Hollywood is no stranger to remaking (or ripping off) foreign films. Although this inevitably spurs a round of grumbling from the people who hold dear the movie subjected to remaking, it’s a mainstream, accepted practice. Many times, the bulk of an audience may not even know a film is a remake. However, when a foreign country remakes (or, again, rips off) a Hollywood film, often with far more limited technical and financial resources, it’s held up as an example of “so bad it’s good”—which ignores the chutzpah of the bunch of ambitious hustlers daring to remake a big-budget Hollywood film. Look, it’s not like some of those remakes aren’t a little…let’s call them rough around the edges. Technically crude. Occasionally crass. But they exist for many reasons, from the cultural necessity to retool certain themes to a sense of humor and, yes, to make a buck—reasons which, like the technical complication of making many of them, are often lost in the online stampede to point and laugh.

When Ed Glaser turned his eye toward documenting 65 international remakes of Hollywood films, collected together in his exceptional book, How the World Remade Hollywood: Global Interpretations of 65 Iconic Films (McFarland Press, 2022), he wanted to make sure he wrote about the films on their own terms, examining not just that they exist but why they exist and how they came to be. In delving beyond what can admittedly be some rather eye-popping surfaces, Glaser avoids writing about these movies from the condescending perch that so often plagues writing about such films.

“I think you can imagine that I very much dislike the point and laugh attitude,” says Glaser. “I think that you can delight in films like this without being derisive, which seems to be very common, I think, as these films have sort of been unearthed and put on YouTube. I’m not a big fan of the ‘so bad, it’s good’ philosophy. I think this emphasis on a film’s badness is really detrimental to conversations about it.”

This means one is able to sit back and, like Ed himself, genuinely enjoy the hell of some truly amazing, often shocking, and sometimes brilliant international takes on such films and franchises as Star Trek, The Exorcist, Jaws, Captain America, El Santo, Spider-Man, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and of course, Star Wars. To call what Ed does a review of these various films short-changes the amount of cinematic archaeology he does, unearthing interesting trivia and making-of facts as well as explaining the many factors that resulted in the making of each film. The insight, delivered in a conversational and informed voice (this is not one of those “masters thesis turned into a book” affairs), lends added depth to (and sympathy for) even the shaggiest of movies, and it comes from decades of seeking out cinematic treasure from the far-flung corners of the globe.

Finding the Way

Like many people who came of cinematic age in the 1990s, Ed’s introduction to the wide world of cult cinema came via local video stores and, when there was an absence of those in his town, Mystery Science Theater 3000.

“I’m from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 generation and that was probably what really kickstarted my interest,” says Glaser. “Where I grew up, there weren’t the kinds of video stores like there were in New York that specialized in the obscure. The closest thing I had was bootleg videotapes table at a couple of Star Trek conventions I went to as a kid. That’s where I picked up the 1994 Fantastic Four movie, some unavailable Godzilla films, that kind of thing.”

Like any good cult movie obsessive, Glaser didn’t stop at watching films or at attending the odd convention. He wanted to know more about the movies he was seeing, and often times the spark that ignited a strange avenue of research came from unexpected places. In fact, the thing that moved him away from the MST3K canon and into the more remote waters of cult cinema was, of all things, Thomas Harris’s “Hannibal” novels.

“I was in college when I read all of the Hannibal novels,” recalls Glaser, “and I was revisiting all the movies. There were two versions of Red Dragon, the one from 2002 and the Michael Mann version from 1986. I was curious if there were other adaptations that I wasn’t aware of. So I went to IMDB, and IMDB revealed an unauthorized remake of the Silence of the Lambs from India. called Sangharsh (1999). And it was a musical?? Obviously, I ordered a DVD, even though it had no subtitles. I got a bunch of friends to come over to my dorm room, got a bunch of food, and we all watched it without subtitles, and it was wild.”

One of the things that most interested Glaser about Sangharsh was examining what was the same between versions and what had changed—and why those changes might have been made.

“Why are there songs? Why is Buffalo Bill a child murderer? Why is Hannibal sexy?”

Three Giant Men Who Saved the World

The discovery of Sangharsh led Glaser to wonder what other “international remixes” of Hollywood films were out there. He began researching any internet link he could find that might shed some light on the topic. That road led him, s it led many other like-minded seekers, to a film known colloquially as “Turkish Star Wars,” aka The Man Who Saved the World, aka Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (1982).

