There are a wide variety of ways in which Hollywood films rip each other off, such as the on-going phenomenon of remarkably similar movies coming out within 1 year of each other (like Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down in 2013). Plus, there are the seemingly endless direct-to-video mockbusters that are similar in title, theme, and poster to a major film opening in theaters around the same time. As such, as hard as it might be to believe there are some people who honestly thought when they rented Atlantic Rim on Vudu they were getting Pacific Rim. The title and plots are similar, and the poster for Atlantic Rim clearly rips off Pacific Rim. Hollywood is actually going to court to stop the rise of mockbusters (recent lawsuits against knockoffs of Battleship, Frozen, and The Hobbit).
However, before we get all high and mighty shaking our finger of shame at the mockbusters and their rather brazen theft and deception let’s not forget that as far as movie posters go Hollywood has been ripping itself off for years. At least you know exactly what’s happening with something like Atlantic Rim and Pacific Rim. What about Saving Mr. Banks and Warlock, two films which have nothing in common with one another whatsoever yet feature remarkably similar posters? China now seemingly specializes in creating posters for their films which clearly rip off American film posters. However, America films have been doing that for years. Sometimes they might be blatant rip-offs, and others they might be an homage. Let’s look at 13 examples and decide: rip-off or homage?
1. Warlock (1989) vs. What About Bob? (1991) vs. Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
Are the Actual Films Similar?: Nope. Beyond the posters there is nothing connecting Warlock, What About Bob?, and Saving Mr. Banks. They’re not even in the same genre, Warlock is in horror, Bob? in comedy, Mr. Banks in Oscar-baiting dramedy.
Rip-Off or Homage?: Rip-Off. This may simply be a case of a general concept which has been popularized. For example, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace did the same character in foreground/illustrative shadow in background concept with one of their posters:
However, at least Star Wars didn’t also set their’s in front of a white background and use red lettering. Saving Mr. Bank‘s only innovation on the concept is to place the shadows in the foreground for a change. That’s not enough to escape the feeling that they ripped off What About Bob? and Warlock, even if not consciously (it’s hard to imagine them even thinking about Warlock, but What About Bob? is a modern quasi-classic whose poster is well-known).
2. The Dark Knight (2008) vs. Inception (2010)
Are the Actual Films Similar?: They come from the same director (Christopher Nolan) meaning there are tonal and thematic similarities, but in terms of actual plot and content they are rather different beasts.
Rip-Off or Homage?: Homage? Both films share the same director (Christopher Nolan), distributor (Warner Bros.), and financier (Legendary Pictures) while sharing a couple of cast members. It’s hard to then say they ripped themselves off, more like repurposed the same concept with an intriguing new addition, the body of water at the character’s feet on the Inception poster.
3. A Walk on the Moon (1999) vs. An Education (2009)
Are the Actual Films Similar?: A Walk on the Moon stars Diane Lane as a frustrated 1960s housewife and mother of two having an affair with a salesman played by Viggo Mortenson, with all of the action being framed against the historical events of the moon landing and Woodstock. An Education features Carey Mulligan as a bright young schoolgirl with considerable wanderlust venturing out into the world only to discover the impossibly poetic man of your dreams (Peter Sarsgaard) often turns out to be a bit of a douchebag. They are both coming-of-age films to some degree, with Walk on the Moon featuring a traditional coming-of-age for Lane’s daughter played by Anna Paquin as well as a simply very late coming-of-age for Lane.
Rip-Off or Homage?: Rip-off? There are only so many ways you can depict wanderlust in a poster, and the interlocked lovers pose is one of them. The primary difference between the posters is the color of the flower-patterned dresses, and that An Education features the lovers looking up at the sky and not at each other.
4. True Blood (2008) vs. Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Are they Actually Similar?: They share a similar love for black comedy, high sex content, and feature supernatural plotting, True Blood (at least initially) focusing on vampires and Jennifer’s Body focusing on a gorgeous female high school student who has been possessed by a demon.
Rip-Off or Homage?: Rip-off. Those True Blood posters were everywhere back in 2008. There’s no way that Jennifer’s Body didn’t know what they were doing with such a similar one-sheet just a year later.
5. The Breakfast Club (1985) vs. American Teen (2008)
Are the Actual Films Similar?: They each focus on a subset of teenagers, each one representing a different social strata (jock, nerd, etc.) However, Breakfast Club is fictionalized whereas American Teen is actually a documentary.
Rip-Off or Homage?: Homage. American Teen meant to play on the iconic Breakfast Club poster by positioning their real-life, non-actors into familiar poses and outfits to immediately connote the universal truth of the high school experience argued by John Hughes in Breakfast Club. In fact, this idolatry even influenced the casting of American Teen, which screened 10 different high schools before settling on one which presented 5 primary teenagers each easily identified as a Breakfast Club-types (rebel, jock, princess, hearthtrob, nerd/gamer).
