Screenplay Adaptations of Foreign Language Films

As it happens with all kinds of adaptations, changing the elements of a story is risky, but it can also lead to very interesting results.

Adapting a movie into another language, market and setting is a practice more common in screenwriting than some suspect – and sadly, there are occasions in which the general audience never even learns that they are watching an adaptation from a foreign work.

Even some of the most reputed filmmakers have occasionally transitioned from creators to adaptators in this sense, as did Martin Scorsese when he adapted the 2002 Hong Kong film Internal Affairs into a brilliant script written by William Monahan (The Departed, 2006). Others, like Quentin Tarantino, have defined their careers by paying constant tribute to cinematic universes whose uniqueness and exoticness captivated them.

True enough, these adaptations are often turned into mere attempts of exploiting a formula – again, this is what seems to happen with other kinds of adaptations as well.

But we also have plenty of examples of filmmakers adapting a fellow director’s creation with respect and creativity enough as to produce something equally unique and memorable:

(1959) Some Like It Hot
(from the French film Fanfare d’amour)

(1960) The Magnificent Seven
(from Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai)

(1965) The Sound of Music
(from the German film Die Trapp-Familie)

(1992) Scent of a Woman
(from the Italian film Profumo di donna)

(1993) The Vanishing
(from the Dutch film Spoorloos)

(1994) True Lies
(from the French film La Totale!)

(1995) Twelve Monkeys
(from the French short film La Jetée)

(2002) Insomnia
(from the Norwegian film of the same title)

(2006) The Departed
(from the Hong Kong film Internal Affairs)

(2007) Funny Games
(from the German film of the same title)

(2010) Let Me In
(from the Swedish film Låt den rätte komma in)

(2012) Contraband
(from the Icelandic film Reykjavík-Rotterdam)

Best Remake Scripts

Can a remake actually surpass the original? In the seventh art, the question has been debated forever; and though some people may associate terms like ‘remake’ or ‘reboot’ to a contemporary sign of lack of creativity, truth is directors and screenwriters have been consistently adapting other films for decades.

As a matter of fact, many have retold their own stories. Hitchcock thought that his first The Man Who Knew Too Much was an amateurish work, so he changed the setting and some plot elements in his 1956 remake. And directors such as Michael Haneke (Funny Games) and Michael Mann (Heat) returned to their old scripts with bigger budgets and A-list casts.

Sometimes, necessities of international markets are the seed of these remakes: Kurosawa saw his work adapted several times in the American industry (The Magnificent Seven, A Fistful of Dollars).

In other instances, filmmakers feel curious about bringing their own vision and methods into a popular classic story, as Herzog did with Nosferatu, Cronenberg with The Fly, and the Coen brothers with True Grit.

There are plenty of examples of film remakes that have proved to be more than just a commercial gimmick.

Here are some of them:

 

(1956) The Man Who Knew Too Much

(1960) The Magnificent Seven

(1978) Invasion of the Body Snatchers

(1982) The Thing

(1983) Scarface

(1986) The Fly

(2001) Ocean’s Eleven

(2002) The Quiet American

(2002) Insomnia

(2004) Dawn of the Dead

(2005) Pride and Prejudice

(2006) The Departed

(2006) Casino Royale

(2007) 3:10 to Yuma

(2010) True Grit

Terminator Movie Scripts

James Cameron was once fired from the Piranha II shooting after failing to get a simple close up on one of the protagonists. Later on, a food intoxication-induced vision gave him the premise for one of the most acclaimed action blockbusters in the last decades.

Terminator daringly explored the fear of humanity becoming a slave of its own creations. And it did so with clever special effects, a terrifying villain (Schwarzenegger in his peak) and the unknown Linda Hamilton as the lead. It also set the first of many collaborations between Cameron and Gale Ann Hurd, Stan Winston, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton and others.

The Canadian filmmaker learned some lessons to create one of those rare sequels that are arguably better than the original. Noticing the charisma of his own creation, he turned the villain into a hero and pushed technology to the limit to produce a truly spectacular film with some smart and effective dramatic notes.

Now a legendary franchise, the Terminator has become a bona fide pop culture icon and has spawned a total of 5 films, numerous video games and a brief TV show (The Chronicles of Sarah Connor). A 6th installment reuniting the original cast is expected to be released in 2019.

(1984) The Terminator

(1991) Terminator 2: Judgment Day

(2003) Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

(2009) Terminator Salvation

(2015) Terminator Genisys

John Milius Film Scripts

 

John Milius is a true Hollywood legend; a rare screenwriter whose notoriety is due not only to his work, but his flamboyant, eccentric personality, which inspired the Coen Brothers to create the character of Walter in The Big Lebowski.

Milius’ story is an atypical one since the beginning. As a teenager, he was a mixture of a delinquent and an avid reader who at one point tried to enlist the Marines. Feeling devastated after his rejection, he decided to study film at the USC after discovering Kurosawa’s films. College would mark the beginning of a long friendship with George Lucas.

