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10 International Crime Movies That Inspired American Remakes

If you were to think about some of your favorite crime movies, American films like The Godfather or Goodfellas probably come to mind. But, as it turns out, some of the most iconic portrayals of the seedier underbelly of society have actually come through foreign-language films.

As renowned indie writer/director Jim Jarmusch once said, “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination,” and a number of Hollywood filmmakers seemingly channeled this sentiment when they decided to remake international crime films for American audiences. In some cases, the remake became more popular than the original, while in others, the original is what most audiences remember. Either way, we’d be remiss if we didn’t recognize the movies that stoked enough creative interest to be made again. Here are 10 international crime movies that inspired American remakes.

10 M (1931)

Renowned Austrian filmmaker Fritz Lang revolutionized the crime thriller genre with the release of M in 1931. Starring Peter Lorre as a child killer in Berlin who’s hunted by both police and career criminals, Lang’s first sound film was notable for its long, tension-building tracking shots and the use of a leitmotif (or recurring musical theme). While it received mixed reviews upon its initial release, M is now considered to be one of the greatest films ever made.

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The American Remake It Inspired

Twenty years following the release of Lang’s film, director Joseph Losey made the American version of M, with the events taking place in Los Angeles instead of Berlin. Seymour Nebenzal, the original film’s producer, who fled from Nazi Germany to Hollywood in 1939, retained the rights to the 1931 version and likely was inspired by the Communist craze in America when he pitched the remake. While initially boycotted in several cities due to Losey’s suspected Communist leanings, the remake was well-received by critics, although the original is still regarded as the greater classic.

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9 City on Fire (1987)

The Hong Kong-based City on Fire tells the story of an undercover cop who infiltrates a group of thieves planning to rob a jewelry store. Directed by Ringo Lam, the action crime film helped to establish actor Chow Yun-fat (Hard Boiled, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) as a major star.

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How City on Fire Inspired Reservoir Dogs

While not directly marketed as a remake, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs has a number of distinct similarities to City on Fire that are hard to miss. A 10-minute YouTube video entitled “Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?” points out how both films are not just alike in their major plot points, but also in dialogue and visuals, particularly the standoff scene at the end. It’s hard to imagine that Tarantino wasn’t largely inspired by Lam’s movie when he made his first feature film in 1992.

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Related: 8 International Crime Thrillers You Need to See

8 Insomnia (1997)

Insomnia is a Norwegian crime thriller starring Stellan Skarsgård as a sleep-deprived detective investigating a murder in a city above the Arctic Circle with a 24-hour daylight cycle. Brilliantly using light to create a tense and moody atmosphere, the film earned director Erik Skjoldbjærg a Golden Camera nomination at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.

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The American Remake It Inspired

Set in Nightmute, Alaska, instead of Tromsø, Norway, Christopher Nolan’s 2002 version of Insomnia starred Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank. Earning over $113 million at the box office on a budget of $46 million, the movie received rave reviews from critics, who praised the performances of Pacino and Williams while also lauding Nolan’s reinterpretation of the original. Nolan himself considers Insomnia to be his most underrated film.

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7 Bangkok Dangerous (1999)

Bangkok Dangerous marked the first joint venture between Hong Kong natives and twin brothers Danny Pang Phat and Oxide Pang Chun, known collectively as the Pang Brothers. Though it received mixed reviews from critics, the heavily-stylized Thai action crime film, which tells the story of a deaf and mute assassin (Pawalit Mongkolpisit), won the International Critics’ Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The Remake Starring Nic Cage

The Pang Brothers remade Bangkok Dangerous for American audiences in 2008, with Nicolas Cage starring as the protagonist (though, due to his star power, his character was neither deaf nor mute). A box-office flop, the remake was critically panned, earning a 9% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

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6 Nine Queens (2000)

Written and directed by Argentine filmmaker Fabián Bielinsky, Nine Queens is a heist film about two con artists (Ricardo Darín and Gastón Pauls) who team up to sell counterfeit stamps (the titular “nine queens”) to a wealthy collector. Praised for its performances, screenplay, and darkly comedic tone, Nine Queens is considered to be one of the best Argentine films ever made. It earned countless accolades, including seven Silver Condor Awards, Argentina’s equivalent of The Oscars.

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A Look at its Remake, Criminal (2004)

Criminal is a 2004 crime drama co-written and directed by Gregory Jacobs and produced by Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney. Starring John C. Reilly and Diego Luna as the con men, the Nine Queens remake received solid reviews, though it wasn’t as critically praised as the original.

