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5 Movies that Ripped Off Comics

Coincidental similarities or five-finger filmmaking?

By Rob M. Worley     August 13, 2009
Source: Mania


5 Movies that Ripped-Off Comic
© Mania

It's no secret that Hollywood hates a new idea. Of the top 10 movies in 2008, seven were based on pre-existing material. The top two were based directly on comics, while another was directly inspired by superheroes. But Hollywood's obsession with comics goes deeper than the recent comics-to-film phenomenon. Today we're taking a look at 5 films that borrowed from comics and telling you which ones can claim inspiration, which ones are homages and which ones are flat-out rip-offs!

Rip-o-meter Key
1 - Any similarities are strictly coincidental
2 - Inspired by
3 - It's a loving homage
4 - We don't need Barton Fink to get that Barton Fink feeling
5 - Rip off!

 

1. THE MATRIX (1999) / THE INVISIBLES (1994)

Shared Plotline: Disenfranchised [hero] awakens to the realization that the city he inhabits is [not what it seems] and the humans that inhabit it are unwitting [batteries/parasites]. Armed with this knowledge [hero] joins band of operatives, fights the [city protectors] and rises up as a savior of humanity.

Similarities: Both stories follow the similar thread of awakening from a perceived reality to the real world. In the case of The Matrix, Morpheus is the Zen master who guides Neo out of virtual reality and schools him in his superhuman abilities. The Invisibles features Tom O' Bedlam in the same role. Both feature a band of revolutionaries in fetish gear, kicking ass and taking names. The crew of the Nebuchadnezzar is hunted by Agents in the Matrix. The Invisibles are hunted by Myrmidons. The characters of King Mob and Morpheus bear a strong resemblance to one another.

Many fans point to the "jump training" scene, which appears in both the comic and the film as being too similar to be a coincidence. In both scenes the mentor character demonstrates to the apprentice character a new way of perceiving the reality they inhabit by having them jump off of very, very tall buildings.

Corroborating Evidence: Grant Morrison, creator of The Invisibles, has made no secret that he thinks The Matrix is a rip-off. He told Suicide Girls in a 2005 interview, "The truth of that one is that design staff on The Matrix were given Invisibles collections and told to make the movie look like my books. This is a reported fact. The Wachowskis are comic book creators and fans and were fans of my work, so it's hardly surprising. I was even contacted before the first Matrix movie was released and asked if I would contribute a story to the website.

"It's not some baffling 'coincidence' that so much of The Matrix is plot by plot, detail by detail, image by image, lifted from Invisibles so there shouldn't be much controversy. The Wachowskis nicked The Invisibles and everyone in the know is well aware of this fact but of course they're unlikely to come out and say it."

Rip-o-Meter: 4. We still can't say The Matrix is a complete rip-off of the Invisibles, just because we know it rips off so many others as well.

 

 


2. THE ONE (2001) / BOOKS OF MAGIC "The Other" (1998)

Shared Plotline: An evil [twin of the hero] travels through parallel universes killing his doppelgangers in each world and absorbing their energies. He has just [the hero] to kill in our world before becoming omnipotent.

Similarities: In The One the hero is kung-fu superstar Jet Li. In Books of Magic, our protagonist is sorcerer in training Tim Hunter. Aside from identical plots and similar titles, both stories resolve with the evil character being banished to a hell of sorts. Evil Jet is banished by the Multi-Verse Authority (MVA) to a parallel universe they call "The Stygian Universe" in which Earth is a hellish penal colony. Good Tim Hunter makes a deal with the devil (or rather a devil named Barbados) which causes his evil twin to be imprisoned within him, but also dooms Tim to a bleak future in hell.

Corroborating Evidence: Sources on the creative side at DC Comics have told us that they were troubled enough by The One to ask legal to take a look at it. At the end of the day, the lawyers decided they couldn't make a case for intellectual copyright infringement, so no action was taken.

