There’s nothing worse than a cheap imitation of a classic product tricking fans into thinking they’re getting the original, but what if the imitation knock off is vastly superior to the initial item? It doesn’t happen often, but in a world of constant remakes, sequels, and barely disguised stolen ideas, one may be surprised to discover that in a few instances, those blatant rip-offs beat the hell out of their source material. Sometimes they do so by taking what worked, discarding what didn’t, and adding a whole lot of bad ass, but other times the idea barely changed aside from marketing to a different audience with a higher budget, proving just how confusing success in popular culture can be.
We find these rip-offs in virtually every facet of life—toys, foods, comic books, TV shows, films, and even sports entertainment. Occasionally, the rip-off has become so important and iconic we don’t even realize it stole its main selling points from something that came years before it. At least half of the successes on our list deny any form of rip-off took place, but fan discussion on the Internet firmly puts these in what is in the very least dicey territory. In any case, we feel like the similarities of all these products are strong enough to at least rise the question of whether or not there might have been a, shall we say, strong influence. Keep reading to discover 10 rip-offs that became far more successful than their source material.
10. Legos Ripped Off Kiddicraft Building Blocks
Virtually every kid in America has played with Legos, or at the very least seen dozens of ads for them on television. Much less popular is the Kiddicraft block, which predates the Lego as we know it by several years. The Lego Group was founded in 1916, and initially created giant wooden toys that didn’t really interlock in any way, and were more duck shaped than blocky. The Kiddicraft company patented plastic building blocks in the late 1930s, followed by Legos barely tweaking the design and getting a new patent of their own in 1949. While there are minor tubular differences between the two, to the plain eye there’s virtually no difference between the products. The creator of Kiddicraft died without ever knowing he was being ripped off in 1957. Lego, on the other hand, remains one of the most successful toy companies in the universe, and was even considered the most powerful brand in the world in 2015. Although it fell to the second most powerful next year, you can be sure Kiddicraft will never show up on any list at all, outside of ones like ours.
9. The nWo Ripped Off New Japan Pro Wrestling
We’ve written at length about how professional wrestling has little hesitation to blatantly rip off pop culture, and it remains a noteworthy fact that one of the few times pro wrestling itself became pop culture was actually a stolen idea. One of the most famous angles of all time, the new World order, was actually lifted from an idea that was popular a few years earlier in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Unlike most of the other examples on our list, virtually everyone in WCW admitted they got the idea by watching the UWF invade NJPW, and simply tweaked the specifics to better suit an American audience. The result was the most profitable wrestling show in history up to that point, and the only show that ever actually stood toe-to-toe with WWE. In fact, thanks to the nWo, WCW defeated WWE’s ratings for nearly two years, and NJPW never even received a TV show on American television until very recently.
8. The Lion King Is A Mishmash Of Hamlet and Kimba The White Lion
Almost every beloved Disney movie secretly is based on a classic folk or fairy tale, but the nature of these centuries old stories and the originality and care put into an billion dollar organization like Disney makes it hard to call any of them straight rip-offs. There’s always an exception to the rule, though, and despite The Lion King being arguably the most popular Disney film of all time, it’s also the one that most directly ripped off a variety of source materials deeply embedded in the public consciousness. First, many fans noted dozens of similarities between the Disney classic and a Japanese cartoon from the 1960s called Kimba the White Lion. There was the simple fact it was about lions and Kimba sounds a lot like Simba, but several scenes bore close physical resemblance when viewed side by side.
Disney producers have outright denied even the slightest possibility of a rip-off of Kimba, but there’s another source material even they can’t deny, as it’s one of the most famous pieces of literature in the English language. The basic plot of The Lion King sees a young prince get revenge on his uncle after said uncle murders his father and usurps his throne. This is the exact same plot as William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and there’s little question as to whether or not The Bard had any interest in white lions when he wrote it.
7. “Bitter Sweet Symphony” Stolen From The Rolling Stones
Billions of fantastic song covers prove that it’s hard to call something a rip-off in music, since every musician tends to bring something new to a song when they perform it. However, if you steal a piece of a song outright and don’t credit the original songwriters, but rather create an entirely new song around that integral stolen bit, you’re getting pretty close to flat-out rip-off territory. Usually this happens with guitar lines and gets caught pretty quickly, but one of the most famous examples of this type of theft in music actually involved an orchestral symphony.
“Bittersweet Symphony” was one of the most iconic and successful songs of the 90’s, and surely the biggest hit to come from The Verve. Unfortunately for the band’s lead songwriter Richard Asheton, from a legal standpoint, he doesn’t deserve any of the credit, since the searing string section that introduces and guides the song was unlawfully sampled from an orchestral version of a Rolling Stones song. It’s hard to hear The Stones’ rock in the Verve’s ethereal beauty, but anybody who has heard said orchestral cover of the Stones song knows that’s definitely where The Verve got their string section. A court of law agreed it was stolen, and now the only people to profit from the Verve’s biggest hit are Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It’s a shame, too, as we have nothing against The Rolling Stones, but let’s face facts—“Bittersweet Symphony” is a whole lot more than just a string section.
