Hollywood has never been mistaken as a place where ideas are born. Most every major film or TV series has its basis in some other work. Classic films like The Godfather and Jaws are based on novels. Then, of course, you have the recent emergence of superhero films that are always based on some other existing property. And let’s not forget the endless number of reboots and remakes of older films and TV series. However, there’s also a problem of Hollywood taking inspiration and premises from other mediums without giving them proper recognition. That’s right, many times filmmakers and producers just directly rip-off comic books for their own “original” works.
Rip-offs come in all different shapes and sizes, some of which from the most unlikely sources. Films by incredible directors like Christopher Nolan and Darren Aronofsky steal directly from manga. There are studios that don’t own the rights to certain characters, so they change a couple things about the premise and call it brand new. This list also features a special entry from one company who rips-off their own property because they don’t own the rights to it completely. This list is full of entries showing that even the most beloved films and television series owe a lot to sources you might not realize!
15 THE MATRIX
Remember the iconic “Whoa” scene from The Matrix? Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, watches as Morpheus jumps from tall building to tall building, apparently breaking all known laws of physics. Well, sorry to say, but that’s just one of many elements that The Wachowskis “borrowed” from Grant Morrison’s incredible series The Invisibles.
The Invisibles is a story about a group of people who fight against the establishment hell bent on creating a reality that is nothing more than an illusion. Sounds familiar, yeah? The Invisibles also features a scene where their bald leader is being tortured by a bad guy dressed as a government official. There are multiple scenes from the comic series almost directly lifted for the film. While the Wachowskis have never fully admitted to The Invisibles influence, writer Morrison said in an interview, “I was told by people on the set that Invisibles books were passed around for visual reference.”
14 ONCE UPON A TIME
Sometimes a great idea is just too good to pass up. That’s the case with Bill Willingham’s Vertigo series, Fables. Telling the story of various characters from fairy tales coming together to form their own secret community away from regular humanity, Fables is one of the best series of the new millennium, built on the back of a really fun premise.
Once Upon a Time is a series about characters from fairy tales that live in a secret society away from regular humanity... oh wait. Yes, from the basic premise, both series went in very different directions, but the fact remains – Fables did it first. Now, before people start claiming that the premise is a tried and true idea that has been around for ages, there’s another damning piece of evidence. Well before Once Upon a Time hit TV screens, ABC tried to work out a deal for a series based on -- wait for it -- Fables. It looks like someone over at the network just couldn’t shake the idea and decided to move forward without the Fables brand.
Christopher Nolan’s Inception was hailed as a triumph of originality when it was released in 2010. Using the backdrop of a group of people that are hired to infiltrate dreams for information, the film showcased some incredible visuals that wowed audiences and led to a large box office gross. What you probably don’t know about Inception, is that it was likely based on a story from a Novel/Manga/Anime called Paprika.
Paprika is also about entering a subject’s dream to extract information. But as if that information wasn’t enough to show that Nolan was clearly “influenced” by the work, the visuals seen in the manga and anime are all over Nolan’s film. Most famously, there’s a hallway scene in the Paprika anime that has a clear similarity to the iconic hallway scene from Inception featuring Joseph Gordon Levitt. Inception is definitely a fun action film with amazing visual effects, but wholly original, it is not.
12 PENNY DREADFUL
Taking famous literary characters from public domain novels and forming a sort of Justice League seems like a great idea. It was such a good idea that comic book legend Alan Moore did just that and created one of his greatest works, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The series was critically acclaimed from its early publication, and inspired a very terrible 2003 film of the same name
In 2014, Showtime liked Alan Moore’s book so much that they created a show based on the concept, but instead of calling it League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, they called it Penny Dreadful and didn’t credit Alan Moore at all. All kidding aside, it’s obvious that Moore’s book was the clear inspiration for Dreadful. Yes, they used different characters, but the archetypes and overall concept is definitely The League. What’s interesting is that because of the popularity of Penny Dreadful, there are rumblings that there might be a League reboot soon, and sadly, most people might just see it as the rip-off.