Rip-o-meter: 2. The One differentiates itself enough from The Other that we can't call it a complete rip-off, but the identical plots leave us suspicious.

 

 


3. ROBOCOP (1987) / THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (1986)

Shared Plotline: As [the city] descends into chaos and disorder, [a hero] is resurrected [from death/retirement] as an unstoppable force, waging a one-man war to punish evildoers to restore order to the city.

Similarities: While the basic plot could apply to several movies, RoboCop also bears numerous similarities to The Dark Knight Returns, both superficial and thematic.

Infotainment: Both stories are regularly interrupted by overly-cheerful TV newscasters who set the stage for the world of the film.

Amazingly similar action from RoboCop and The Dark Knight Returns

Similar methods: RoboCop and Bats have virtually the same M.O. Foil a hostage situation by seizing the gunman (who in RoboCop happens to be named MILLER) by breaking through a wall to grab him. Foil a convenience store robbery. Throw the bad guy through plate glass. Shoot though a human shield to save that human shield.

Empowering the villains: Whether it’s Two-Face and The Joker released by bleeding heart rehablitationists or Clarence Boddicker given a blank check by the OCP, the villains have it easy aside from the hero.

Battling allies: Late in RoboCop, the hero finds himself hunted down and nearly killed by his fellow officers in the Detroit Police Department. In The Dark Knight, the hero finds himself battling and killed by his former ally Superman.

Nurturing girl sidekick: Both heroes face a moment where they've been badly beaten, and Officer Lewis and Robin roll up to carry the heroes away to safety where they recuperate.

Panic in the streets: Both Gotham and Detroit descend into flaming riots as the respective stories spin into their final acts.

Letting the hero win: RoboCop is helpless to dispatch Dick Jones without the blessing of OCP's CEO. Likewise, Batman needs a complicit wink from Superman to carry on his campaign.

Iron Man homage in RoboCop

Refuting Evidence: We chatted with Ed Neumeier, screenwriter and creator of RoboCop who assures us that any similarities to TDKR are strictly coincidental. Neumeier was aware of Frank Miller at the time although has never read The Dark Knight Returns. He did however try to hire Miller to do design work on the film. This lead to the associations that saw Miller writing the script for RoboCop 2.

Neumeier does admit to a comic book influence on RoboCop. "The comic books that I was intrigued by were 'Iron Man'," he told us, pointing out that there is a direct nod to the armored avenger in the mom-and-pop-stickup scene in the film. "Another one that I liked quite a lot as 'Judge Dredd'."

Rip-o-meter: 1. It turns out the similarities are strictly coincidental.

 

 


4. MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987) / JACK KIRBY'S NEW GODS (1971)

The plotline of Masters of the Universe isn't necessarily similar to that of New Gods, although both feature a monstrous warlord (Skeletor and Darkseid) who seeks to obtain godlike powers. But...

Similarities: Masters of the Universe, while based on the toy line and cartoon series, bear many remarkable similarities. Leave it to comics creator John Byrne to first point out these similarities to fans. In the letter column for his 1994 comic, John Byrne's Next Men' #22, Byrne writes that he counts only three "really great comic-book movies." 

He's not wrong. If you watch the movie with New Gods in mind, it's easy to recast the show. Skeletor is villainous Darkseid. He-Man is heroic son Orion. Evil-Lyn is Darkseid's toady DeSaade. The Sorceress plays the role of the Kibry's benevolent Highfather. The tech-wiz dwarf Gwildor is the New God's scientist Metron. Byrne points out that the gruff detective Lubic in the movie seems directly related to Kirby's "Terrible" Turpin. And there's more: check out the Boom Tubes, Flying Thrones, Flying Heroes and Omega Beams (not to mention a swell Kirby helmet)...

