Creating new characters is hard. Not everyone has the luxury of the Mortal Kombat staff of taking an already popular ninja, changing his color and giving him a cool new name. As such, some creators get lazy and decide that all they need to do is take a character from their previous works, give them a new lick of paint, stick them into their new creation and hope no one notices. As this list proves, few people actually do.
10. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit became Mickey Mouse
What do you get when you take Mickey Mouse’s ears and stretch them out like sausages? You get Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney’s first major character and a massive success at the box office. Walt was surprised to hear that he was going to get a 20% pay cut instead of the massive raise he was expecting for creating such a big money franchise, and not being one to take such a slight lightly he altered the design of the character to turn him from a rabbit into a mouse. This new Mickey Mouse character was wholly his, and he used it to create the juggernaut that’s behind all of your favorite superhero movies and Star Wars decisions today.
Oswald has since reappeared several times, most prominently in the Epic Mickey games where he wants to supplant Mickey’s place as the big Disney character out of spite for losing that position so long ago. In the sequel he became a playable character, and finally took his place as the hero he was always meant to be.
9. Victor became Léon
Léon the Professional was the movie that made Jean Reno a worldwide star. He played the titular soft-spoken assassin who develops a father/daughter relationship with the orphaned Natalie Portman, gives her some parental murdering lessons, and ultimately sacrifices his life to save hers. A version of the character first appeared in the movie La Femme Nikita, here named Victor and also played by Jean Reno… as a soft-spoken assassin who develops a brief parental relationship with the film’s title character.
This connection was cemented when director Luc Besson admitted that Léon was “an American cousin of the character Victor.” In fact, Léon the Professional came about because Jean Reno contacted Besson to write a film further developing the Victor character. Besson liked the script so much he decided to direct it, and set it in the United States to give the film international appeal. This new location forced the character to be changed to Léon despite the fact that they’re essentially the same guy.
8. David Hollins became Dave Lister
Before they had a massive hit with the now 20 year running comedy program Red Dwarf, show creators Rob Grant and Doug Naylor were trying to come up with a pitch for a new TV show after a successful run of writing for comedy shows such as Spitting Image and Carrott’s Lib. They decided to retool a sketch from their old radio show Son of Cliché called “David Hollins: Space Cadet,” a sketch with a near-identical premise to that of Red Dwarf — both are about men trapped on a spaceship with only their computer to talk to.
They were forced to change the name of the protagonist to David Lister, due to a soccer player of the time having the same name. The character was also changed from having a posh, upper class tone to a lower class Liverpool accent due to the strength of actor Craig Charles’ performance, but the character otherwise remained the same. Many of the plot elements that would show up on Red Dwarf originated on “David Hollins,” such as the villainous shape shifting creature the Polymorph and the sentient computer Heb (who became Holly in Red Dwarf).
7. The Wheel Stealer became The Cookie Monster
Before Sesame Street, Jim Henson’s Muppets were known for their appearances in food commercials. The Cookie Monster started out as a creature named The Wheel Stealer, with the wheels in question being the name of a cheesy chip snack. Despite the work that had went into them, this particular commercial wasn’t picked up by the ad agency. It took the creation of a small media empire to give the gluttonous blue beast his chance to shine in the spotlight.
6. Meryl Silverburgh became Meryl Silverburgh
In what’s certainly the laziest entry on the list, Hideo Kojima straight up took a character from his obscure game Policenauts and slotted her into the famous Metal Gear Solid series. Policenauts is a futuristic detective story set in a time when mankind has begun colonizing other worlds, while the Metal Gear games are mostly Cold War spy thrillers. The major difference between the two characters is that the Metal Gear version of Meryl was a rookie soldier thrust into battle for the first time, while the Policenauts version was a cynical veteran of many missions.
5. Giygas became Mewtwo
In the cult classic video game Earthbound, Giygas is a screaming, H.P. Lovecraft style, red skull horror of a final boss. But in the first game in the Mother series, released only in Japan, the all-powerful alien looks like a grey cat floating in a jar. It’s creepy, but not the terrifying final battle you were expecting.
The creators of the Mother series would go on to become famous as the developers of the Pokémon games. As such there are similarities between the two series, the most notable of which is the striking resemblance between Giygas and Mewtwo, the final boss of the first Pokémon games. Both are bizarre grey cat creatures with a long bulbous tail and shriveled appendages, both have tremendous psychic powers, both despise humans and both are the most difficult opponents of their respective titles.
