Plots that were stolen from other movies

It's all but impossible to tell a truly original story. After over a century of cinema—not to mention hundreds of years of storytelling that predates recorded history—it's safe to say virtually every possible premise has already been covered. But some movies don't even attempt to be even a little original, stealing their plots almost wholesale from films that came before. Here are some classic movies that are all but carbon copies of other films.

Alien / It! The Terror from Space

No one's claiming Alien was the first movie ever about evil aliens, but it's amazing just how much it owes to the 1958 B-movie schlockfest It! The Terror From Space.

Both movies have the exact same setup—a ship lands on an alien planet and is invaded by a hungry, violent, uncontrollable local who gets to killing almost immediately. In both movies, it hides in an air shaft, gets thwarted by a blowtorch, then dies in the vacuum of space. Not that the people behind Alien will admit to the inspiration: when speaking with Glenn Lovell of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, producer David Giler denied his film was a ripoff, only saying that Alien's hook of the creature killing from inside the ship was "pretty much a classic premise with science fiction writers, like the gunfight in the Western." In other words, call him unoriginal, but don't you dare call him a thief.

At the same time, he threw writer Dan O'Bannon under the bus, saying his original draft was terrible and nothing but a ripoff of 1950s sci-fi. As Giler put it, "It wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that Dan O'Bannon stole the idea." The fact that the final version—the one Giler claims was written mostly by himself and others not named O'Bannon—is almost It, beat-for-beat, is probably just a total coincidence, right?

Star Wars / The Hidden Fortress

It's no secret George Lucas didn't create Star Wars out of thin air—he's worn his sci-fi and samurai influences on his sleeve from the start. Still, there's that, and then there's thievery, and it seems Lucas was extremely guilty of the latter.

As the BBC reports, Star Wars almost certainly wouldn't have existed without Akira Kurosawa's 1958 samurai epic The Hidden Fortress. Even Lucas himself admits as much—kind of. He's openly mentioned his love for the way Fortress told its story through the eyes of "the two lowest characters." For Fortress, that was two argumentative peasants, while in Star Wars, it was the droids C-3PO and R2-D2. If narrative style were all the two films had in common, that'd be one thing, but the Star Wars story as a whole is basically Fortress in space. There's a civil war brewing, a badass fighting princess that needs escorting back to safety, a fat Jabba-esque slave driver, and a disfigured villain who sees the light at the end. Fortress even features the horizontal scene-wipes that Star Wars made famous. Basically, the only real differences are that the lowly peasants in Fortress are in it for the money, and Kurosawa never thought up anyone as annoying as Jar-Jar.

Even the post-Lucas Star Wars owe a hand to Fortress: Rey's staff looks a lot like the ones used by Fortress's generals, and her fighting stances look like theirs as well. That, however, seems more like an homage than "suspiciously heavy lifting."

A Fistful of Dollars / Yojimbo

George Lucas isn't the only filmmaker to steal from Akira Kurosawa, but he can thank his lucky stars that he wasn't one of the people Kurasawa sued for theft. Sergio Leone, director of A Fistful of Dollars, wasn't quite so fortunate.

1964's Dollars, as explained by LA Weekly, was almost a total remake of Kurosawa's 1961 samurai classic Yojimbo. Both featured the exact same story: a quiet loner comes to a small town where two gangs are fighting for control, he casts himself as a double agent working for both sides, he winds up killing basically everyone, and then he rides off with a fabulous cash reward. Both  also took the same approach to the Western genre—making it gritty and dark, turning the good guys into slightly nicer bad guys, and utilizing multiple close-ups of the characters' faces to up the intensity. The quiet loner goes without a name in both, too. So you can see why Kurosawa saw red when he saw Dollars, saying, "It is a very fine film, but it is MY film."

Kurosawa didn't just see red, though; he saw green. According to Side B Magazine, he sued Leone for plagiarism, and eventually won because there was no way he couldn't. Leone wound up paying Kurosawa 15 percent of Fistful's royalties, plus a cool $100,000. Unlike his movie's hero, Kurosawa didn't need to kill anyone to earn a fistful (or rather, a truckload) of dollars—he simply had to make a film so good Hollywood couldn't help but pilfer.

Hunger Games / Battle Royale

The Hunger Games is a legitimate cultural phenomenon, but it only got that way by lifting its central premise from another film, then sanitizing it for your protection.