News Gods vs Masters of the Universe: Boom Tube comparison

News Gods vs Masters of the Universe: Boom Tube comparison

News Gods vs Masters of the Universe: Flying thrones

News Gods vs Masters of the Universe: Flying heroes

News Gods vs Masters of the Universe: Omega Effect Eye-Beams

Corroborating Evidence: So, were the makers of Masters of the Universe trying to make a New Gods movie on the sly? Well... a little bit.

Director Gary Goddard replied to John Byrne's letter and his response was published in John Byrne's Next Men  #26. He denies making a New Gods movie but owns up to a whole lot of Kirby love:

"As the director of Masters of the Universe, it was a pleasure to see that someone got it. Your comparison of the film to Kirby’s New Gods was not far off. In fact, the storyline was greatly inspired by the classic Fantastic Four/Doctor Doom epics, The New Gods and a bit of Thor thrown in here and there. I intended the film to be a “motion picture comic book,” though it was a tough proposition to sell to the studio at the time. “Comics are just for kids,” they thought. They would not allow me to hire Jack Kirby who I desperately wanted to be the conceptual artist for the picture...

"I grew up with Kirby’s comics (I’ve still got all my Marvels from the first issue of Fantastic Four and Spider-Man through the time Kirby left) and I had great pleasure meeting him when he first moved to California. Since that time I enjoyed the friendship of Jack and Roz and was lucky enough to spend many hours with Jack, hearing how he created this character and that one, why a villain has to be even more powerful than a hero, and on and on. Jack was a great communicator, and listening to him was always an education. You might be interested to know that I tried to dedicate Masters of Universe to Jack Kirby in the closing credits, but the studio took the credit out."

Rip-o-meter: 3. Loving homage.

 

 


5. DR. MORDRID (1992) / DR. STRANGE (1963)

Likewise here, the plotlines of the two aren't necessarily identical, but...

Similarities: Exhibit A - the poster for Doctor Mordrid:

Do we really need to say anything more? Could you walk past that DVD box and NOT think of Dr. Strange?

The move opens with Dr. Mordrid floating on the astral plane, conferring with a being called the Monitor who is just a field of stars with eyes. This could be any number of encounters Dr. Strange has with Eternity, a being made up of a field of stars shaped like a man.

Mordrid himself is dressed from head-to-toe in a billowy blue costume that bears a strong resemblance to Strange's. He's also got a mystical cloak, although it is also blue, rather than red.

Like Dr. Strange, Dr. Mordrid has a Sanctum Sanctorum filled with arcane books and strange objects.

Dr. Strange uses "astral projection," while Dr. Mordrid calls his ability "transporting his soul," which is the same frickin' thing it turns out.

Now, Dr. Strange live in a Grenwich Village tenement which is shrouded from perception by the general public. Dr. Mordrid lives in a New York City tenement, in which he actually rents out rooms. His apartment is mystically shrouded from perception though.

Dr. Mordrid's nemesis is Kabal, who studied the mystic arts alongside him when they were younger. One of Dr. Strange's nemeses is Baron Mordo, who studied the mystic arts alongside him when they were younger.

All in all, Marvel fans who watch Dr. Mordrid can spend their entire time connecting the dots.

Could it all be just a coincidence?

Corroborating Evidence: Back in 2000 we interviewed Dr. Mordrid himself, actor Jeffrey Combs. Here's an interesting excerpt:

Rob Worley for Comics2Film.com (RW): Are you a comic book fan? You have a few things on your resume.

Jeffrey Combs (JC): Like Doctor Mordrid, which is really Dr. Strange?

RW: That's what I wanted to ask you about. What's the story behind that?

JC: [Producer/director] Charlie Band. Charlie Band didn't want to pay for the rights to Dr. Strange, but he loved it so much that he, just kind of went up to the line but didn't cross it. He made something else that was damn similar. He even alluded to it as a Dr. Strange-esque sort of character, but not.

Rip-o-meter: 5! Rip off! Still, given that there's never been a really good live-action version of Dr. Strange, it's fun to watch Dr. Mordrid and imagine you're watching Marvel's master of the mystic arts.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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AntoBlueberry 8/13/2009 2:52:39 AM

Nice article.

