Top 10 Classics (That Only Exist Because Somebody Pirated Them)

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Ever since the Internet came into its own, the debate has raged over whether file-sharing is killing the entertainment industry. While some insist that those who pirate music or books are, in fact, the customers whom do the  most to drive up sales, others say that they’ve deprived the industry of billions over time. While TopTenz is not coming down definitively in support of either camp, we would like to point out where piracy has its unique place: it can preserve or promote awesome, historic, culturally significant moments that the powers-that-be don’t have the foresight to bother preserving.

10. Listen to This Eddie


This is a bootleg recording of a June 1977 Led Zeppelin concert in Los Angeles. Highly regarded for its sound quality, and for being lucky enough to catch an exceptionally good performance, it includes the debuts of some really exceptional Zeppelin songs such as Achilles Last Stand. Hardradio guessed that the reason that the quality was so good was that some enterprising concertgoer somehow snuck two shotgun microphones into the event, which would have been about as subtle as a news crew sneaking in.

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9. South Park: Jesus vs. Santa


Back in 1995, future pop culture filth superstars Trey Parker and Matt Stone were hired by Brian Greenfield to make video Christmas card called Jesus Vs. Santa for $2,000, since they’d already made a similar film in 1992 as a student animation project. While Jesus Vs. Santa won a regional film award, it was’t exactly planned to kickstart a major American comedy institution. Then the bootlegs kicked it into overdrive. One of those credited with helping to spread awareness for, and interest in, the movie was George Clooney, who made 200 copies of the thing.

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8. Pink Flamingos


While on the subject of trash classics, the success of John Waters’s 1972 shock film is truly remarkable. Not just because it contains acts that TopTenz is unwilling to describe here, but because pretty much the entire soundtrack was illegally acquired and used. These include “Surfin’ Bird” and “Happy, Happy Birthday to You,” and those were owned by some major corporations. At the time, Waters didn’t even know he was breaking the law but, alas, he totally was.

As big as Pink Flamingos became, and as impossible as it is not envision the scenes they’re used for, they had considerable motivation to at least collect some kind of permission. When Waters finally released the film in 1986, he had to pay $500,000 for it, which would have been pretty unworkable with his original $12,000 budget.

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7. La Jetee

Twelve Monkeys, Terry Gilliam’s most famous non-Monty Python film, was modeled after, of all things, a short 1962 French film from Chris Marker called La Jetee. The short, which is told entirely in still shots with one exception, had zero commercial prospects. The only reason it was known well enough to ever get adapted into a blockbuster film was because bootleg copies kept its profile up enough for it to develop a cult following.

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6. California Jam

Okay, imagine there’s a crowd of 200,000 gathered to see and hear a 1974 concert. Earth Wind and Fire, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple are all present, and give stellar performances.  Now imagine the event is so polished, and being broadcast so well, that it wins an Emmy. You’d think ABC would have the resources to keep that on hand, right?

WRONG. When they were acquired by Disney, the tapes they used were destroyed. So it was up to fan/filmmaker Scott Lifshine to assemble his super-bootleg of this awesome concert event, and the concert survives today as a result.

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5. Doctor Who: The Invasion


Back in 1968, long before Doctor Who had become a cultural institution in the U.K., the BBC was fine with destroying episodes so that they could reuse the tapes. One of the higher profile bits from that period, a six-episode stretch called The Invasion, would have been missing all of its first episode, and most of its fourth, if not for some bootleg audio recordings. These were used for animated versions of the episode.

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4. Nosferatu


This is the earliest vampire film still in existence, and one of the few horror flicks from the early 20’s that still has the power to be at least a little creepy. This is mainly due to Nosferatu not being as buried neck-deep in parody as the Bela Lugosi-style Dracula from later on. Speaking of Dracula, it was ruled that Nosferatu director F.W. Murnau had plagiarized Bram Stoker’s tale, and all copies of the film were ordered destroyed. Thus, any surviving trace of the film (including the full-length version above) is technically, on the books, an illegal copy.

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3. Mystery Science Theater 3000


The now-famous show started at a Minneapolis cable station called KTMA in 1988. During its first, ultra-low-budget season (sometimes called Season 0,) the show didn’t bother to secure rights to air, let alone alter, the movies that they were mocking. Thus the episodes cannot be aired, though the consensus is that during this period, the quality of the programming was downright terrible. Thus, it would not be worth trying to seek rights to release these episodes anyway. But hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, even if it is as a dirty, dirty criminal.

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2. A Trip to the Moon


This 1902 film actually works both for, and against, our point that bootlegs can be useful. This seminal science fiction fantasy film was cheated out of almost all its business in North America by rival film pioneer Thomas Edison, after he snuck a copy of it out of Great Britain. The situation was so muddled that George Melies, who made the film, received offers from schysters to purchase copies…of his own movie. Driven into debt by it, Melies destroyed his own films in a rage, and we would have lost this one forever, if not for Edison’s many copies.

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1. Anything Confucius Said, Ever

confucious-classics

Much of what the teachings of Chinese scholar Confucius have to say boils down to “respect your family and authority.” Thus it’s very ironic to think someone would ever treat this sort of thing like subversive text but, in 221 BC, Emperor Shi Huangdi ordered all writings, that were not mathematical or agricultural, to be destroyed. This included everything by Confucius, among other philosophers. Pretty much anything Confucius had to say (along with the quadrillion things we pretend that he said, in order to make ourselves appear intelligent and well-read) only survived because a few copies were found after the Emperor’s death, in walls of houses.

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6 Comments

  1. This was an interesting list, and I enjoyed reading it. There’s only one fatal flaw in it:

    “Speaking of Dracula, it was also ruled that Bram Stoker had plagiarized that story during its initial release, and all copies were ordered destroyed. Thus the book, and any surviving trace of the film adaptations is technically, on the books, still an illegal copy.”

    Nosferatu was the (admittedly great) ripoff of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and it was Bram Stoker’s estate that sued the makers of Nosferatu. Stoker didn’t plagiarize anything and to my knowledge there was no book version of Nosferatu. The point about pirating Nosferatu remains valid, however, so you might want to do a few edits, because otherwise this is a very interesting and well put together list.

  2. Oh, and JillDub is right, #4 is incorrect. Bram Stoker didn’t plagiarize anything, it was F.W.Murnau (who made the Nosferatu film without asking permission from Stoker’s estate).

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