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Best American Remakes of Foreign Films

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Jan 10, 2012 | 4:58am EST

A relatively little-known (or at least little-publicized) factoid about this week’s Mark Wahlberg-starring action thriller Contraband: It's a remake of the 2009 Icelandic film Reykjavík-Rotterdam. The American remake of a foreign film happens pretty often, and while the former is rarely – very rarely – as good as the latter, there have been some pretty solid remakes. Here are our favorites.

The Departed

Based on: Infernal Affairs (China)

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Martin Scorsese scored his biggest box office hit and first-ever Best Director Oscar (don’t get us started on how long overdue he was) with this remake of Hong Kong’s similarly themed Infernal Affairs. American moviegoers, critics and award voters were pretty much smitten across the board, but Infernal’s co-director, Andrew Lau, and co-star, Andy Lau, expressed then what we all probably feel now: The Departed is very good, if not great, but it’s not without flaws. And it’s long!

True Lies

Based on: La Totale! (France)

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James Cameron’s extended remake of the very like-minded (but much shorter) French film La Totale! represents probably the least serious and stuffy movie of his career. And – thanks to the stunt work commissioned by the director and the action/comedy in his script … and, yes, Ah-nold – maybe his most fun offering.

Funny Games

Based on: Funny Games (Austria)

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Both versions were directed by Michael Haneke, and both were divisive, love-it-or-hate-it exercises in testing audiences’ tolerance and bloodlust. Count us among the fascinated (partly because of the stellar performances that are under-appreciated because most people didn't see them through).

The Ring

Based on: Ringu (Japan)

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The success of The Ring was largely responsible for the annoying PG-13-horror trend – as well as “Let’s remake every Japanese horror movie”-mania – but most people would agree that Gore Verbinski’s faithful remake of Hideo Nakata’s 1998 Japanese original was entertaining at the least, horrifying at the most.

Insomnia

Based on: Insomnia (Norway)

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The most overlooked film in Christopher Nolan’s resume – OK, maybe it’s The Prestige. Or Following...– changed quite a bit from the Norwegian film on which it is based (different setting, different arcs for the main characters, slightly different plots overall), but both are modern-noir, psychological-thriller classics.

Let Me In

Based on: Let the Right One In (Sweden)

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Thanks to some fumbling by the marketing team, not many people saw Let Me In, but it’s one of the few remakes that matches, if not exceeds, the original movie on which it is based in terms of quality. Do yourself a favor: Watch both and be the judge.

Brothers

Based on: Brothers (Denmark)

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The American version didn’t fare quite as well as Susanne Bier’s original five years earlier, but the star-studded cast (Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman) turned in unforgettable performances.

Scent of a Woman

Based on: Profumo di Donna (Italy)

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Al Pacino won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal as the blind Frank Slade in Scent, which scored several other big noms – basically matching the critical praise of the Italian version on which it was based.

12 Monkeys

Based on: La Jetee (France)

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It’s hard to believe that an American movie that feels so contemporary and even futuristic could be based on a 1962 short film from France, but that’s the case with Terry Gilliam’s masterful 12 Monkeys and Chris Marker’s influential La Jetee (“The Pier”) – even if the former is merely a loose conceptual update of the latter.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Interview (2007)

Based on: Interview (Netherlands)

The Birdcage (1996)

Based on: La Cage aux Folles (France/Italy)

Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986)

Based on: Boudu Suave des Eaux (France)

The Debt (2011)

Based on: The Debt (Israel)

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