The Man Who Saved the World is a wild sort of Flash Gordon-esque collage film that mixes footage from Star Wars, music from lots of other films, adventure stuff that’s kind of like old sci-fi serials…and more colors than may be in the rainbow. “We watched that on Google Video, back when that existed, hooked up to a CRT screen, which if you know what that’s like—sending a signal from a computer—it kinda looks extra blurry and terrible. That was a particularly psychedelic experience. It felt like it came from another universe.

“But of course, it didn’t. Actual people made it. There were reasons that it looked like it did. There was presumably an entire industry behind it, one that I didn’t know anything about. So as I sought out other interesting international remakes and rip-offs. I started researching them—the people who made them, the conditions that were made in, the ways their cultures consume films, what are their contemporary political landscapes, and so on.” 

Despite often being referred to as “Turkish Star Wars,” The Man Who Saved the World doesn’t reflect the plot very closely, although there are certainly parallels to be found—some of which are intentional and some of which are simply a product of the fact that so many stories, Star Wars included, hew to a set of archetypes and character arcs that have been in use since humans started telling stories. Plus, it’s not like it only borrows special effects shots from Star Wars. There’s a decent bit of the original Glen A. Larson Battlestar Galactica in there (itself a made-for-TV attempt to ride Star Wars‘ cape tails). Ultimately, both Star Wars and The Man Who Saved the World call back to the decades’ worth of established pulp space opera. That there is a Ming the Merciless-like villain in The Man Who Saved the World isn’t surprising—such villains have been used since the proverbial “time immemorial.”

In exploring further Turkish adaptations, Glaser found another, much more radical-seeming interpretation of well-known characters. 3 Dev Adam, aka Three Giant Men, gained nearly as much fame online as The Man Who Saved the World thanks to its inclusion of Mexican wrestling and cinema legend El Santo and American comic book characters Captain America and Spider-Man. All three behave a little differently in 3 Dev Adam than they do in their original versions—Spider-Man, for example, is a cackling, chain-smoking supervillain—and again Glaser was interested in why this was so.

“I’m looking at Captain America, and this Captain America is very weird. He’s a cop. He doesn’t have little helmet wings. He doesn’t have a shield. He uses a gun. It dawned on me that the version of Captain America that these filmmakers are pulling from is not the Captain America from the comics, because they probably never read Captain America comics. They know him from the 1940s Columbia serial, in which Captain America is a district attorney who moonlights as Captain America—in a costume without the little helmet wings, without the shield, and with a gun. Suddenly it all makes sense.”

“Spiderman had not been a thing in Turkey either,” Glaser continues. “He would appear briefly a couple of years after 3 Dev Adam came out and then really not again until the eighties. So they were probably aware of him sort of peripherally. I think the American TV series had a couple of theatrical films released internationally that were edited from episodes of the series, and those would come out a little bit later also. But Spider-Man, I think it was just like, we’re familiar with the existence of Spider-Man. I bet he’d be a cool villain. Let’s do that!” And that was the sort of stuff that I was really living for, connecting dots that I hadn’t been able to connect before.”

Jaws Wars: To Sue or Not to Sue

While India and Turkey have produced some of the most shocking reinterpretations of blockbusters, awareness of films from those countries was the product of the internet age and, more specifically, the rise of Youtube. Before that, the best-known blockbuster remixes were coming from Italy. They were often readily available on VHS and, in many cases, even received a theatrical release in the United States during the 1970s and ’80s. How the World Remade Hollywood covers several Italian productions, including OK Connery (aka Operation Kid Brother, 1967), a James Bond knock-off starring several actors from the Bond franchise, as well as Sean Connery’s brother, Neil.

However, two Italian blockbuster remixes in particular capture the spirit prevalent in Italy at the time. One of the best-known and most beloved was Luigi Cozzi’s Star Crash (1978), commissioned explicitly as a Star Wars cash-in but taking a very different approach that has more to do with Barbarella (1968). The other was a Jaws rip-off called Great White (aka Ultimo Squalo and The Last Shark, 1981) that likely would have come and gone with no fanfare if Universal hadn’t decided to make an example of it.

For Luigi Cozzi, Star Wars was the key that unlocked a door he’d been trying to jimmy open for years: making an Italian science fiction film. Sci-fi was one of Cozzi’s passions, but it was not a passion shared by most Italian filmgoers.

