There’s an old saying that every story has been told. It is basically impossible to write a film that is one hundred percent unique, as every type of plot has been thought of in some form or another.
On the other hand, it is easy to forget that filmmakers are movie buffs as well, and many of them want to create an homage to the films that inspired them to make movies by recreating them in some way, which is fine. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all. Most of the time, audiences will accept this and just watch the movie.
However, there are films that look like they are not even trying to hide the fact that they are copying another film that was made before it. These films have left people with their jaw wide open at the audacity of these filmmakers who did the exact same thing another filmmaker had already done, and probably better. It is films like these that make people say that Hollywood has run out of ideas.
Below are films that pretty much flat out copied and pasted text from one screenplay to another with some “minor edits” here and there to somewhat differentiate the two. Just think, with the big budgets some of these movies have, it seems as though little of it goes toward writing the screenplay if they are making little to no effort to create an original story.
10. Friday the 13th (1980) / Halloween (1978)
The slasher subgenre in horror films may be seen as cheesy nowadays, but back in the late 1970s, they were brand new and revolutionary. It was horror maestro John Carpenter’s 1978 film Halloween that both launched his filmmaking career and the slasher genre that changed the face of modern horror for years to come, especially with its focus on teenage characters.
It only took two years for one of the earliest rip-offs of Halloween to be released in the form of Friday the 13th. In both films, sex-crazed teenagers are the victims of a deranged serial killer with a troubled past that led up to the murders in the films. Neither film had much of a plot, but it was much more about the scares, the gore, and the gratuitous sex scenes than anything else.
Even Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham and writer Victor Miller have since admitted that the film was made to cash in on the success of Halloween and the dawn of the slasher genre.
To be fair to Friday the 13th, it took the different route of the original killer being the mother of a young, deformed boy who was victimised. There was no sign of a big, creepy masked man with a knife. It was not until the sequel that the more famous Jason Voorhees donned the hockey mask and slaughtered anyone that crossed his path, exactly like Michael Myers in Halloween .
9. Mac and Me (1988) / E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
The aforementioned Raiders of the Lost Ark was not the only Steven Spielberg film from the early 1980s to have an inferior version of it made by other filmmakers who were out to make a buck. Only a year after Raiders , Spielberg made another memorable blockbuster with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, where an adorable alien gets separated from his fellow aliens and befriends a boy named Elliot (Henry Thomas) and his California-based family, who try to help the lost alien find a way back to his home planet and must face off against government agents out to capture E.T.
E.T. was released in 1982, a whole six years before Mac and Me was released, so it cannot claim its similar plot is just a coincidence. A family moves to California and come into contact with an alien who got separated from his family, who is later named Mac. Two government agents try to capture Mac, who is helped by the human family in thwarting them and in finding his family.
E.T. is known for being a tearjerker of a film, utilising the theme of a strong friendship at its core. “Mac and Me” tries to pull at the heartstrings even more than E.T. did by having that film’s young boy, Eric (Jade Calegory), be paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. Unfortunately, Calegory is actually paralysed in real life; it could be argued either way that the filmmakers wanted authenticity or were really trying to maximise how sad the film would be by featuring a actual paraplegic boy.
If that wasn’t enough, Mac and Me even tries to outdo E.T. in its use of product placement. E.T. would always eat Reese’s Pieces candy and used a Speak & Spell toy to communicate, while Mac would consume Coca-Cola and Skittles. To make matters worse, as the filmmakers had a profit sharing agreement with McDonald’s, there’s a lot of blatant product placement, including a goofy dance scene at a McDonald’s restaurant, and even a cameo from Ronald McDonald himself.
With the alien Mac itself, the creature effects in Mac and Me are poor and obviously fake, which is extra cringeworthy since the film actually had a bigger budget than E.T. did (probably due to its funding from McDonald’s and Coca-Cola). It is one of those films that make viewers wonder where the money from its budget went; it certainly did not go toward the screenwriters to come up with an original story.
8. The Wizard (1989) / Rain Man (1988)
Rain Man was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of 1988, where Dustin Hoffman gives an incredibly believable performance as an autistic man named Ray who has lived in an institution for many years, away from the real world. His brother Charlie (Tom Cruise) takes him away from the institution on a cross-country drive to obtain the millions of dollars that Ray inherited.
While travelling together to Los Angeles, they bond and Charlie learns that Ray is great at counting cards, so he takes Ray to Las Vegas to win money through gambling. This was a popular and well-received film that won Oscars for Best Actor, Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.
What was even more popular during the 1980s was the Nintendo Entertainment System, a video game console that needs no introduction. The famous console pops up throughout the 1989 family film The Wizard, which is closer to being a feature-length Nintendo commercial than a feature film. In fact, it pops up in scenes where there is no need for a Nintendo to be there, such as Christian Slater’s character plugging in his Nintendo into a TV at a mechanic’s workshop.
