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The Girl With the Foreign Language Franchise

The Girl With the Foreign Language Franchise (photo)

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The year’s most successful foreign film isn’t from Pedro Almodóvar, doesn’t include martial arts fighting and isn’t distributed by Miramax or Sony Pictures Classics. It didn’t even play at a major international film festival like Cannes or Toronto. Reviews were generally favorable, but by no means raves; and with no foreign stars and a running time of more than two-and-a-half hours, it’s a miracle that the Swedish thriller “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” garnered some $9 million in U.S. ticket sales and has become a first-of-its-kind arthouse franchise for new distributor Music Box Films.

Based on the bestselling Swedish book by Stieg Larsson, “Dragon Tattoo” is the first in the author’s wildly successful “Millennium Trilogy.” Along with subsequent installments, “The Girl Who Played With Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” the books have sold over 3.5 million copies in the U.S. and spent multiple weeks atop the New York Times bestseller list (“Hornet’s Nest” hit #1 just last month). Hence, awareness for Larsson’s cyberpunk tough-as-nails “Girl” — the book’s central character Lisbeth Salander, written as “five feet tall, thin as a stick” and capable of an “orgy of violence” — isn’t exactly low. But a Swedish-language film is another matter.

07062010_GirlWithTheDragonTattooRapace1.jpgScandinavian films haven’t resonated with U.S. audiences in any meaningful way since the late 1980s (when “My Life as a Dog,” “Fanny and Alexander” and “Babette’s Feast” all made multiple millions). And while there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that bestselling books can spawn box office hits — “Twilight,” “Harry Potter,” “The Da Vinci Code” — there’s very few examples when it comes to foreign-language adaptations crossing over into America. “Like Water for Chocolate” was based on a popular Mexican novel published in 1989, but it was the movie’s 1992 release that spurred U.S. sales, not the other way around.

Music Box Films’ managing director Ed Arentz acknowledges “Dragon Tattoo’s” initial hurdles. “On the face of it, it’s a Swedish film that’s two-and-a-half hours long. A lot of the exhibitors were saying, ‘We’ll stick with ‘Greenberg’ or ride out ‘The Ghost Writer’ a little longer.’ But then they eventually came around.”

Timing has been crucial to the success of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” at arthouses, not the least of which was because of an unprecedented kind of synchronicity with the U.S. paperback phenomenon. Because “The Millenium Trilogy” were originally Swedish language novels, it took several years for Larsson’s books to show up Stateside, and by that time, the first film was also made — breaking box office records in Sweden (the first two films surpassed both “Harry Potter” and “Ice Age” sequels at home last year).

07052010_GirlWiththeDragonTattooNykvist.jpgUnlike most cases of book-to-film transformations, where the movie follows the book by years, both versions of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” hit U.S. shores nearly simultaneously. And Music Box Films — whose last breakout success two years ago was another foreign-lingo adaptation, the French thriller “Tell No One,” based on an American novel — benefited greatly from the convergence.

“The publisher was extremely interested in helping us,” says Arentz. Random House put the small Chicago-based distributor in touch with Barnes & Noble, Borders and plenty of independent bookstores. “We had a multi-faceted outreach to readers, including e-mail blasts, posters in bookstores, and Random House sent out about a 1000 mini-posters.”

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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