It should come as no big surprise that movies borrow from each other all the time. In fact, some directors, like Quentin Tarantino, have made a career out of homages to more obscure movies. Sometimes, that works: Tarantino has made his own share of great films, including some masterpieces. Other times, the obvious borrowing proves more of a distraction than anything else.
Part of the reason a filmmaker like Tarantino succeeds is that he doesn’t borrow from obvious sources, or at least movies familiar to American viewers. Of course, he’s not the only one, either: major studios remake foreign films all the time.
When Hollywood doesn’t get permission to remake, however, a movie earns a new classification: it becomes a ripoff…which brings us to the movies in question today. All the movies detailed here have their “unofficial” basis in other projects. Sometimes another filmmaker will call out Hollywood for thieving ideas. Other times, that duty falls to the audience. Audiences will long debate the similarities of a movie like Avatar to Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, but the movies listed here go beyond simple resemblance.
Find here 15 Movies That Might Be Rip-Offs!
15. The Lion King – Kimba the White Lion
Osamu Tezuka’s name looms over the animation business, even if it goes unnoticed by the public at large. The man behind Astro Boy became Japan’s answer to Walt Disney. The two even became friends in the 1960s. In that same decade, Tezuka began production on Kimba the White Lion, an animated TV series about a young lion striving to live up to his father’s ideals and reputation as king of the jungle. Born into captivity, Kimba escapes and begins a long journey back to the jungle to avenge the death of his father.
Disney eventually did their own take on the king of the jungle: The Lion King, which became an international smash hit. Fans of anime immediately noticed striking parallels between Kimba and The Lion King. Simba, the protagonist of The Lion King resembled Kimba both in name and in design. Early production artwork even depicted Simba as a white lion. Star Matthew Broderick went so far as to tell the press he was voicing Kimba in a Disney remake and Roy E. Disney even referred to the character as “Kimba” during chat sessions! Needless to say, The Lion King didn’t do as well in Japan as it did in the US, and the film remains an object of controversy among animation aficionados today.
14. Atlantis: The Lost Empire – Nadia: Secret of the Blue Water
Disney did it again (and it wouldn’t be the last time)! When Atlantis: The Lost Empire hit screens in 2001, fans of Japanese animation immediately noticed some uncomfortable similarities to a famed Japanese series. Nadia: Secret of the Blue Water ran in 1990 for 39 episodes, and was the brainchild of famed animator Hayao Miyazaki. The story followed a group of explorers, including the title character, who possesses a magical blue crystal linked to Atlantis. Nadia and her friends join Captain Nemo (yes, that Captain Nemo) aboard a submarine and go searching for the lost continent.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire followed the same premise: a character of Atlantean descent goes in search of the lost continent aboard a submarine. Besides that, almost every main character resembles their Japanese counterpart with shocking detail. Spoiler alert: the climax of both stories revolves around a floating blue power source with incredible destructive power.
Atlantis did only middling business in the US and, coincidentally, Disney began giving wide theatrical distribution to Miyazaki’s films, beginning with Spirited Away the following year. Nadia maintains a cult following all over the world, though obtaining the series in the US is mysteriously difficult.
13. Aladdin – The Thief and the Cobbler
The Thief and the Cobbler spent a whopping 30 years in production before it finally hit screens in 1995, where it died a quiet death. Maybe that had something to do with another movie stealing its thunder…
Canadian animator Richard Williams, best known for spearheading the animation to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, began the project in 1964 as an attempt to make the greatest movie of all time. With a cast that included Vincent Price, Anthony Quayle, and Sean Connery, Williams self-funded the movie and demanded absolute perfection from his animators. Because of his tyrannical direction and the film’s long gestation period, animators used Williams’ studio as a sort of animation school before going on to other projects.
As part of Williams’ contract for Roger Rabbit, Disney agreed to raise completion funds to finish The Thief and the Cobbler, as well as distribute the movie. When Williams balked at a number of changes the studio requested, the deal fell apart. Williams took the movie to Warner Bros. and Disney began work on another movie: Aladdin.
Aladdin beat The Thief to screens by several years, and animation aficionados marveled at the eerie similarities between the two films. Virtually all the Aladdin characters bore a strong resemblance to their Thief counterparts, and several action sequences were actually shot for shot identical. When Williams missed his deadline to complete The Thief and the Cobbler, Disney subsidiary Miramax bought and recut the film before burying it in theatres and on DVD.
