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Are we getting an English-language Squid Game remake – and is it a good idea?

Oscar winner David Fincher will reportedly helm the new version of Netflix's hit South Korean drama.
Oscar winner David Fincher will reportedly helm the new version of Netflix's hit South Korean drama. Copyright Credit: Netflix/Warner Bros. Pictures/United Artists
Copyright Credit: Netflix/Warner Bros. Pictures/United Artists
By David Mouriquand
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With rumours that there is a remake of Squid Game in the works, we explore whether it's a good idea and which English-language remakes have bucked the trend when it comes to equalling or outshining the original.

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There are persistent rumours that an upcoming English-language remake of Netflix’s hit show Squid Game is on the way, with David Fincher (Se7en, The Social Network, The Killer) slated to direct.

Fincher’s project has writer Dennis Kelly (Utopia, Matilda The Musical) working on the script, and while the pairing of Fincher and the South Korean hit drama looks good on paper - the director having previously dived into remake territory (the US version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) and having an unparalleled knack for delving into both physical and psychological violence - some eyebrows are being raised at the prospect of yet another unnecessary English-language remake.

As a reminder, the series released in 2021 revolves around a secret contest where 456 players, all of whom are in deep financial hardship, risk their lives to play a series of deadly children’s games for the chance to win a huge cash prize. It’s essentially a riff on Battle Royale and it became Netflix’s most-watched series, attracting more than 2.2 billion viewing hours in its fist month online. The first season also made history be receiving 14 Primetime Emmy Award nominations, including for Outstanding Drama Series – making it the first non-English-language show to be nominated in the category. Actor Lee Jung-jae won the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, which was the first time an Asian actor won the award for a non-English part.

It’s unclear at what stage the possible English-language remake is, and whether it’s a straight cover version or a companion piece set in the US. It’s also worth noting that Netflix’s Ted Sarandos previously shot down the idea of a Squid Game remake.

Nixing such a project makes sense, as the second season of Squid Game has already been shot and is set for release this coming December. Netflix has also been milking the IP dry, as a reality competition series titled Squid Game: The Challenge was released, in which 456 players compete for a $4.56 million cash prize by competing in series’ challenges. Without all the messy murdering though.

To add another facet to this show, even with someone of Fincher’s calibre at the helm, risks detracting from the second season and syphoning some of the show’s cultural specificities.

Regardless, these rumours made us think here at Euronews Culture about the English-language remakes that didn’t completely foul things up.

Granted, Hollywood’s tendency for simply remaking well-known properties is well documented, leading to the oft-trotted out statement that studios lack new ideas. And while we adhere to what South Korean director Bong Joon Ho (Parasite) said when he called out Hollywood myopia when it comes to subtitles and remakes (“Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”), there are some English-language remakes that understood the assignment. They are few and far between, but they exist.

Indeed, for every Oldboy, Let Me In, Downhill, Dinner For Schmucks and CODA (yes, the 2014 French-Belgian film La Famille Bélier is far superior, Oscars be damned), there are rare cases when the remake equals – and in some cases surpasses – the original. And we’re really hoping that the upcoming Speak No Evil remake of the excellent 2022 Danish film of the same name adds itself to a short list.

For our money, here are the English-language cover versions that managed to not get lost in translation. We started this article with David Fincher, so our first pick won’t be too surprising...

10) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s novel "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" became a posthumous bestseller in 2005, and was adapted to the screen in 2009. The film, Män som hatar kvinnor (literally: "Men who hate women") was directed by Niels Arden Oplev and starred Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist as the protagonists Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. It was a hit and Daniel Alfredson directed the two sequels, Flickan som lekte med elden and Luftslottet som sprängdes, which were released that same year. An American version of this Scandi noir hit was all but inevitable, and it came only two years later, courtesy of David Fincher. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo only adapted the first book, and while the original did a perfectly fine job, the US remake was a terrific and appropriately bleak take on the same story – with a few alterations, especially when it comes to the ending. Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig were excellent casting, and the striking score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross made this remake one worth treasuring. Purists will prefer the original because it sticks closer to Larson’s book, but there’s no denying that the English-language take is one stylish affair and a worthwhile remake.

9) True Lies (1994)

For his follow-up to Terminator 2, James Cameron decided to remake Claude Zidi’s 1991 French action-comedy La Totale!, starring Thierry Lhermitte and Miou-Miou. The original had Lhermitte star as François, an undercover spy who leads a seemingly ordinary life and whose true profession is a mystery to his wife. However, she learns the truth of his spook ways the hard way when François' latest mission inadvertently sweeps her up in the action. It’s a sweet film, and Cameron keeps the basic premise but ups the ante in every way: violence, stunts, harsh language, sexiness, insensitive portrayals of the Muslim community... It hasn’t aged too well, but there’s no denying that with a bigger budget and both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis on board, True Lies remains the superior action-comedy when compared to the source material.