11 BLACK SWAN
It’s not uncommon for a filmmaker to deny that his or her film is in anyway influenced by another work. Darren Aronofsky is one of these filmmakers. This is evidenced by two of his greatest works, Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan. These films are clearly heavily influenced by manga/anime Perfect Blue, with Swan being almost a complete remake. Even after Aronofsky tried to deny that claim, the evidence is startling.
First, Aronofsky has owned the rights to Perfect Blue for years. He also has admitted that Black Swan and Perfect Blue have “similarities” but Swan is not “influenced” by Perfect Blue. Yeah, okay. There are videos all over showing the shot-for-shot copying that Aronofsky has used. But hey, maybe it’s a common premise to have a young girl leave her career for a new artistic venture, then go crazy from the stress, imagine a doppelganger and then fight said doppelganger, resulting in getting stabbed with glass?
Back before director Sam Raimi created two Spider-Man films (we have no knowledge of a third), he had another superhero film series he created called Darkman. Darkman told the story of a scientist who was badly disfigured in an accident and utilized masks and his ability to mimic others to fight crime. It’s not a great film, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a fun showcase of Raimi’s love of superheroes mixed with some of his darker sensibilities. But Darkman was pretty much a rip-off.
Raimi was initially hoping to produce a film based on either Batman or The Shadow. After losing bidding wars for those rights, he took a dash of Batman and combined it with a heaping helping of The Shadow to birth Darkman. With his powers limited to night, like Batman, Darkman wore a face cover, fedora and a long coat, like The Shadow, to battle evildoers. Raimi has also commented many times that Darkman is heavily influenced by The Shadow, in particular.
9 THE TOXIC AVENGER
No one is going to claim that The Toxic Avenger is a work of art. It’s trash, through and through, but delightfully so -- it was never claiming to be anything better than ridiculous superhero schlock. And because of this lack of pretension, Lloyd Kaufman and the rest of the amazing gang at Troma created a character that is so obviously influenced by a variety of superheroes.
A nerdy 98-pound weakling, picked on by bullies, is working as a janitor when he falls into a barrel of radioactive waste, where he becomes the superhero The Toxic Avenger and fights crime with extreme violence. Where have we ever seen radioactive material that has turned ac normal, nerdy kid into a superhero? None other than Peter Parker, obviously! Clearly, The Toxic Avenger is a character that was created based on the popularity of Spider-Man, with the Troma wackiness thrown in for good measure.
8 SKY HIGH
Back in the early 2000s, superhero films like X-Men and Spider-Man were dominating theaters. Studios were chomping at the bit to get their own superhero franchises off the ground. But what do you do if you don’t own any major superhero properties to adapt? Well, obviously you steal ideas from popular films and make your own rip-off movie.
Sky High was Disney’s attempt to make an X-Men movie, but aimed a little more at kids. Featuring a school for gifted youngsters called Xavier’s Institute… err… Sky High, the film featured young teens learning how to use their powers from an older, wiser teacher while fighting a nefarious villain. It’s obvious that Disney was capitalizing on the early superhero fad and just stole large bits of the X-Men’s premise for their kids movie. The film wasn’t a huge success, even with the likes of Kurt Russell leading the way, and no sequels were made. Disney decided to just take the easy way out and buy all of Marvel.
7 NO ORDINARY FAMILY
You probably don’t remember this, but back in 2010, ABC had a live-action television series based on The Fantastic Four. Well, not officially based on Marvel’s First Family, but the series called No Ordinary Family did feature a family of four that all had superpowers and it starred The Thing himself!
Michael Chiklis, who played Ben Grimm in those divisive Fantastic Four films, starred as a dad who, along with the rest of his family, gained superpowers after their plane crashed in the Amazon. Sure, it’s no space shuttle going through radiation, but the concept is similar, for sure. Even though it was a clear attempt to make a low-budget adaptation of The Fantastic Four, the series wasn’t a complete mess. It had its moments. However, if you want amazing stories featuring a superhero family, there are decades of comics out there with the real deal.
6 MUTANT X
One of the weirdest cases of ripping off a popular comic for a Hollywood production is Mutant X. The syndicated TV series from 2001 is an example of a comic book company ripping off their own property for an adaptation. Without the rights to X-Men, Marvel was in a position where they wanted to develop more live-action content but didn’t have any way to use X-characters. The solution was simple. Take the concept of the X-Men, call it Mutant X and pretend that they’re not exactly the same.
