Watching movies is one of the most relaxing activities you can do. Some films have hidden meanings and symbolism that require to be analyzed in depth, but there are also those movies that are simply enjoyable and entertaining. Those kinds of films make for great nights out, whether you’re watching them from your own sofa, at the cinema with friends, or at a campus movie night . But not all of them are as original as they might seem – or, at least, so it would appear. Let’s take a look at 5 famous films that have been accused of plagiarism, and find out if the charges were valid.
1. The Terminator (1984)
When it comes to plagiarism disputes, one of the most famous cases is James Cameron’s 1984 movie The Terminator. The film revolves around the titular cyborg assassin (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who is sent back in time from 2029 to 1984 to kill a woman named Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). In the future, a hostile artificial intelligence named Skynet will cause humanity’s extinction, and Sarah’s unborn son is the one who will save mankind. The Terminator has had a huge influence on both the sci-fi and the action genre as a whole, and, though its low-budget can be perceived, it’s its storytelling that makes it a classic.
But what if this influential movie had actually been influenced by another one? At least, this is what prolific American writer Harlan Ellison claimed, back in 1984, when he attended a screening of the film and noticed similarities with an episode of his 1963 series The Outer Limits, which was in turn adapted from a short story he wrote named “Soldier From Tomorrow.” The episode is also about a robot from the future who travels back in time, which made Ellison sue Orion Pictures.
But the story is more complex than that. Harlan Ellison is not just known for his post-apocalyptic stories, but also for his short temper and tendency to be argumentative and hostile, so much so that he filed many lawsuits for similar reasons. The writer ultimately won, gaining an acknowledgement credit in the movie, but suffices it to say that James Cameron, who is not allowed to speak in depth about the subject due to a gag order, called him a “parasite.”
Plagiarism is not and should not be tolerated in any industry, not only in this one. In the educational sector, teachers pay great attention to the essays and assignments students submit. Sometimes, it can be challenging for students to complete essays with the added stress of having to avoid plagiarism. A service like Edubirdie can help you with plagiarism free essay writing: you can hire a professional writer to guide you in the writing process.
2. Nosferatu (1922)
F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent horror film Nosferatu is another iconic movie, especially when you think of the horror genre and German Expressionism. The film centers on a vampire named Count Orlok (Max Schreck) who pretends to be looking for a new residence only to prey on the real estate agent (Gustav von Wangenheim Gustav von Wangenheim) and his wife (Greta Schröder). Nosferatu is a great film, but what you may not know is that it was also an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s famous novel “Dracula.”
Though many details were changed – most notably the name of the Count and the location, as it takes place in Germany – the original opening credits acknowledged “Dracula” as the film’s inspiration, and that was enough. When Bram Stoker’s estate sued production house Prana Film, they won. Nosferatu is one of the most iconic cases of plagiarism in the cinematic industry, even more so because of the judge’s ruling. The court asked the production house to destroy every print of the movie, which nearly canceled it from existence. Luckily, a copy survived and it has been duplicated over the years, so audiences can still watch the film to this day.
3. The Great Dictator (1940)
The Great Dictator is arguably one of Charlie Chaplin’s masterpieces, and possibly the first movie we think about when we think of the filmmaker/star. Revolving around a dictator with the hilarious name of Adenoid Hynkel (Chaplin), The Great Dictator is not just a great satire that was a huge success and caused a stir back in 1940, but also an important film from a political standpoint, as it was released right before the United States entered World War II.
Here, the dispute was resolved pretty quickly. A writer named Konrad Bercovici, who worked on the film during pre-production, claimed to have never been paid for the concepts he came up with. Chaplin paid Bercovici the money and settled the suit, but later wrote about it in his 1964 memoir “My Autobiography,” denying that the plagiarism took place and admitting that he only paid the money to avoid drawing bad publicity to the film.
4. Frozen (2013)
We’re all familiar with Disney’s beloved animated movie Frozen, telling the story of two princess sisters named Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) who lose their parents and find themselves on their own. But Elsa also happens to have powers she can’t control and, when she accidentally sets a curse on the kingdom, condemning its residents to infinite winter, things take a turn for the worse. If you’re familiar with the movie, you probably already know that it was loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1845 story “The Snow Queen.” But the popular fairy tale has nothing to do with Frozen being accused of plagiarism not once, but four different times.
The first complaint came from a woman named Isabella Tanikumi, who sued Walt Disney for $250 million, accusing the film of having ripped off… her own life story, which she wrote about in her 2010 autobiography. Needless to say, Tanikumi lost the lawsuit, but another one came next, this time from author Muneefa Abdullah, who noticed similarities with her 2007 story “The Snow Princess,” featuring a princess who can turn people into ice. This suit was also dismissed in 2016, though some similarities can be seen between the two stories.
But things do not stop here. In 2017, Frozen was sued one more time, this time for $250 dollars and due to musical matters. Singer Jaime Ciero claimed that his 2008 song “Volar” was ripped off and used as the base for the popular “Let It Go.” Though some similarities can be noticed in the melody, the copyright suit was eventually dropped when the parties reached an agreement. Another lawsuit came in 2022, this time against Frozen II, as indie musician Daniel E. Grigson claimed “Some Things Never Change” has been ripped off of his 2001 song “That Girl.” Once again, some similarities can be noticed, but the lawsuit hasn’t been settled yet so we’ll have to wait and see.
5. Zootopia (2016)
And here’s another lawsuit involving a beloved Disney movie. This time, it’s their 2016 hit Zootopia, revolving around a brave bunny named Judy (Jinnifer Goodwin) who moves to a city where different species of animals coexist to train as a policeman, and finds herself in the midst of a conspirancy instead, with clever fox Nick (Jason Bateman) as an ally.
Disney was sued right after Zootopia’s release, when Esplanade Productions claimed that the movie ripped off the work of writer Gary L. Goldman (Total Recall), who had pitched his idea for a film with that very same name to Disney twice, years prior. Eventually, the judge ruled in Disney’s favour, explaining that there wasn’t enough evidence to state a plausible claim for infringement.
These are only 5 examples of famous films that have been accused of plagiarism. If a copyright claim is filed, it doesn’t mean that the movie is guilty: many different aspects can influence a story, and sometimes two different works can bear similarities by pure coincidence.
The fact that films are collaborative efforts, and the result of the work of many, can also cause controversies, as it becomes difficult to establish who did what when it comes to crafting the story we see on the screen. But there are also times when the plagiarism claims are legit, and finding out the facts behind each lawsuit will lead you to develop your own opinion. But there are countless movies out there: let’s celebrate the many original stories crafted by storytellers every year that give us the movie magic we love!