As purveyors of film, we all know how hard it can be to come up with an original story. Hollywood is practically drowning in reboots, sequels, and adaptations. So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that many big studios and directors have been sued on the basis that their material “borrows” from other works.
Though the accusations themselves have for a large part gone unproven, many big-budget blockbusters have been taken to court by authors and artists for infringing on their own stories. There are hundreds of court cases involving such accusations, with evidence ranging from minutia to more obvious parallels. While the directors will argue that it is quite common for less successful writers to seek compensation after a movie – in any way similar to their copyrighted idea – grosses millions, there is the occasional case that has a bit more heft.
From the outright ridiculous to the shockingly similar, we take a look at 12 Movies Popular Sued For Being Rip-Offs.
12. Cabin in the Woods
One of the best horror-comedies in recent memory, Cabin in the Woods combined genuine scares with silly self-aware moments to great effect. Much of the film’s success is due to nerd god Joss Whedon, who helped director and fellow Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum Drew Goddard pen the script.
Not everyone was pleased with the film. In 2015, an author named Peter Gallagher claimed that he had written an identical story to Whedon’s in his novel The Little White Trip: A Night in the Pines. He sued Whedon for $10 million and punitive damages.
After reading Gallagher’s story, the judge determined that the only similarities between his and Whedon’s were the location and the fact that teenagers meet their untimely deaths. His claim has no weight because Cabin in the Woods intentionally borrows tropes in the horror genre, namely the eponymous cabin. Or as the judge put it, “The concept of young people venturing off to such locations and being murdered by some evil force is common in horror films.” Gallagher has a copyright on his book, but not the idea of a cabin in the woods. In the end, Whedon won out.
11. Pirates of the Caribbean
Disney’s swashbuckling adventure movies may have declined in quality over the years, but that doesn’t stop them from bringing in the big bucks. It is widely known that the films are based off of the theme park ride at Disneyland and Disneyworld, but one author claimed the story also borrows elements from his novel.
Back in 2005, Royce Mathew sued Disney for taking his idea of “pirates transforming into skeletons in the moonlight” in one of the most iconic scenes in the film. Disney was able to produce evidence of sketches indicating the idea was produced separately, and the case was dropped.
However, Mathew did not want to quit. In 2013, he sued Disney again, claiming that the artwork they provided was falsified. You see, the picture given to the court was of an unreleased sketch by designer Mark Davis. However, when the photo was later released in a book of artwork by Disney, it was credited to Collin Campbell, an entirely different artist.
Mathew’s claim may have had a kernel of truth, but the case was dropped due to complications involving his previous lawsuit. The Disney Company has top-notch lawyers.
10. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
Two of blockbuster cinema’s biggest superstars were taken down a peg when they were sued by an archaeology team for basing Raiders of the Lost Ark off of their own famous dig.
Robert Kuhn and Stanley Rader sued Paramount along with director Steven Spielberg and producer George Lucas for not crediting the real heroes of archaeology in their adventure film. While their story did not involve any actual mythical occurrences, it did contain the Arc of the Covenant.
9. The Purge
Blumhouse is known for its low-budget movies that gross far more than it costs to make them. Something they would prefer not to be known for is copyright infringement.
In 2013, Douglas Jordan-Benel sued Blumhouse for copying the elements of his script Settler’s Day for their film The Purge. Benel may have a point: both films focus on a family trying to survive the night on the one day a year that all crime is legal. There’s further proof to back up his claim. Benel cites several articles where credited screenwriter James DeManaco mentions various television episodes and films for his inspiration for writing The Purge. His sources range from Dog Day Afternoon to Star Trek, i.e. scattered.
Judicial red-tape has kept the Benel from currently receiving any of the $5 million he seeks as compensation, but there is a silver-lining: Universal attempted to dismiss the case and the court denied the request. The Purge may be an original entity, but Benel’s claims may have weight.
Unfortunately for Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, comedies are just as likely to be sued as dramas. His R-rated profanity-filled Ted was under fire by Bengal Mangle Productions for copying their idea of a swearing teddy bear from their web series.
Their bear, Charlie, bore a physical resemblance to Ted along with sharing his love for inappropriate jokes. The creators of Charlie the Abusive Teddy said that scenes like the Norah Jones cameo and Ted making fat jokes when his life is in danger were ripped straight from their show.
The charges were dropped after MacFarlane proved he created Ted independently. The evidence was overwhelming in MacFarlane’s favor. The lawsuits may be over, but the creator of the stuffed bear Teddy Ruxpin – of which the character gets his name – still wishes the film was never made.
Spike Jonze’s science fiction romance story was one of the most beloved films of 2013. The story of a man who starts up a relationship with his phone is a perfect commentary on love and life in the 21st century.
But years before Joaquin Phoenix put on the high-waisted pants, Sachin Gadhard and Jonathan Sender say they wrote a very similar screenplay. Their movie, titled Belv is about a smart phone that comes to life and functions as the main character’s wing-man.
Their script is noticeably different than Jonze’s; namely the cell phone is a friend, not romantic interest. Judges threw the case out, saying the stories had different characters, themes, and plots and most importantly one was a drama, and the other a comedy.
