Cinema is truly an international art. Even in the days before the Internet, great films were shared between different countries and cultures. No country has left more of a mark on world cinema than the United States — for almost a century, Hollywood has been the world epicenter of movie-making. With a not-so-metaphorical army of screenwriters, actors, directors and producers, it seems unthinkable that Hollywood would ever have to rely on ripping off foreign movies in order to get material for their own films. But it’s happened, and we’ve got the 10 most egregious examples.
10. Alien (1979) and Planet of the Vampires (1965)
Ridley Scott’s Alien was a triumph of production design and simple yet effective atmospheric horror. The most famous influence on the film was surrealist artist H. R. Giger, who designed the titular Alien, the planetoid it was discovered on and the derelict spaceship where it runs rampant. But while Giger provided the look of the film, much of the plot can be found in a 1965 Italian horror film by Mario Bava entitled Planet of the Vampires. It follows the crew of a spaceship that crashes into a mysterious planet only to discover that they’re being hunted by a race of aliens known as the Aurans.
Much like Scott and Giger’s Alien, the Aurans pick off the survivors one by one while they try and figure out a way to escape. The antagonistic creatures in both films also use the slain crew-members as weapons: the Alien uses the crew of the Nostromo as gestation units for its offspring, and the Aurans possess and physically control the corpses of the dead astronauts. But the most telling similarity between the two films is an extended sequence in Planet of the Vampires where the protagonists investigate a decrepit crashed spaceship and discover the bones of a gigantic spacefaring race.
9. Reservoir Dogs (1992) and City on Fire (1987)
Whether it’s Jackie Brown and blaxploitation, Kill Bill Vol. 1-2 and martial arts films or Django Unchained and spaghetti Westerns, Quentin Tarantino has always been a director who wore his cinematic influences on his sleeve. His debut film, Reservoir Dogs, has a number of obvious influences from the film noir genre, particularly the heist-gone-wrong narrative blueprint of Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing and a scene where a police officer is tied to a chair and tortured in Joseph H. Lewis’ The Big Combo. But what many people might not realize is that Reservoir Dogs also takes several important plot points (such as the infamous Mexican standoff near the end) from a 1987 Hong Kong film entitled City on Fire. The resemblances between the two were so blatant that they inspired a 10 minute short film entitled Who Do You Think You’re Fooling? where clips and dialogue from the two movies were compared side-by-side, revealing downright eerie similarities.
8. The Lion King (1994) and Kimba the White Lion (1965 – 1966)
One of the crowning jewels of the Disney Renaissance, The Lion King was an epic animated musical equally inspired by William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the biblical story of Moses. However, savvy viewers noticed that the film seemed to have one other influence: Osamu Tezuka’s Kimba the White Lion, an animated television series that ran in Japan from 1965 to 1966.
The similarities appear to be more than just cosmetic. This site runs down some of the more obvious similarities, including what could be the single most infamous: in both franchises the dead father of the lion protagonist appears to them in the clouds and convinces them to overcome their fears and doubts to save their communities. Tellingly, Matthew Broderick, the voice actor for Simba, claimed that he was confused by the role because he had grown up watching Kimba and had assumed that Disney was making a straight-up remake. But in a move that surprised literally no one, Disney representatives have repeatedly claimed that any similarities between The Lion King and Kimba are purely coincidental.
7. Dark City (1998) and Akira (1988)
The Lion King would be far from the last time that Hollywood drew “inspiration” from Japanese anime. In the last ’90s, Hollywood would release two ground-breaking science fiction films that left anime fans scratching their heads. The first was Alex Proyas’ Dark City. Though not as popular or influential as the other film you’re probably thinking of (which we’ll get to shortly), Dark City has gained a reputation as a cult classic for its dark atmosphere, stunning plot twists and excellent special effects. However, it also seemed to have borrowed more than a few things from Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, which is widely regarded as one of the greatest anime films of all time.
Both movies feature climactic duels between telepaths, seemingly otherworldly and mysterious pale figures that wield catastrophic power, and urban dystopian settings. To make matters worse, Dark City might have inadvertently ripped off two anime films, since Otomo has admitted that his own movie was heavily influenced by Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s Tetsujin 28-go, a series which was released in the United States under the name of Gigantor. We’d call it ripoff Inception, but… well, you’ll see.
6. The Matrix (1999) and Ghost in the Shell (1995)
Though Dark City has thankfully found an audience in recent years, it still can’t compete with the unstoppable cultural juggernaut that is the Wachowskis’ The Matrix. The siblings had a hodgepodge of influences: Western and Eastern philosophy, kung fu movies and Grant Morrison’s comic book series The Invisibles. However, the look of the film can largely be traced to one film: Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell. Oshii’s opus was so important to the Wachowskis’ vision that they literally showed the film to their producers and said: “We wanna do that for real.” Besides the cyberpunk aesthetic and designs used in both films, they also explore similar concepts such as the nature of reality and consciousness. The Matrix also yanked one of its most iconic visuals from Ghost in the Shell: the raining green text used to represent the Matrix’s coding.
