeal to a wider moviegoing audience. Basically, it was tweaked so teenagers could come see it.

“The Eye” (2008)/Lionsgate Entertainment (via IMDb)

Jessica Alba’s acting didn’t inspire many rave reviews, and the general consensus seemed to be that the American Eye was a bit of a boring slog through its 98 minutes on screen. Not exactly a phrase you want associated with your “thriller.”

A Critic’s Take

“As we crawl toward the odd, dimwitted, and yet somehow inevitable ‘rational’ wrap-up and conclusion, we can appreciate the better, if overly-familiar movie that might have come into focus in The Eye. And we appreciate that, as horror movies go, seeing isn’t believing.” —Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel

Watch the original The Eye on Amazon here and the American remake here.

6. The Wicker Man (2006) and The Wicker Man (1973), United Kingdom

What the Original Got Right

In 1977, four years after the release of the original Wicker Man, the American magazine Cinefantastique devoted an entire issue to the movie. The magazine dubbed it “the Citizen Kane of horror movies.” So yeah, it was pretty well-regarded.

The story was thematically rich, pitting tenets of Christianity against pagan beliefs, the law of man against the law of nature, and examines the folly of mortals trying to tame the world around them and bend it to their will. It sets a grounded, sympathetic hero played by Edward Woodward against an eerie, sinister antagonist in Christopher Lee, who also manages to injects shades of grey into his performance. And we all know what a cool villain Christopher Lee makes.

Plus, the twist at the end is just spectacular.

What the American Remake Got Wrong

We can, perhaps, dub the American remake—which came out more than 30 years later—the “Citizen Kane of Nicolas Cage screaming about bees.”

The manic performance of Cage (who we’ll see again later on this list) not only runs counter to Woodward’s restrained portrayal in the original but is also possibly the most cringe-worthy aspect of the remake (not to mention the spawn of many of the Cage clips you probably see on a daily basis).

“The Wicker Man” (2006)/Warner Bros. Pictures (via IMDb)

Let us not forget “How’d it get burned?” and “Nicolas Cage Punches a Woman Whilst Wearing a Bear Suit.”  Whereas the original projected a mood of dread, unease, and menace, the remake was just silly through and through. And no amount of scenes involving Cage punching things could change that.

A Critic’s Take

“A movie like this can survive an absurd premise but not incompetent execution. And (director Neil) LaBute, never much of an artist with the camera, proves almost comically inept as a horror-movie technician. He can’t even manage an effective false scare, or sustain suspense for more than a beat or two. Nor does the crude, sloppy look of the film turn into cheesy, campy excess. It’s neither haunting nor amusing; just boring.” —A. O. Scott, New York Times

Watch the original Wicker Man on Amazon here and the American remake here.

7. Taxi (2004) and Taxi (1998), France

What the Original Got Right

Well, first off, it’s written and produced by Luc Besson. So you already know that it’s got that potent mix of action and comedy that Besson has made a trademark during his career. The whole plot is predicated on an exceptionally skilled driver—and his car full of illegal street-racing enhancements—being commandeered by a driving-deficient policeman who is hot on the trail of a German gang of bank robbers. Suffice to say, there are car chases. Well-executed ones.

“Taxi” (1998)/ARP Sélection (via IMDb)

Basically, it’s a fun, breezy movie that became one of the most successful film franchises in the history of French cinema, spurring four sequels. Plus, it was one of Marion Cotillard’s first films.

What the American Remake Got Wrong

This Jimmy Fallon vehicle—pun very much intended—kind of falls into the Oldboy trap of being a pale imitation. Not as funny, not as entertaining, not as striking visually. Plus, all of the bank robbers become supermodels for some reason.

Fallon and Queen Latifah are both, on their own, entertaining, charismatic presences to have in a movie. But when they’re thrown together, they end up sucking all the air out of the movie and not letting it stand on its own merits. The American Taxi actually did pretty well at the box office, making $69 million worldwide, and audiences gave it a “B+” rating on CinemaScore. That definitely clashes with the 10 percent figure critics gave it on RottenTomatoes. But hey, what do they know?

A Critic’s Take

“It’s loud, it’s stupid, yet against all odds, enjoyable.” —Empire Magazine

Watch the original Taxi on Amazon here and the American remake here.

8. City of Angels (1998) and Wings of Desire (1987), Germany

What the Original Got Right

Released during the time of the East Berlin/West Berlin split, Wim Wenders’ meditation on angels observing the lives of the mortals of Berlin and intervening to comfort those in distress held themes of unity and humanity in a time of deep division. Plus, cinematographer Henri Alekan shot the film in an eye-catching, revelatory visual style—in color and in sepia-toned black and white to represent how the angels see the world—that influenced later films.

It is considered a classic of world cinema.

What the American Remake Got Wrong

That ending, though. Meg Ryan expiring as Cage (guess who’s back? Back again?) emotes as hard as he can encapsulates the problems with City of Angels, which, to be fair, never presented itself as a straight-up remake of Wings of Desire.

While touching on some of the plot points—an angel gives up immortality to experience the mortal world with a woman he loves—and themes of Wenders’ film, the American version falls too often into sentimentality, unearned emotion, and other pitfalls of treacly romantic fare.

“City of Angels” (1998)/Warner Bros. Pictures (via IMDb)

No meditation, no pondering of the human existence—just a lapsed angel with some pretty bad luck. And, as David Denby wrote in New York Magazine, the setting of Berlin served as a key character in the original. Why would we mortals need constant reminding that life is worth living in sunny, beautiful Los Angeles? At least “Iris” was a hit.

A Critic’s Take

“When will Hollywood learn to leave well enough alone? …In the age of inferior remakes, this would-be homage … is a mawkish debasement of its source material.” —Michael O’Sullivan, Washington Post

Watch Wings of Desire on Amazon here and City of Angels here.

9. Godzilla (1998) and Gojira (1954), Japan

What the Original Got Right

Okay, so we’re not talking about the hokey sequels in the Godzilla franchise here. Your Ebirah, Horror of the Deep with its giant, terrifying…uh…bird. Or All Monsters Attack and its lamer, scalier, cat-faced kaiju Gabara, who also happens to have a nice shock of blond hair for some reason.

“Gojira” (1954)/Toho (via IMDb)

We’re talking the original Godzilla, which carried a very cogent message about the dangers of nuclear war along with some visuals that, while iconic, haven’t aged very well. At least it had mass appeal and some thematic depth, though.

What the American Remake Got Wrong

Too many special effects. And, while they weren’t bad for their time, they came at the expense of plot, which bordered on the incomprehensible. Plus, the monster just didn’t look right.

“Godzilla” (1998)/TriStar Pictures 

Here’s longtime Godzilla suit actor Haruo Nakajima to tell you why: “Its face looks like an iguana and its body and limbs look like a frog.” Ouch.

Gareth Edwards made a good American Godzilla in 2014, and a sequel is slated for release in May 2019. But memories of the 1998 one, winner of two Razzies, haven’t gotten better with time.

A Critic’s Take

“In Howard Hawks’ The Thing, there is a great scene where scientists in the Arctic spread out to trace the outlines of something mysterious that is buried in the ice, and the camera slowly pulls back to reveal that it is circular—a saucer. In Godzilla, the worm expert is standing in a deep depression, and the camera pulls back to reveal that he is standing in a footprint. Which he would have already known.” —Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Watch the original Godzilla on Amazon here and the American remake here.

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