7 Classic Movies You Didn't Know Were Rip-Offs
Hey, Hollywood, we get that it's hard to come up with new ideas. Especially when you've gotten really good at improving on the original. But it's one thing to purposefully remake a dud into a classic -- it's another to pretend you're the one who came up with the idea in the first place. How would you like it if we said we invented anorexia and scientifically impossible explosions, huh Hollywood?
These movies are like that.
There's nothing wrong with an honest, loving rip-off. Like Cracked's Star Wars Adventures in Jedi School mini-series.
Pirates of the Caribbean Is Suspiciously Similar to the Game The Secret of Monkey Island
This seems like a really obvious one: Everyone knows the Pirates of the Caribbean movies are a combination of the Disney ride and Johnny Depp channeling the ghost of a pre-dead Keith Richards.
Which fled from his body sometime in the mid '70s, leaving it an empty husk of decaying meat.
Except the Disney attraction has as much of a story line as a bad night at a gay bar -- basically you're going around in a boat while drunk robot pirates dance and sing around you. It's more of an acid trip than a narrative. So where did they get the rest of the story?
What It's Suspiciously Like:
The video game The Secret of Monkey Island came out in 1990 and follows the adventures of Guybrush Threepwood, a bumbling swashbuckler who must gather a crew of pirates to rescue the woman he loves while dealing with a mysterious supernatural curse. Sound familiar? That's also the plot of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, except Threepwood is called William Turner there. Both characters even dress alike.
To be fair, vests were very popular in pirate times.
Well ... but all pirate stories probably have some things in common, right? Don't worry, we're just getting started.
In Pirates, the love interest is Elizabeth Swann, the governor's daughter. In Monkey Island, her name is Elaine Marley, and she isn't really related to the governor -- she is the governor.
Disney will only accept a woman in a position of power if she's an evil witch queen.
In Pirates, Elizabeth is captured by an undead pirate and his skeleton crew. In Monkey Island, it's ... the exact same thing, except the bad guy goes by the objectively more awesome name of Ghost Pirate LeChuck.
If he didn't tell us we'd never guess he was a ghost and a pirate.
Both stories involve zombies, cannibals, pet monkeys and the oddly specific character of a black voodoo priestess who lives in a shack in the middle of a swamp. The main difference here is that she's younger and hotter in the Disney version, but that seems like the sort of thing Hollywood would change even in an official adaptation.
And the visual similarities don't stop there -- notice Guybrush using a coffin as a boat in that picture? At one point in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Jack Sparrow does the same thing (the linked image is from the film's game adaptation, which frankly seems redundant). Then there's the pirate town made out of wrecked ship parts from the same movie and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge (1991).
So is this a huge coincidence, an homage, or just thievery? Well, Monkey Island's creator Ron Gilbert has admitted that he was inspired by the original Disney ride, and also the 1987 novel On Stranger Tides (which was loosely adapted into the fourth Pirates film), but that doesn't even begin to explain all the similarities -- there's no clumsy protagonist, kidnapped governor-related love interest or coffin-boat in the book or the attraction. The only important common element that could be attributed to the novel is the voodoo/zombie aspect -- however, Pirates producer Jerry Bruckheimer says the screenwriters only "found the book" while filming the second and third movies.
Here's another explanation: There was actually a canceled Monkey Island film project around 2000, and Wikipedia credits Ted Elliot for the screenplay. Guess what major Johnny Depp movie Ted Elliot went on to write a few years later, possibly reusing parts of the script and some concept art?
Hint: It wasn't Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The Matrix Was a Comic Book
In 1999, The Matrix came out and blew everyone away with its insane action sequences, revolutionary cinematic techniques and, most of all, a mind-fucking plot that left the head of every viewer filled with intense philosophical questions.
Like if there's no spoon, what is this called?