6. The Bourne Identity (2002) vs. 88 Minutes (2007)
Are the Actual Films Similar?: No; Bourne is about a secret agent, 88 Minutes about a college professor given 88 minutes to live by a madman and yet he doesn’t really seem all that worried or hurried.
Rip-Off or Homage?: Rip-off. The coloring is different, as is the location of the target symbol and direction the hero is looking. However, this still looks like they ripped off Bourne Identity.
7. Casablanca (1942) vs. The Good German (2006)
Are the Actual Films Similar?: Both are black & white WWII films
Rip-Off or Homage?: Homage, they even admitted as much. Everything about Good German is an homage to the style of film-making from the Hollywood studio system era – the wide angle lenses, deep focus, shooting mostly on sound stages, black and white photography, recording all audio with a boom mike, minimal editing, etc. So, this extended to the movie poster as well, which intentionally mimicked Casablanca. Incidentally, both films were produced by Warner Bros.
8. Skeleton Key (2005) vs. The Return (2006)
Are the Actual Films Similar?: Skeleton Key is a supernatural horror film featuring Kate Hudson as a New Orleans hospice nurse forced to deal with crazy voodoo/haunted house machinations while The Return features Sarah Michelle Gellar as a woman driven by odd visions to return to a Texas town to solve a years-old murder mystery. Skeleton Key is a more traditional horror film while Return is more of a psychological thriller.
Rip-Off or Homage?: Rip-off? They came out within one year of another and were both box office failures. So, it’s hard to imagine any kind of homage at play here. Then again, that might also mean they weren’t even aware of one another meaning no intentional rip-off. The coloring is different as is what is seen inside the eye on each poster, but they’re still pretty similar.
9. 007: For Your Eyes Only (1981) vs. Transporter 2 (2005)
Are the Actual Films Similar?: They are both action films, but The Transporter in no real way tries to mimic a 007 film.
Rip-Off or Homage?: Rip-off. To be fair, that poster for Transporter 2 is the French one meaning there were a great many other ones that did not so blatantly steal their ideas from For Your Eyes Only. You could maybe argue this is an homage, though, and that they are trying to present Statham as a new 007. Nah.
10. Death Ship (1980) vs. Ghost Ship (2002)
Are the Actual Films Similar?: They are both fairly basic ghost ship stories. Death Ship is about survivors of a ship collision being rescued by a mysterious black ship which turns out to be a Nazi torture ship populated by the long-since dead ghosts of the crew and inmates. Ghost Ship is about about the Antonia Graza, an Italian ocean liner lost at sea 40 years earlier, and now boarded by a salvage crew who soon encounter the ghostly apparitions of murdered passengers.
Rip-Off or Homage?: Rip-off? Death Ship was and remains so little seen it’s certainly possible that the marketing people behind Ghost Ship simply came up with a similar poster concept independent of having seen Death Ship‘s poster. However, lacking confirmation of that it sure looks like they ripped off Death Ship‘s poster.
11. Scream 2 (1997) vs. Bride of Chucky (1998)
Are the Actual Films Similar?: Both are somewhat self-aware horror films, Scream 2 having fun with joking about slasher film conventions but taking itself seriously when it needs to, and Bride of Chucky rejoicing in the utter campness of a film centered around a killer children’s doll.
Rip-Off or Homage?: Rip-off. They even maintained Scream 2′s bit of the two depicted faces having different eye colors.
12. Fright Night (1985) vs. Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988)
Are the Actual Films Similar?: They’re both horror films, Fright Night about vampires and Return of the Living Dead 2 about zombies. However, Fright Night plays things fairly straight, rejoicing in presenting an old-fashioned vampire, while Return of the Living Dead 2 is camp-tastic fun that never takes itself all that seriously.
Rip-Off or Homage?: Rip-off.
13. Gone With the Wind (1939) vs. Fletch Lives (1989)
Are the Actual Films Similar?: Not even close.
Rip-Off or Homage?: Homage. They were clearly playing with the iconography of Gone With the Wind by lovingly recreating most details but putting Chevy Chase in place of Clark Gable.
What do you think about some of these – rip off or homage? And those with even longer memories might be able to point out even earlier instances of movie poster usages of some of the designs featured above meaning that maybe a film I argued was being ripped off actually ripped off their own design from someone else to begin with.
For more lookalike posters, head over to ShortList.com. The idea for this article was conceived jointly by myself and WeMinoredInFilm contributor Julianne Ramsey, who still can’t believe more people didn’t notice the similarity between the posters for Warlock and Saving Mr. Banks.