(Editor’s Note: Some students in the International Media program at American University are now researching their final capstone projects. These projects will take the form of either scholarly papers, or professional and creative projects. We are posting proposals and updates on these projects to demonstrate their progress.)
by Judy Sellner
Special to Sutradhar’s Market
What do the films The Tourist, No Reservations, The Lake House, and Dinner for Schmucks all have in common? They are all American-produced remakes of foreign films. American movie-goers are no strangers to the remake. Some remakes are box office flops and other remakes sell millions. So what makes a remake commercially successful?
When remaking a foreign film, producers need to change more than just the language. Cultural idiosyncrasies including everything from personal relationships to sense of humor must be taken into consideration and adapted for a new and culturally different audience. My project examines how American film producers make the cultural transition from foreign film to best-selling remake. I argue that cultural adaptation plays a major role in the commercial success of an American remake.
My project uses a multiple case study approach to analyze four commercially successful American remakes produced in the past five years to distinguish the ways in which they have been adapted from their foreign originals for American audiences. I selected the four films with the highest domestic lifetime box office gross in the past five years for the case study. I believe this measure of commercial success will be a good representation of how a foreign film can be adapted to fit into American popular culture.
This project also provides a case study of an unsuccessful American remake to bring out more clearly the characteristics of the other successful cases. I selected the film with the highest production budget and the lowest lifetime domestic box office gross in the past five years for the unsuccessful remake case study. Each of the five case studies provides a rich analysis of the political economy, textual, production, and reception differences between the remakes and their respective originals to distinguish what cultural factors are at play and how their adaptation contributed to the film’s commercial success. Based on the combined case study findings, my study will suggest a formula for producing a successful and culturally-aware American remake.
This research not only highlights cultural differences in media consumption between different countries, it also attempts to uncover what Americans expect when they visit the movie theater and what commercially successful films can tell us about American popular culture.
(For more on the origins of this series of posts, please see: “Education: Sparking Research in International Media.”)
(The film poster from Sony Pictures is used here under fair comment and fair use guidelines and for promotional purposes.)