What It's Suspiciously Like:
The Invisibles, a cult comic book series created by Grant Morrison, is basically about a group of individuals who fight the establishment because the establishment is secretly keeping people dumb and hiding the fact that reality is an illusion. Turns out that the "real world" is ruled by horrifying insect-like demons. One more thing: The Invisibles debuted in 1994.
Like in The Matrix, these "terrorists" are actually one cell of a much larger group, and some of them can even "warp themselves out of reality" by using the real world as a shortcut. The story starts when the Invisibles recruit a young guy who takes on the alias of Jack Frost. Like Keanu in The Matrix, at first he wants nothing to do with the group, but eventually he comes to accept the fact that he's the messiah (yeah, they're a lot less subtle about it here). From that point on, he uses his reality-bending powers to help bring down the beings that secretly rule the world. Also, part of his training involves jumping off a tall building.
Want more? Their leader is a bald guy with circular shades who likes wearing leather. And knows kung fu. And shoots people a lot.
Other than that, they're completely different.
At one point, the bald, shades-wearing kung fu leader is captured by the bad guys and tortured by a non-human conscience ... who has taken the shape of a government agent. When he refuses to give them any information, they try to enter his brain, until eventually the rest of the team comes to his rescue. Here are a few panels from that sequence:
And, oh, hey, remember this scene from the movie?
The Wachowskis have never acknowledged The Invisibles as an influence, even though they had invited the comic's creator Grant Morrison to contribute a story for their website. Morrison -- who actually liked The Matrix -- says he "was told by people on the set that Invisibles books were passed around for visual reference." His reaction to the second and third movies? "They should have kept on stealing from me."
Black Swan Was a Japanese Cartoon
The ballet thriller Black Swan had all the ingredients of a great indie film: a psychologically tense plot, plenty of weird/artsy visuals, a French person and Hollywood starlets desperate to break away from their "good girl" image.
Altogether the movie was voted "Most Likely to Get a Thumbs Up from Both Partners on Date Night."
What It's Suspiciously Like:
A Japanese cartoon, of all things. Perfect Blue is about a pop singer instead of a ballet dancer, but other than that, Black Swan could pass for its American remake. In both movies, the young, innocent protagonist has just moved on to a more demanding job (dramatic actress/lead dancer), and the pressure turns her apeshit. She gets chased by a "double" who may or may not be the product of her imagination, and at one point becomes convinced that she killed someone.
Check out the scene at the end of both movies where (if you don't like spoilers and you're still reading there's something wrong with you) she has a physical fight with her double, glass shatters, and the other woman ends up being stabbed in the stomach and dies (it starts at 4:07 in this video):
Although the plots are really similar, it's the little moments that give it away here. Like the short scene where she stares at herself on the window of a subway door:
Or the part where images of herself/her mother become animated and taunt her from a wall:
So how do we know that Black Swan's director, Darren Aronofsky, is familiar with Perfect Blue? Mainly because it's not the first time he borrows from it: Check out this scene from an earlier film of his, Requiem for a Dream.
It's the exact same scene.
Aronofsky allegedly bought the remake rights for Perfect Blue in 2000 in order to use that one scene. When asked if Perfect Blue influenced Black Swan at all, he said: "Not really, there are similarities between the films, but it wasn't influenced by it."
Those of you surprised that Aronofsky is completely detached from reality haven't seen Pi.
J.J. Abrams' Star Trek Is Really Star Wars
On the one hand, you've got to give Abrams props for doing a reboot the right way: The story was engaging, the casting was spot on and the lens flares were superb.
Proof that J.J. Abrams really gets Adobe Premiere.
On the other hand, when you're watching Star Trek, there are moments when this rushing river of deja vu comes coursing through your body. You know you've seen these characters before, but where?
What It's Suspiciously Like:
Star Wars. All the way. And we're not even the first, second or last to point it out.
George Lucas would have sued, but he, like us, is terrified of J.J. Abrams.