Like many other screenwriters, he had to write several low-profile screenplays before truly earning a reputation, a process in which his colourful personality proved to be more than helpful –he requested a gun as part of the payment for rewriting Dirty Harry, and claimed that the iconic “I love the smell of Napalm by the morning” line came to him in a dream. Robert Shaw’s famous Indianapolis speech in Jaws was also originally written by Milius.

There are endless anecdotes about this unique screenwriter who defines himself as a “Zen Anarchist” and a sort of Hollywood deviant. After serious financial difficulties in the early 2000’s, his career relived when he found a niche in TV screenwriting and co-created the HBO series Rome.  

List of John Milius Scripts:

(1971) Dirty Harry (uncredited)

(1972) Jeremiah Jonson

(1972) The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean

(1973) Dillinger

(1973) Magnum Force

(1975) The Wind and the Lion

(1978) Big Wednesday

(1979) Apocalypse Now

(1979) 1941

(1982) Conan the Barbarian

(1984) Red Dawn

(1987) Extreme Prejudice (story)

(1989) Farewell to the King

(1991) Flight of the Intruder

(1994) Clear and Present Danger 

Top 10 World War 1 Film Scripts

Of all the armed conflicts that have shaken humanity, World War II has probably been the most extensively covered by the seventh art. However, before the whole world heard that second call to arms, the First Great War had been splashing the screens worldwide for a long time with epic tales of courage, honor, and tragedy.

Trying to spot differences between both conflicts, it’s easy to pinpoint the sense of stillness that defined WWI battles. Trench warfare was all about resistance and attrition, and some scripts (Paths of Glory, All Quiet on the Western Front) have wonderfully captured the exhausting, maddening stillness that often meant thousands of deaths in exchange for a few meters of territory.

In fact, arguably the most popular WWI heroes belong to the skies, where a new revolutionary form of battle was starting to take shape.

Daring producers, like Howard Hughes, exploited the drama and the showiness of the airborne conflict in titles such as Wings, Aces High, and The Blue Max.

Land-based heroes would also get their ticket to immortality, courtesy of film stars such as Gary Cooper (Sergeant York), Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia), and Mel Gibson (Galipolli).

In just a few months (November 2018), the end of the war will reach its 100th anniversary. And still today, modern filmmakers keep bringing us back to it; sometimes to replicate its brutality with today’s standards, sometimes to tell a new story of hope and glory in the midst of madness.

 

These are some of the most popular WWI film scripts:

(1932) Farewell To Arms

(1938) Dawn Patrol

(1941) Sergeant York

(1951) The African Queen

(1957) Paths of Glory

(1962) Lawrence of Arabia

(1971) Johnny Got his Gun

(1981) Gallipoli

(2004) A Very Long Engagement

(2011) War Horse

10 Great Film Scripts that were Panned by the Critics (Part 1)

Sometimes, the one thing a great film needs in order to be generally accepted as such is… time. Reviewers are certainly not infallible, and more often than not they fail at fully grasping the quality of a story that perhaps was a bit too experimental, controversial or simply ahead of its time.

Few will doubt now that Vertigo is one of Hitchcock’s finest, but its reception was mixed back then, with one reviewer stating that the director had “never before indulged in such farfetched nonsense”. The legendary Roger Ebert was far from impressed after his first view of Once Upon a Time in the West, and John Carpenter admitted that his confidence never recovered after the release of The Thing, today universally regarded as a horror cult classic.

While the reasons on why some films are so widely misunderstood are difficult to ascertain, the lessons to be learned are more reassuring: though the critics hold a great degree of influence over the popular opinion, it’s the audience who truly determines the legacy of a movie, and as filmmakers we have a responsibility of staying true to the story, and not to a trend or a convention.

Here’s a selection of 10 great film scripts that were poorly received back in their day:

(1955) The Night of the Hunter

(1958) Vertigo

(1967) Bonnie and Clyde

(1978) Halloween

(1980) The Shining

(1982) The Thing

(1983) Scarface

(1987) Predator

(1998) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

(1999) Fight Club

Top 10 Post-Apocaliptic Film Scripts

A popular trend in contemporary cinema, these films don’t focus on the events that lead humanity to its destruction, as On the Beach and Dr.Strangelove did. Instead, they talk about the aftermath, our (often futile) attempts to rebuild, and how desperate situations can strip people of all their humanity.

Post-Apocalyptic stories are often marked by a grimy atmosphere and plenty of gut-wrenching dilemmas – the scattered survivors find themselves in a context where morality is always subject to survival.

Screenplays of this genre usually place value on tense, touching interactions between the few characters that remain among the ruins of civilization.