8) The Ring (2002)

Japanese author Koji Suzuki’s 1991 novel "Ring" spawned several films, including the 1998 original Ringu. The film, directed by Hideo Nakata, about a cursed video tape that hexes anyone who watches became an instant cultural hit and a horror classic. No wonder Hollywood wanted a part of the action. By action, we mean profits. Gore Verbinski reinvented it for US audiences with 2002’s The Ring, and while the J-horror original is the superior film, Naomi Watts carries the remake completely and delivers a knock-out performance as the investigative reporter tracing the origins of the deadly videotape. Coming straight after her career-defining turn in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, The Ring confirmed that Watts was the real deal. Plus, Verbinski clearly appreciated what made the original work so well, nailing the dread and adding an indelible image of the black-haired Samara crawling out of the TV for the unexpected third act. Ringu may be a more subtle affair, and many bemoaned that The Ring was a more ‘traditional’ horror film. However, of all the Asian horror remakes of the noughties, such as The Grudge and Dark Water, The Ring was one which actually managed to travel safely Stateside.

7) Insomnia (2002)

First things first: the 1997 Norwegian thriller, Insomnia, starring Stellan Skarsgård as a police detective investigating a murder in a town located above the Arctic Circle, is the superior film. The way that Skarsgård portrays a good man who mistakenly shoots his partner and attempts to cover it up is incredibly tense and enthralling, and outdoes what Al Pacino does in the remake. However, Christopher Nolan’s adaptation, which relocates the action to Alaska, remains a gripping watch. It’s atmospheric, well-shot, and features the late Robin Williams in a role we hadn’t seen him in: a villain. His portrayal of the writer-killer Walter Finch, who witnesses the accidental shooting and bribes the detective so that they both avoid prosecution, is fantastic and a wonderful bit of reverse type-casting. We would also see Williams take another sinister role in the psychological thriller One Hour Photo – also released in 2002 – but Finch is the more subtle of the two performances. Insomnia may not be one of Nolan’s best films, but it’s certainly underrated as both a thriller and a remake.

6) The Magnificent Seven (1960)

John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven is a widely considered an American classic and a reference point in the Western genre. However, it’s a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, released in Japan in 1954 - one of the greatest films ever made. Both films introduce seven dangerous men hired by locals to protect their village, a story that has been told countless times. In fact, Kurosawa has been used as a template for numerous US films, with his influence felt the most in the Star Wars films and TV series. Sturges’ film follows the same template as the original, and simply moves the action from Japan to the American west. An easy enough switch, as the Western and the Samurai genres share a lot of common DNA. What sets the US version apart, however, is one of the greatest casts ever assembled: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Horst Buchholz, Brad Dexter, and James Coburn. And of course, the wonderful Eli Wallach as the antagonist they’re facing.

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5) A Bigger Splash (2015)

We could have picked another Luca Guadagnino remake for this list: his 2018 take on Dario Argento’s giallo classic Suspiria. However, the original featured the English language – and we’ve raved about it enough here. The one we’ve chosen was an equally bold move, as Guadagnino had the audacity to remake one of French cinema’s most iconic films, Jacques Deray’s 1969 La Piscine, starring Alain Delon and Romy Schneider. It was seen by many as heresy at the time, but A Bigger Splash more than holds its own, and showcases the Italian director’s talent for delving into the complexities of desire, love and jealousy – much like he did this year with Challengers. It’s not a formal remake of Deray’s film per se, but it features much of the same themes and the basic premise of four people stuck together in the same holiday home. It’s a psychosexual minefield of a film that explores the consequences of past choices in a uniquely mesmerizing and at times troubling manner, all set against the picturesque backdrop of the Italian seaside. A Bigger Splash ’s stellar cast, including Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson and Matthias Schoenaerts, make this psychological drama soar and allows it to sit perfectly as the second instalment in the director’s self-described "Desire Trilogy", following I Am Love (2009) and preceding Call Me By Your Name (2017). Not only is it visually impressive, but also a deeply captivating film, thanks to David Kajganich’s screenplay, Swinton’s near-silent turn, and Fiennes’ larger-than-life performance (and dancing).