But what does the tale of a man bonding with his estranged autistic brother have to do with Nintendo? Well, the plot of The Wizard is practically a copy of Rain Man. Nintendo and Rain Man should in theory be worlds apart, yet they have been united thanks to this film. Akin to the aforementioned plot of Rain Man, a scheming boy named Corey (Fred Savage) breaks his mentally disturbed brother Jimmy (Luke Edwards) out of a mental institution.
As they travel to “California”, the only word Jimmy can say, Corey discovers that Jimmy can easily win at any video game, a talent that Corey wants to use to win the Video Armageddon tournament in Los Angeles to prove that Jimmy does not need to be institutionalised, and to win the big prize money.
Despite sounding overly critical of The Wizard, the rip-off of a film is actually quite enjoyable if you are a fan of Nintendo games. The film is a great time capsule of the era where this 8-bit console was truly a marvel of the gaming world. It is also funny and charming in its own right. However, it goes without saying that Rain Man is the superior film, and The Wizard heavily copied it.
7. King Solomon’s Mines (1985) / Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Indiana Jones is one of the most iconic characters in film history, charismatically portrayed by Harrison Ford and created by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, two of the most powerful figures in Hollywood. Although Spielberg and Lucas were successful before the Indiana Jones series, these films further cemented their reputations as cinematic geniuses.
However, whenever someone makes a highly successful film, other filmmakers will try to emulate that film’s concept to make a profit. This happened only two years after Raiders of the Lost Ark with King Solomon’s Mines, made in 1985, where the fortune hunter Allan Quatermain explores Africa to find his client’s missing father while facing off against hostile tribes and rivals. However, in the first Indiana Jones film, made in 1981, Indy has to find his former mentor in Egypt while fighting off Nazis.
The original Allan Quatermain novel, King Solomon’s Mines, was published in 1885, a full century earlier, starting the debate that the Indiana Jones character is a copy of Quatermain, which is a valid point.
However, the 1985 film King Solomon’s Mines was made after two Indiana Jones films had rummaged the treasure that is the box office, as the makers of the first Allan Quatermain movie circa the 1980s wanted some of that treasure themselves. While the character of Allan Quatermain had been around for a long time by that point, the films were definitely made to capitalise on the success of the Indiana Jones films.
6. Critters (1986) / Gremlins (1984)
Gremlins is one of the most charming family movies of the 1980s, with creatures called Mogwai that can go from being adorable to vicious in almost no time. Regardless of what state they were in, these creatures were both hilarious and memorable and made Gremlins a popular film. Studios realized that these small profitable creatures caught on with audiences, and only two years after Gremlins was made, Critters was released.
In Gremlins , the first Mogwai creature Gizmo is an innocent and cute little creature that could be kept as a pet, provided that the owners followed the strict instructions of the shopkeeper who sold Gizmo to them. Naturally, these instructions were not followed, and Gizmo multiplied and its clone wreaked havoc all over the city. In Critters, some alien prisoners make their way to Earth and cause trouble for the humans that encounter them.
Despite the fact that the origin of the creatures were different, Gremlins and Critters mostly follow the same basic plot; movie studios feel no shame when there is money to be made from shameless rip-offs. But to be fair to Critters, there were other Gremlins rip-offs in the forms of the Ghoulies, Troll, Hobgoblin, and Munchies films.
5. Disturbia (2007) / Rear Window (1954)
Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most revered directors in film history. There have been countless homages and parodies of his work, from the shower stabbing in “Psycho” to running away from a red plane in North by Northwest. However, there is a big difference between a homage and a flat out rip-off, and Disturbia definitely falls into the latter category, as it is basically a 2000s teen version of Rear Window.
In Disturbia , a troubled teenager is under house arrest with an ankle monitor that will alert if he leaves his house unlawfully. With nothing better to do, he observes the activity happening on his street and suspects that his one of his neighbours is a serial killer. In Rear Window, a professional photographer is housebound due to a broken leg, so he starts spying on the other tenants that live in his apartment building, leading him to suspect that one of his neighbours may have committed murder.
Both films have a protagonist that sees something they should not have seen and who want to help, but they physically cannot leave their home due to extenuating circumstances. Disturbia clearly borrowed quite a bit from Rear Window, so much so that the holders of the rights to Rear Window tried to sue the makers of Disturbia for plagiarism, although the case was dismissed.
4. Shark Tale (2004) / Finding Nemo (2003)
The ocean is full of fascinating creatures, from fish, octopuses, lobsters, sharks, and every other sea creature that exists. Humans cannot help but wonder what it would be like to be one of these creatures and what their lives are like. As with all things of interest, Hollywood has made movies about this piece of the world.
It seemed like the specific interest in sea creatures peaked in the mid-2000s when Pixar released Finding Nemo, which made a huge splash at the box office in 2003. People simply could not get enough of it, making it one of the most successful animated films ever made.
