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7 Non-English Films Better Than Their Hollywood Remakes

The original isn’t necessarily always better, but in a lot of cases it’s worth watching.
7 Non-English Films Better Than Their Hollywood Remakes

Hollywood studios take movie inspiration from everywhere. Books, plays, Twitter threads and other movies. Sometimes a movie is remade because it’s old or because a director has a particular vision, but there are also Hollywood remakes of movies from other countries. While some of these are perfectly good — some may even find ways to improve on the original — there are lots of Hollywood remakes that fail to do much justice to the material they’re based on.

There are countless reasons why someone might decide to pursue a Hollywood remake of a non-English film. Studios might be afraid that subtitles will scare away a mainstream audience, they might want more famous celebrities or they might want to localize the storyline to make it more relatable for an English-speaking viewer. When the interest in making money overtakes the artistic vision, things can quickly go awry. Here are some cases where you should skip the Hollywood remake and watch the original (or maybe watch both!).

7 Films That Are Better Than Their Hollywood Remakes

The Original: Le Dîner de Cons (1998)
The Remake: Dinner for Schmucks (2010)

The Plot: Both films revolve around a dinner in which every guest must bring along someone — a fool, an idiot, an eccentric or something along those lines — for the wealthy people to ridicule. The protagonist finds a strange man and brings him along, and comedic antics ensue involving tax fraud and love affairs.

Why You Should Watch The Original: Admittedly, the director of Dinner for Schmucks clarified his film was “inspired by” Le Dîner de Cons, rather than a faithful remake of it. Many of the elements remain the same, but the approaches are different. The protagonist of the French version, Pierre, is unlikable, and willingly cheats on his partner and his taxes. The American version, with Tim as the main character, presents him as a much more likable if unlucky man. The real heart of the American version is Steve Carrell as the titular Schmuck, who critics say saves the film. While it’s not faithful to the French original, the Hollywood remake is an enjoyable enough watch if you’re not constantly comparing the two.

The Original: Der Himmel über Berlin (1987)
The Remake: City of Angels (1998)

The Plot: An angel falls in love with a mortal woman, and decides to become mortal so that he can pursue his love for her. Things go south pretty quickly.

Why You Should Watch The Original: The original film takes place in a Berlin still divided by the Berlin Wall, whereas the remake is in Los Angeles. Sadly, a lot is lost in this transposition. While Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan did what they could with the material, the movie becomes too Hollywood in many senses. Der Himmel über Berlin is a poetic exploration of the joy and sorrow of being alive, City of Angels fails to reach the same heights of artistic and philosophical beauty. 

The Original: Abre los ojos (1997)
The Remake: Vanilla Sky (2001)

The Plot: An attractive man who “has it all” suddenly loses everything when his face is disfigured. Things go off the rails from there, and the movie dances between reality and dreams in ways that destabilize the viewer and obscure what’s “true” and what’s not.

Why You Should Watch The Original: Vanilla Sky split critics, but isn’t an objectively terrible movie. One of the most surprising changes from the original, however, is that it changes the ending entirely. This is a relatively common — if controversial — phenomenon in Hollywood remakes, but it can be a bit jarring, especially if you’re familiar with the original. For that reason alone, it’s worth watching Abre los ojos. Even with so much in common, it’s like watching two separate movies.

The Original: リング “Ringu” (1998)
The Remake: The Ring (2002)

The Plot: A cursed video tape leads to the death of a group of teenagers. As people try to determine the rules of the curse, things go pretty poorly. It’s a horror, after all. 

Why You Should Watch The Original: In the 2000s, there were many, many Hollywood remakes of Japanese horror films. The success of these films is credited with shifting the genre of horror away from the slasher flicks that dominated the late 20th century. The Ring is really what kicked all that off. The American version is by all means a classic of the horror genre — its visuals are imprinted on anyone who’s watched it — and many of the major plot lines match the Japanese original. Watching the original is about seeing the masterpiece of horror that inspired so many other films.

The Original: Intouchable (2011)
The Remake: The Upside (2019)

The Plot: A young Black nurse is charged with caring for a cantankerous wealthy man who has quadriplegia (no use of his arms or legs). While the two have a rocky start, they grow to understand each other over the course of the film, forming a strong bond. 

Why You Should Watch The Original: For a few years, Intouchable was the most successful French film ever made. While some critics dinged it for its overly saccharine storyline, it’s beloved by many. The Upside was hurt by its release problems — it was originally going to be released by the Weinstein Company in 2018, but that plan was scrapped after the allegations of sexual abuse against Harvey Weinstein — but that wasn’t the only flaw. The main thing is that The Upside was far too similar to Intouchable, except it was English and had American stars Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston. The Hollywood remake doesn’t set itself apart in enough ways to make it worth watching.

The Original: 南極物語 “Antarctica” (1983)
The Remake: Eight Below (2006)

The Plot: The films are based on a 1958 rescue mission in which Antarctic scientific explorers narrowly escape from a storm and come back to try to rescue the dogs they left behind. While the mission seems near impossible, some of the dogs were able to survive on the frigid continent and have a touching reunion with the explorers.

Why You Should Watch The Original: Eight Below is a perfectly acceptable movie about an Antarctic rescue mission, but it strays from the real-life story in several ways. For one thing, the 1958 rescue mission involved Japanese scientific explorers, but Eight Below has white people playing all of the lead roles. Also, being a Disney film, Eight Below provides a much brighter depiction of the life-and-death survival tactics involved in the actual mission. The Japanese original is much darker, but also much more realistic.

The Original: 시월애 “Il Mare” (2000)
The Remake: The Lake House (2006)

The Plot: A man and a woman living two years apart in the same lake house discover that their mailbox connects them across time. They soon become entwined in each other’s lives and start to fall in love, but problems with time travel make things difficult.

Why You Should Watch The Original: A time travel love story is pretty difficult to pull off. There is a constant possibility of paradoxes, huge plot holes or just logical leaps that can distract from the romance that is allegedly at the heart. The Lake House leaves viewers with more questions than feelings. The original, however, has become a sort of Korean cult classic, and it’s a bit better at walking the line between poetic ambiguity and plain old confusion.

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Thomas Moore Devlin
Thomas grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and moved to New York City for college. He studied English literature and linguistics at New York University, but spent most of his time in college working for the student paper. Because of this, he has really hard opinions about AP Style. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and getting angry about things on Twitter. He's spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish, and has learned a little German.
Thomas grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and moved to New York City for college. He studied English literature and linguistics at New York University, but spent most of his time in college working for the student paper. Because of this, he has really hard opinions about AP Style. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and getting angry about things on Twitter. He's spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish, and has learned a little German.

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