Now, let's be clear: Lots of movies follow the hero's journey model to tell their story. Obscure nobody is called into a great and dangerous adventure, he follows the call until he hits a low point where it seems that everything is lost, but it's not. The nobody is transformed into a somebody, succeeds at his quest and celebrates with everyone he loves. It works whether his name is Harry Potter or Frodo or Neo.
But once you get past the fact that both young Kirk and young Luke were orphaned farm boys whose fathers were once great pilots and who want nothing more than to get off their boring planets and join the nearest academy, the similarities start to get downright eerie. For example ...
They both have an older mentor.
And they both have a second, pointy-eared older mentor. Just in case the first older mentor doesn't work out.
Both use a height-challenged non-human and an accented know-it-all for comic relief.
Both movies up the stakes with a peaceful planet getting destroyed.
But Star Trek's most incriminating indictment isn't even those very, very similar plot points. It's like they weren't even trying ...
Wild Wild West Was an Episode of Batman: The Animated Series
Just because you steal your source material from a successful predecessor doesn't mean your movie is going to be worth anything. Case in point: 1999's Wild Wild West. Before steampunk was blowing up your Reddit feed, it was smeared all over this turd stain of a movie. And the steampunk gadgets were the best part!
Kenneth Branagh has had to do some awful things for a paycheck.
Not the best part? The plot. Which consisted of a former Civil War hero and a U.S. Marshal chasing down an evil scientist and his world-jeopardizing contraptions before the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. If Atlas Shrugged was set in the Old West and featured Will Smith and a giant mechanical robot spider, it would be just like this.
What It's Suspiciously Like:
A 1995 episode from Batman: The Animated Series called "Showdown."
Now, for those of you asking how the hell an episode of Batman: The Animated Series could get made into Wild Wild West, the truth is Batman was barely in the episode at all. "Showdown" was a flashback focusing on Jonah Hex -- the same character from the recent movie of the same name -- as he battled the immortal Ra's al Ghul in the Old West.
Hey, buddy, you've got something just ... right under your eye.
Incidentally, this episode would have made an even better Jonah Hex film than Jonah Hex.
Not a high bar, but still.
In the episode, the bad guy attempts to conquer the U.S. by attacking the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad with a superweapon -- which, incidentally, is the entire plot of Wild Wild West. They even have that scene with the Golden Spike and everything. The only difference is that Ra's weapon was an ironclad zeppelin instead of what Kevin Smith later described as "this big fucking spider" in Wild Wild West.
Crashing the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad ...
... with two steampunk superweapons ...
One significantly less stupid than the other.
... and a vast assortment of nifty guns ...
... when a flying machine from Leonardo's notebook comes out of nowhere.
Of course, at this point, most people had already left the theater.
Terminator Was a Bunch of Harlan Ellison Sci-Fi Stories
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but James Cameron appears to have stolen the story for one of his biggest, most iconic films -- a story of man's overreaching hubris, and the efforts of a small group to stop the extinction of an entire race. We're talking, of course, about his mega-blockbuster groundbreaking film The Terminator.
What movie did you think we were talking about?
If we have to recap the plot of The Terminator for you, what are you even doing here? Don't you have some butter to churn or something? Some socks to darn? Some VHS tapes to rewind?
What It's Suspiciously Like:
A trio of futuristic stories by sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison. In fact, you can practically build The Terminator's narrative from the premise of each of them. In the short story "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream," a super-intelligent AI becomes self-aware and decides to wipe out humanity. The few survivors live in an underground complex, the only habitable place left on Earth. Then in "Soldier," two freakishly strong super-soldiers from a post-apocalyptic world are sent back in time in a flash of lightning.
One materializes in a present-day alley (just like Kyle Reese in The Terminator), where he's quickly spotted by police and has a shootout with them.
Even some of the dialogue in "Soldier" seems pretty close to what's in The Terminator.
But wait, there's one important thing missing: Where are the robots? Well, in "Demon With a Glass Hand," a man from the future with a robotic-looking hand is being pursued by things that are disguised to look just like men.
