The science-fiction genre has expanded and evolved over the centuries since the days of Mary Shelley, spreading and fanning out like the tendrils of a Lovecraftian monster. Sci-Fi films and TV shows, in particular, have all amassed a colossal fanbase, spreading across the globe, uniting a world of fans. But as with every genre, there is always overlap with some titles, themes, motifs, and basic plot elements in various entries. What might have originated in Star Trek could have been improved in Star Wars, and vice versa. Some films and shows have established themselves as tributes to the genre, but others are merely cheap imitations of better works. Just like with fantasy, horror, or any other genre, you have your masterpieces, as well as your complete and utter shlock-fests.
Sci-Fi films and TV give and take from each other on a regular basis; though something might be used in multiple titles, such as a laser-gun or artificial intelligence, instances like that do not warrant the similarity. What does constitute a ripoff/tribute is the frequent usage of imagery, tropes, or plot devices shared between different canons. That’s what we’re getting into today. Which films and shows are shining examples of a sci-fi tribute, and which ones are blatant copycats? Strap on your goggles, set phasers to stun, and may the force be with you as we take a look at some of these similar sets of science fiction.
15. BATTLESHIP (RIPPED OFF INDEPENDENCE DAY)
Let’s face it, Battleship was just another failed attempt at bringing a game to the silver screen. Sure, a board game adaptation is sort of a rarity, but it was a blatant copy of Independence Day. Think about it: it’s about a group of trained officers going into the oceans to fight monstrous beings. With a stereotypical action-movie plot and an uninspired alien design, it’s no wonder it sunk.
This is one of those movies that isn’t gut-wrenchingly awful, but you know you could be watching a better sea-warring film. It’s not that the battles aren’t cool looking, it’s just not as good as its inspiration. Stay tuned, readers, Battleship isn’t the only one of its kind here.
14. STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE (RIPPED OFF 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY)
Admit it, Star Trek was not a name you thought you’d see on the ripoff list. But yes, it’s sad but true, Star Trek: The Motion Picture notoriously borrowed from 2001: A Space Odyssey. From the classical soundtrack to the similarities between V’Ger and HAL, it’s all rather suspicious. To some, this was just a coincidence, to seasoned fans of the genre, it’s downright jarring.
The similarities between the two films are so uncanny we’re very surprised that Robert Wise didn’t receive a rather unpleasant phone call from Stanley Kubrick. Perhaps this was the series’ attempt at trying to be more serious, but we’re unsure if this was the right way to do it. It’s a comparison that warrants a very lengthy discussion among fans.
13. MAKING CONTACT (RIPPED OFF POLTERGEIST)
Known as Joey outside the US, Making Contact was a strange mess of a film that simply tried to do too many things at once. Part coming of age film, part fantasy, part supernatural-horror, it was just a mixed bag of odds and ends. It involves a family dealing with a supernatural entity, a child who has psychic abilities, and one very creepy doll.
That sounds a great deal like another certain supernatural horror film, doesn’t it? Where Poltergeist dealt with a Native American burial ground, Making Contact dealt with a demon-possessed dummy and the ghost of a ventriloquist. It’s all very familiar, but still a bit convoluted in the mass of ’80s culture. In the end, it’s a confusing film, but worth a watch.
12. SUPER 8 (TRIBUTE TO CLOSE ENCOUNTERS)
What is it with Stephen Spielberg and aliens? Directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Spielberg, Super 8 is basically a darker, sci-fi-thriller version of Close Encounters having to do with aliens, flying saucers, government agents, and a small town smack in the middle of it all.
The film has several markings of a Spielberg classic, bringing to mind notes of E.T. and The Goonies. A strange event happens in a small town, nobody believes the witness(es), then the monster is revealed and everyone’s a believer. Super 8 is a modern monster movie with the thrills of an ’80s adventure. It’s a common trope, but one Speilberg does incredibly well.
11. DRACULA 3000 (RIPPED OFF ALIEN)
Like many horror movie maniacs, Dracula has been remade and reimagined at least a hundred times over. There have been some great and imaginative adaptations, but this film unfortunately is not one of them. Dracula 3000 is what happens when you mix Ridley Scott’s Alien with Nosferatu, and it makes a goofy B-movie mess.
If you take the base plot of Alien and replace the Xenomorphs with Langley Kirkwood’s cheesy interpretation of the count, you get Dracula 3000. A vampire in space should be a scary creature from another world, not something that looks like he came from the Halloween section at Walmart. Simply put, it’s sci-fi schlock.
10. EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (TRIBUTE TO FRANKENSTEIN)
What would the film world be like without the wonderfully weird mind of Tim Burton? Known for films like Beetlejuice and Batman, the director gave us a more fairytale version of Frankenstein’s monster in the 1990 film, Edward Scissorhands. A warm-hearted tribute to classic creature features, the film continues to be loved by viewers and is often considered one of the director’s best works.
Inspired by many misunderstood monsters, the film pays homage to classic films like Frankenstein and The Hunchback of Notre Dame by putting a more soft-spoken spin on monster motifs. Yes, there’s a spooky mansion, a laboratory, and an outcast looking to be loved, but Burton gives this creature new life in his fantastical reimagining.
9. EVENT HORIZON (RIPPED OFF GALAXY OF TERROR)
Yet another ripoff with a scary creature aboard a spaceship, Event Horizon might scream Alien at first, but there is another film that could be this one’s double. Roger Corman, famous for his over-the-top horror films in the ’60s, had his own sci-fi screamer called Galaxy of Terror, which also features a ship, a crew, and a demonic entity. That sure sounds familiar to us.