4) The Departed (2006)

The one that finally won Martin Scorsese his long overdue Best Director Oscar... And while he should have won a handful before, 2006’s The Departed remains a crime thriller for the ages. It is based on the 2002 Chinese film Infernal Affairs, a stellar Hong Kong action thriller which is a lot grittier and grimier than its US counterpart. While the plot of the two films is the same, revolving around an undercover cop who infiltrates a local gang while a gang member does the same in reverse, the star casting factor once again does the remake proud. The Leonardo DiCaprio – Matt Damon – Jack Nicholson trio make every scene electric and allow the US version to focus more on character, whereas the original was more keen on action. There’s also a love triangle subplot in the remake that’s lacking in Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s tauter Infernal Affairs, and it works. Both have their strengths and are masterful in their own ways, proving how a remake can equal the original without overshadowing it.

3) 12 Monkeys (1995)

It may be unfair to call this one a complete remake, as Chris Marker’s French experimental short film La Jetée (1962) served as just a launching pad for Terry Gilliam’s post-apocalyptic thriller. Gilliam and writers David and Janet Peeples keep the half-hour-long source material’s premise, told almost exclusively with black and white photos, of a time traveller who is sent into the present to prevent the apocalypse. However, they build a story about the prevention of a planet-devastating virus outbreak, with added musings about sanity. Both films are stunning: the original is a tone poem of sorts, an achingly beautiful film about love and coming to terms with death, while 12 Monkeys is a brutal and powerful film that not only holds up after nearly 30 years due to its eerily prescient themes regarding eco-activism and viruses, but features Bruce Willis’ best performance. It’s a quintessentially Terry Gilliam piece, to the extent the photo essay original can be viewed separately and registers as a completely different experience. Still, if we’re being strict, 12 Monkeys is a remake and one of the best ones out there. It’s certainly Gilliam’s most accomplished film behind the camera.

2) The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

It’s so nearly the greatest remake of all time, a stunning take on René Clément’s 1960 thriller Plein Soleil, also starring Alain Delon (following La Piscine / A Bigger Splash earlier in this list). Granted, like the original, Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley is based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 psychological thriller novel of the same name, which will make pernickety readers argue whether it can be considered a remake or simply an adaptation. We’re choosing the former, as this 1999 film is just too good to not mention. Starring Matt Damon and Jude Law, Minghella’s film is not only a lush evocation of a time and place, but an enveloping exploration of what lurks beneath surfaces. The symbolism throughout works wonders, as every motif and double reflection highlights themes of deception and fractured morality. Damon nails every beat to make a fascinating protagonist: his Ripley is charming yet cold-blooded; calculating but in over his head; sociopathic yet relatable. He has never been better, and neither has Law, who makes every frame his own. Add glorious wardrobes and a soundtrack to die for, as well as that deliciously bleak ending, and you’ve got yourself the high watermark when it comes to remakes. As for Plein Soleil, it is without a doubt the film that made Delon a star. The direction is precise; the vibrant locations and sets work; and the tension is there in spades. Akira Kurosawa and Martin Scorsese have cited it as one of their favourites. Still, we’re boldly affirming that The Talented Mr. Ripley is the superior of the two.

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1) Some Like It Hot (1959)

It’s the oldest remake on the list, and the greatest one ever made. Many don’t know that this American crime comedy directed and co-written by the great Billy Wilder is a remake at all. It is based on a screenplay by Robert Thoeren and Michael Logan from the 1935 French film Fanfare d’amour (Fanfare of Love), about two unemployed male musicians who disguise themselves as women so they can join an all-female orchestra on the French Riviera. Wilder’s remake adds another component – that the musicians played by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon disguise themselves to escape from mafia gangsters who they witnessed committing a crime – and outshines the original in every department. It is recognised as one of the greatest comedies of all time, and in 1989, the US Library of Congress selected it as one of the first 25 films for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Interestingly, Some Like It Hot is the second remake of Fanfare d’amour, as Richard Pottier’s French comedy was remade as the German film Fanfaren der Liebe in 1951, directed by Kurt Hoffman. Some say that Wilder was more influenced by the German version – but even that one was a borderline shot-for-shot retelling of the French film. Also adding to the brilliance of Wilder’s joyful comedy is the fact that it was produced without the approval from the Motion Picture Production Code (otherwise known as the constrictive Hays Code), which was enforced until the mid-1960s. Because the film features cross-dressing, it would have most certainly fallen foul of the censors. However, the overwhelming success of Some Like It Hot is considered one of the reasons behind the retirement of the Hays Code.

There we have it. What do you think about a Squid Game remake? And what English-language covers did we miss in our ranking of the best remakes?  

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