4 Times Ridiculous Comedies Sparked Serious Lawsuits

4 Times Ridiculous Comedies Sparked Serious Lawsuits

It’s no secret that show business is a hotbed of fierce litigation — and really, what more would you expect from an industry that counts Charlie Sheen and Michael Bay among its members? While lawsuits can be serious business, occasionally, even some of Hollywood’s goofiest, fart-jokiest comedies have led to weirdly significant legal proceedings, like how…

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A Nude Photo of Leslie Nielsen Led to a Key Case in American Parody Law

Presumably intended to appeal to fans who were still mad that the first two Naked Gun movies confusingly featured no nudity whatsoever, The Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult advertised itself with a poster depicting star Nielsen au naturel… sort of. Actually, the photo was a recreation of a famous snapshot of Demi Moore, posing nude while eight months pregnant for the cover of Vanity Fair, but with a lookalike model and Nielsen’s grinning face superimposed over hers.

The gag wasn’t amusing to photographer Annie Leibovitz, who was responsible for the original image. Leibovitz sued Paramount Pictures, alleging that “the ad constituted copyright infringement.” The suit was dismissed in New York, with the judge finding that the poster was “clearly a parody” and therefore constituted “fair use.” 

When Leibovitz appealed, the appellate court similarly supported the nude Nielsen poster, noting that the original photo was, itself, reminiscent of another work: the famous “Birth of Venus” painting by Botticelli. “A photographer posing a well-known actress in a manner that calls to mind a well-known painting must expect, or at least tolerate, a parodist’s deflating ridicule,” the court ruled. The case’s reinforcement of the country’s parody laws was vital and has subsequently been referenced by judges in similar cases. 

‘Blazing Saddles’ Was Sued for Millions Because of One Character’s Name

One would imagine that a ton of people wanted to sue Mel Brooks after seeing Blazing Saddles when it came out. But surprisingly, the person who was seemingly most annoyed by the film was Hedy Lamarr, the 1930s movie star who also incidentally invented the frequency hopping technology that has been called the “mother of Wi-Fi.” The villain of Blazing Saddles, of course, was named “Hedley Lamarr,” and constantly mistaken for “Hedy.” At one point, Brooks’ Governor character jokes, “This is 1874; you’ll be able to sue her.”

It turns out that Lamarr really did take action against Brooks and Warner Bros. over the joke, suing them for a whopping $10 million, claiming that Brooks “exploited her name and identity without permission.” While Warner Bros. wanted to take the case to court and fight the claims, Brooks was a fan of the scientific genius/sexual icon, and insisted on settling, telling the studio, “No, she’s beautiful! See if you can get a meeting. Pay her, give her whatever she needs; she’s given us so much wonderful cinematic pleasure for 40 years. I think it’s incumbent upon us to salute her,” adding, “Send her my love and tell her where I live.”

‘The Blues Brothers’ Production Was Sued By a School District

While hardly the worst of director John Landis’ 1980s legal troubles, his production of The Blues Brothers wasn’t immune from litigation. This is, perhaps, not all that shocking, considering that much of the movie’s budget was spent on over-the-top car crashes and Scarface-levels of cocaine. One of the wildest sequences in the movie is the car chase through a suburban shopping mall, all set to a lively blues track that made audiences look past the fact that Jake and Elwood probably pancaked a bunch of innocent people.

Landis thankfully refrained from hiring stunt cars to plow through a real Toys ‘R’ Us with the cameras rolling, instead opting to shoot the scene at the recently shuttered Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, Illinois. One might assume that Landis and company had free rein to dress the mall up, then trash it as they saw fit since it wasn’t operational, but the mall was being used for another purpose at the time. In 1979, the space was donated to the local school district to house students “for two years while a new school was being constructed.” 

Unfortunately, the production completely wrecked the mall and didn’t clean it up. While today, they could have easily just swept up the mess and sold bags of “Authentic Blues Brothers Shattered Glass” on eBay, at the time, the school district was pissed and sued Universal Pictures for $87,000, although “the case never reached court.” Somehow, the building was left abandoned for decades, and wasn’t demolished until 2012.

Movie Trailers May Change Drastically Because Ana De Armas Was Cut Out of That Beatles Movie

The 2019 romantic comedy Yesterday told the story of a dude who gets in a bicycle accident and wakes up in a world in which The Beatles never existed, which, on the bright side, is also presumably a world in which Paul McCartney’s goddamn Christmas song never existed, either.

You may have heard that a group of disgruntled superfans of actress Ana de Armas filed a lawsuit alleging that the movie’s trailer was a form of false advertising. The trailer featured a brief clip of a deleted scene in which the main character appears on The Late Late Show with James Corden and meets a movie star played by de Armas. Notably, not a single person ever contacted a lawyer because there wasn’t enough James Corden in the movie.

In December 2022, a federal judge ruled that the lawsuit could go forward and that movie trailers were vulnerable to false advertising claims, rejecting the studio’s defense that a trailer is itself an “artistic, expressive work” protected by the First Amendment rather than a straight-up commercial. This could have a resonant impact on the industry since trailers routinely feature footage that may not be in the finished film. 

So, unless the statute of limitations have passed, expect some kind of class-action lawsuit against the people behind Kangaroo Jack.

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this). 

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