As the New Yorker points out, Hunger Games owes its entire existence to the 2000 Japanese movie Battle Royale—both feature a dystopian society where children are drafted into fighting each other to the death for the amusement of older, more powerful rulers. But Hunger Games takes that concept and somehow makes it as nonviolent and PG-13 as possible, whereas Battle Royale reveled in the violence. The kids in Hunger don't really want to fight but do so anyway, where in Battle they relish the chance. Any kid who speaks up against the violence is killed almost immediately, with their murderers loudly and proudly announcing their deaths to all the others, as both a proclamation and a warning. And where Hunger competitors like Katniss get weapons they know how to use, the kids in Battle get randomly selected weapons that sometimes aren't even weapons at all. One, for example, gets nothing but binoculars, which would only work if you were in a bird-watching competition to the death.

In short, imagine rebooting The Dark Knight with Batman and Robin, and that's basically what it's like to go from Battle Royale to the Hunger Games. You're likely to have a better movie night with the former, unless you really hate violence and really love Jennifer Lawrence.

Cars / Doc Hollywood

Pixar movies are famous for their quality. Even their weaker offerings, like Cars, are fun and watchable. But there's a major flaw with Cars, and it's not Larry the Cable Guy (for once). Rather, it's that the film's plot, quite simply, isn't its own.

For those without kids, or who only watch Pixar movies that summon the onion-chopping ninjas, Cars is the story of an arrogant race car who crashes in a small town, is sentenced to community service, befriends everyone and has a change of heart (change of engine?), falls in love, and eventually decides to live there permanently. As the Guardian mentions, this is almost exactly the story of Doc Hollywood, the 1991 movie where Michael J. Fox plays an arrogant city doctor who crashes in a small town, is sentenced to community service, befriends everyone and has a change of heart, falls in love, and eventually decides to live permanently in the small town. Yes, we just copied the plot. But so did Pixar.

Reviewers noticed too, with the Associated Press outright saying, "It just rips off Doc Hollywood, almost note for note." The makers of Doc never bothered to sue Pixar, it seems, which was awfully noble of them. It turned out to be unnecessary, too, as the humiliation of having made Cars 2 was punishment enough.

Disturbia / Rear Window

2007's Disturbia is about a kid stuck in his room, who passes the time by watching his neighbors from afar. He begins to suspect one is a murderer, and it turns out he's right. Meanwhile, 1954's Rear Window is about a grown man stuck in his room, who passes the time by watching his neighbors from afar. He begins to suspect one is a murderer, and it turns out he's right. Does that sound like the exact same movie to you? It probably does—which makes it downright baffling that, in the eyes of the legal system, it isn't.

As Reuters recapped, in 2008 the Sheldon Abend Revocable Trust, which owns the rights to the 1942 short story Rear Window, sued the makers of Disturbia, claiming they remade the story without clearing it. Whereas Alfred Hitchcock had received, permission to make his movie version, Disturbia had not, despite clearly making almost the exact same movie. And yet the court disagreed, ruling that Disturbia was, somehow, an original film. As the presiding judge explained, "The main plots are similar only at a high, unprotectable level of generality…Where Disturbia is rife with sub-plots, the short story has none. The setting and mood of the short story are static and tense, whereas the setting and mood of Disturbia are more dynamic and peppered with humor and teen romance." With all due respect to the courts, that sounds less like a legal ruling and more like an official Disturbia press release.

Lockout / Escape From New York

Usually, when a filmmaker steals from another movie, they pick something relatively obscure, so the theft isn't immediately obvious. Luc Besson went the opposite route when filming 2012's Lockout, choosing as his target the 1981 classic Escape From New York.

In Escape, Kurt Russell plays a convict who enters a post-apocalyptic New York City, now a giant prison controlled by the inmates, to rescue the president. In Lockout, Guy Pearce plays a convict who travels to a space station, now a giant prison controlled by the inmates, to free the president's daughter. You can see why Escape's director, John Carpenter, decided to sue Besson for $2.4 million. Plagiarism can be a mighty expensive hobby.