5. The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
It was a story that took the world by storm: a group of filmmakers head into the wilderness intending to make a documentary only for them to mysteriously disappear. Some time later, their camera equipment was rediscovered and the film was intact. The surviving footage painted a disturbing picture of the filmmakers’ last days on Earth and suggested that they met their ends at the hands of some unspeakable demise.
Most people would assume that the film in question was Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s The Blair Witch Project, a low-budget horror film that became a smash hit and helped inspire the found-footage genre. But this description also applies to Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, one of the most notorious Italian films ever made. Instead of looking for a witch, Deodato’s film crew sets out to capture footage of cannibalism among the indigenous tribes of the Amazon Rainforest. Like The Blair Witch Project, the film features hand-held camera footage which abruptly cuts out after the person holding the camera is presumably killed.
4. Inception (2010) and Paprika (2006)
The sudden death of animator Satoshi Kon in 2010 was a massive blow to the world of animation. One of the most creative and idiosyncratic Japanese animators, his works were famous for their mind-bending plots that blurred the line between reality, fantasy, madness and dreams. His works were also very well received in the West, so much so that Hollywood has “borrowed” from his films on more than one occasion. One of the most infamous was Christopher Nolan’s Inception, a cerebral science fiction thriller about agents who commit corporate espionage on subjects by invading their dreams.
The film shares uncomfortable similarities with Kon’s 2006 film Paprika, also a cerebral science fiction thriller about professionals who enter people’s dreams. But whereas the protagonists in Inception were criminals, the protagonists in Paprika were psychotherapists who enter the dreams of their patients in an attempt to help them. But both films were deliberately ambiguous on the subject of where dreams end and reality begins and if, perhaps, the two might spill into each other. Factor in some oddly similar narrative set pieces (such as a gravity-defying hallway sequence and the breaking of a giant glass wall) and it isn’t too hard to see why so many people cried foul on Inception.
3. Black Swan (2010) and Perfect Blue (1997)
The same year Inception was released, Hollywood put out a second movie that was heavily “influenced” by Satoshi Kon’s work. The film was Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, a psychological horror film about a ballerina who loses her grip on reality as she struggles to met the expectations put on her by her ballet company when she is cast as the White and Black Swans in their production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
This plot about a female entertainer who goes slightly mad under increased pressure seems ripped right out of Kon’s Perfect Blue, a film about a J-Pop singer who tries to transition into the world of acting. Both protagonists struggle with paranoid hallucinations concerning doppelgängers and potential murderers. It could be argued that this was coincidental… if it wasn’t for the fact that Aronofsky was such a huge fan of Perfect Blue that he essentially remade one of its scenes in one of his earlier films, Requiem for a Dream.
2. The Hunger Games (2012) and Battle Royale (2000)
And now we get to our most contentious entry: Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Her trilogy of dystopian sci-fi novels about the eponymous “Hunger Games,” a yearly event where 24 teenagers are forced to battle to the death for the amusement of the rich and powerful, has become a media juggernaut. Four film adaptations have been planned, with the first released in 2012. Collins has claimed that the idea for the series was inspired by a bout of late-night channel surfing where footage of a game show and war coverage blurred together. However, the Internet was quick to point out that The Hunger Games bears more than a superficial resemblance to Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale, a Japanese film also set in a dystopian future where teenagers are forced to fight to the death under government orders.
Wiser onlookers know that this argument is largely fruitless because both films seem to rip off Stephen King’s 1979 novel The Long Walk. But seeing as how The Long Walk has never been adapted into a movie, the war between Hunger Games and Battle Royale fans shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.
1. Transcendence (2014) and Serial Experiments Lain (1998)
Not many people ended up seeing Wally Pfister’s Transcendence — the film barely made back its $100 million budget. But apparently enough people did see it for some viewers to notice that the film centered on a plot point seemingly lifted straight out of an anime series entitled Serial Experiments Lain: a genius uploads their consciousness into a computer and achieves omnipotence.
The film and the anime series may have had similar plots, but they had wildly different tones and styles. But the similarities were too much for the Internet to ignore — the release of Transcendence lit off a new round of debate concerning whether or not Hollywood had been stealing from anime for so long that it’s become a habit. It bears mention that no less than six entries on this list have been accused of ripping anime off. And considering the fact that a new generation of film students raised on anime are starting to spill out into the world, there is no sign that this trend will end anytime soon.