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5 Internal Affairs (2002)

With a script inspired by John Woo’s Face/Off, Internal Affairs follows a Hong Kong police officer (Andy Lau) and a Triad gangster (Tony Leung), who each infiltrate the other’s group and are tasked with finding the mole in their respective organizations. Co-directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, the crime thriller particularly stands out for its cinematography and emotionally-engaging script. As Hong Kong’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 76th Academy Awards (it wasn’t nominated), Internal Affairs received a number of international awards, including six Golden Horse Awards and seven Hong Kong Film Awards.

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Inspiring Martin Scorsese’s The Departed

Arguably the best American remake of an international crime film, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed borrows the major plot device of Internal Affairs to weave a narrative loosely based on Boston’s Winter Hill Gang. The 2006 movie features an ensemble cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, and Mark Wahlberg. The Departed was a commercial and critical success, earning $291.5 million at the box office and winning Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing.

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4 Oldboy (2003)

Oldboy (2003)

Release Date
November 21, 2003

Park Chan-wook

Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, Kang Hye-jeong, Kim Byeong-Ok


Main Genre

A loose adaptation of a Japanese manga and largely inspired by the Greek tragedy Oedipus the King, Oldboy was the second installment of South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook’s The Vengeance Trilogy, released between Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and Lady Vengeance (2005). It stars Choi Min-sik as a man who seeks revenge on his captor of 15 years. Winning the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, the film was praised for its well-shot and visceral action scenes and is widely considered to be among the best movies ever made.

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The Spike Lee Joint It Inspired

10 years following the release of Park Chan-wook’s groundbreaking thriller, Spike Lee directed an Oldboy remake starring Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, and Samuel L. Jackson. The film was a box-office flop and received generally negative reviews, with most critics panning it as a fairly hollow reinterpretation of the original.

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3 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first book in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, first got the feature-film treatment in 2009. Filmed primarily in Sweden by Danish director Niels Arden Oplev, the movie starred Michael Nyqvist as a journalist investigating a 40-year-old cold case murder with the help of a female hacker, played by Noomi Rapace. Praised for its tense pacing and Rapace’s captivating performance, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (marketed to Swedish audiences as Män som hatar kvinnor, or Men Who Hate Women) won the BAFTA Award for Best Film Not in the English Language.

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The David Fincher Remake It Inspired

Three-time Academy Award nominee David Fincher made his version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2011, with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara replacing Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace in the lead roles. Like Rapace, Mara earned mainstream recognition for her performance, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. The mystery thriller received three additional Oscar nominations (Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing), while winning for Best Film Editing. The film’s dark tone and the chilling score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross helped cultivate a strong fan base for Fincher’s version, while others still preferred the original. Either way, both films were box-office successes, with the original earning $104 million and the remake racking up $239.3 million.

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Related: 10 Crime Movies That Commit the Perfect Crime

2 The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

The Secret in Their Eyes

The Secret in Their Eyes

Release Date
August 13, 2009

Juan Jose Campanella

Soledad Villamil, Ricardo Darin, Carla Quevedo, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, Bárbara Palladino


Main Genre

Co-written, directed, edited, and produced by Argentine filmmaker Juan José Campanella, The Secret in Their Eyes follows a judicial officer (Ricardo Darín) and his superior (Soledad Villamil), who are haunted by a murder case that they could never solve. Campanella’s direction, the symbolism-heavy screenplay, and the masterful acting performances earned the film $34 million at the box office, making it the second-highest-grossing Argentine film behind the 1975 fantasy drama Nazareno Cruz and the Wolf (1975). With its win at the 82nd Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, The Secret in Their Eyes became the second Argentine film to earn that honor (the first being 1985’s The Official Story), which made Argentina the first South American country to win the award twice.

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The 2015 Remake Starring Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts

Writer and director Billy Ray dropped the “the” from his 2015 remake of the 2009 Argentine crime drama. Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, and Julia Roberts, Secret in Their Eyes was a moderate box-office success, but it received mixed reviews, with many critics finding it seriously lacking compared to the original.

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1 In Order of Disappearance (2014)

Stellan Skarsgård plays a father seeking violent revenge against drug-dealing gangsters in the 2014 Norwegian action thriller In Order of Disappearance. The film received generally favorable reviews from critics, who praised Skarsgård’s performance and the darkly comedic tone.

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Cold Pursuit Starring Liam Neeson

Taking place in Colorado instead of Norway, the 2019 remake Cold Pursuit featured Liam Neeson in the lead role, with Tom Bateman and Emmy Rossum co-starring. Like the original, critics praised Cold Pursuit for its lead performances and the Coen brothers-esque mix of humor and violence. It was nominated for Best Action or Adventure Film at the 45th Saturn Awards.

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