Film constantly builds upon itself as it evolves. Sometimes, that evolution takes the form of revolution, as filmmakers tell stories in a way no one has seen before — narratively, technically, or visually. Just as often, the evolution includes self-reference; an interaction with movies that came before, as filmmakers re-use familiar concepts, familiar themes, or even familiar scenes.
This list explores the latter – those instances when a film’s scene or scenes were recycled by its successors. Some of these scenes are just inspired by what came before them. Some of them are direct homage, and still others are winking parodies. In the case of many, we can’t be sure, but all of them are alike in that they speak directly to other films that came before them.
These are 13 Movie Scenes That Were Recycled In Later Movies.
13. Death from Above in North by Northwest and From Russia With Love
The James Bond films have had a monumental influence on the spy genre; they have also repeatedly aped themselves (and other movies), at times coming dangerously close to spoof territory. So it’s fitting that the first entry on the list is a scene that involves 007. This particular set piece, from From Russia With Love, features a memorable showdown between Bond and a helicopter that terrorizes him from above.
It is a memorable sequence, but not nearly as memorable as its counterpoint in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, which featured Cary Grant terrorized by a crop-duster five years before From Russia With Love was released. As a measure of impact, the original crop-duster scene has been spoofed in the years since in a variety of outlets — outside of just From Russia — including shows such as Scrubs, The Simpsons, That 70’s Show, Family Guy, Tom and Jerry, and films like Wrongfully Accused and Moving.
Hitchcock’s aerial assault was the progenitor. Bond’s helicopter chase was just one in a long list of similar scenes; and this isn’t the last entry on the list that features an unforgettable Hitchcock scene reused in a later movie.
12. The Ride of the Valkyries in Birth of a Nation and Apocalypse Now
Here’s an example of sequence becoming iconic in its adapted form, instead of its original. The arrival of the helicopter cavalry in Apocalypse Now, set to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” is a seminal scene in modern film, one that is instantly recognizable as a cultural marker. But the scene, epic as it is, takes on another layer of meaning when you consider its closest relative.
Substitute helicopters for horses and U.S. forces for Ku Klux Klan members, and the scene bears striking resemblance to the climax of 1915’s The Birth of a Nation (not to be confused with Nate Parker’s upcoming film). D.W. Griffith’s film, known as both filmically groundbreaking and disturbingly racist, featured the KKK coming to the rescue soundtracked by “Ride of The Valkyries” – just like the helicopters would in Apocalypse Now 64 years later. The viewer must interpret the degree of comparison Apocalypse was trying to draw between U.S. Forces in Vietnam and The KKK in the reconstruction-era South, but the scene similarities are too striking to ignore.
11. Chopping Down the Door in The Phantom Carriage and The Shining
The Phantom Carriage was a 1921 silent film, made by Swedish Filmmaker Victor Sjostrom. It was a technically groundbreaking piece that, despite being released through criterion collection and being held up by filmmakers like Ingmar Bergen as a chief influence, isn’t exactly widely remembered today. There is, however, a high probability that you have seen one scene from The Phantom Carriage; or at least something very close.
There is a sequence in The Phantom Carriage where a man breaks through a door with an axe in a fit of rage. There are shots during the scene that are identical to the scene in The Shining that features Jack also breaking through a door with an ax (minus the “Here’s Johnny”). Side by side they are so similar there can be very little doubt that one led directly to the other. Especially considering that in the source material – Stephen King’s The Shining – Jack did not use an ax at all, instead opting for a croquette mallet. Which would have made for a very different scene altogether.
10. The Reservoir Dogs Walk in Swingers
This one falls under direct homage, with Swingers playfully recycling an iconic shot from Reservoir Dogs. And It’s only fitting that Quentin Tarantino — a master recycler himself – would have one of his signature shots reappear four years later in Jon Favreau’s film.
In Reservoir Dogs, the protagonists have a lively conversation, circled by the camera the whole time as they banter about culture. When they are done, the film has them walk in slow motion across the screen, in front of a brick wall, during the film’s introductory credits. The effect was very cool.
Swingers smartly acknowledges its thievery, as characters also banter at a circular table and are shown walking in slow motion in exactly the same fashion as – only this time, the protagonists are discussing Tarantino himself – how they believe he steals from Scorsese, and as one character puts it, how “everybody steals from everybody.” With a wink, Swingers goes on to do exactly that after the following cut, as its characters walk just like Tarantino’s did before them.
9. The Pool Party in Soy Cuba and Boogie Nights
P.T. Anderson is a film maker with a firm grasp on the history of the medium to complement his visionary originality. To see what we mean, look no further than the famous Steadicam shot at the pool party in Boogie Nights. The camera weaves through the L.A. party, introducing characters and moving curiously in and out of conversations before following a beautiful woman directly into the pool.
This shot, which does such a good job of making the world it reveals enticing and attractive, is lifted almost directly from the 1964 film Soy Cuba. Soy Cuba, the Soviet-Cuban film that was almost completely overlooked and forgotten by the viewing public before being rediscovered and championed by modern filmmakers for its inventive cinematography — including shots like this one.
8. Serendipity in Psycho and Pulp Fiction
We mentioned earlier that Quentin Tarantino was a master recycler, and that Alfred Hitchcock would have scenes of his reused multiple times on this list. The two meet in this entry, featuring a scene from Psycho that reappears in Pulp Fiction.
