5 Famous Movies That Shamelessly Ripped Off Obscure Ones
So, Hollywood likes remakes, apparently. As much as we, the citizens of the Internet, like to complain about that, there's nothing wrong with the idea of a remake by itself. Some remakes are so good that they seem to completely erase all evidence of the original from our collective memories, as we've pointed out before.
Nope, sometimes the only problem with a remake is that they don't actually credit the obscure movie they are remaking (or, you know, pay them for the rights). Like ...
Toy Story Is Suspiciously Similar to a 1980s TV Christmas Special
In 1995, Toy Story changed the world of animation by introducing kids to a little thing called CGI and launching Pixar's illustrious career. But on top of the technical achievement, it's also a great story. It's hard to believe that no one ever thought of doing a movie about toys coming to life before ...
The Original: The Christmas Toy (1986)
Nine years before Toy Story, ABC aired a one-hour TV special called The Christmas Toy. Like Toy Story, it stars a group of toys that come to life when no one is around, but the similarities go way beyond that. In The Christmas Toy, the main character is also a toy who grows insecure when he hears that his owner is receiving a present that could replace him as the favorite. Instead of Woody the cowboy doll, it's a stuffed tiger named Rugby.
Replace "Rugb" with "Wood" and prepare to have your mind blown.
But that could easily be a coincidence, right? Well, explain this: In The Christmas Toy, the new arrival and competitor for the owner's affection also turns out to be an egocentric character from outer space who has trouble differentiating between fantasy and reality and doesn't understand that it's just a toy -- her name is Meteora, Queen of the Asteroids.
Or Post-Op Buzz Lightyear.
Another character is a Barbie doll who at one point wears a Little Bo Peep outfit. By the way, Pixar actually wanted to include a Barbie doll in the first Toy Story, but Mattel turned down the proposal. So which toy did they use to replace her? Bo Peep, of course.
But that's just because lots of 7-year-old boys play with Bo Peep toys.
Then there's the worn-out stuffed bear with a cane who functions as the playground's wise old leader and is in charge of welcoming new toys, but there's nothing like that in the first Toy Story. Nope, the exact same character shows up Toy Story 3.
Apparently someone put him in the washer with some reds, though.
So if you've ever wondered why Disney hasn't done a Toy Story TV show (beyond the Buzz Lightyear animated series), it's probably because they already did that: Only a year before the first Toy Story movie came out, the Disney Channel aired a spin-off TV series about The Christmas Toy characters called Secret Life of Toys, but it was cancelled after 13 episodes.
How They Improved It:
"First" doesn't always mean "better." The Christmas Toy has a weird subplot where, if a toy is caught by a human, it becomes frozen forever ... which is kind of disturbing when you think about it, because it means that every time you found a G.I. Joe outside your toy box, you were actually killing it. Most of the movie is about Rugby's friend trying to save him from this horrifying fate.
Your Legos are silently screaming in eternal agony.
Raiders of the Lost Ark Was Intentionally Based on an Old Charlton Heston Movie
George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have always been open about the fact that the Indiana Jones franchise was inspired by the serials of the 1930s and 1940s. That's OK, though, because Indy himself is an original creation. It's not like they'd just lift a character from another movie and turn him into one of the most iconic action heroes ever, right?
The Original: Secret of the Incas (1954)
Here's a young Charlton Heston as cocky adventurer Harry Steele in the little-known 1954 film Secret of the Incas:
Not to be confused with Harry Steele the cocky porn actor.
Why, that looks remarkably like Indiana Jones, right down to the stubble. Coincidence? Not according to the woman who designed Indy's look in his first movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. In an interview, she admitted that the crew watched Secret of the Incas several times, and said she's surprised that Lucas and Spielberg didn't credit the movie at all.
We're sure they won't mind when we introduce our new character, action-archeologist Kentucky Smith.
The similarities don't stop there. Remember the map room in Raiders where Indy does the reflected light trick to show the location of the hidden ark? Yep, they've got one of those here, too:
It was the "leaving the key under a fake rock" of the ancient world.
