From first glance, J.J. Abrams‘s latest, Super 8, looks like an unbridled homage to ’70s and ’80s era Spielberg movies, complete with kids getting into trouble, mysterious goings-on, a visual palette pulled from E.T., and plenty of that weird face everyone always seems to be making.
Abrams walks a fine, dangerous line with Super 8, paying respect to the movies he loves while attempting to avoid directly riffing on them. It’s the biggest problem with homage — when is it tipping the hat and when is it flat out stealing?
Here are eight movies that had no regrets throwing back to the famous films of yesteryear. Whether they fall into “Category A” or “Category B” is up to you and their lawyers:
Most reviews of the 2007 Shia LaBeouf movie Disturbia address the fact that director D.J. Caruso’s teen thriller is a essentially a carbon copy of Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window (in fact, we did it right here), but most brushed it off as a overt homage. Except for the estate of Sheldon Abend, rights holder of the Cornell Woolrich short story “It Had to Be Murder,” of which Rear Window is based. In 2008, they filed a lawsuit against Steven Spielberg and Dreamworks for copyright infringement, though in 2010 the suit was dismissed. Reason?
To quote the judge, “the setting and mood of Disturbia are more dynamic and peppered with humor and teen romance.” Future filmmakers: as long as Shia LaBeouf is cracking jokes and making out with hot chicks, you’re in the clear to remake whatever you’d like.
7. Reservoir Dogs
Tarantino is the movie buff’s director. His films are steeped in genre tropes and playful tributes to the movies he loves, and he’ll happily name-drop his influences when making the press rounds. Except for one, apparently.
There are people in the world who’ve devoted their lives to calling out Tarantino over his debut flick Reservoir Dogs and its not-so-subtle nod to Ringo Lam’s 1987 crime drama City on Fire. Tarantino paid respect to the films of Jean-Luc Godard, Chow Yun-Fat, Roger Corman, André De Toth and Stanley Kubrick when talking up Dogs in 1992, but as Rotten Tomatoes points out in their series “Homage or Stealing,” the director may owe Lam a few royalty dollars:
6. The Faculty
The Kevin Williamson Method of Avoiding Non-Remake Remakes: mention the film you’re riffing on.
Much like his Scream series, screenwriter Williamson uses the Invasion of the Body Snatchers template in a high school setting while having his characters recognize the fact that their situation is exactly like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Williamson covers his own ass even further, with a line of dialogue that calls out Body Snatchers as a blatant rip-off of the 1951 book “The Puppet Masters.” Classy, even for the genre obsessed Robert Rodriguez.
5. The Magnificent Seven
The Magnificent Seven is widely known as a remake of the 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai, but the one thing you won’t find in the Americanized version is a credit to co-writer and director Akira Kurosawa. Meaning, Magnifcent Seven’s blatant lifting of plot, characters and sequences from the original film wasn’t sanctioned. The move was fair — we wouldn’t want ’60s-era Americans to have to read subtitles, now would we? — but director John Sturgess would suffer his own, claymation, non-remake remake a few decades later…
4. Chicken Run
We give animation a bit of a pass when it comes to homage — Pixar is notorious for playing to our cinematic memories with nods and easter eggs — but more often then not these cartoon tributes are simply remakes with anthropomorphic animals/inanimate objects/etc.
Chicken Run is a great little action movie that’s essentially John Sturgess’s The Great Escape beat for beat. From the pacing of the various escape attempts to recreated shots (one chicken spends her solitary confinement tossing a ball against a wall the same way McQueen does in the film), Chicken Run is slick, but it works so well because it’s following suit. Being hilarious doesn’t hurt either.
We previously applauded Airplane! as one of the most successful spoof films of all time, and it certainly is — but its success comes with the caveat that it’s a near shot-for-shot non-remake remake of Zero Hour!, the 1957 Hall Bartlett disaster film. When juxtaposed the two movies and their mirroring plots and scenes are nearly identical, with Airplane! one upping the original by adding the necessary one-liners and slapstick. Here, the heavy lifting by directors Jim Abrahams and David Zucker is in itself, part of the joke:
2. Stardust Memories
Like Tarantino, Woody Allen is another filmmaker who basks in the films and auteurs he adores. His early films dabble in genres and filmmaking conventions like few of his contemporaries, but none more so than Stardust Memories, a film that goes beyond paying homage to Federico Fellini and taps straight into the heart of his autobiographical opus 8 1/2. From Gordon Willis’s stark black & white photography to the dream sequences to the beachside filmmaking, all the elements of the film are there — reinterpreted by the master of neurotic humor.
Let’s be fair: the film is 100% Allen, just filtered through the pre-existing lens of Fellini.
1. The Lion King
In Disney: The Mouse Betrayed, authors Peter and Rochelle Schweizer’s scathing take down of the Walt Disney Corporation, actor Matthew Broderick mentions that when he signed on for The Lion King, he was under the impression that it was a big screen adaptation of the 1960s anime Kimba the White Lion.
Why would he think that? Beyond the obvious Kimba/Simba angle, cinematic conspiracy theorists have combed both the series and the highly successful animated musical to discover startling connections. Disney says Lion King is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which sounds a lot better than “we stole some dinky Japanese cartoon’s plot and are fully prepared to muscle any naysayers.”
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