12. Beauty and the Beast – La Belle et la Bête
The fairytale of Beauty and the Beast had become a popular story long before Disney made it into one of their most successful films. French filmmaker Jean Cocteau had used the story as a basis for La Belle et la Bête in 1946, which became one of the most successful fantasy films in history and earned acclaim as one of the greatest films ever made. Cocteau’s use of surreal imagery became some of the most emulated in film history… right up to the production of the Disney film in 1991!
The animated version of Beauty and the Beast employs many of the flourishes Cocteau added in his version. The objects in the castle seem to come to life in the Cocteau version, and of course in the Disney version they actually are alive—the Beast’s servants transformed as part of his enchantment. Moreover, the subplot in the animated film involving Belle’s suitor Gaston does not appear in the original fairy tale, though it does play an important role in the Cocteau movie. Indeed, both the animated design of Gaston and the Prince who becomes the Beast seem modeled after their live-action counterparts in the 1946 movie. That movies would copy the Cocteau film—one of the most visually emulated in history—should not come as any surprise. That Disney, however, would copy it in such a literal and brazen way should raise eyebrows.
11. Blue Jasmine – A Streetcar Named Desire
Cate Blanchett nabbed her second Oscar for her performance in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, a comedy-drama about an alcoholic woman struggling with poverty. More than a few critics noticed some strange similarities between Allen’s film and another drama classic: A Streetcar Named Desire. For starters, both Blanchett and her male co-star Alec Baldwin had played the leads in Streetcar in two very high-profile theatrical productions. The basic plot outline—a single, alcoholic woman coming to live with her sister and her husband and taking advantage of their generosity—also matched both movies. Likewise, both Blanche of Streetcar and Jasmine of Jasmine court a handsome, good man who helps to balance out her instability, only to see the relationship—and her sanity—crumble.
Astute critics called Blue Jasmine an “homage” to A Streetcar Named Desire, or even a modernization of the tale. That might attest more to Allen’s clout and status in Hollywood than his intentions. On the other hand, gossip mills reported that the movie was actually based on Allen’s own relationship with former girlfriend Mia Farrow. We aren’t quite sure which is worse…
10. Star Wars – The Hidden Fortress
When Star Wars exploded into the world in 1977, hardcore cinephiles immediately noticed a number of visual allusions to other popular movies—The Searchers, Triumph of the Will, and The Wizard of Oz just to name a few. Fans of Akira Kurosawa also noticed a shocking correlation: strip away the settings of space and distant galaxies, and the plot suddenly became identical to The Hidden Fortress.
The Hidden Fortress follows two bumbling servants who accidentally land in the middle of a conflict between two warring clans. They escape and join forces with a princess and a former general en route to a secret base. A farmer helps them out along the way and discovers the princess is smuggling gold to restore her family clan.
George Lucas has at least been honest when discussing the influence of The Hidden Fortress on the development of Star Wars. Lucas even went so far as to consider casting Toshiro Mifune, the actor who plays the general in The Hidden Fortress as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. Mifune would also serve as the partial basis for the character Yoda in the Star Wars sequels. Lucas has also helped raise the profile of Kurosawa among American audiences, and helped the director secure financing for subsequent movies.
9. Body Heat – Double Indemnity
Billy Wilder made one of the all-time great films with his noir thriller Double Indemnity, which starred Fred MacMurray as an insurance salesman plotting a murder that will free up the woman of his desires and reward her a huge sum of money. The plot becomes a potboiler thriller of double crossing and eavesdropping and culminates in an explosive climax.
Lawrence Kasdan had just completed work on The Empire Strikes Back when George Lucas offered to produce a film that Kasdan could write and direct. Body Heat, starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner, would become one of the biggest hits of 1980. Critics, even those who praised the film, however, noted that the plot bore more than a passing resemblance to Double Indemnity. Writers like Pauline Kael and Janet Maslin both dismissed the movie as an Indemnity copycat without any of the thrills. Roger Ebert passionately defended the film, though even he classified the movie as homage to Double Indemnity. Today moviegoers remember the film as one of the great thrillers of the 1980s, though it still has Double Indemnity knockoff status.
