Plagiarism in Movies Across All Genres: 7 Famous Cases

Plagiarism Cases and Statistics

30 Mar 2023

In this article, you will discover surprising examples of plagiarism in movies, some of which you haven’t heard of before.

Plagiarism in Movies

In simple words, plagiarism is using copied work for personal gain without crediting the owner. This happens in virtually all creative industries, including the movie universe, where certain filmmakers attempt to present the work of others as their own. Some may cry foul and try to downplay it as inspiration, but let's be clear. Two or more films cannot be original works if they have similar aspects, such as scenes or verbatim. 

While some plagiarism cases in movies might be easy to identify, others may go undetected. That’s because some filmmakers steal content from more than one source. Soundtrack composers and plot writers can also use the same trick, meaning they have a shot at getting off scot free.

This article highlights examples of plagiarism in movies. Some of them will surprise you.

Plagiarism in movies: what we know about it

Imagine this: You are watching a movie and think to yourself, “I think I have seen this scene before, and I even know how this movie will end.” You are probably staring at a plagiarism case, which can take many forms, from directly copying a plot line or character to using someone else's ideas without permission or credit. While it is not a new vice, it is now more prevalent than ever, as technology has made creating and distributing films easier.

There are a few things to note as well. The first is avoiding the confusion surrounding the copyright infringement vs plagiarism debate because things are not as complicated as they seem. While the first-mentioned refers to the unauthorized use of someone else's copyrighted material, the latter refers to the act of using someone else's ideas without crediting them. Secondly, you should be aware of the fact that plagiarism in movies takes many forms. Some of them include costume, special effects, soundtrack, and screenplay or script copying, to mention a few. And while legal action has been taken against some copycats, the only punishment others have suffered is criticism by the public eye.

Examples of plagiarism in movies

Plagiarizing content in films is not a new thing in the entertainment industry. It has been present for years, with rogue filmmakers stealing ideas, plots, characters, or specific scenes from other works and presenting them as their property. It is not wrong to seek inspiration, but the cases we discuss below are blatant instances of piracy. Some will shock you. 

1. Repeated Cases in the Zombie Apocalypse Genre.

In October 2010, Frank Darabont developed The Walking Dead, a series aired on AMC. Disagreements emerged between the showrunner and the network after the release of the first season, but that would not deter the continuation of the show after a team led by Glenn Mazzara took over the development of the plot. 

As for what it is about, the walking dead is a scary post-apocalyptic show based on Robert Kirkman’s novels bearing the same title. It has eight spins, with Fear the Walking Dead being the most popular. Now, ask a Walking Dead fan about plagiarism instances, and several movies will get a mention, starting with World War Z.

Like The Walking Dead, the plot is about a virus that turns people into zombies. The lead character is Gerry, a mastermind in waging wars against the undead. A year later, Z Nation, a Syfy show, was released. Like The Walking Dead, it follows a group trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. In an interesting twist, they look up to the lead character, Simon alias Citizen Z, to solve the pandemic as he uses multiple monitors to watch the happenings worldwide through surveillance cameras. A spinoff of the show titled Black Summer is available on Netflix. The latest to follow the same plot as The Walking Dead is The Last of Us, which airs on HBO. 

2. The Lion King.

The mentioned movie was released in 1994. It is the most successful animation worldwide, revenue-wise, thanks to the photorealistic remake in 2019. Popularizing it is a jolly cast and catchy tunes, such as the renowned No Worries song authored by Tim Rice and Elton John. 

When it comes to copyright violation, The Lion King has been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons since two decades ago. The developers were accused of copying the plot of a 1965 Japanese series named Kimba the White Lion, a remake of the 52-episode original that aired on Fuji in the mid-1960s. It is set in Africa, following an alpha lion named Paja as he rules the jungle. Sadly, he meets an untimely end after colliding with local villagers, but he has a son, Kimba, who bravely steps into his shoes.  

The Lion King follows a similar plot. In place of Kimba is Simba, who must assume the kingly role of his father after his demise. He meets friends who guide him to his destiny, just like Kimba. Even with these undeniable similarities, the creators of The Lion King maintain that their creation is original and that they had not heard of Kimba the White Lion until the allegations came up.

3. The Terminator.

Released in 1984, the named motion picture remains a timeless gem in the blockbuster universe. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a bionic hired gun sent to terminate human targets. In his way is Kyle, a soldier sent to protect the target, who will give birth to the savior of the human race. Ultimately, t is a failed mission for the cyborg, but he puts up a good fight.