“He had been wanting to make a sci-fi movie for years and years and years,” says Glaser. “And everyone was like, ‘Nah, sci-fi doesn’t sell. It’s not going to be worth our while.’ And then suddenly Star Wars comes out in 1977, and everyone’s like, ‘We need a Star Wars!’ So they come to Luigi Cozzi, who was just there, waiting. ‘Yeah, I can make a sci-fi movie. That’s not a problem.’ I’m sure he had lots of ideas floating around in his head already that he was pulling from when he finally made Star Crash.”

Star Crash was an original enough variation on the Star Wars theme—like The Man Who Saved the World, working as much with Star Wars itself as the raw space opera and “hero’s journey” material Star Wars itself had plumbed (albeit with Caroline Munro as the hero, and far more Han Solo than Luke Skywalker)—that, while Lucasfilm might not have been overjoyed by it, it wasn’t really an actionable offense. And since, unlike The Man Who Saved the World, Star Crash didn’t recycle special effects footage and music, it enjoyed a relatively safe release in the United States as well as the Italian market for which it was initially made.

Enzo G. Castellari’s Great White wasn’t as lucky. For starters, it was a much more obvious rip-off of the original material (Jaws) than Star Crash. Film Ventures, which distributed the film in the US, was brazen in promoting it with as much Jaws flare as possible. TV spots were broadcast in the United States, and the film was released theatrically—but not for long. Universal, the studio that had released Jaws, did not consider imitation the highest form of flattery. The lawyers came for Great White, and they came hard. Not only was it yanked from American theaters; but it also remained a forbidden film for decades. It was not until 2013 that it was released on home video in the US, and even then under somewhat skittish circumstances (only available online, and only in limited quantity). However, the Italian cult film industry being what it was, scenes from Great White were cannibalized for subsequent Italian Jaws rip-offs, including Cruel Jaws (1995), directed by Bruno Mattei (no stranger to remixing popular Hollywood films—two of his films, Robowar and Shocking Dark, make appearances in Glaser’s book).

So why do some of these international remakes draw the ire of studio legal departments while others slip through relatively unscathed and can even enjoy a modicum of success? As Glaser explains in the introduction to How the World Remade Hollywood, it’s a combination of things.

“The Hollywood studio has to be aware that the film exists, which is not always a given. If you’re looking at the sixties, seventies, and eighties, many of these films were not intended for international distribution, or at least in countries like India, Turkey, and Russia. For Russia, they were screened behind the Iron Curtain. No one else would be aware of them. Obviously, at this point, Disney is certainly aware of The Man Who Saved the World, but the company that made it is defunct. It’s just not worth their while to do anything about it. These films did not pull in a lot of money compared to Hollywood films, especially if they were not intended for international distribution. In some cases, these international companies would lose money. The film would be a flop. Nobody’s going to come calling for that money. It isn’t there.”

And then you have cases where films, such as Star Crash, aren’t legally actionable because they’re not enough of a rip-off.

“IP law is generally about materially copying the expression of an idea and not the idea itself. So you’re not going to be able to sue because Russia did an Avengers-type movie with a team of superheroes. You can’t copyright a team of superheroes. Star Crash comes pretty close to Star Wars, but Luigi Cozzi kinda made his own science fiction film that, while it incorporated some elements of Star Wars—lightsabers, a Death Star, spaceships, and things like that—it really isn’t Star Wars. So those movies could get released in the States.”

Studios with a litigious appetite also have to navigate the disconnected landscape of international copyright law, a confusing tapestry of local regulations (or lack of), and international trade agreements. Intellectual property laws are not the same, for example, in Turkey as they are in America. As Glaser explains, “Turkey had pretty firm rules governing the intellectual property of work created in Turkey, but not so much for foreign works. So there was nobody who was breathing down their neck if they used footage or music or plots or lines from other films. Only in fairly recent years, when they were interested in joining the European Union, did they rework their intellectual property laws to be in line with the rest of Europe.”

International Exchange

The result of years’ worth of connecting dots and tracking down movies that were often long-forgotten in their own country of origin culminates in How the World Remade Hollywood, which is divided into six chapters: Capes, Conquerors, and Comic Books; Muscles, Magnums, and Machismo; Family, Fantasy, and Fairy Tales, Monsters, Maniacs, and the Macabre; Androids, Aliens, and the Apocalypse; and Outlaws, Outsiders, and Oscar Winners. Each section boasts a dozen or more reviews and background info on the films. By nature of the genre appeal, as well as the stunts and colorful (when the existing copy of a film isn’t severely damaged) costumes and sets, science fiction, horror, and fantasy make up the flashiest examples, and as a result the most likely to be familiar—at least to people who are likely to be familiar with things such as Turkish remakes of Star Trek and E.T. and Italian superhero movies.