6. Oreos Are Much Sweeter Than Hydrox
Oreos are one of the most famous and delicious cookies on the market today. They’ve existed for over a century, and they’ve dominated the cookie market the entire time, with their clever mix of two chocolate cookie shells over a creamy filling. The only catch is that it wasn’t so clever, since a company called Sunshine Biscuits actually invented this type of cookie first, and called it the Hydrox. When you look at a Hydrox and an Oreo side by side, the two are virtually indistinguishable, outside of the famous Nabisco logo appearing somewhere on the Oreo and explaining the incomparable fame. Although Hydrox were first, Nabisco’s lawyers and marketing team were so clever it was Hydrox that ended up feeling like the pale imitation. Reports indicate Hydrox were more tangy and less sweet than Oreos, but it’s a pretty clear sign which brand is more successful that we can’t even confirm that ourselves.
5. A Fistful Of Dollars Is Better, Badder, and Uglier Than Yojimbo
A Fistful of Dollars is the film that put Clint Eastwood and spaghetti Westerns on the map. Sergio Leone’s masterpiece defined a genre and did more to shape society’s perception of the classic Western hero than virtually any other film. Unfortunately, the major ideas for the film were actually stolen by a film directed by an incredibly respected Japanese filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa’s film Yojimbo was released in 1961, three years before A Fistfull of Dollars, and the films were so similar, Kurosawa’s Toho Studios sued Leone over the film. Leone ignored the claims but eventually had to settle out of court, which is a pretty blatant admission of guilt. Anybody who watches the two films can see the basic similarities, where a rouge badass wanders into a warring town where his only friend is the coffin maker. Nonetheless, Fistful and its two sequels For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly are the films considered absolute classics of American cinema, while Yojimbo tends to fall into the wayside.
4. Fatal Attraction Plays Misty For Oscars
Fatal Attraction was one of the most successful films of the 80s, earning millions of dollars at the box office and being nominated for 6 Academy Awards. Play Misty For Me is an unfairly lesser-known film directed by Clint Eastwood. It was actually Eastwood’s directorial debut, which could attribute for why it isn’t as famous as his later films would become. Regardless of its obscurity, it’s noteworthy for the fact it has a virtually identical plot to the later and much more successful Fatal Attraction.
The films both feature obsessive and possibly mentally disturbed women stalking and eventually seriously threatening the lives of successful young men. The men have different jobs and lifestyles, but the method in which the women stalk and interfere with their lives follows an extremely similar pattern. The two films are so similar in fact there have been psychological studies related to the behaviors exhibited within them, and although the people working on those studies no doubt know Misty came first, the disorder being researched is called Fatal Attraction Disorder, proving our point about which of the two was more successful.
3. WrestleMania Defeated Starrcade
Even the sections of the public vehemently opposed to the concept of professional wrestling are familiar with WrestleMania. The yearly event is more than just a wrestling show; it is an unabashed tribute to sports entertainment that can draw up to hundreds of thousands of fans into city-sized arenas for a spectacle unlike any other. The success of WrestleMania and the success of WWE in general are so intrinsically linked, it must be a huge surprise to younger fans to realize WrestleMania wasn’t an original idea.
A full year and a half before the first WrestleMania, the National Wrestling Alliance put on the first Starrcade. Just like Mania, Starrcade was the yearly celebration of all things wrestling, bringing in wildly diverse audiences for one major sports entertainment spectacular. Starrcade continued until the year 2000, three months before Vince McMahon purchased the brand along with all other WCW assets, proving more definitively than any other item on this list who had the superior product, despite where the idea came from.
2. Kill Bill Slices Lady Snowblood To Pieces
Quentin Tarantino’s films are famous for their many blatant references to their colorful and gory influences, but in one instance it felt a bit more like a blatant rip-off than a loving tribute. Kill Bill was a two-part film released in 2003 and 2004, and major portions of the series’ plot, style, and look were directly lifted from a 1973 Japanese film called Lady Snowblood. Snowblood stars a revenge seeking young woman named Yuki, and though the specifics on who she’s getting revenge on are wildly different from The Bride’s, they basically boil down to the fact both women’s families were murdered by four men she’s now going to revenge kill in a spectacular fashion. Several shots were noted to be eerily similar, and Tarantino had the opening and closing theme music from Snowblood to play over one of his fight scenes most directly inspired by the original. Snowblood remains a minor film by an unknown director, while Kill Bill made hundreds of millions of dollars.
1. Raiders of the Lost Ark Hides An Ancient Incan Secret
It would be insane to say Indiana Jones, one of the coolest and most original characters in film history, was a complete rip-off of a lesser Charlton Heston character, but it’s hard to say otherwise when faced with all the evidence. First and foremost, there are the visual similarities, which are so uncanny the costume director on Raiders of the Lost Ark had to admit it was her primary source of influence. In fact, she also said Steven Spielberg and the rest of the crew would watch Secret of the Incas more than once on set, and thought it was strange they never officially admitted the influence. The visual similarities are hard to deny, but there are also a few plot and stylistic similarities that make it more than a slight nod. Just like Indy, Heston’s character in Inca uses a light reflection trick while adventuring in a tomb, showing Spielberg might’ve taken a bit more than just the clothing from the earlier film. Regardless, Raiders of the Lost Ark is definitely the better, updated version, with far better stunts and action, not to mention the wittier star.
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