Hollywood mines Europe for remakes

'Schmucks,' 'Right One' among upcoming pics

DreamWorks this month firmed plans for Steve Carell to star in “Dinner for Schmucks,” an adaptation of the French comedy “Le Diner de Cons” — six years after first announcing the project.

As Hollywood focuses more than ever on the international box office, studio executives are feeling the pressure to greenlight pics that will play overseas.

So U.S. remakes of foreign hits are on the fast track, as proven by a flurry of recent deals between studios and foreign distributors — especially of pics released mostly in Europe.

This has happened before: Starting in the 1980s, Hollywood remade a flurry of French comedies (“3 Men and a Baby,” “The Woman in Red,” “Three Fugitives,” et al.) More recently, there has been a flurry of Asian horror remakes.

But the new crop of pics are a more diverse bunch, with a distinctively European style, mostly to thriller and action genres. Whether comedies, thrillers or actioners, studio execs feel they’re more marketable to the global masses than the Asian horror titles which quickly wore out their welcome in the U.S.

Production on several is set to start this year after rights to the titles were only picked up last year.

  • Overture Films and Hammer Films picked up rights to “Let the Right One In” when the Swedish horror pic made the rounds of the festival circuit last summer. “Cloverfield’s” Matt Reeves is attached to direct the new version.

  • Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures is getting ready to lense a redo of the Danish supernatural thriller “Room 205,” which bowed Stateside last year, and plans to rename it “The Dorm.”

  • Luc Besson’s Europacorp (see story, page 5) is in talks with studios to remake French hits “Tell No One” and the “B13” franchise, whose second installment is generating considerable coin in the country.

  • Director Erik Van Looy, whose “Loft” last year became Belgium’s biggest hit ever, is considering a U.S. remake, as well as versions for three other European countries.

  • Last year, Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment and Warner Bros. picked up rights to “Welcome to the Sticks” (Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis) after the laffer broke B.O. records in France.

  • Producers of the Swedish thriller “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” are developing an English-language remake even before the pic unspools across Europe this spring. It’s already a big hit in its native Sweden and neighbor Norway.

  • Even remakes of English-language pics aren’t off limits, with Britain’s dark comedy “Death at a Funeral,” released in 2007, getting retooled with a mainly African-American cast toplined by Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence and Tracy Morgan, and directed by Neil LaBute. Frank Oz directed the original.

The idea is to add an A-list star or two, and produce them with bigger budgets in order to broaden their appeal to a larger worldwide audience.

In most cases, the pics received limited releases in the U.S., meaning that most Stateside audiences saw them on DVD, if at all.

The low recognition factor will mean studios can sell the pics as original productions in the U.S.

The pics would get the same treatment around the rest of the world, outside of the local territory in which the films already proved popular. In those regions, the pics would be pushed as another version of a film audiences there already liked.

Studios don’t always have that advantage. For example, with remakes of familiar properties like “King Kong,” a popular horror franchise or an Alfred Hitchcock classic, audiences expect to see certain elements or will always compare the new version to the original.

“That’s not the case with foreign films,” says one producer. “We can change everything, even the name, and few people will mind.”

The idea is that remakes reduce risk. Many of the original pics well-outperformed U.S. productions in some foreign territories. And studios don’t have to develop something from scratch. There’s a finished script/film to adapt at a time when production execs are scrambling to put more product into the pipeline.

Some pics, however, wind up lost in translation once they’re remade and released Stateside.

When Michael Haneke’s shot-by-shot remake of his own Austrian thriller “Funny Games” bowed last year, Warner Bros.’ indie arm Warner Independent wound up with a mere $1 million in domestic receipts. Overseas, it took in more than $6 million.

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