Released in October 2002 (and directed by Gore Verbinski), The Ring was more than just a horror movie; it was a cultural sensation. Aside from grossing roughly five times its budget and receiving mostly positive reviews, its word-of-mouth hype made it the must-see cinematic experience of that Halloween season. As Valerie Wee noted in her book Japanese Horror Films and Their American Remakes, it also “marked the beginning of a significant trend in the . . . early 2000s of American adaptations of Asian horror films.”
To be sure, its retooling of Hideo Nakata’s 1998 film Ring (or Ringu) led to numerous other attempts by Hollywood to cash in on the craze. Sadly, the vast majority of them — 2004’s The Grudge, 2005’s Dark Water, 2006’s Pulse, and 2008’s One Missed Call and Shutter — are noticeably inferior to their inspirations and Verbinski’s pioneering prototype.
Thus, The Ring survives not only as the superlative horror retelling of its era, but also as one of the greatest genre makeovers of all time. It may have kickstarted a decade-long trend of schlocky imitators, but its complex acting, powerful drama, emotional heft, and lasting sorrow and scares still runs circles around the competition.
Of course, it’s worth noting why so many copycats emerged after The Ring’s success. In 2017, Vice’s Zac Thompson argued that part of the reason was that American moviegoers wanted something “irresistibly new and strange” after suffering through dozens of Scream imitators.
That necessitated a crop of new “horror movies that were unique in their approach to [narrative] structure, story, [sound design], and [personal] themes.” Put another way, the trend tempted audiences with reinvigorating tricks and topics unlike anything they’d seen before.
As for why The Ring is so singular, well, there’s a lot to discuss. For one thing, its main portrayals and relationships are generally superior to both those in Ringu as well as other stateside Asian remakes. Namely, Naomi Watts and Martin Henderson (as protagonists/ex-lovers Rachel Keller and Noah Clay, respectively) feel extremely genuine and multilayered; their failed romance gives their interactions depth and nuance, enhancing their journey and history. As showcased by this scene in Noah’s apartment, they clearly care about each other, and as a result viewers care about them.