8. Blow Out – Blowup
George Lucas’ contemporary and friend Brian DePalma also owes his own debt of influence to foreign filmmakers. One of his most acclaimed films, Blow Out, is essentially a carbon copy of a film by Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni called Blowup.
Apart from the obvious title parallels, Blow Up follows a London photographer who accidentally photographs something he shouldn’t. A man turns up dead, and suddenly all the photographer’s negatives go missing. The photographer begins tracking a mysterious woman he’d photographed earlier in the day, and tries to piece together exactly what happened. The film ends on a mysterious and ambiguous note, with the photographer watching mimes play tennis.
DePalma’s Blow Out borrows the same basic idea, but substitutes photography for sound engineering. A sound tech accidentally records the sound of an car accident involving a presidential hopeful and a hooker. When he analyzes the recording, he discovers the sound of gunfire, and realizes that the accident was a veiled assassination attempt. The sound tech becomes obsessed with the hooker, and the two work to uncover the forces behind the assassination attempt.
Though not as brazen or obvious as some of the other films listed here, Blow Out does borrow quite liberally from Blowup. DePalma’s film is more literal and more of a straight-up thriller than the surrealism of Antonioni’s movie, though both have won classic status from movie fans.
7. Star Trek – Star Wars
The 2009 Star Trek reboot proved a box office hit, helping to revitalize the stalled franchise into a viable moneymaker. The movie tried to work as a prequel, sequel, and a reboot at the same time, combining a new, younger cast with Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. Longtime Trek fans—as well as die-hard Star Wars lovers—criticized the film for dumbing down the sci-fi premise, essentially turning Star Trek into Star Wars-lite.
Examine the plotting, for instance: an orphaned farm boy must accept his destiny to join up with a force for good in the galaxy. He’s aided by an elderly mentor who comes out of retirement to stop an evil maniac with a planet-destroying weapon from devastating the galaxy. The science used in the movie is dubious, at best, and for some reason long bridges over bottomless pits no longer have safety rails. Oh, and the trademark sustained beam phasers get replaced with “pew pew pew” blaster bolts.
Star Trek had always indulged the scientific elements of sci-fi, to some degree at the expense of larger box office receipts. J.J. Abrams, an avowed Star Wars fan, managed to wrangle higher ticket sales by dispensing with any attempt at scientific accuracy, though in doing so abandoned the a major distinguishing mark of Star Trek. Instead, Star Trek went where Star Wars had gone before.
6. Home Alone – Game Over
Also known as Silent Night and Deadly Games, Game Over followed the adventures of a small, resourceful kid named Thomas. On Christmas Eve, a psychopath begins to terrorize Thomas and his infirm grandfather, and Thomas must learn to defend the house with various booby traps to ward off the invader.
A French production, Game Over debuted in 1989 as something of a juvenile take on Die Hard. Loaded with violence, the thriller became a cult hit, even in the US. Go figure then that, just one year later, Hollywood would use the same premise as the basis for a comedy.
Home Alone smashed box office records and made a megastar out of Macaulay Culkin. Though it eliminates the grandfather character and though the psychopaths became goofy robbers, in broad strokes, the two movies are identical. The booby traps, the robbery happening on Christmas Eve, even the “mother racing home” subplot are all the same. Movie buffs continue to debate if John Hughes and Chris Columbus did a clandestine remake of Game Over with Home Alone, though the numerous similarities make the comparison hard to ignore.
5. The Secret Life of Pets/Toy Story
Toy Story and the rest of the Pixar canon changed the paradigm for animated films. Where there were once hand-drawn animated musicals, more recent animated movies have all utilized 3D computer animation, jettisoned the songs, and employed name actors as voice-over talent. In 2015, however, would-be Pixar movies hit a new level of emulation.
The Secret Life of Pets proved a massive box office hit, perhaps in part because it borrowed the plot of Toy Story. Like that film, The Secret Life of Pets follows two rival dogs belonging to the same owner. The older dog feels threatened by the new one, and tries to get rid of him. His plan backfires, and both dogs end up lost and have to find their way home. Along the way, they encounter a number of weird threats and develop a friendship.
Even positive reviews for The Secret Life of Pets noted the obvious Toy Story parallels and that the character growth and relationships were far less memorable than in Toy Story. Writer Brian Lynch and director Chris Renaud no doubt cried all the way to the bank– and then back to work to prepare for The Secret Life of Pets 2.
