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All stories rely on formulas. Even when you think you're being completely original, you might find that the plot of your time-traveling porno musical has the same basic structure as an episode of Small Wonder. All effective storytelling follows one pattern or another, because that's just how the human brain works.

However, there's a line where a filmmaker goes from "following the same formula" to "remaking his own goddamn movie." The worst part is that you probably never even noticed how unoriginal some of your favorite directors were until some jackass pointed it out to you. Guess what: We're that jackass.

7
James Cameron -- Titanic Is The Terminator

Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox

Titanic is about the perils of sea travel and the dickishness of rich people, and it's an instruction manual for getting girls to show you their boobs (hint: be really handsome, charming, good at drawing, and kind on a deep and powerful level). The Terminator, on the other hand, is a seminal sci-fi action flick that totally redefined the genre and established Arnold Schwarzenegger as your go-to actor for "hulking mass of muscle kicks the shit out of everyone." Even on a creative level, they're totally different: Terminator was a personal idea that literally came to Cameron in a dream, while Titanic was thrown together as a way to pay for his diving hobby.

But They're Secretly the Same ...

If you replace "dated synth music" with "Celine Dion" and "time traveling robot" with "iceberg and Billy Zane," then you've got yourself a remake. Check it out: Both kick off the plot with our sexy male hero saving his love interest from certain death:

MGM, Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox
"No biggie. I'm sure you'll save my life when you get the chance."

Then, after outside forces drive them apart (judgmental loved ones and cops, respectively), they reconnect and teach each other important skills:

MGM, Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox

Then they get it on, and we get a shot of their hands.

MGM, Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox
We also see both female leads' nipples, but you'll have to Google Image Search that.

Oh, and that important skill? It's later used to incapacitate the villain at a key moment.

MGM, Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox

Now, obviously those bits aren't exactly interchangeable (it's a totally different movie if Jack blows Cal in half with a pipe bomb), but from a structural standpoint, it's the exact same kind of setup and payoff. And at the end of both movies, the male lead sacrifices himself to save his lover -- and she sets off a stronger person for the experience, free to ride horses with legs on both sides and battle robots.

MGM, Paramount Pictures/20th Century Fox
"Neeeear, faaaaar, whereeeeeever you -- BADUH DUH DUH-DUH."

Does this mean that after the events of Titanic, Rose became a mentally unbalanced survivalist and the iceberg came back as a good guy? Yes. Yes, it definitely does.

6
Sam Raimi -- Oz the Great and Powerful Is Army of Darkness

Walt Disney

Oz the Great and Powerful is a prequel-ish thing to the classic film Return to Oz and tells the story of James Franco building a career purely on his smile, Disney trying to kneecap the upcoming Wicked adaptation before it ever happens, and director Sam Raimi clearly not giving a flying shit about his craft anymore. It's nowhere near as great as Raimi's horror/comedy classic Army of Darkness, which is the Citizen Kane of movies where a guy battles a dozen tiny clones of himself while singing nursery rhymes and then murders them. It couldn't have less to do with audience-friendly trash like Oz the Great and Powerful, right?

But They're Secretly the Same ...

Nope, they're pretty much the exact same movie, and we're far from the only ones to notice. Both start with the hero getting sucked into a tornado ...

Universal Studios, Walt Disney

... to a distant land, where he must go on a quest through a forbidden forest ...

Universal Studios, Walt Disney
Earth to Franco: Making shitty movies while winking isn't an art exhibit.

... because of a prophecy. Then he gets attacked by an evil army ...

Universal Studios, Walt Disney
OK, we must admit that movie effects have improved over time.

... his love interest turns evil ...

Universal Studios, Walt Disney
Ah, never mind.

... and he fights back using technology from his own era.

Universal Studios, Walt Disney
We're honestly surprised Raimi didn't use the same car.

BONUS: Both movies end with a witch fight.

Universal Studios, Walt Disney
SUPER BONUS: It's the same witch.

It's like Sam Raimi took a Final Draft file of his Army script, did a "Find + Replace" with a few key words, and cashed his check. Hell, even the protagonists are similar: They're both wisecracking, attractive womanizers who compensate for being out of their element by being incredibly resourceful and charming (though, to be fair, that's every action movie protagonist ever).

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5
Jason Reitman: Up in the Air Is Thank You for Smoking

Paramount Pictures

Who would have thought that the son of the guy who directed Twins, Kindergarten Cop, and Junior would become "the hope of cinema"? Jason Reitman is the acclaimed director behind movies as varied as Thank You for Smoking, a satire of the smoking debate that cuts both ways, and Up in the Air, the emotional journey of a man who discovers he's not as happy as he thinks he is despite looking like George Clooney. Yep, those two have nothing in common.

But They're Secretly the Same ...

