Hollywood filmmakers must think that American moviegoers are allergic to foreign films with subtitles, which is why so many popular movies from overseas get a swift—and usually unneeded—Hollywood makeover. The original Swedish The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was an international success and only two years old, but we already have an English-language remake with this weekend's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. David Fincher's new version stars Rooney Mara as goth-punk hacker Lisbeth Salander who teams with editor Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) to solve a decades-old mystery. As unnecessary as Fincher's remake is, the director has crafted a pulse-raising thriller that rivals the original—the usually restrained Mara is shockingly intense as Lisbeth and you completely forget that Craig was Bond since he seems more vulnerable as Mikael. Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is one of the best films of the year, whether or not the Academy responds favorably with Oscar nominations due to its dark subject matter.
The last time Hollywood remade a Swedish film was last year's Let Me In, a remake of 2008's Let the Right One In about a lonely girl vampire who befriends a young boy in her apartment building who is being bullied. The remake stars Chloe Grace Moretz as the pint-sized bloodsucker and is just as worthy of rental attention as the original.
The language of scares is universal, which is why so many English-language remakes are of horror films. The J-horror craze began in 2002 with The Ring—a remake of 1998's Ringu—about that little ghost girl with the long black hair who crawls out of your TV to kill you after you watch a cursed videotape. The Ring's success begat The Grudge (a remake of Ju-on), Dark Water (a remake of the 2002 film of the same name) and Pulse (a remake of Kairo). We also got English-language remakes of China's The Eye, Korea's A Tale of Two Sisters (remade as The Uninvited) and Into the Mirror (remade as Mirrors), and Spain's REC (remade as Quarantine). It's best to forget about the 1998 American remake of Godzilla, however, which missed the point of 1954's Gojira entirely.
Every genre is ripe for an English-language makeover if someone thinks more money can be made by doing away with those pesky subtitles that seem to scare Americans away from theaters. The problem is that a lot of these ill-inspired remakes fall short of the originals. City of Angels is an atrociously bad remake of the German masterpiece Wings of Desire, but the remakes Funny Games and Victor Victoria are more respectable interpretations of the German originals. Only a diehard Madonna fan would prefer her Swept Away to the Italian original, but The Last Kiss and Scent of a Woman—both remakes of Italian films—fared better than Guy Ritchie's embarrassing vehicle for his then wife. We're not sure what Tom Cruise was going for in Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky, which is probably what fans of the Spanish original thought, too.
Of all the countries in the world, the one that Hollywood keeps saying "oui oui" to for remakes more than any other is France. No less than 51 French films have been given a Yankee-Doodle do-over, resulting in The Birdcage, Breathless, Chloe, Diabolique, Dinner for Schmucks, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, EdTV, Eye of the Beholder, Father's Day, The Mirror Has Two Faces, Nine Months, Three Men and a Baby, The Tourist, True Lies, Twelve Monkeys, Unfaithful, The Woman in Red and many more.
It's not surprising that Hollywood mines foreign cinema for golden nuggets that can be polished off, melted down and molded into English-language versions for the subtitles-phobic, but some—like Fincher's exhilarating The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo—have that je ne sais quoi and prove that "English-language remake" is not always a dirty phrase.