As The Guardian reports, the judge initially awarded Carpenter 80,000 Euros (roughly $100,000), but Lesson appealed, claiming the judgment infringed on his "artistic freedom" and that Carpenter was guilty of copying movies like Mad Max. This approach failed miserably, as the appeals court increased the ruling to 450,000 Euros (over $530,000). They decided Besson stole tons of details from Carpenter, writing in their judgment, "[The heroes both] got into the prison by flying in a glider/space shuttle, had to confront inmates led by a chief with a strange right arm, found hugely important briefcases and meet a former sidekick who then dies…And at the end [both heroes] keep secret documents recovered during their mission." In short, if you're seeking a masterclass on writing your own film, Escape From Being Locked Out isn't it.

Reservoir Dogs / City on Fire

Here's an example of a clear ripoff—Quentin Tarantino's 1992 breakthrough Reservoir Dogs—that objectively improved the original—Ringo Lam's 1987 film City on Fire—in virtually every way.

Tarantino didn't steal City note-for-note, but rather copied the basic plot plus several scenes. Both films are about criminals planning (and blowing) a major heist, and one of them winds up being an undercover cop. As the Baltimore Sun pointed out, Tarantino swiped several scenes, including the famous "Mexican standoff" where two criminals and the officer form a triangle and point guns at each other. Other scenes include a man with two guns shooting cops through a windshield, men in black suits walking through a city, and the robber learning the undercover cop's identity. What's more, Tarantino admits this lifting outright, telling the Sun "[City's] a really cool movie. It influenced me a lot. I got some stuff from it." Say what you want about Tarantino, but at least he's honest.

But, as IndieWire points out, the rest of Reservoir is pure Tarantino, arguing the writer-director "laces Lam's basic plot with his penchant for Snap! Crackle! Pop! culture references and impeccable sense of rhythm." Visually, the two are nothing alike, and both take extremely different cultural tones (City is very much a Chinese film, whereas Reservoir is purely American). Perhaps most importantly, Reservoir took City, which was less a film than a series of awesomely violent action-crime moments, and gave its story the cohesiveness and clarity it deserved.

Lion King / Kimba the White Lion

Initially, The Lion King seemed as original as anything that was basically Animal Hamlet could hope to be. But as it turned out, Disney might well have swiped the whole thing from a 1950s Japanese manga (turned '60s anime) Kimba the White Lion.

As the Los Angeles Times reported, Lion King shares almost too much with Kimba to be a coincidence. Both include supporting characters like a wacky bird buddy, a wise old baboon, and crazy hyenas. If that's not enough, during initial animation drafts Simba had white fur. As you almost certainly grasped from Kimba's title, Kimba did too.

The films' main plots differ enough, but certain scenes appear in both. Remember when Mufasa's ghost appears in the clouds to give Simba life advice? That came from Kimba. Also, at one point in Kimba an evil lion named Claw assumes the throne when Kimba's away. Oh, and Claw has a scar around his eye. Sound familiar? Then there are the opening scenes in both, when Simba and Kimba both stand on rocks, overseeing their future kingdoms. Clearly, it's not just that their names rhyme.

The makers of Kimba have declined to take action, and instead have praised Disney, saying "Our company's general opinion is The Lion King is a totally different piece from [Kimba] and is an original work completed by [Disney's] long-lasting excellent production technique." We're sure that only sounds like a company desperate to not get eaten alive in a courtroom by high-priced Disney lawyers.

The Island / Parts: The Clonus Horror

Michael Bay's 2005 sci-fi action thriller The Island attracted the wrong kind of attention: namely, from the people behind 1979's Parts: The Clonus Horror, who sued him for stealing their movie.

Both movies concerned a secret colony of human clones, secretly harvested for body parts. What's more, both have hero clones discovering what's happening and invading southern California to shut down the program and expose the people behind it. Neither lit the box office on fire, but Clonus had the excuse of being an indie flick bad enough to get roasted on MST3K. Island, meanwhile, was a $120 million Bay epic. One person who did see it, however, was Robert Fiveson, producer of Clonus. He noticed Island's trailer made it seem an awful lot like his movie, so he went to check it out and found, as he claimed in his lawsuit, over 90 cases of overlap. 

As he told Variety, "It's beyond the premise. It's specific characterizations, it's specific lines, shot compositions and sequencing." At the same time, he admits he liked the movie, saying "this is the way [Clonus] should have been done." That didn't stop him from suing for copyright infringement, because even "good" plagiarism is still plagiarism.

Suing was apparently the right idea, as Bay settled out of court, reportedly for seven figures, according to Bob Sullivan, a Clonus screenwriter. Though compared to the eight figures Island lost at the box office, seven's not so bad.