Both films have abandoned spacecraft, an uneasy crew that gets picked off one by one, and an evil creature that grants them insidious endings. The difference between the two is simply Event Horizon’s gore factor. Both films are considered cult classics today, but only one features horror icons, Robert Englund and Sid Haig, duking it out with a malevolent space demon.
8. PACIFIC RIM (TRIBUTE TO GODZILLA AND OTHER KAIJU FILMS)
If there’s one man who knows how to do monster movies right, it’s Guillermo del Toro. Pacific Rim was his action-packed tribute to the kaiju films of yesteryear, and he hit it out of the park. Seeing gigantic mechs go toe to clawed-toe with horrifying monsters from the depths of the ocean was definitely blockbuster material.
Pacific Rim just makes all the right moves for the perfect creature feature. The designs of both the Kaiju and the Jaegers are truly something only the master of monsters could cook up, the fight scenes are hard-hitting and heavy, and the premise of the film is enticing and thrilling. It’s practically a perfect kaiju film, goofy English-dub not required.
7. MUNCHIES (RIPOFF OF GREMLINS)
Joe Dante’s mini-monsterpiece, Gremlins, spawned an entire genre of films based around tiny terrors. From Ghoulies to The Gate, there are loads of miniature monsters, dinky demons, and other creepy crawlies inspired by Gizmo and his green-skinned… siblings? Children? We’re not sure what’s going on there. In any case, most Gremlin copies are hit and miss, but there’s one in the batch that screams knock-off.
Munchies is basically the poor man’s Gremlins. It’s a basic B-movie about reanimated aliens that start out cute and cuddly but turn into terrors when they become enraged. Essentially a cheaper, somewhat sleazier version of the Dante film, Munchies is a movie that definitely makes us lose our appetites.
6. EARTH TO ECHO (TRIBUTE TO *BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED)
Earth to Echo is another coming-of-age alien movie in the vein of E.T., but instead of a wide-eyed alien, it’s a tiny robot-like life form trying to make it home. It’s the basic kids and alien vs. opposing authority figure(s) type of plot; harmless but not the most original. It’s in its alien creature where the film gets its true identity.
Echo himself takes clear inspiration from *Batteries Not Included, a similar film about robotic lifeforms falling to earth from beyond the stars. His cute design, big glowing eyes, and chirpy voice are extremely similar to the robotic family from the aforementioned film. Could Echo possibly be a reference to these prototypes? We’ll let you be the judge.
5. A.I. (RIPPED OFF BICENTENNIAL MAN)
A.I. was the final project of film legend, Stanley Kubrick. It was a strange but wonderful collaboration between Kubrick and Stephen Spielberg and soon found its own enthusiastic fans. Though the film is mostly inspired by Brian Aldiss’ story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long,” there are definitely some certain ties between this film and another robot wishing to be human.
Bicentennial Man tells the story of an eccentric android and his quest to become human. Much like David’s journey to become real in A.I., Andrew’s wish to understand and achieve humanity is remarkably similar, even down to the Pinocchio-based plot. Truth be told, A.I. is a bigger version of the same film, just with a smaller dose of Robin Williams.
4. STRANGER THINGS (TRIBUTE TO POLTERGEIST AND OTHERS)
Take if you take the best parts of ’80s classics like Alien, Poltergeist, The Goonies, and Stand By Me, and throw them all in a blender, you get a delicious smoothie of Stranger Things. Putting the ’80s nostalgia aside, the Netflix Original Series has all the makings of a sci-fi classic. From the geeky kids and their telekinetic friend to the horrific monsters from another dimension, the show is otherworldly gold.
Stranger Things is the ideal balance of sci-fi, horror, and coming-of-age comedy, a perfect blend to suit any fan. The characters are distinct, the scares are genuine, and the story is compelling to keep us wanting more. No matter what turns the town upside down, we’re always ready for a trip to Hawkins.
3. READY PLAYER ONE (TRIBUTE TO TRON)
Based on the book by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One is the ultimate tribute to nerd culture. It’s nearly notorious for taking boatloads imagery and characters from many pieces of ’80s and ’90s media. It’s an entertaining film, but it certainly takes a lot from another ’80s video game film.
Tron definitely had a heavy influence on the concept and design for the OASIS. The iconic light-cycle even made it in as a vehicle seen on the death-race for the first Easter Egg. It’s not quite the Game Grid, but certainly a mix of familiar venues, from the Disney cult classic. All that’s missing is a cameo from Jeff Bridges.
2. STARCHASER (RIPPED OFF STAR WARS)
There are plenty of films that have tried to recreate the magic that the Star Wars franchise brought to the sci-fi game. Some met with lukewarm success, others faded into the dark side. Then we have Starchaser, an animated cult film that not only obscenely ripped off Star Wars, but sacrilegiously rips off Star Wars.
With animation that looks like rejected scraps by Ralph Bakshi and a watered-down space opera plot, Starchaser is an animated mess that should have been left in the ’80s. The acting is hokey, the designs can be cliche, and the characters are practically cookie-cutter versions of faces from the more popular series. The film has since gained a cult following, but we know a clone when we see one.
1. THE BLACK HOLE (RIPOFF AND TRIBUTE)
Both a ripoff and a tribute, how is that possible? Well, Walt Disney Pictures wanted to dip their toe into the sci-fi genre. The result: The Black Hole, a sci-fi thriller with incredible designs and concepts, but perhaps a little too ahead of its time.
The Black Hole obviously takes inspiration from Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey. If looked at as a film on its own, it’s a ripoff. However, if looked upon as a tribute to these films, it’s a blinding success. Simply put, it’s fun to point out winks and nods to other films seen in the designs, sets, and characters. Think of it as a sci-fi film homage to all sci-fi films, and it doesn’t need to be much more.
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