F.W. Murnau's classic 1922 film Nosferatu established several vampire tropes: Chief amongst them being the whole "they sleep by day and can be killed by sunlight" thing, which was so rudely bedazzled by some modern interpretations. Nosferatu was the first significant vampire film (predating Universal's Dracula by a decade) and we have it to thank for one of the most influential movie monsters in history.
But it Only Exists Because...
When Bram Stoker's estate denied Germany's Prana Film the rights to Dracula, they didn't even have the decency to turn the characters into plumbers and apes--which would have stepped all over our new screenplay Donkey Kong (But They're All Vampires): A Love Story. No, they just changed all the names, which, given that this was a silent film, only really required whatever the 1922 equivalent of "CTRL+F, Replace" was (we have to assume it involved pelting an intern with the heaviest object within reach, even back then).
So, Count Dracula became Count Orlok, Jonathan Harker became Thomas Hutter, and his wife Mina, in a Matt Groening-esque display of creativity, became Nina. They couldn't use the word "vampire" technically, so they flipped over a couple of pages and stole the term "nosferatu" from a less famous part of Stoker's novel.
Well at least they came up with the whole death by sunlight thing. Although, in the context of the "give a man a fish / teach a man to fish" parable, that might be the laziest contribution on this list.
Ray-Ban ads and death by sparkling: Thanks Nosferatu!
#1. Star Wars (and almost everything else George Lucas has done.)
The most popular franchise in science fiction has generated around $4.3 billion; that's enough to literally smother entire countries in dollar bills. And according to Roger Ebert, the first Star Wars film completely changed the film industry by "[focusing it] on big-budget special-effects blockbusters, blasting off a trend we are still living through." In fact, if Star Wars didn't exist, James Cameron would be a truck driver and "Na'vi" would still just be the name of that Native American prostitute he stabbed in the 70s [Citation Needed]. If any science fiction has changed the world as we know it, it's Star Wars.
But it Only Exists Because...
As a child, George Lucas was a big fan of the sci-fi and adventure serials of the 30s. As an unknown director, he tried to get the rights to remake Flash Gordon into a sci-fi epic. The problem being that those rights were owned by King Features... the same people who said "no" to the game that would become Donkey Kong. You probably see where this is going.
In an interview contained in The Making of Star Wars, Lucas recalls that when he met with King Features to discuss Flash Gordon, they were asking for 80 percent of the profits, Federico Fellini as the director and probably a magical unicorn that granted wishes by giving blowjobs. Lucas politely declined via the tried and true "double bird while urinating in the coffee pot" method, and decided to make his sci-fi epic anyway--it would just be an original this time.
Yep, completely original.
But it wasn't just the opening titles crawl that he ripped from Flash Gordon. Some of the "innovative" editing techniques that won the first movie a Best Editing Oscar also came straight from the 30s:
Other leftover elements from Flash Gordon: the whole "Rebels" vs. "Imperial Forces" bit; the Cloud City setting; the ice planet; the forest full of bizarre creatures; and the entire general tone--which was considered groundbreaking at the time--of folklore tropes merged with advanced science fiction concepts. Lucas later repeated the same trick after failing to get the rights to The Hobbit: He made Willow, a film about short people in a medieval fantasy setting who succeed despite their physical stature thus proving that it's what's inside that counts. (He will kill you if you accidentally refer to them as hobbits.)
The Indiana Jones franchise borrows from old adventure serials as well, but that time Lucas didn't even bother to try and get their rights. Of course, all of this theft produced some of the greatest movies of all time, while Lucas's new ideas gave us Jar Jar Binks.
So, maybe we can all just look the other way for a bit while somebody "accidentally" leaves a copy of Conan the Barbarian or RoboCop on his table.
Maxwell Yezpitelok lives in Chile, and when he's not being harassed by earthquakes he likes to waste his time writing back to scammers or making stupid comics. He has published a few comics in his home country, and he'll write some for you if you pay him.
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