5 Pop Culture Classics Created Out of Laziness
Inspiration can come from a variety of places: drugs, God, nature, beauty, love or even drugs. Wait, what were we talking about again?
Oh, right. Inspiration. The thing is, some timeless classics weren't made based on any of those. No, these beloved works came about for crass, petty, tasteless, spiteful, greedy or just plain lazy reasons. Like...
The Simpsons are like having a shitty house guest who also happens to be Mahatma Gandhi. Sure, they can't take the hint that it's time to leave, but you can't exactly kick them out. They've made some very important to contributions society- hey! Would it kill you to use a coaster, Mahatma? This is oak, man. Jesus.
But let's just be clear: this show has given us some of the funniest moments in television history. Bart was named one the 100 most important people in the 20th century. The Sunday Times once declared Homer Simpson "the greatest comic creation of our time."
But it Only Exists Because...
When producer James L. Brooks asked Matt Groening to pitch an idea for a series of animated shorts, The Simpsons wasn't his first choice. He hadn't even thought of it yet; he originally intended to adapt his Life in Hell comic strip:
Somehow "Jeff is the greatest comic creation of all time" just doesn't have the same ring.
However, while sitting in the lobby of Brooks's office, it suddenly occurred to Groening that for the shorts to be made, he would have to give up the copyright to his most beloved creation. Panicking, he picked up a yellow notepad and quickly "made up these other characters [he] didn't really care about." The result:
At first they were a family of inbred circus freaks.
Groening couldn't even be assed to come up with character names, so he just named them after his father Homer, mom Margaret and sister Lisa. Realizing he needed to get creative on the boys name lest Brooks know something was up, he changed two letters to transform "Matt" into "Bart," which was also an anagram for brat. The fact that he thought this might throw Brooks off the scent of what he'd done either implies that Brooks is criminally retarded, or Groening has all the subtlety and subterfuge of an exploding dump truck.
So in summation: The only reason The Simpsons exists is because the creator thought that some amorphous blobs he'd created years before were much more valuable than they were; he only had maybe 15 minutes in a waiting room to come up with something new; and he's not very good under pressure. And that's how you make a classic, folks!
Donkey Kong and Super Mario
Donkey Kong came out in 1981, when "Nintendo" had yet to become known outside Japan. The game's success not only turned the company into a major player, it also launched the illustrious career of one of the most iconic figures of modern pop culture: Mario, the castrato plumber who is either tragically misinformed about his job duties, or has the shittiest union contract in history.
"I took a two-week night class on how to fix toilets."
The original Donkey Kong arcade also popularized platform games and paved the way for Nintendo's dominance of the videogame market, which revived the industry at a time when it was seen as nothing more than a passing fad. Without Donkey Kong, video games might have passed on to the novelty grave yard to rest forever with the hula hoop and yo-yo. And then what would you do instead of becoming a productive member of society? Read? What a bleak world that would be...
But it Only Exists Because...
Originally, Nintendo was a playing card company. Among the licenses they held was Popeye the Sailor, which was owned by King Features.
In 1981, Nintendo made one of those cheap pocket games starring Popeye, and planned to release a more elaborate one for the arcades. A first-time designer named Shigeru Miyamoto was assigned to the project and began sketching game concepts involving the classic Popeye/Olive Oyl/Bluto threesome.
Not that kind of threesome (though let's be honest; it's practically inevitable) .
After one of those concepts was approved, Miyamoto found out that King Features had denied Nintendo the rights to bring Popeye to the arcades. The characters were suddenly off limits to Nintendo, but Miyamoto went ahead with the game anyway - keeping the threesome, but arbitrarily replacing Popeye with a plumber, Olive with a princess and Bluto with an ape.
Yeah, we don't like the implication either.
Donkey Kong did incredibly well, and the plumber's profession inspired Miyamoto to create the first Mario Bros. game and the rest is history.
Yes, "the profession" itself inspired him to make Mario Bros. Of course, this makes a lot more sense when you realize the Japanese word for "plumber" shares most of its syllabic structure with the word for "man who solves abductions with leaping and ravages tiny animals beneath his boot-heel."
Watchmen is the only comic to be included in Time Magazine's 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to present, even topping it at one time. It's widely considered to be the greatest comic ever by millions of sweaty comic fans, about half of which have actually read it. It's also said that the complex and mature nature of the story changed comics forever, and many commend DC Comics for having the balls to publish it in the first place.
The Simpsons have done an episode about every entry on this list, by the way
But it Only Exists Because...
DC Comics didn't have the balls to publish it... not with the original characters anyway. In the 80s, DC bought the rights to an entire set of superhero characters from Charlton Comics. DC was looking for something to do with their new properties, so rising star Alan Moore put together a proposal based on those characters and submitted it to his bosses. To their credit, DC approved the idea. However, they also realized the characters would be rendered useless by the end of the comic (by virtue of being dead, intergalactic nudists or chubby, lovable losers too busy bangin' chicks way out of their league to fight crime). Not willing to lose the guys they had just bought after a single story-arc, they asked Moore to change all the names and tweak the appearances. Bringing his typical respect for authority to the task, Moore put as little effort as possible into disguising the source material. So for example, the guy with the blue suit, the goggles and the ship...
Became the guy with the brown suit, the goggles and the ship:
And the guy with the fedora and no face...
Became the guy with the... fedora and no face:
One can forgive Moore for phoning it in a little; the man was nurturing a decade-spanning hobo beard and a cutting hatred for capitalism; he had other shit on his mind.
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!
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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