And then in 2004, DreamWorks released “Shark Tale”, another animated family film about sea creatures. While both films were made concurrently, Finding Nemo well and truly beat Shark Tale to the punch, and the latter film’s take on how fish live was washed up by the time it was released.
Both films have subplots about sharks that do not eat fish, although Shark Tale makes far more use of it than Finding Nemo does. Most importantly, Finding Nemo is still far more popular than Shark Tale, popular enough to have a sequel, Finding Dory, made 13 years after the first film, whereas Shark Tale was critically panned and did not get a sequel.
It has to be said that both films look fantastic, as they really utilise the benefits of CGI. Despite the fact that Shark Tale was a parody of mafia films, which is very different from the tale of a search for a missing son in Finding Nemo, the fact that an animated children’s films about sea creatures came out a year after another identically-themed film is very fishy indeed.
3. The Hunger Games (2012) / Battle Royale (2000)
The Hunger Games novels and films are big business at the moment, making millions upon millions of dollars. The story of a dystopian future where teenagers from different districts of the nation of Panem are forced to kill one another until there is only one survivor, who is named the victor, as part of a televised death match set upon them by society, has captivated audiences from around the world. The show’s purpose is to punish the people of Panem for a past rebellion against the Capitol and to scare the people into not starting another uprising.
Not to burst the bubble of any hardcore fans of The Hunger Games trilogy, but this story had already been told. The Japanese film Battle Royale is set in a dystopian future where the government forces a group of teenagers from the same high school to battle against one another until there is a winner, in order to control them and prevent a revolution.
Battle Royale was released in 2000, whereas the first Hunger Games film was released in 2012, more than a decade later. At the same time, it is surprising that Hollywood did not remake Battle Royale at some point in the 2000s, considering how remake-happy Hollywood studios are known to be.
It should also be noted that both The Hunger Games and Battle Royale also heavily resemble the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Running Man. Although the characters in The Running Man are muscled men rather than vulnerable teenagers, the basic concept is the same.
2. Avatar (2009) / Dances with Wolves (1990)
James Cameron is one of the most successful filmmakers in Hollywood history, with big hits including first two Terminator films, Aliens, The Abyss, True Lies, and Titanic. These are some of the most famous and profitable movies ever made, and a lot of money clearly went into making these films.
However, when Cameron made Avatar in 2009, 12 years after his previous blockbuster Titanic, his storytelling capabilities had clearly diminished, as many critics and moviegoers pointed out how similar it was to Kevin Costner’s 1990 western “Dances with Wolves”.
Despite the 300 year gap between the settings of these films, with Dances with Wolves being set in the wild American frontier in 1863 and Avatar being set on the lush jungle planet of Pandora in 2154, the major plot points of both films are very much the same.
A disillusioned soldier has bad legs that prevent them from participating in combat, so they are assigned to travel into unchartered territory alone to talk with the natives in order to further the colonialists’ expansion onto their land. The soldiers bond with the natives, learn their way of life, fall in love with a woman from that group, and then join the natives to fight back against the evil colonialists.
Ever since its release in 2009, Avatar has received plenty of criticism for being so similar to Dances with Wolves, as well as the animated films Pocahontas and FernGully: The Last Rainforest. This plagiarism is so well known that a South Park episode featured a film that is obviously a parody of Avatar called “Dances with Smurfs”, where the blue Smurf creatures from the children’s cartoon of the same name are being driven away from their homes. Avatar is just as well known for its unoriginal story as it is for its commercial success and amazing special effects.
1. The Fast and the Furious (2001) / Point Break (1991)
The Fast and The Furious franchise is pretty entertaining overall, and is more about car chases and explosions than an actual plot – so much so that the first film stole its plot from Point Break, an action film about surfers made 10 years before The Fast and The Furious. It’s not just a few similarities here and there – it is beat for beat the same story! It’s flat out plagiarism!
In both films, a group of masked adrenaline seekers who practice a niche sport perform heists. A young, hotshot officer of the law is assigned to go undercover and infiltrate a group of people who partake in the aforementioned sport. The officer becomes friends with the group, especially the group’s tough but charismatic and loyal leader, and falls in love with a girl in the group.
The officer is convinced a rival group is behind the robberies, but when they are apprehended for the crime, it turns out they are innocent. The officer learns that it’s the group he’s joined that are performing the robberies, and now he has to choose between doing his job and his loyalty to the group. He chooses the former, although he lets the leader escape.
Essentially, if you replace surfing with auto racing, it’s the exact same film, and why the makers of Point Break never sued the makers of The Fast and The Furious is a mystery. It is unfortunate that The Fast and The Furious is far more famous now than Point Break – and to rub salt in the wound, the latter film had a horrible remake!
Originally published here at tasteofcinema.com on Monday 26 June 2017