In the same scene in Incas, Steele is betrayed by his partner, who tries to steal the valuable artifact he's just retrieved at gunpoint, but he's saved by his Peruvian sidekick. Raiders simply merged both characters into the same one for the film's classic opening scene, which, like Incas, takes place in a temple deep in the Peruvian jungle.
Poor Alfred Molina might have survived if only he'd had a better poncho.
Then there's the river trip in a yellow inflatable raft, like in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, followed by a campfire scene, also like in Temple of Doom.
Yeah, but does that one double as a parachute?
So wait, this movie stars one of the best-known lead actors ever in what's basically an Indiana Jones premake -- why isn't it better known? That might be because both movies are produced by Paramount, who has never bothered to release Incas on home video. Many fans, including Indy's costume designer, believe Paramount is just trying to hide the blatant ripoff.
How They Improved It:
Of course, there could be another reason why they haven't released Incas: The main character is a huge douchebag. Indy isn't the most cheerful guy in the world, but at least he didn't con women out of their money, then brag about it in front of them.
"Your tears arouse me more than you ever could." -- actually pretty close to real dialogue.
There's also the fact that the movie barely has any action, which Raiders compensated for by including all of the action.
Alien Is a Mashup of Two Old B-Movies
In 1979, Ridley Scott's Alien reinvented the horror sci-fi genre by actually making a horror sci-fi flick that was scary (a novel idea in those days). Alien also added a refreshing dose of realism to the standard futuristic setting -- showing the space crew just sitting around a table, shooting the shit, was considered a huge deal.
And then Kane's chest boner had to go and ruin everyone's meal.
The Originals: It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) and Planet of the Vampires (1965)
This is from the 1958 sci-fi B-movie It! The Terror from Beyond Space:
The only difference is that back then space ladies knew their place, dammit.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves: The first half of Alien actually resembles a different B-movie, Planet of the Vampires, from 1965, which also stars the crew of a spaceship who are forced to land on a desolate planet, who also go off to explore the place and come across the remains of a crashed spacecraft ... and also find the corpse of some sort of mysterious giant alien inside.
"Hey, guys, I think I just tripped over some foreboding."
The planet itself is dark and foggy, just like the one in Alien, but what really gives it away is that the crew's stranded spaceship in Vampires is actually pretty similar to the abandoned one they find in Alien:
Ridley Scott's original idea to just use the Millennium Falcon was shot down.
In Vampires, the crew is stuck on the planet for most of the movie. In Alien, they lift off, unaware that they have accidentally picked up an alien stowaway who will start killing them off one by one -- which, incidentally, is the exact premise of It! In both movies, the creature hides in the ship's cylindrical ventilation shafts, killing the poor sap who goes after it.
"Take a lantern, that oughta take care of it."
Both crews try to kill their respective monsters by locking them in the airlock room to suffocate them. In It! the plan works, but in Alien the monster can actually breathe in space, so it takes Ripley kicking its ass out the door to get rid of the pesky thing.
"You coming into the shower, babe?"
How They Improved It:
As you can already guess, what sets Alien apart is the alien. True to old-timey B-movies, the monster in It! is just a guy in a cheap rubber suit. Meanwhile, in Vampires, we don't really see any living aliens: The crew has to fight their own reanimated dead friends who are possessed by evil space spirits. They look exactly like zombies trying to fight their way out of plastic bags.
"'Paper or plastic,' they said! 'Are totally reusable,' they said."
So, yeah, Ridley Scott revolutionized the genre by adding more psychological terror, but also by making it look like he spent more than $25 on the film.
Michael Bay's The Island Shamelessly Ripped Off a '70s Movie
The Island is Michael Bay's least successful film ever, but also probably the only one that requires the audience to perform any thinking. That's because the plot is actually kind of intriguing. It (spoilers) is about a seemingly utopian community of people who are actually the clones of wealthy and powerful individuals, basically created as spare organs. One of the clones (Ewan McGregor) discovers the truth and goes on the run.
It's a pretty cool idea, and Bay totally stole it from someone else.
The Original: Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979)
Parts: The Clonus Horror is also about a group of clones living in an isolated community and one of them discovering the truth. The only differences stem from the fact that it was made for only 0.2 percent of the budget of The Island, and the most recognizable actors in it are the captain from Airplane! and the second Darrin.
"Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit starring in good films."
In a lawsuit against DreamWorks, the creators of Clonus listed 90 points in common with The Island, among them:
In both films, the characters don't know they are clones, live in a closely monitored facility and are duped into thinking they won something when they're shipped off to have their organs harvested. Also, they all dress in track clothes 24/7.
Gotta keep those lungs healthy.
Most of the clones are pretty dumb, but the main character comes out smarter and starts questioning his surroundings, eventually deciding to escape the facility alongside a hot female clone (Scarlett Johansson in The Island, "No IMDb Photo Available" in Clonus). In both cases, this is motivated by the discovery of an object from the outside world: In The Island it's a moth, and in Clonus it's ... uh, an Old Milwaukee beer can.
That can cost them half their budget.
Both sneak out at night and wander into a building that looks like a hospital ...
... where they witness clones being killed by injection with a green liquid, and then being covered with plastic tarp.
The heroes escape from the facility through a corridor of pipes ...
... winding up at the top of a rocky bluff in the desert ...
... and then decide to visit the guys they were cloned from, who initially side with the clone but end up betraying them. This website lists even more similarities.
DreamWorks settled out of court and, according to Clonus screenwriter Bob Sullivan, wound up paying a seven-figure sum. Considering that The Island cost $126 million and only grossed $35.8 million domestically, and then had to cough up more money afterward, Michael Bay should have probably followed the moral of the story and stayed away from illegally cloning things.
How They Improved It:
Did we mention Scarlett Johansson is in this thing?
And did we mention she spends half the movie running from explosions?
On second thought, we're not sure why this thing didn't make more money.
Monsters, Inc. Already Has a Live-Action Version
Let's face it, Pixar has a thing for "unofficial" remakes. Still, one of their most wholly original movies is Monsters, Inc. -- the idea of a society of monsters whose work is to scare children is something that made everyone in the kids' movie business wish they'd thought of it before. Nothing like this had been done in animation.
Live action is a different matter, though.
The Original: Little Monsters (1989)
Try to imagine what Monsters, Inc. would be like if it were an '80s live-action movie and you can get a fairly accurate idea of 1989's Little Monsters. In it, a kid played by Fred Savage (of course) meets a friendly monster named Maurice, who is basically a low-budget human version of Sully from Monsters, Inc.: It's just Howie Mandell with blue/purple makeup, blue hair and plastic horns on his head. Mandell's performance is somewhere between Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice and "child molester."
That makeup may be the reason Mandell is now a germaphobe.
It turns out that in every kid's room there's a portal to a world ruled by monsters. In Monsters, Inc. it's in their closets, and in Little Monsters it's under their beds, but the basic idea is the same. Instead of the big row of doors, the monster city in Little Monsters has "innumerable staircases" leading to the human world. Also, both movies have a main villain who dresses more snappily than the rest of the monsters and who kidnaps a human child for its own evil purposes.
"We want a five-eyed creature with giant spider legs. No? Eh, just paint a kid blue then."
And of course, both villains have a hideous sharp-toothed henchman who does most of the dirty work, allowing them to remain hidden for most of the movie.
Only one looks like Fat Bastard from Austin Powers.
The character arc of the friendly monster is also pretty similar: At one point, both Maurice and Sully accidentally scare their human friend (Fred Savage because he sees Maurice scare a baby, and Sully's friend Boo because she is a baby), leading to a vocational crisis where they question if scaring kids for a living is really the best thing to do.
How They Improved It:
Mainly, by not including Howie Mandell. The carefully animated and awesomely voiced characters are a plus, we guess, and it helps that Monstropolis doesn't look like it was shot in someone's basement, but just the fact that Howie Mandell isn't in this movie is probably what made Monsters, Inc. a classic, and this is something we've believed since long before finding out that Little Monsters was a thing.
The magical world of monsters is basically a thrift store warehouse.
Robin Warder is the co-owner of the pop culture website The Back Row.
For more "originals" that are anything but, check out 7 Classic Movies You Didn't Know Were Rip-Offs and 6 Famous Characters You Didn't Know Were Shameless Rip-Offs.
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