'Dragon Tattoo' Has Designs On U.S. Audiences

Noomi Rapace i i

'Dragon' lady: Noomi Rapace has been widely hailed for an indelible performance as the unlikely sleuth at the center of Niels Arden Oplev's film. Yellow Bird Productions hide caption

itoggle caption Yellow Bird Productions
Noomi Rapace

'Dragon' lady: Noomi Rapace has been widely hailed for an indelible performance as the unlikely sleuth at the center of Niels Arden Oplev's film.

Yellow Bird Productions

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is an international phenomenon — a best-selling book published in 37 languages. It landed Steig Larsson the No. 1 slot on the New York Times best-seller list, making him the first translated author in two decades to claim that spot.

But with the hit Swedish film version opening March 19 in the U.S., a question looms: Will fans be as willing to squint at subtitles as they were to read a translated book?

Lately, the secret to box-office success for a foreign language film seems to involve samurai swords and martial arts. And at least Lisbeth Salander — the girl with that dragon tattoo, plus body piercings and black combat boots — demonstrates a willingness to draw blood.

"She's like a dark angel of revenge," says director Niels Arden Oplev. "She's a squatter, punker, hacker. She has all of those qualities." At times it's not clear if you should root for her or fear her.

Salander gets caught up in a 40-year-old mystery that's been dogging a wealthy and powerful family. A crusading journalist convinces her to lend her computer skills and photographic memory to his investigation of serial murder and clan secrets.

"I can't wait to open this film," says Landmark Theaters CEO Ted Mundorff, whose chain is a major exhibitor of foreign-language and independent film in the U.S. "We have found over the last several years that foreign films still play a key part in the yearly success of our company. And people are still supporting foreign films."

Of Landmark's top 25 grossing films of last year, just three were foreign language films. Still, Landmark has high hopes for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. After all, the book was an absolute blockbuster — and Mundorff is hoping that those readers will be the film's core audience.

Book sales across continents were spurred on largely by word of mouth, according to Sonny Mehta, chairman and editor in chief of Alfred A. Knopf Books. Knopf published not only Tattoo, but the author's entire Millennium Trilogy.

"When we originally bought it, our real concern was whether this would be the one country where the novel, or the trilogy, sort of would not 'take,'" Mehta says. "It's been extraordinary watching it be adopted."

The second Millennium book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, was also a best-seller in the U.S., and Mehta hopes the film will encourage even more sales when the final book in the series is released stateside in May.

There's a backup plan: If U.S. movie audiences don't buy tickets to see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in Swedish, Hollywood is already gearing up for an English-language remake.

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