6. Finding Nemo
The case of Le Calvez V. Disney was fishy from the get-go. Not because Le Calvez’ claims lacked merit, but because they involved the copyright infringement of a popular clownfish.
Disney Pixar’s Finding Nemo is the adorable tale of a fish who lives in a sea anemone with one of his parents after the other is killed. Coincidentally or not, that is also the plot to Franck Le Calvez’ children’s book Pierrot le Poisson Clown. There are many differences as the plot thickens in Pixar’s film, but the similarities in the beginning are hard to ignore. Nemo also bares a strong resemblance to Pierrot.
In 2003, Le Calvez filed suit, claiming that Pixar stole the idea from one of many French animation studios of which he pitched the original idea. Le Calvez’ book was released after the film and its sales were hurt significantly due to the assumption that Periott is in fact a knock-off of Nemo. The case has since dissolved. Hopefully, Le Calvez did not write a sequel about a memorable blue tang fish with a bad memory.
5. Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino is known for “borrowing” shots and moments from other films, clever homages to his favorite filmmakers. Kill Bill is largely inspired by Lady Snowblood, his western The Hateful Eight has a few nods to the Kurt Russell-vehicle The Thing. But sometimes creators are none-to-happy about the material that he makes his own.
Tarantino says he based his Django Unchained after the similarly-titled Django by Sergio Corbucci. But Oscar and Torrance Colvin claimed there are many more parallels between Tarantino’s film and their own. Their unproduced script, Freedom is also about a freed slave who seeks to free his family from their slave owners. The Colvin family has since filed suit. There are numerous other similarities between the two scripts, though Tarantino may have easily came up with the ideas on his own. In this case, the court case is still ongoing.
James Cameron’s Avatar absolutely destroyed the box office, grossing around 2.8 billion dollars. With a story that is eerily reminiscent of both Pocahontas and Dances with Wolves, the film was a copyright case waiting to happen.
In 2011, Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment was sued three times in a 10-day period regarding Avatar. (The film has been sued several more times in total.) The lawsuits range from Cameron stealing material from books, screenplays, and even paintings of forests.
One of the more high-profile cases regarded the works of Bryant Moore, and his novels Aquatica and The Pollination. While the judge noted similarities, including a sci-fi setting and warring factions questing for resources, the court ruled in favor of Cameron. Cameron was able to produce drawings and notes from decades prior to making the film, indicating he had the idea long before the film was produced. Cameron later called Avatar his “most personal film” and dismissed the plaintiffs as “fortune hunt[ers].” Fans of the film rejoice: we have several sequels on the way.
3. Titanic (and Forrest Gump)
We would all like to think our parents led exciting lives, but in the case of Princess Samantha Kennedy, she takes wish-fulfillment a bit too far. Kennedy, who is not royalty – her given name is Princess – sued two separate filmmakers for ripping off her unpublished biography about her late father.
Kennedy claimed both James Cameron’s Titanic and Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump borrowed events from her father’s life via her 480-plus page biography. She stated that scenes in Titanic such as Jack painting a naked Rose, the steamy scene in the ship’s cargo hold, and several others are in her book verbatim.
How would Cameron have discovered these stories? From the released transcripts of her book from when Kennedy sued Paramount for Forrest Gump years prior. She certainly has gumption.
The craziest part of the story might be that Kennedy didn’t sue 20th Century Fox until 2012, about 15 years after Titanic was released. Kennedy said “I haven’t been to a theater since 1994” and when she saw the film she “was pretty surprised.”
The trend is clear: movie becomes successful, creators with lawyers come out of the woodwork. Disney’s Frozen was no exception. However, one author came forward with a ridiculous claim.
Isabella Tanikumi posited that the animated feature featuring singing trolls and an obnoxious snowman was a rip-off of her 2010 autobiography. Her court documents detail 18 similarities from the film, including a “moon setting,” “sisters with a deep connection” and “betrayal.”
Not only did Tanikumi seek $250 million in damages, but she also ordered Disney to cease and desist all marketing and products for the franchise. While some of the parallels are eerily similar, Tanikumi’s story lacks the fantastical element that made Frozen the blow-out success it became.
1. The Dark Knight
Topping our list is Christopher Nolan’s epic, dark superhero crime-thriller. The foreboding drama inspired the plethora of “gritty” reboots we have today. The Dark Knight might also be the movie with the most unique court case surrounding it. Huseyin Kalkan sued Christopher Nolan’s film not because it stole from a novel or play he wrote, but because the film never got permission from his city to use the word “Batman.”
That’s right. Kalkan was the mayor of a small city called Batman, Turkey. When he heard the film used his city’s name, he was outraged. He blamed the film for a rise in crime and unsolved murders, claiming it had a psychological impact on his citizens.
One has to wonder why Kalkan wouldn’t have sued prior to The Dark Knight. After all, Batman first appeared in the comics in 1939, almost 70 years prior to the blockbuster film. It’s a far-fetched claim to be sure, and one we hope would bring a smile to the caped crusader’s permanently frowny face.
Do you know of any other movies that got sued? Let us know in the comments!