From the very first time people gathered around the campfire, they’ve spun stories of young, chosen heroes taking down mighty empires, otherworldly monsters that creep in the dark, and magical artifacts hidden from all but those brave enough to find them. Today’s movies and TV still call on those same stories, changing the details to make it their own. But sometimes, the similarities between a film and those that “inspired” it cross the line.
Here is our list of Popular Movies That Stole Their Plots From Other Films.
Director Ridley Scott immortalized his film career with 1979’s Alien, following the crew of a spaceship slowly picked off by a murderous alien stowaway. Scott’s deep space horror and vision of the future helped to shape a new age of science-fiction, but the plot of the movie may not have been so original. Comparisons to the 1958 film It! The Terror From Beyond Space have been made since the movie was first released, with one producer admitting the film was shown on set to make sure they weren’t copying it entirely. It! May swap out a distant alien world for Mars, and the Xenomorph for a humanoid lizard, but entire scenes, sequences, and even the films’ finale are recreated entirely. Since the original film was influenced by several classic sci-fi stories itself, no lawsuits were filed. But the writers of “Alien” still have some explaining to do.
George Lucas made no claims that he was creating a genuinely original story with his Star Wars saga, calling on ancient archetypes – a princess in distress, a young hero, a wise old wizard, and an evil masked villain – re-imagined in a galaxy far, far away. The work of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa was another major influence. But when you go back and watch Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, it becomes clear just how much Lucas adopted for his own story. The characters are nothing new, but the decision to tell the story through the eyes of two bumbling tag-alongs is a direct lift. Elements of Fortress that couldn’t be fit into A New Hope were worked into The Phantom Menace years later, and watching the movies back-to-back shows Lucas did more than follow Kurosawa’s lead. He even included a nod to the movie in Star Wars itself, but the Imperial Officer was force-choked before speaking the entire title.
The Fast & The Furious
The tale of Dominic Toretto and The Fast & Furious gang may have become a blockbuster juggernaut, but it didn’t start out that way. Inspired by a magazine article exploring the world of import street-racing in New York City, the script grew into a story of an undercover cop infiltrating the community to sniff out racers robbing shipments of high-end merchandise. Or in other words, a remake of Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break, released a decade earlier. Simply swap racers for surfers, and the structure of both films is almost identical: Keanu Reeves and Paul Walker’s characters get close to the gang’s leader through the women in their lives, fall in love, accept the gang as their new family, and refuse to believe they’re the criminals that need to be brought down. In the end, both come to understand their outlaw ways – but only The Fast & the Furious became a long- running franchise.
As brilliant and important as Pixar’s Toy Story may be, it’s not as original as you might think. The Brave Little Toaster deserves some of that credit, released as a children’s novel before it was adapted into a full-length movie. Starring household appliances cast aside by their now college-aged owner, Rob, the team decides to find their way to his dorm room, encountering terrifying obstacles along the way. Being thrown in with disassembled or broken gadgets, and even winding up in a junkyard headed for disposal were all re-imagined for the Toy Story series, particularly its second sequel. It shouldn’t be surprising, since many of Pixar’s original staff worked on Toaster, including director John Lasseter. Pixar’s animators telling the same story twice can be forgiven, only because both films ended up as quality stories, meant to be as educational and entertaining to children as they were to their parents.
The Lion King
As one of the films responsible for launching the Disney Renaissance, The Lion King stands as one of the most beloved animated movies in history. The film draws from the biblical tale of Moses, and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But fans of Japanese cartoons noticed a similarity to Kimba the White Lion, an anime series following a young lion cub who is forced to grow up and take his rightful place as king. With scenes and themes copied from Kimba, and early footage showing Simba as a white lion cub, it didn’t help that voice actor Matthew Broderick assumed The Lion King was related to the Japanese cartoon he had enjoyed as a child. The director claimed nothing had been stolen, but script rewrites throughout production meant it was impossible to know for sure. In the end, the studio behind Kimba deemed Disney too big to fight, and took it as a compliment.
There’s a good chance that most movie fans have never heard of Parts: The Clonus Horror, but thanks to Michael Bay’s The Island, that doesn’t mean you haven’t seen the dystopic sci-fi tale of clones seeking freedom. The 1979 movie showed a future where clones are lied to about a desolate earth, never learning that they’re being grown for their organs to be harvested for the super-wealthy. One clone sees through the lies, escapes, and eventually comes face to face with his sponsor. So when Michael Bay added Scarlett Johansson and told the exact same story, the original filmmakers took legal action – eventually settling out of court.
A Fistful of Dollars
The rise of spaghetti westerns in the 1960s made actor Clint Eastwood a household name, establishing him as one of the most iconic cowboys in movie history. A Fistful of Dollars began his rise to stardom, playing a gunslinger who drifts into a Mexican border town torn between two families, and plays both sides in pursuit of gold. As it turns out, Akira Kurosawa had the same idea for his film Yojimbo, swapping Mexico for Japan, and a cowboy for a masterless samurai. When a lawsuit was filed, Leone claimed that both he and Kurosawa had both been inspired by an even older play, and the dispute delayed the movie’s release for years. The settlement was more than worth it in the end, with Eastwood’s “Man With No Name” appearing in two successful sequels.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Just like Star Wars, George Lucas was open about the origins of Raiders of the Lost Ark, shaping Indiana Jones in the image of classic serial adventures. But one film may have had more of an impact than any other. The Secret of the Incas starring Charlton Heston may not be a well-known movie, but Lucas was certainly a fan. Aside from hero Harry Steele looking exactly like Indiana Jones in every way, the use of a secret key to illuminate the location of buried treasure, and other similarities are impossible to ignore. The costume designer on Raiders has confirmed that the crew viewed the film multiple times for inspiration, but couldn’t explain why George Lucas or Steven Spielberg didn’t credit the movie they borrowed from so heavily.
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