In the original, Marion Crane is making her escape after stealing money from work, only to see her boss crossing the street while her car idles at a stop light. In almost a shot for shot reproduction in Pulp Fiction, Butch (Bruce Willis) sits at a traffic light only to see Marsellus Wallace – the man he’s just double crossed – walk across the street directly in front of his car. The Pulp Fiction scene is a near facsimile of its counterpoint in Psycho – but without spoiling anything, suffice it to say that the scenes end quite differently.
7. Down the Stairs In Battleship Potemkin and The Untouchables
Aside from its firm position as a film studies 101 text, 1925’s Battleship Potemkin lives on in the collective memory of cinephiles largely because of one sequence – the famous Odessa Steps scene, which features a violent clash and the unforgettable image of a baby carriage sliding precariously down a set of stairs with an infant on board.
That one shot was so powerful that it has received homage numerous times since its inception – most notably in The Untouchables, which also features a baby carriage falling down the steps of Chicago’s Union Station during a shootout. The reference is unmistakable.
6. Ghost in The Shell in The Matrix
Despite two poorly received sequels, The Matrix rightly enjoys status as a landmark film. As such, it would surprise many viewers that a substantial portion of The Matrix borders on adaptation – specifically of the beloved anime film Ghost In The Shell. In fact, when the Wachowskis were pitching The Matrix to producers, they played a DVD of the anime and said (paraphrasing) “we want to do that for real.”
It’s not a complete adaptation, but The Matrix owes Ghost for a ton of its most striking imagery. The digital downpour of green numbers that became The Matrix’s signature; certain long jumps off of tall buildings; and the way humans are plugged in through holes in the back of their necks. The Matrix helped bring what many consider an anime classic to western audiences – but it’s worth noting that Ghost in The Shell will receive its own live action adaptation next year, with Scarlett Johansson set to lead.
5. The Ending of The Avengers And Pacific Rim
These films released within one year of each other, so it’s entirely possible that we might be dealing with some true parallel thought here. But it’s impossible not to watch them both and notice the striking similarity in their endings.
In The Avengers, Iron Man carries a nuclear explosive through a portal in the sky, enters another dimension, detonates it, and falls lifelessly back to earth just as the portal closes. He appears dead for a moment, but coughs himself back to life before long. The Pacific Rim ending is almost identical, except inverted – in it, protagonist Raleigh Beckett carries a nuclear reactor through a portal in the bottom of the ocean, enters another dimension, detonates it, and floats lifelessly back to the surface as the portal closes. He too appears dead but – spoiler alert – isn’t. With such proximity in production, it’s hard to say why the two scenes are so alike – but they are definitely, strikingly, undeniably similar.
4. The Letter in Vertigo and Obsession
Hitchcock is being referenced once more here, this time by a filmmaker who is singularly famous for reusing Hitch’s work – Brian De Palma. De Palma’s relationship with the films of Hitchcock is well documented and has been analyzed at length. According to who you read or what you see, he could be a loving disciple, a shameless rip-off artist, a clever recycler, or all of the above.
One thing is for certain, De Palma’s Obsession very much resembles Hitchcock’s Vertigo – the guilty man, the doppelganger, the surreal imagery – it’s all there. And in one scene in both movies, the doppelganger writes a letter revealing her true identity, and her role in a plot against the main character. It’s an identical twist in the films that is revealed in near identical fashion.
3. On The Highway in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Rango
This is an interesting one, in that it might not be just a similar scene at all, but more a suggestion that these two seemingly separate films exist on the same plane. There is a sequence in Rango that shows the titular chameleon jumping from car to car, careening down the highway; only to land on the windshield of a convertible that is clearly Raoul Duke’s from Fear and Loathing.
It is of course the kind of Easter egg-y pop culture reference that sometimes exists in children’s movie just to give the adults something to laugh about – but even as homage that borders on parody, it’s a smart incorporation of an earlier film that influences Rango in more ways than just this one.
2. Violent Assault in Psycho and Raging Bull
In the final boxing match of Raging Bull, director Martin Scorsese put together a brutal, cringe-worthy beating, as the film’s protagonist receives an inhuman amount of punishment from his opponent. But Scorsese didn’t do this alone – he fashioned the sequence almost entirely upon the shower scene from Psycho – even going as far as to use Hitchcock’s shot list to pace the violence that was being dispensed in the ring.
The effect is remarkable, as the climactic fight in Raging Bull is at least as disturbing in its violent impact as the shower scene was in psycho. They are paced similarly, and use quick cuts to disorient the viewer in much the same way. It’s a fascinating example of the idea that even though the skin of two scenes might be different, their skeletons can still be immediately recognized as twins.
1. Yojimbo and Fistful of Dollars
This is probably the perfect example a film that is essentially a direct rip-off even if no one acknowledges it. Indeed, Leone’s Fistful borrows heavily from Yojimbo, not just cinematically, but thematically and in terms of story. Still, when Akira Kurasawa, director of Yojimbo, began acting upon his suspicion that Fistful was a blatant copycat, Leone defended his work by asserting that both he and Kurasawa had ripped off Carlo Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters.
After a lawsuit began over the theft of intellectual property, Leone settled out of court. Considering certain shots and scenes, that was smart – the iconic wide angle shot of Eastwood standing alone in an abandoned courtyard is a direct reference to the same shot of Yojimbo’s protagonist Sanjuro. The similarities continue, including another famous scene when the respective men-with-no-names stare down rival gangs before swiftly dispatching them. Aside from a difference of weapon, they are identical.
And other movie rip-offs audiences should be aware of? Sound off in the comments.