4. E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial – The Alien
Controversy alert! E.T. would hit American theatres in 1982 with a seismic wallop, becoming the most successful film ever, and a modern classic. Since the film debuted, however, rumors have swirled that Steven Spielberg actually stole the E.T. plot from an Indian director, Satyajit Ray. In this case, the movie never made it past the script stage, though it came very close for more than a decade.
Set in rural India, The Alien followed a relationship between a young boy and an alien visitor. The title character also has the ability to make plants return to life amid a glow in its eyes.
Spielberg has always denied knowing Ray or ever reading the script to The Alien, though several characters in the script also resemble characters in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A number of sci-fi aficionados, including Arthur C. Clarke, noted that E.T. appeared to borrow material from The Alien. Ray’s son later directed a TV movie for Indian television that adapted elements of the Alien script. Nobody would deny the success of E.T. today, though the question of just how much, if any, of the plot comes from The Alien will likely plague the film for years to come.
3. The Hunger Games – Battle Royale
In a post-apocalyptic police state, teenagers must do battle with one another in a televised hunting-to-the death contest. Ostensibly a means of population control and military research, the program has a more sinister purpose: to terrorize the population into submission under a totalitarian government.
Sound familiar? The Hunger Games proved a smash-hit franchise beginning in 2012, and American audiences praised both the films and preceding novels for their fresh, creative take on the culture of reality television. Little did they know that a Japanese novel written more than ten years earlier had the same premise.
The novel Battle Royale became a massive hit in Japan, spawning a tie-in manga series and a hugely successful film. Though well-received in the United States, the book had its prospects upstaged by the publication of The Hunger Games just two years after Battle Royale hit shelves. Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins denied copying anything from Battle Royale. Critics who analyze the novels, however, find the parallels a bit too striking to dismiss.
Hollywood took note of the Battle Royale, with studio New Line Cinema entering into negotiations for a movie version. That ended when The Hunger Games hit screens, as New Line execs felt that American audiences would see the film as a Hunger Games ripoff. Oh, the irony…
2. The Force Awakens – Star Wars
Oh, you knew it was coming! The Force Awakens was incredibly commercially successful, breaking box office records around the world. Longtime Star Wars fans, however, had an eerie sense of déjà-vu watching the movie unfold. In essence, The Force Awakens had the exact same plot as the movie from 1977.
George Lucas always described Star Wars as a tone poem, with events between films and the trilogies sort of echoing one another. The Force Awakens doesn’t so much echo as emulate: it too features a droid carrying vital information, a dessert dweller, a rogueish pilot, an aging former general, and a planet-busting superweapon. The villain Kylo Ren plays like Splenda to Darth Vader’s sugar, both clad in black, hot-tempered, and murderous.
J.J. Abrams, who directed the film (as well as the 2009 Star Trek) defended the choice, claiming that the audience had forgotten the plot of the original, a statement even young Star Wars fans found absurd. The move might have helped The Force Awakens become a safe bet at the box office, but it also robbed the most creative film series in history (even with its Hidden Fortress analogues) of its sense of imagination. The Force Awakens may or may not be a great film, or even a great Star Wars adventure, but it certainly is the laziest!
1. Lockout – Escape from New York
The French tried to get in on the action/sci-fi market with the 2012 film Lockout, which featured a script by Luc Besson and starred genre veterans Guy Pierce and Maggie Grace. The story follows CIA agent Snow, a man imprisoned in a space facility for a murder he did not commit. When the President’s daughter investigates conditions of the prison, a riot breaks out. Snow rescues the President’s daughter, and the two work together to escape the orbital prison.
Lockout did fair business and received mixed reviews from critics, with several noting the film bore similarities to John Carpenter’s Escape from New York. In fact, the movies seemed so much alike that John Carpenter actually sued the production in a French court for plagiarism. Even more shockingly, Carpenter won the suit. Besson appealed but Carpenter won again, with the court awarding him almost half a million francs in damages. Escape from New York might have spawned several sequels, but Lockout is unlikely to produce any given the high litigation costs, and that the movie is officially a rip-off.
Know of any ripoffs we missed? Tell us in the comments!