Fox, who owns the rights to live-action X-Men adaptations, didn’t take too kindly to this rip-off and sued Marvel, claiming that Mutant X was a simple “X-Men replacement.” Clearly, Marvel was in the wrong, and both parties settled out of court. Oddly enough, the general public enjoyed Mutant X enough for the series to run a total of 66 episodes over three seasons.
Chronicle writer Max Landis doesn’t hide the fact that he loves comic books. He’s even written a few for DC and Image. So, it should come as no surprise that Chronicle owes a lot to works of manga and comics. While there are elements of classic superhero stories throughout the film, the biggest influence, visually and story-wise, comes from none other than Akira.
In the third act of Chronicle, when the main character, Andrew, is out of the hospital, he’s draped in bandages and wreaking havoc with his telekinetic abilities, very similar to the character Tetsuo from Akira. The endings of the two works are completely different, but it’s clear that director Josh Trank and Landis were trying to create their own Akira, complete with the iconic building-glass shattering sequence. While still technically a rip-off, Chronicle wears its influences like a badge of honor, and for that rises above many other rip-offs.
4 THE INCREDIBLES
Sometimes a rip-off just does it better than the original. Disney and Pixar’s The Incredibles is one of those instances. Created as a pretty shameless rip-off of Marvel’s The Fantastic Four, The Incredibles features a family with special abilities that protects their city from evil. The film was a major critical and financial success for Pixar, and viewed as the greatest Fantastic Four story to never be written.
But none of that changes the fact that The Incredibles was built on the back of one of Marvel’s most famous comic series. And because The Incredibles was released before Marvel became so mainstream, there’s probably a large population of people that have no idea that the film is a big rip-off. Worst of all, because Fox owns the movie rights to The Fantastic Four, there’s no chance we’ll get the dream crossover between the two properties.
3 STRANGER THINGS
Let’s be real, Stranger Things is pretty much the text book example of ripping off popular films, TV series and comics. Almost every aspect to the series is based on another pop culture fandom. However, while everyone tends to focus on the obvious ‘80s influences, there’s a clear connection to a manga series that no one talks about – Akira.
If you look at it on paper, Eleven is basically Tetsuo. Both are young people with growing telekinetic powers that escape from government-run labs that are attempting to use their abilities for bad reasons. Eleven also is seen in the early parts of the series in lab clothing, similar to the iconic Tetsuo look. It’s obvious that the reason we tend to not notice this connection is just how it’s drowned out by all the other much more obvious influences.
If you’re going to rip-off comics, you might as well rip-off from the best. That’s the idea behind NBC’s popular series from the mid-2000s, Heroes. The premise of the show is that after an eclipse, people from all around the world discover they have supernatural powers. Then, they must come together to stop the end of the world, while another powered individual is hunting them down and killing them.
Sounds a lot like Watchmen, right? But there’s another influence that’s even more startling. J. Michael Straczynski released a series called Rising Stars in the early-2000s that shares an alarming amount of similarities to Heroes. People are born with powers after a mysterious light in the sky appears. They grow up as people called “Specials.” The story focuses on the mystery of who is murdering Specials, trying to gain their power. While Rising Stars can also be seen as borrowing from Watchmen, Heroes clearly takes from both.
1 THE TOMORROW PEOPLE
The Tomorrow People is the name of a British series that was recently remade in the US on the CW. The premise might sound a little familiar. The titular People are humans that are the next stage in evolution, dubbed “homo superior.” During adolescence, they “break out” and develop superhuman psionic abilities. The series follows these young people as they are on the run from a group that hates and fears them. Yep, that’s basically X-Men.
You can’t blame The Tomorrow People from ripping off X-Men. It’s a great premise, and until very recently, there haven’t been very many attempts to bring the X-Men to television screens. Plus, you can pretend that The Tomorrow People is just a remake of a British show. But then again, that series premiered in the early ‘70s, which was a full decade after the X-Men debuted in comics. So yeah, it’s just a big fat rip-off.