The Matrix is clearly a rip-off of Invisibles with some bits og Ghost in the Shell thrown in. I had the impression that recently Morrison was paid something to stop complaining about that.

And Robocop was clearly influenced by the Dark Knight, the similarities are so evident.

I would have mentioned also Star Wars that borrowed materials from so many different sources, the New Gods among them.

Cheesey1 8/13/2009 3:55:31 AM

Agreed, the list of rip-offs could probably be longer if one wanted to split hairs.  The Matrix also ripped off a couple of items from the Blade film (released in 1998, obviously before matrix) - the leather trrenchcoat thing and the bullet time special effect (Blade Vs. Deacon Frost in China town, when Deacon Frost is holding the little girl hostage and Blade shoots at him).  I know people like to credit the Matrix with creating bullet time, but how is that possible if a film released a full year before it featured that effect? 

FukUMania 8/13/2009 5:22:27 AM

Robocop also rips off Swamp Thing (though maybe more-so the Wes Craven film than the comic).  Both protagonists are assaulted in a devistating manner by a group of thugs and is eventually "killed" only to be resurrected as a "monster".  The fact that Ray Wise plays both Alec Holland in Swamp Thing and one of the thugs that kills Murphy in Robocop helps with the association.

goldeneyez 8/13/2009 7:17:56 AM

Cheesey1, Thank you! I've been complaining for years to friends how Blade had "bullet time" before the Matrix.  Actually I'd also add the crazy jumps from impossible distances too.  Aside from being a vampire/human hybrid, you could have put Wesley Snipes' Blade in the Matrix trilogy & he'd probably fit right in as far as abilities and how they translated on screen.

Cheesey1 8/13/2009 8:08:21 AM

Goldeneyez, you're welcome and I agree with the what you said about the long distance jumps.


BIGGKIDD 8/13/2009 8:48:02 AM

Cant really include Star Wars George Lucas has many time mentioned his long list of influences for the films its always been a blatant rip off of so many things.

shadowprime 8/13/2009 9:30:05 AM

 

Interesting article, although it can get tricky, I think, to draw the lines distinguishing ripping-off/copying, inspired-by/influenced by, and "fashion"...

For example, "dark and gritty" is still very much in vogue at the moment, no? In comic books and movies? So we get tons of super heroes and fantasy characters running around in black leather, sweating, cursing, bleeding, etc.  Are they copying each other, or is it an example of  "group-think"/creative timidity?

Also, if you buy into the ol' "HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES" thinking, there are basically a handful of stories, which are told and retold with variations, over time. The variations, of course, ARE important, no doubt. But there is some truth to the underlying notion, IMHO...

Personally, ROBOCOP didn't evoke DARK KNIGHT RETURNS for me. The core story elements were, in my view, quite dissimilar.... ROBOCOP combining a basic revenge motif  (the hero endures a terrible and humilating wrong at the hands of very evil men, and returns to get revenge) with the idea of a hero struggling to recover some of the humanity that was stolen from him (in ROBOCOP, quite literally!); DARK KNIGHT exploring an iconic superhero in old age, deciding to "go out with a bang", and amping up (for the time) the dark elements of the superhero genre. Can pick out some pieces here and there that are similar, but ... I think the low rating of about "1" on the 1-5 scale is right on this one.

Shadow

 

 

gauleyboy420 8/13/2009 11:16:41 AM

I always thought of Robo-cop as more of a Frankenstein, and DEFINITELY NEVER thought of TDKR. BUT I'll give you that scene where he breaks through the wall is pretty similar

zaldar 8/13/2009 12:09:05 PM

Hmm for someone who liked the first matrix movie but thought the last two were incredibly bad (oh wait thats everyone isn't it?) is the invisibles worth reading?

hanso 8/13/2009 1:41:54 PM

That's not everyone, I like all the Matrix films. 

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