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4 Movies That Ripped Off Twilight Zone Episodes

The Box Isn't the First to Borrow From The Twilight Zone

By Rob Worley     November 06, 2009


4 Movies That Ripped Off Twilight Zone Episodes
© Mania/ Robert Trate
From the creepy, instantly-identifiable music to the name itself, Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone is arguably one of the most influential TV series of all time. From 1959 to 1964 Serling hosted half-hour morality play with twist endings that put M. Night Shyamalan to shame. The show would inspire two TV series revivals and a feature film, not to mention countless other variations.
 
Indeed the upcoming feature film The Box is a direct adaptation of the short story "Button, Button" by Richard Matheson (a staple writer in the Zone) , which was first adapted with the film's title as an episode of the show.
 
While there are certainly no shortage of direct spin-offs from The Twilight Zone, here are four films that borrowed liberally from the series, without owning up to being adaptations.
 
 

4. Child's Play (1988) / Living Doll (season 5 - 1963)

 
When you think of homicidal dolls, the star of the 1988 movie Child's Play is the undisputed scream king. But some 25 years before Chucky went nuts on moviegoers, The Twilight Zone introduced Talking Tina, the murderous ragamuffin that starred in the season 5 episode "Living Doll."
Not unlike Chucky, Tina is given to a child with all the best intentions, but very soon the child's uptight stepfather (a pre-Kojak Telly Savalas) senses something sinister behind Tina's vacant eyes. And it's not like she hides her disdain for Telly. Pull her string and she recites gems like "I'm beginning to hate you." Pick up the phone and her little voice is there saying, "My name is Talking Tina and I'm going to kill you."
On the one hand, she's nowhere near as animated as Chucky, and she definitely lacks his filthy mouth. And let's face it, Telly is the true villain of the story.
Still it's easy to imagine Chucky as, the bastard hate-child of Talking Tina and another Richard Matheson creation: the Zuni Devil Doll from the 1975 Zone-inspired movie Trilogy of Terror. Screenwriter Don Mancini, who created Chucky, has acknowledged that the scare pair had influenced his script "Bloody Buddy" which later became Child's Play.
 

3. Final Destination (2000) / Twenty Two (season 2 - 1961)
 

In the franchise-launcher Final Destination Devon Sawa loses his shit after experiencing horrific visions which cause him to flee an airplane just before it takes off. Actress Barbara Nichols played out a similar scene almost 40 years earlier in season two's Twenty Two episode. Both characters watch from safety, shocked as their intended air transport explodes on take-off, realizing that their strange and prescient visions have saved their lives.

The scene marks the end of what is considered by many to be a lesser-episode of The Twilight Zone which seems to encourage the viewer to pay heed to mysterious dreams.
However, it's just the beginning for the hit-making franchise. Sawa's Alex Browning quickly learns that death will not be denied, and the lives he saved by his hysterics are doomed to a terrible and inevitable series of deaths, which continue on for three sequels so far.
 


Watch 17. The Twilight Zone - Twenty Two in Entertainment  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

 

2. Poltergeist (1982) / Little Girl Lost (season 3 - 1962)


A little girl disappears from her bed, leaving her tortured parents helpless to do anything but listen to her chilling pleas echoing forth from some trans-dimensional space between the walls of the house.

That's the premise of Tobe Hooper's 1982 movie Poltergeist(written and produced by Steven Spielberg) as well as the season 3 episode "Little Girl Lost" (another based on a Richard Matheson story). Of course there are significant differences in the details of the two versions.
 
On the TV show, Bettina Miller disappears through an invisible hole in the wall near her bed, which is explained in science fiction physics. The source of Carol Ann's disappearance in Poltergeist is decidedly supernatural.

Perhaps the most significant difference is that the father takes on the heroic role in The Twilight Zone episode, entering the portal himself to retrieve his little girl. In Poltergeist, Craig T. Nelson's father figure is a hysterical and ineffective simp and it's up to JoBeth Williams as the mom to actually pull Carol Ann through.

Andrew Gordon's book "Empire of Dreams" claims Spielberg drew direct inspiration from Matheson's short story, and requested a tape of the episode while he was writing the film. While the episode may have inspired Spielberg, the filmmaker does take his version in several interesting directions that fills out the feature film length nicely.


1. Cube (1997) / Five Characters In Search of An Exit (Season 3 - 1961)

 
Ask fans about the indie movie Cube and you're likely to get an effusive reaction. Filmed in Vancouver, the movie is an intellectual thriller that benefits from its low budget by putting its five primary characters in a minimalist setting: a small cube-shaped prison cell that's bounded on six sides by identical cube-shaped rooms. The characters have no connection to one-another nor any idea how they came to be there. They pull together in their attempt to understand their prison and escape.
 
But while it is slick and modern, and has more action and special effects, the basic premise and themes of Cube are nearly identical to those found in the 1961 episode "Five Characters in Search of an Exit." The primary difference is that the five Zone characters are trapped in a cylinder instead of a cube and, with a running time of less than a half-hour they really only had time for one failed escape attempt and one successful one.
 
The big departure comes in the final reveal of the respective prisons. Where Cube's Rubik's death trap becomes a thought-provoking metaphor for runaway bureaucracies that entrap and consume everyday people, the Five Charactersare revealed to actually be unwanted dolls that have been flung into a Salvation Army collection drum.
 

 

These aren't the only examples, just a few of the most prominent ones. Others may come to mind and be discussed in the comments below. But rest assured: whenever Hollywood goes fishing for ideas, they'll always feel a tug on the line when they cast it into the bottomless well of ideas known ...as The Twilight Zone.
 