Apparently, Jason Reitman's version of his father's "Arnold Schwarzenegger gets into shenanigans involving children/Danny DeVito" is "a charismatic jerk with an unusual job goes on a potentially life-changing journey." Even outside these two movies, all of Reitman's protagonists are likeable assholes: There's the smartass teenager in Juno and the smartass young adult in Young Adult.

Fox Searchlight Pictures, Paramount Pictures
Both of whom like married men and sleep with nerds.

The tobacco lobbyist from Thank You for Smoking and the guy who fires people for a living from Up in the Air both find their job threatened and embark on a trip in which they'll end up reconnecting with a family member. They also include a back-stabbing woman who will sleep with them under false pretenses, Sam Elliott playing a short but important role, and J.K. Simmons playing J.K. Simmons (also reprised in Juno).

Fox Searchlight Pictures, Paramount Pictures
These stills could all be from the same movie. No one will ever know for sure.

In the end, the jerk protagonist goes through a traumatic experience, and for a moment there, we think they've changed -- but nope, they're pretty much right back where they started. The former lobbyist still defends smoking. The firer goes back to firing. In fact, in Young Adult, the whole ending is about how the protagonist learns literally nothing. Juno is the one who appears to change the most, but then she goes and flips us the bird to prove she's still a smartass.

Fox Searchlight Pictures
Unless she's just flipping off Reitman for making her do this.

4
Woody Allen -- Match Point Is Crimes and Misdemeanors

DreamWorks

Woody Allen is known for ... many things, but one of the less icky ones is that he supposedly makes "the same movie over and over" -- except if it's a drama. His comedies are all about neurotic guys fumbling about and somehow putting their penises in gorgeous women, but his dramas are always different. For instance, 1989's Crimes and Misdemeanors is a dry existentialist piece about a dry middle-aged doctor, while 2005's Match Point is a sexy thriller about a sexy tennis player.

MGM, DreamWorks
Hey, Woody, do you think that tennis is ping pong, you fucking joke?

But They're Secretly the Same ...

And they both do the exact same things. Seriously, in this case they didn't even try to hide it: Match Point is like a Muppet Babies version of the doctor's story in Crimes and Misdemeanors. The doctor and the tennis player are both humble men who come into great fortune and achieve a high social status. Both are married, but each has an affair with an unstable woman who threatens to tell everything to his wife.

MGM, DreamWorks
2005: "OK, Scarlett, for this scene, you're gonna get naked and rub oil over your body."
1989: "Anjelica, just sit there."

In order to preserve his current lifestyle, the protagonist decides to have his mistress killed. He doesn't take this decision lightly, though -- there's some moral debate about the act of taking someone's life, which can be perfectly summed up in this clip from an earlier, funnier Allen movie:

At this point there's a tense scene set to classical music where the protagonist must break into an apartment and steal some stuff in order for his plan to work. Despite being questioned by the police, he literally gets away with murder, which makes him feel so guilty that he starts having philosophical discussions with his own hallucinations. In the end, his real punishment is the certainty that there is no God and life lacks any meaning or justice.

MGM, DreamWorks, Columbia Pictures
"No one quite understands how hard it is to be rich, handsome, white, and not a murder suspect. Such is our burden."

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3
Gus Van Sant -- Finding Forrester Is Good Will Hunting

Columbia Pictures

Good Will Hunting is known for introducing Ben Affleck and Matt Damon to the world while simultaneously showing that Robin Williams can act his balls off in a serious role. Finding Forrester, on the other hand, is the next to last movie Sean Connery did before saying "screw thish" and quitting acting. One is the promising dawn of two careers; the other is the half-assed twilight of another one.

But They're Secretly the Same ...

And that's about where the differences stop. Finding Forrester might as well be called Good Jamal Wallace. Both movies are about smart, unappreciated working-class young men who must find their place in an unfair academic system with the help of an older white dude played by an established actor whose movie accent is actually pretty good (Robin Williams' was because he was actually trying, and Sean Connery's because he just used his regular voice).

Miramax Films

Both Jamal and Will have quote-battles with people more educated than them, though some of you are going to call that a stretch because of course the only way to show that a movie character is smart is by showing off how many quotes they've memorized. Both characters also have a close friend/family member whose devotion makes the big triumphant climax possible.

Miramax Films, Columbia Pictures
If you'd told us one of these guys would play Batman, we would have said "They made him black?"

Also, both wise old mentor characters are sad recluses who use their relationship with their pupil to change the direction of their life: Williams goes on sabbatical to travel the world, and Connery flies back to Scotland. And then shit gets meta when Finding Forrester's underappreciated genius meets the actor behind Good Will Hunting's underappreciated genius in the biggest mindfuck of a last scene since The Holy Mountain:

What's weird about this story is that director Gus Van Sant didn't write either movie -- both were scripts he just stumbled across and decided to shoot, and they both turned out to be his biggest hits. Apparently whenever he needs to pay for a new house extension or something, he just dives into the script pile and grabs another poor teen genius drama.

