There are so many unoriginal Hollywood movies nowadays that sometimes it can be difficult to tell them apart. There’s a twin-film phenomenon, when competing studios release eerily similar films within a short period of time, often leading to some hilarious results, and making a mockery of originality. Everyone could see that at least one of A Bugs Life and Antz were unoriginal since they covered similar ground and were released so close together, but then it gets worse. What about those tricksters who released their rip-offs years later, or in a different country from the original? Many of those knock-offs were presented to viewers as new and original, without ever attributing any credit to the original influence.
You would think that the early bird gets the worm, that the first of the films, the original, is the most successful, but that’s not always the case. The films on this list are unoriginal but still did exceedingly well in the box-office, especially compared to their predecessors (or source material, whatever you want to call it). Perhaps there’s a message here… Perhaps our parents were wrong about stealing all along. Sometimes kids, if you plan it just right, “borrowing” ideas and calling them your own can make you rich; a message that is sponsored by Hollywood.
Here are 13 movies that blatantly ripped off other movies making many rich, some people sad, and giving others a feeling of déjà vu.
13. Alien & It! The Terror from Beyond Space
While on a distant planet, a ship destined for Earth picks up an unwanted alien passenger who hides in the vents, killing off the crew members one by one, until, eventually, the alien is asphyxiated by the vacuum of space. Recognize the story? Well you may have seen it in two different places because this is the basic plot for both Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and Edward L. Cahn’s It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958). It has since been said that the crew of Alien were conscious of the similarities and even screened It! The Terror from Beyond Space to ensure that the similarities weren’t too obvious. Well they were obvious, but, as a huge fan, I’m not even complaining.
12. Fatal Attraction & Play Misty for Me
This one isn’t necessarily “blatant” because there are so many female stalker movies that follow the same premise, but it probably all started with Play Misty for Me in 1971. Both Play Misty and Fatal Attraction (1987) feature an obsessive woman who refuses to leave the male protagonist alone, calling him at all hours, dropping by unannounced, showing mental instability and even attempting suicide in a wild attempt to recapture the man’s dwindling attention. Both end with the man killing the woman, but Play Misty does it with a little more style, having Clint Eastwood punch the villain off a cliff. That’s right. He punches her in the face, out a window, over a balcony, off a cliff and into the water. Spot on.
11. The Others & The Innocents
The 2001 Alejandro Amenábar film, The Others, is obviously very influenced by the classic novella The Turn of the Screw as well as its 1961 film adaptation The Innocents; however, it doesn’t seem that there has ever been a formal acknowledgment of this. While certain elements are changed, namely The Others features a mother and not a governess, and *SPOILER* the kids are already dead, almost everything else is a retread. Even Kidman’s revelation of smothering her children is a very common interpretation of what the Governess does to Miles at the end of The Turn of the Screw. Imagine if George Lucas never admitted to being inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, would people not rise up or at least ask questions?
10. The Island & Parts: The Clonus Horror
It isn’t hard to spot the similarities between these two films, The Island (2005) and Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979). They are, after all, virtually the exact same movie, but the newer one has way more explosions. Can you guess who directed it? Hint: it rhymes with Smichael Blay. The similarities are so striking that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the manuscript was submitted as Parts: The Clonus Horror The Island. Regardless, there was a lawsuit, an out-of-court, 7-figure settlement to sweep it under the rug, and everyone left happy, except for the movie-goers who expected a better movie.
9. Eragon & Star Wars
A princess smuggles precious information from evil headquarters and sends it to an orphaned farm boy that lives with his uncle. After his uncle is killed, the boy, with the help of an old man that has ties to the good guys, sets off on a journey for revenge. Along the way, the old man teaches the boy how to harness his mystical abilities before being drawn to the evil headquarters, where they save the princess. Ultimately, the old man dies in a heroic battle with the enemy, leading to a final, high-flying confrontation in which the boy defeats the enemy and all is well. It might shock you to learn that this is the plot of Eragon (2006). They might as well have called it Star Battles or Sun Wars.
Yeah, yeah, Joseph Campbell, Monomyth, lots of examples, blah, blah. It doesn’t change the fact that something is fishy here. When a 15-year-old watches Star Wars (1977) and then writes a bestselling novel with the same plot, we call him a great author, but when 15-year-old steals a black car and paints it red, we call him a juvenile delinquent. Something, something, double standard.
8. The Fast and the Furious & Point Break
10 years after Kathryn Bigelow’s surfer crime thriller Point Break (1991) hit theaters, almost the exact same movie was made called The Fast and The Furious (2001), but this time, instead of hanging 10, they were hanging out… Instead of riding waves, they were driving… really fast. Either way, both films feature an undercover cop who joins a thrill-seeking gang to gain intel about their accused heists. Both protagonists fall for the waitress who is connected to the gang leader (sister/ex-girlfriend). Both have a bonding experience over shrimp and fries (seriously?), and both protagonists let the gang leader go in the end. Also, both films are pretty fun to watch.