In one of the most famous plagiarism cases in movies, the creators of Terminator got accused of plagiarizing two episodes of the series, The Outer Limits from the 60s. Demon with a Glass Hand and Soldier are their titles. The first stars Trent, a soldier sent back in time. His mission is to deactivate humans for 1200 years to protect them from a terrible disease after discovering that he is not human. The latter episode is about Qarlo, who gets teleported to the past, where he befriends a family. He must protect it from an enemy soldier from the future who manages to track his whereabouts. Both soldiers die, leaving the viewers wondering about the reason behind Qarlo’s sacrifice. 

4. A Bug's Life.

Released in 1998, this is a funny animated movie by Pixar. Distribution was done by Disney, making about 363 million at the box office. It pits ants against grasshoppers, with the latter using their stature to intimidate minuscule neighbors. Things take a turn, though, when a hero emerges among the oppressed to save the day with his inventions.

The movie got accused of borrowing Esop’s plot in The Ant and the Grasshopper without attributing him. In this book, an ant works hard to prepare for the winter while a lazy grasshopper plots to steal his food. While the similarities are clear, the filmmakers claimed they were inspired by Aesop's fable rather than plagiarizing it.

5. The Hunger Games.

The Tetralogy debuted in 2012 with an eponymous award-winning first installment. The setting is a post-apocalyptic world where undemocratic rulers oversee 12 impoverished districts. To maintain control over them, the tyrant leaders organize The Hunger Games, an annual event where a male and female from each region get selected to participate in a fight-to-the-death competition. 

The story follows the main character, Katniss Everdeen, a resourceful teenager from District 12 who volunteers to take her younger sister's place in the contest. Alongside her district partner, Peeta Mellark, she must use her survival skills to outwit and outlast the other participants while gaining the support of viewers. The spectators, in turn, send crucial supplies and weapons into the arena.

The creators of the movie were accused of duplicating the storyline of Battle Royale, released in 2000. The Japanese motion picture also follows a group of 42 teenagers in a last-man-standing clash. To date, the creators of the Hunger Games movies have never acknowledged the creators of Battle Royale in any way.

6. Avatar.

James Cameron is back with the second installment of Avatar. And it’s proving to be a success, just like its predecessor. It has not been a smooth journey for him, though. The director has been on the receiving end of some of the most famous plagiarism lawsuit cases since the debut of the original film.

The first case involved Gerald Morawski, a special effects designer, who accused James of copying his idea when making the film. The court ruled against him, though, saying that the creator of Avatar had provided the jury with ample proof showing that he created the film from scratch. This case would later be cited by Bryan in an attempt to convince the Jury that Cameron was indeed capable of stealing the creations of others. He claimed that the Avatar storyline was stolen from him when he pitched the idea to a production studio earlier. The case was again dismissed, with the judge maintaining that the film was nothing short of original.

Third, a writer from China also claimed that the film resembled his book titled The Legend of the Blue Crow. A studio ambassador submitted a counterargument, saying it was not possible since Avatar’s plot was developed before the book saw the light of day.

7. The Matrix (1999).

The Matrix is a 1999 sci-fi movie telling the story of a hacker named Neo. A mysterious woman named Trinity introduces him to a group of rebels fighting against a powerful AI that has taken over the world. Ultimately, Neo faces off against the AI's central program, Agent Smith, in a battle to save humanity. Like with Avatar, several people have come forth claiming that the creators of The Matrix took advantage of them.

The first one to do so was Sophia Stewart. In her statement to the court, she reported to have submitted a proposal to 20th Century Fox for consideration, only for her request to be turned down four years later. She went on to say that she was convinced that The Matrix was based on her work after seeing it for the first time. Multiple sources have claimed she won the lawsuit, but that is far from the truth. Thomas Althouse, a screenplay author, also claimed that the franchise stole from The Immortals, one of his texts. The judges ruled in favor of the production company, like in the previous case, though.

Conclusion

As movie lovers, we all appreciate the artistry and creativity that goes into making films. Sadly, the issue of plagiarism in movies is on the rise, undermining the very foundations of this art form. There must be a strong stand against this unethical practice, and everyone has a role to play, starting with you. How? Well, you can always use Fixgerald and other plagiarism checker tools to ensure that you only publish or submit original work and give credit where it's due. The good thing with this software is that you do not have to worry about confidentiality, a ridiculously low word limit, or paying to try it for the first time. You also get a grammar checker!

Secondly, original movies deserve more support. Creators who engage in copyright infringement, on the other hand, should be called out. Doing all these will pave the way for a more ethical and sustainable movie industry that values originality and creativity.

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