2
Kurt Wimmer -- Ultraviolet Is Equilibrium

Screen Gems

Kurt Wimmer is a name primarily recognized in the context of people sheepishly admitting that they kinda enjoyed Equilibrium at parties. Then they'll subtly recommend that everyone watch it ("I mean, it's on Netflix Instant, but whatever. No, you passed it"), but they won't push it too hard because they don't want everyone to blame them when they hate it. Ultraviolet is ... yeah, let's not even pretend here. It's just a shittier version of that same movie. They're both the exact kind of movie you'd expect a guy who looks like this to direct:

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

"Oh thanks, I'm actually the front man for a Doors tribute band, one day, I hope."

But They're Secretly the Same ...

The Wikipedia page for Ultraviolet features a special section about how Kurt Wimmer revisited some of the themes of Equilibrium, only then it proceeds to list every single aspect of the plot. Like how there's a lone hero who dresses all in white:

Dimension Films, Screen Gems
It's so rare to find violent killers who are saving themselves.

Unless they're using guns, in which case they go with black:

Dimension Films, Screen Gems

And they kill a lot of people wearing goofy outfits that obscure their face.

Dimension Films, Screen Gems
"Fuck elbows." -Kurt Wimmer

The clincher is that both characters use "Gun Kata," a martial art where all the years of physical training are replaced with guns, and the ancient philosophy centered on peace is replaced with "shoot people but don't get shot because math." Oh, and on the Equilibrium commentary, Wimmer says he invented it while dicking around in his backyard.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

"One of those days where you just gotta say 'Hey, let's get baked
and cause a scene at an Applebees,' you know?"

There's also a lot of weirdly specific plot points that are revisited (both heroes bluff their way out of a test in an all-white room, both antagonists are patriarchal dictators who are revealed to be indulging in the very thing they seek to outlaw), but after finding out about that Gun Kata thing, making fun of this guy seems cruel. In a world of focus testing and product placement, Kurt Wimmer is an 8-year-old boy playing around in his backyard -- only he has a Hollywood-sized budget for his imagination. That's so heartwarming and beautiful that if it doesn't make you smile a bit, then get bent, you jerk.

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1
Christopher Nolan -- Inception Is Memento Is The Prestige Is The Dark Knight Trilogy Is Insomnia

Warner Bros.

Christopher Nolan is hailed as one of the most original directors of the past few decades: He's given us wild, imaginative ideas like a thriller that's told backward, a heist film set in people's dreams, and a Batman movie that wasn't completely dumb. He's done movies about 19th century magicians and insomniac detectives in Alaska -- what other present-day director can boast that kind of range?

You know what's next.

But They're Secretly the Same ...

Every Christopher Nolan studio movie (you can shut up about Following now, smartass) is about a man motivated by someone's death, usually his wife's. Also, all these men caused that tragedy in some way: The reasons include "giving your wife insulin shots," "asking your parents to leave the opera," and "literally shooting your partner."

Summit Entertainment, Touchstone Pictures, Warner Bros.
They all like guns, except one, who prefers batarangs.

Every one of these men works outside the law and goes on an unfeasible quest that involves fooling large amounts of people, whether it's through magic tricks, dream heists, elaborate coverups, or simply putting on a Dracula costume. In Memento, he actually uses his memory problem to fool himself. All these men meet a woman who will help them, but who also turns out to be a huge threat to them -- sometimes with good reason, and sometimes she's just a dick.

Summit Entertainment, Touchstone Pictures, Warner Bros.
Chris Nolan got dumped by a brunette at some point, didn't he?

But Nolan's calling card is his endings -- nope, we're not talking about the fact that most of them are montages set to dramatic music and maybe a voice-over narration, but the fact that they all wink at the audience. Memento ends with the guy saying "Where was I?" as we loop back to the first scene. The Dark Knight Rises has the "I like that name ... ROBIN" line. Insomnia's protagonist says "Let me sleep" as he dies. The goddamn top from Inception. But the best one is The Prestige, which ends with a magician talking about surprising the audience, just as the movie shows you Nolan's trademark Last Shot Plot Twist.

Summit Entertainment, Touchstone Pictures, Warner Bros.
Not to be confused with the equally important Michael Caine Money Shot.

Rather than taking away from Nolan's movies, this just proves that an artist can create vastly different works using the same tools. (But, you know, maybe let the "Michael Caine" tool rest for a while, he's getting pretty tired.)


JF Sargent is writing a sci-fi adventure book that he plans on writing again, later, only worse. "Follow" him on Twitter and "Like" him on Facebook.

Maxwell Yezpitelok has a FREE online comic that's secretly a remake of all the awesome things ever. He's also on Twitter.

For more directors who may be losing a step, check out 9 Awesome Directors Who Temporarily Lost Their Mind and 12 Classic Movie Moments Made Possible by Abuse and Murder.

Chris Nolan needs to make another damn type of movie. Hold his feet to the fire and click the Facebook 'share' button below.

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