Films like Mad Max or 28 Days Later have wonderfully captured the desolation of the post-apocalyptic scenery, turning the landscape into a key element of the story. In these stories, the setting becomes a powerful presence; almost another character. Watching our own world in ruins seems to be the cinematic culmination of a global fear: losing everything we have and starting from scratch.

Apparently, such setting has also become an irresistible mixing pot for filmmakers. We have seen destruction coming in multiple forms, from zombies to infertility (Children of Men), without discounting man-made viruses (12 Monkeys) and unexplainable plagues (Blindness). Of course, we’ve had our share of comedic post-apocalypse too (Zombieland).

These are 10 of the best films set in the Post-Apocalypse:

 

(1971) The Omega Man

(1975) A Boy and His Dog

(1979) Mad Max

(1981) Mad Max 2: Road Warrior

(1985) Day of the Dead

(1991) Delicatessen

(1995) Twelve Monkeys

(2006) Children of Men

(2009) The Road

(2010) The Book of Eli

Best Film Scripts Set in the Ancient Rome

One of the most impressive empires that have ruled our world, the story of the Roman civilization -the story of a colossus that crumbles by its own weight -has been retold thousands of times. Cinema has captured both the antagonistic side of its influence, and the vibrant, dramatic epics of its most notorious figures.

It is not a coincidence that Shakespeare and so many other English stage authors felt strongly attracted to this setting. Conquest, revenge, power struggles, religious conflicts: the Roman Empire shaped our history in countless ways, and has likewise left countless stories for future artists to tell.

The Italian movie industry even lived a period where Roman and Biblical epics (Peplum or sword-and-sandal films, as they were called) went through a golden age. And though the 50’s and the 60’s exploited the trend perhaps to the point of exhaustion, modern titles like Gladiator and The Eagle have confirmed that there’s still a place for the Roman era in the industry.

These are some of the most important film scripts set in the Roman Empire era:

(1951) Quo Vadis

(1960) Spartacus

(1963) Cleopatra

(1979) Life of Brian

(1988) The Last Temptation of Christ

(1999) Titus

(2000) Gladiator

(2010) Centurion

(2011) Coriolanus

Film Scripts Set in a Confined Space

Sometimes less is more. Screenwriters have proven that a story can be equally appealing and successful with plentiful characters and locations or with just a few of them.

Films set in closed spaces require a different development as the interactions between characters, or perhaps their thoughts and reflections, become practically the only thing that moves the plot forward. Some filmmakers have actually made a habit of turning space scarcity into an advantage.

Claustrophobia is another factor to consider in these stories. Many films have explored the effects of confinement on the human mind in different environments, and used the resulting tension as a device for character progression. Das Boot brilliantly captured the nerve-racking ride of the crew aboard a war submarine. The Mist reinforced the idea that we too can become monsters when pushed to the limit, and Buñuel added a surrealistic flavor to that same idea in The Exterminating Angel.

It is a big risk for the screenwriter to venture into a story with such limitations. Making the most out of minimal resources is probably one of the biggest challenges in filmmaking. But the reward can also be huge: authors like Kevin Smith, Vincenzo Natali or Rodrigo Cortés earned immediate prestige by taking on that task and proving that the talent goes further than the budget.

These are some of the best scripts that are set in a single closed location (or almost):

(1948) Rope

(1957) 12 Angry Men

(1975) Dog Day Afternoon

(1981) Das Boot

(1990) Misery

(1995) Crimson Tide

(1998) Cube

(2002) Phone Booth

(2006) United 93

(2007) The Mist

(2010) Buried

Medieval Fantasy Film Scripts

We owe medieval fantasy to JRR Tolkien, who certainly didn’t create it, but established good part of the foundations of the genre as we know it today. New generations of artists have endlessly reused many of Tolkien’s elements in their own worlds, but a few of them have, especially in recent times, found a way to twist them.

There is much appeal in stories set in the Middle Ages. The feudal system that ruled Western civilization for centuries is certainly an ideal scenario for artistic epics, and the contrasts between nobility and peasantry, loyalty and treason, or honor and blood still leave a strong impact in modern audiences.

Fantasy films bring many of these elements into a new reign where there are no limits other that those allowed by the author’s imagination. They guide us through numerous locations, impossible landscapes, and colourful characters, and the recent impact of adaptations like Game of Thrones is proving that fantasy works well as a mental escape for young and adult audiences alike.

It’s also worth mentioning that technological advances have provided a big boost for the genre. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was considered an impossible adaptation for decades, and the combination of computer effects and exotic landscapes has delivered brilliant cinema moments in recent years.

These are some of the best film scripts set in a fantasy medieval era:

(1981) Excalibur

(1982) Conan the Barbarian

(1982) The Dark Crystal

(1985) Legend

(1986) Labyrinth

(1986) Highlander

(1987) The Princess Bride

(1988) Willow

(1992) Army of Darkness

(1996) Dragonheart

(2001) The Fellowship of the Ring

(2005) The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

(2013) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

(2014) Maleficent