Luc Besson’s 2012 sort-of sci-fi action flick “Lockout” isn’t likely on anyone’s favorite movie list. It’s an enjoyable disaster, one of those bad films you watch just so you can try to create your own RiffTrax. The film starred Guy Pierce as a no-nonsense good guy-turned bad guy-turned good guy again who has to rescue the President’s daughter from a prison orbiting Earth.
One gentleman who wasn’t laughing after seeing the film, though, was John Carpenter. The legendary filmmaker thought the anti-hero-rescues-President’s-daughter-from-dangerous-inescapable-location plot line was a bit too similar to his classic “Escape from New York,” in which Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken character does just that. He sued production company EuropaCorp and screenwriters Besson, Stephen St. Leger, and James Mather for plagiarism, and as The Playlist reports (via Bleeding Cool), Carpenter actually won.
These types of intellectual theft cases are rarely given such decisive endings, but a French court has ruled in favor of Carpenter. In the ruling posted to Observatoire européen de l’audiovisuel, a judge said that differences between the “Escape” films, including the 1996 sequel “Escape from L.A.,” and “Lockout” could largely be chalked up to generational and technological developments between the production of the films. Besides that, however, the story’s are just too darned similar. The ruling read,
The court nevertheless noted many similarities between the two science-fiction films: both presented an athletic, rebellious and cynical hero sentenced to a period of isolated incarceration —despite his heroic past— who is given the offer of setting out to free the President of the United States or his daughter held hostage in exchange for his freedom; he manages, undetected, to get inside the place where the hostage is being held after a flight in a glider/space shuttle, and finds there a former associate who dies; he pulls off the mission in extremis, and at the end of the film keeps the secret documents recovered in the course of the mission.
Determining that “the difference in the location of the action and the more modern character featured in ‘Lock-Out’ was not enough to differentiate the two films,” the French court has ordered EuropaCorp to pay a grand total of about $90,792 to Carpenter ($22,698), the screenwriters ($5,674.50 each to Carpenter and Nick Castle), and the rights holder ($56,745). Those sums may seem minimal considering the magnitude of the case, but the ruling itself is incredibly significant. Borrowing ideas and themes from past works is a creative’s prerogative, but this case has essentially said there is a limit to how much homage you can pay before you really have to pay.
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