Among the superhero remakes, you’ll find a number of cult classics, such as Japanese Spider-Man, Filipino Wonder Woman (Darna), Mexican Bat-Woman (La Mujer Murcielago), various Supermans, Turkish Batman and Tarzan, and the aforementioned Russian Avengers (Guardians). “Muscles, Magnums, and Machismo” explores territory as varied and violent as 1990: Bronx Warrior (which manages to be a remake/rip-off of post-apocalyptic Mad Max films and Walter Hill’s surreal street gang odyssey, The Warriors), two cracks at James Bond mania (Turkey’s Golden Boy and Italy’s OK Connery), a Turkish Rambo (Korkusuz, aka Rampage), and a fistful of Dirty Harrys. The chapter on fantasy and family films features variations on Snow White, The Wizard of Oz, The Jungle Book, Lassie, the legendary Turkish E.T. (Badi), Harry Potter, Winnie the Pooh, Lassie, and Ge wu qing chun, aka Disney’s High School Musical: China, one of the very few international remakes made with the cooperation of the original creator (Disney, in this case).

In the chapter covering monsters and horror, you’ll find your Draculas, your King Kongs (Japan and Hong Kong), mummies, Exorcists, not one but two Jaws (India’s Aatank and the previously-mentioned L’ultimo Squalo), Evil Dead (the story of Evil Dead in India is a book unto itself), Psychos, Freddie Kreugers, Chuckys, a Japanese Paranormal Activity made as an official sequel to the original film, and perhaps one of the most surprising entries in the entire book—Anyab (aka Fangs), a 1981 remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show from Egypt. That one is especially ripe for exploring how a remake gets tailored to suit the tastes and social mores of another country. “Androids, Aliens, and the Apocalypse” explores such far-flung corners of the galaxy as Flash Gordon, The Six Million Dollar Man, Terminators and Lady Terminators, Star Trek, Star Wars, Road Warrior, and the truly baffling, undeniably stunning Korean animated film Computer Haekjeonham Pokpa Daejakjeon, aka Savior of the Earth—a loopy remake of TRON with a dash of Sandra from the anime Space Adventure Cobra, from infamous cut-and-paste ninja movie producer Joseph Lai.

Glaser’s final section, “Outlaws, Outsiders, and Oscar Winners,” has the highest concentration of remakes likely to be lesser-known to people who have already explored the candy-colored worlds of Ator the Invincible (one of many Italian sword and sorcery films spawned by the success of 1982’s Conan the Barbarian) and Time of the Apes (A Japanese remake of Planet of the Apes which, perhaps a little surprisingly, is a more faithful adaptation of Pierre Boulle’s original 1963 novel than the more famous American movie). In that final chapter, you’ll find such things as 12 (2007), a Russian remake of 1957’s 12 Angry Men; Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai, a 2015 Nigerian remake of Prince’s 1984 film Purple Rain; and the 2006 Indian movie Fight Club: Members Only, a remake of…well, you can figure that one out. Turkish Rocky? Turkish Straw Dogs? A Turkish and an Indian Godfather? You get insight and commentary on all that plus a Hong Kong remake of The Untouchables (First Shot, 1993), an infamous Nigerian Titanic (Masoyiyata, 2003), a Taiwanese Ms. .45 (Girl with a Gun, 1982), an Indian Fatal Attraction (Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya…, 2001), a Japanese Unforgiven (Yurusarezaru mono, 2013), and Sangharsh, an Indian remake of Silence of the Lambs that launched Ed Glaser on this whole amazing journey through international remakes in the first place.

Naturally, even covering 75 remakes of 65 films still represents only a portion of the remake wonders lurking around the world (if you can track down a copy of Run, a Hong Kong remake of Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi, starring Leon Lai as a Chinese ex-pat mariachi in Mexico, I recommend it), but one has to start somewhere. How the World Remade Hollywood is an excellent place to begin—or continue if you’ve already started down the path. Even seasoned travelers of global cult cinema will find new stories and new insight, not to mention new movies to seek out. It’s beautifully, obviously the work of a true obsessive who, in the course of pursuing his obsession, not only wrote a book but also ended up releasing a Turkish Rambo on DVD and owning a 35mm print (the only one remaining?) of The Man Who Saved the World. That is a film historian you can trust.