Like in The Terminator, their time travel only works one way: from the future to the past. Oh, and the main character, Mr. Trent, is told frequently that he's "the last hope of humanity." Finally, at the end of the episode, it's revealed that Mr. Trent is actually ... wait for it ... a robot sent back in time and disguised to look human. Also, if you take the name Mr. Trent and rearrange the letters you get ... TerMntr. Dun dun DUUUNNN.
And here's the kicker: back in 1984, James Cameron did an interview with Starlog magazine where he was asked where he got the idea for The Terminator. He was reported to have bragged that he ripped off a couple of Harlan Ellison stories.
Trust us. Closed eyes make him 30 percent less creepy.
Unfortunately for Cameron, Ellison was friends with some of the staff there, who leaked him the original draft of the interview containing the admission and took Cameron to court. They ended up settling, and to this very day, Harlan Ellison has an "acknowledgement" credit on The Terminator.
Fortunately, it looks like Cameron has learned from his mistakes and will never do the same thing again. PHEW!
Reservoir Dogs Was a Film From Hong Kong
Few directorial debuts have had the cultural impact of 1992's Reservoir Dogs. Pulp Fiction is the first Tarantino film you're more likely to have seen, but Dogs started it all: the out-of-order storytelling, the filthy dialogue, the black suits, the pop-culture references.
The Steve Buscemi.
Despite the distinct look and ear-severing, at its core, the story was simple: A diamond heist goes wrong, and the bad guys involved get into one hell of a tense standoff over the aftermath.
What It's Suspiciously Like:
A 1987 Hong Kong action film, City on Fire, starring a pre-American fame Chow Yun-Fat.
It was a simpler time, before movie posters were required to include explosions and tits.
Now, saying that Quentin Tarantino borrows heavily from Asian films is about as original as saying that Quentin Tarantino borrows heavily from ... uh ... all other kinds of films, but hold on. This one is different, if only because the it's the exact same movie, but with matchy-matchy suits.
Jewel thieves decide to steal a load of diamonds at the behest of an older criminal boss. While robbing the jewelry store, an alarm goes off and one of the thieves kills the employees. Blah blah blah ... Mexican standoff ends in a massacre, aaaand scene. And in case you lost track, that was the plot of City on Fire we were just describing, not Reservoir Dogs.
Tarantino didn't just borrow a character or a scene or a subplot, he ripped off the whole story. And then replaced all the dialogue with pop-culture trivia, as if he was doing some kind of Pop-Up Video version of the same movie, but with white guys.
If you need a visual aid, director Mike White put together a handy 10-minute documentary in 1994 showing the similarities between the two films, titled Who Do You Think You're Fooling?
Probably just a coincidence.
Oh, and did we mention that Tarantino dedicated the script of Reservoir Dogs to Chow Yun-Fat? And that he's also been quoted as saying, "I loved City on Fire, I got the poster framed in my house, so it's a great movie," and "Ringo Lam is like my second, after Jackie Chan, third favorite of all the Hong Kong directors"?
Tarantino's next movie will be called The Suit, starring Uma Thurman as Jackie Chan.
With Sam Jackson in Jennifer Love Hewitt's part.
Click here to watch the trailer for Cracked's kickin' rad new Adventures in Jedi School mini-series.
Maxwell Yezpitelok lives in Chile and likes to waste his time writing back to scammers or making stupid comics. For more from Ashe, check out Weird Shit Blog and Film School Rejects. Jacopo asks that you pick up a copy of his latest book Go @#$% Yourself! An Ungentlemanly Disagreement, by Filippo Argenti, available in paperback and DRM-free on Kindle.
For more blatant rip-offs, check out 6 Famous Characters You Didn't Know Were Shameless Rip-Offs and The 6 Most Psychotic Rip-Offs of Famous Animated Films.
And stop by LinkSTORM to see how Cracked is actually a rip-off of the Economist.
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