 

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COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 9 of 9
1 
twinbing 11/6/2009 4:16:48 AM

Only 4? They sure missed a few. The late-70's movie "Magic" about a ventriloquist (Anthony Hopkins) who's dummy tells him to kill was ripped off from an early episode of TZ.  The current movie "The Box" was an episode of the 80's version of TZ.  If it wasn't so early in the morning, I could think of more examples.  

monkeyfoot 11/6/2009 7:46:39 AM

If anything this article firmly establishes the great influence of writer Richard Matheson. Besides his huge amount of work for Twilight Zone, there are his other books and movies such as I am Legend, Incredible Shrinking Man, Somewhere In Time and many others.

The questions of "inspiration" and "influence" or "ripoff" is something that was gotten into in anotrher list article awhile back. What makes something into one of the other? Do you always have to acknowledge where you got the initial idea. Writer Dan O'Bannon got alot of inspiration from some SF short stories and movies when he created Alien. Was he ripping off or did he use their ideas as springboards for his own original take?

And most famously was James Cameron blatanlty ripping off Harlan Ellison's Outer Limits episodes Soldier and Demon With A Glass Hand or was he inspired by them for the original Terminator. The fact that he admitted the influence in an interview and Ellison's litigious nature seems to have answered that question at least from a legal standpoint.

I'd go more for the "inspiration" side than "ripoff". I don't think most creators deliberately scheme to steal somebody's work. I think sometimes you just love a particular piece so much it rolls around in your head and you think, "That's so cool! But I wonder if they went this way with it? That could be a great story, too." And then they are off. Most of the time it comes down to how it's executed.

MrJawbreakingEquilibrium 11/6/2009 10:09:25 AM

You say rip-off, I say inspire.  What short stories written long ago did any of these get their ideas from?  Or as you say "rip off".  What do you want them to do; take away from their own stories and go "By the way, I 'just' might have been inspired by this story - though there is no way in hell I could have came up with an idea of a living doll coming alive all by myself without ever seeing that Twilight Zone episode and etc, etc for all the other movies."

Hold on, hold on.  First you say they don't own up to these being ispirations but in the first one you say 'Bloody Buddy' screenwriter did acknowledge it.  So, which one is it?

Also, I think by the names of the characters alone in Final Destination 1 that they gave up a lot of their inspirations and saying that this particuliar episode of TZ was ripped off by FD is kind of a stretch.  Again, is it something that somebody couldn't think of on their own?

All of these premises could have been came up with without watching a single episode of TZ.

I know as an aspiring writer that sometimes I'll be writing or I have outlined something and then out comes a new movie or book that has similar themes as me.  Did they rip me off?  Yeah, right.  Somethings, sure, are rip-offs of other things but these things are mostly things that go Direct to VIdeo or Television type deals. 

And if anything you can chalk it up to the theory of a collective unconciousness.

MrJawbreakingEquilibrium 11/6/2009 10:12:56 AM

Shoot - I didn't even read Monkeyfoot's post - I was so fired up from the article I didn't want to forget anything, though I did.  So, my article is neither an inspiration or rip-off of Monkeyfoot's post.  It probably wasn't even collective unconciousness either.

Cabal 11/6/2009 11:14:13 AM

Twinbing mentioned, "The late-70's movie "Magic" about a ventriloquist (Anthony Hopkins) who's dummy tells him to kill was ripped off from an early episode of TZ."

Which in turn was directly based on the John Staines story in "Dead of Night" (1945), which features Michael Redgrave as the tormented ventriloquist. There is a 1928 film with Erich von Stroheim in which he's a ventriliquist who believes his dummy is giving him advice, but it's not a thriller -- more a tragedy about a man slipping into madness.

Anyway, film buffery aside, I think some of these examples are reaching a bit. "Ripped off" implies plagiarism, and the parallels in these examples are either rather vague or have been openly admitted.

monkeyfoot 11/6/2009 11:38:43 AM

MrJawbreakingEquilibrium! You ripped me off!! I'm suing! I want all the profits you make from the commentary you just wrote! What? There aren't any!?! Don't pull that creative bookeeping line on me!

Kidding aside, you do make a good point. Lots of people simply come up with a similar idea around the same time without ever coming in contact.  I remember I had an idea of an evil genie movie which no one had done. He would grant your wishes but always in cruel and malicous ways. Within months of thinking it all out I saw the first Wishmaster trailer. Damn! How'd they come up with the same thing?

The midicholorians start whispering ideas from the Force to alot of people and the first to get off their ass to do it wins.

noahbody 11/6/2009 1:07:05 PM

I have had a story idea in my head for twenty-plus years  that has a plot thread very simular to the ending of BSG. If I put out the story , do I get accused of ripping them off, when I thought of it so long ago?

Rip off is a strong term and iplies theft.

WarCry 11/7/2009 6:09:24 PM

You say The Box is ripped off from the Zone episode, but I think that's giving Twilight Zone too much credit. The original short was Button, Button and was published in Playboy in 1970. Matheson didn't like the way Zone changed the ending of his story a decade-and-a-half later and had them change his name in the episode credits.

So, you can say stuff was "ripping off" Twilight Zone, but you may want to consider how much original material Zone even had....

Hobbs 11/8/2009 8:39:40 AM

Kudos Monkeyfoot, if anything I was to add my appreciation for Richard Matheson.  He was a huge inspiration for so many writers and film makers today.  I still say nis novel, I Am Legend, is still one of the best Vampire books I've read.  Some people reading this who don't know that...yeah, the hack Wil Smith movie butchered Mathesons novel.  I highly recommend that...along with most of his other works.

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