4. Reno became Axel
Final Fantasy VII has a villain who’s managed to overshadow the entire series with his popularity, that being the silver haired, main character murdering Sephiroth. But the game’s secondary villains have achieved cult acclaim, especially Reno — the smooth talking, Reservoir Dogs cosplaying secret agent who works for the corrupt Shinra Corporation by doing all their dirty work in the shadows.
Game creator Tetsuya Nomura decided that when the Kingdom Hearts series came along he wanted Reno to take part in the proceedings. However, despite having access to the character, for whatever reason he chose to make a facsimile instead. In a staggering display of originality, Nomura gave the new character, Axel, the same spiky red hair, long black robes and silly, over the top weapon as Reno. They even share the same voice actor, which makes us wonder what the point of declaring him to be a new character was.
3. Judge Dredd became Punisher 2099
In 1992, Marvel Comics created a mini-series set in the year 2099. The series had new versions of classic characters such as Spider-Man, except they now lived in a dystopian future. One of the comics that came from this was Punisher 2099, created by Patt Mills and Tony Skinner. Mills is also credited with the creation of Judge Dredd, to which Punisher 2099 bears a more than strong resemblance.
The character in question, Jake Gallows (subtle), finds the journal of the original Punisher and decides to take up the mantle. He does this in the manner of every other comic character from the 1990s — by strapping on lots of belts, shoulder pads and massive guns. With this ridiculous costume, he goes out and massacres criminals whilst shouting expletives. The 2099 Punisher ends up becoming the chief law enforcer under Dr. Doom, and begins the transformation of the United States into a police state under his control. That’s suspiciously similar to the Mega City One concept of Judge Dredd fame. There’s even a storyline involving Punisher 2099 trying to stop illegal hover-board racing, which mirrors one of the most famous Dredd storylines.
2. Mister Anderson became Hank Hill
Mike Judge got a bad deal on the original Beavis and Butthead, as he got almost no money from the show. He did, however, use the show’s success to get in the door with other networks. With the success of MTV’s Daria spin-off, Judge decided to try his hand at giving another Beavis and Butthead character their own show. In this case, the character in question was Tom Anderson.
King of the Hill’s Hank Hill was originally a facsimile of Beavis and Butthead’s neighbor, only with a sharper design and more personality. He pitched the idea to Fox as Tom moving back to his native Texas, but while Fox liked the idea they rejected the spin-off aspect. King of the Hill became its own separate show, with Mr. Anderson being removed entirely. The two characters have essentially the same voice and a similar personality, but Hank was given an entirely new group of cast members to play off of.
1. Questor became Data
Data, one of the most popular characters in Star Trek: The Next Generation, is an android who wishes to learn more about humanity despite lacking the capacity to feel emotions. He spends the entirety of seven seasons and four movies trying to discover what it means to be human. It’s a shame he never starred in any TV movies, as he might have accomplished his goal in under two hours like in the 1974 Gene Roddenberry flick The Questor Tapes, a movie about an android who also wants to emulate humans despite lacking the capacity to feel emotions.
The titular Questor is almost identical to Data in terms of characterization, speech and demeanor. The main difference is the setting — whereas Data had the tolerant and understanding futuristic Federation as his backdrop, Questor had a 1970s America filled with bigotry, people who had never met an android before, and jerks who were always trying to capture him.
The similarities don’t stop there, as Roddenberry took scenes and situations from The Questor Tapes and plugged them straight into Star Trek. For example, a scene where Questor is playing craps in a casino, senses that the dice are weighted, and compensates for this when he throws also appears in the Next Generation episode The Royale. One of the most famous scenes involving Data features him being seduced by a drunken Tasha Yar, where she asks Data if he’s fully functional in the bedroom. This scene and its famous line are taken from The Questor Tapes where Questor unsuccessfully propositions a woman, with the studio executives feeling that a woman having sex with a machine was unacceptable.
At the end of the film Questor discovers his elderly creator who bestows on him emotions, just like the Brothers episode of Next Gen. Roddenberry hoped the movie would lead to a series, but it wasn’t meant to be. When Star Trek: The Next Generation came about Questor was reworked as Data, and the rest is nerd history.
Scott Elizabeth Baird can be found defending Highlander 2 on Twitter.