7. Lion King & Kimba the White Lion
I know, one is not a movie, but this one is too good to pass up. Simba (1994) and Kimba (1965). Both these little lions are surrounded by wise old baboons, bird advisers, and face enemy lions with eye issues and hyena henchmen. Case closed you might say. But NO! You see, Disney’s lion isn’t white. A whole new world! We colored our lion brown. Plus, how you gonna fight that Disney money? Go home Kimba. Go home. We got Johnathan Taylor Thomas and Elton John.
6. Cars & Doc Hollywood
When Cars came out in 2006, it was met with a lot of positivity, but there was something uncanny about the plot, something familiar. It turns out the plot wasn’t all that original. Cars features a hot-shot racecar that finds himself in a small town, causes an accident, does community service, connects with the townsfolk, learns valuable life lessons, falls in love and realizes that his prior life wasn’t all that great. Now swap Michael J. Fox’s Dr. Benjamin Stone and his other human cast members with Lightning McQueen and all the talking cars and you have the 1991 classic Doc Hollywood.
5. Toy Story 3 & The Brave Little Toaster
Over the years, Pixar has gained a reputation for unoriginality, often “borrowing” from older movies to make newer ones. Well one of these that jumped out to a lot of audiences was Toy Story 3 (2010), which was, in fact, essentially the same movie as The Brave Little Toaster (1987). Interestingly enough, John Lasseter worked, got paid, and got rich off both films. In both of these movies, the toys (or appliances) hide their secret lives from the human world. After being abandoned by their college-bound owners, the toys/appliances go on a journey to reconnect with their hateful owners. The climax for both films takes place on a junkyard conveyor belt leading toward an incinerator/crusher, but the inanimate objects are spared at the last second. Phew, living through the exact same drama twice is tough for a kid.
4. Avatar & Pocahontas
I get it. James Cameron didn’t actually steal the plot of 1995’s Pocahontas (or 1990’s Dances with Wolves for that matter), he developed Avatar (2009) himself years earlier, and he has proof! But wait a second. I pretended to ride a dinosaur when I was a kid, but I am not going to make a movie about it. No! And not because of my crippling student debt but because Mr. Spielberg beat me to it. As a wise man once said, you snooze you lose. Well, that is unless your name is James Cameron, then get to snooze, remake a movie, and have it become the highest grossing film of all time. Like c’mon James, in the 14 years you had to rearrange your story so it wasn’t exactly the same as Pocahontas, you couldn’t even change the mystical tree to a bush or something? What a time to be alive.
3. A Fistful of Dollars & Yojimbo
Two warring families occupying a town, a lone rogue enters and does some work for each side, a woman is kidnapped by one family but then rescued by the hero and returned. He is then brutally punished for his actions. While one of the families crushes the other and takes control of the town, the hero heals up and comes back for vengeance, laying waste to everything and everyone in his path. This sounds like a great movie, doesn’t it? Well that’s exactly what Sergio Leone must have thought when he watched Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961). In fact, Leone loved it so much that he scooped it up, went home, changed the landscape, the politics, some names, slapped a new title on it, A Fistful of Dollars (1964), and re-gifted it to the world. Sort of like Robin Hood, without all that good-heartedness and nobility and stuff.
2. Home Alone & Code Père Noël/Game Over
I hate to admit it, but it’s true. The plot for the comedy-classic Home Alone (1990) could be described as the light-hearted, English version of 1989’s French movie 3615 Code Père Noël or Game Over or Deadly Games (depending on which day it is, the title seems to change). While Kevin used the black-and-white film Angels with Filthy Souls to scare off the baddies, it seems that John Hughes may have used 3615 Code Père Noël to make his film. Granted the French film is much darker, much more serious and much more threatening than Home Alone, but the similarities are still too close to simply shrug off… Yet, I think I will anyway. Denial is a powerful drug, and the kid in me needs an untarnished Home Alone to thrive.
1. The Force Awakens & A New Hope
Strictly because this is an ongoing discussion, I chose to include it, but not because I agree with it. In fact, I strongly disagree that last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a rip-off of 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, and here’s why. There are central elements to the plot of Star Wars that are a given, elements that have become familiar to viewers. If J.J. Abrams strayed from this path, Star Wars fans would have risen up and burned his house down, whether they admit it or not.
What The Force Awakens did (and surely will continue to do with the other sequels) is intentionally set up mirroring sequences but, this time around, they added in changes and differences, some subtle and some striking, granting new perspectives of a recognizable scene. It allows familiar audiences to make interpretive shortcuts and thematic connections, while newcomers are given the same awe-inspiring experience that many of us got when we first saw the originals. When they arise, these connective tissues tickle the fanboys…and fangirls…fanpeople when things stay similar, but they mislead, surprise and intrigue us all when they change. The reason people are still talking about the parentage of Rey is because the skeleton of Star Wars has remained the same. We are waiting for the other shoe to drop because we know there are two shoes.
Many of the similarities can even be explained within the context of the film. Why is Kylo Ren so similar to Darth Vader and Rey so similar to Luke? Well these are the universe’s primary influences. There is clearly some major emulating happening on both sides. Why is Moz so similar to Yoda? Well, they’re absolutely nothing alike. That’s just racist. Why is this all so shocking? History repeats itself all the time in real life, why is it so crazy that it’s happening in Star Wars?
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