6 Famous American Films That You Didn't Know Are Foreign Remakes

It seems like Hollywood is all about making movies that based on some sort of non-movie source material. This includes movies based on books, like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and everything by Nicholas Sparks, or movies based on comic books, video games, and even board games.

But beyond this, Hollywood turns to great minds around the globe for inspiration. Some of our favorite movies are actually remakes of foreign films. Here are the top six that fall into that category. 

1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

This 2011 American movie was based on a novel by Stieg Larsson, and a 2009 Swedish movie, all with the same name. Larsson, who wrote this series of books as a hobby in the evening, never saw any of them published. After his death, the books were discovered and received great acclaim. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the final book in the series by Larsson, became the highest selling book in the U.S. in 2010. The book’s popularity paved the way for the movie’s success. The American film was set to have sequels to immediately follow the first, but as of August 2012, the next release in the series had been delayed until 2014 at the earliest. 

2. City of Angels

This 1998 American rom-com stars Nicolas Cage, before he got weird, as an angel who falls in love with Meg Ryan, before she discovered collagen injections. It was based on the German film, Wings of Desire, set in Berlin. Like many Hollywood remakes, City of Angels departs from its 1987 doppelganger in a few key ways. First of all, Ryan’s character is not a trapeze artist. And secondly, the American version may go down in history as the only transatlantic remake with an ending more depressing than the one created by the Germans. 

3. The Departed

Martin Scorsese’s 2006 The Departed is such a masterpiece of cinematic storytelling that everyone forgave him for making Gangs of New York. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a young cop placed as a mole in a South Boston mob family, while Matt Damon plays a young mobster who infiltrates the Boston P.D. Scorsese certainly doesn’t get all the credit for this great film. It’s based off a 2002 Hong Kong police drama, Infernal Affairs, which is basically the same thing, with the Triad instead of the mob.  

4. The Birdcage

This 1996 comedy, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, is actually a remake of the French film La Cage Aux Folles, from 1978. That title may ring a bell, thanks to the musical La Cage's several stints on Broadway, most recently in New York in 2010. The Birdcage follows the struggles of an extravagant, gay cabaret owner who struggles with meeting his son’s conservative fiancé and her family and finding a sense of belonging in his son’s new family life. Even if you haven’t seen it, can’t you just imagine the laughs that ensue with Williams and Lane together?

5. The Ring

Yes, the film that had high school girls squirming and inspired sections of haunted houses across the country was actually a Japanese film first. The 1998 film was remade in the U.S. in 2002 and starred Naomi Watts. But not even the original film, Ringu, was an original. It was based on a novel by the same name, published seven years earlier. The psychological ring cycle maintained consistency across all three versions because Koji Suzuki, who wrote the book, also co-wrote both film adaptations. 

6. Godzilla

A list like this wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Godzilla movies. In 1954, Japanese film Gojira was released and had rave reviews. In May 1998, Roland Emmerich, the brains behind Independence Day, directed the American version. Even though the American version wasn’t as well received, the U.S. is apparently giving it another go, with another same-named film currently in post-production and expected to hit theaters in 2014. And this one stars the lesser-known Olsen girl, Elizabeth.

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Brooke Niemeyer

Brooke graduated from Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University with her Master's degree in Journalism. She also has a Bachelor’s degree from Westminster College in Salt Lake City. Brooke spent a year as a nightlife reporter for NBC in Manhattan and has never quit writing. She enjoys books, Broadway shows, cupcakes, and Starbucks.

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