Science fiction often uses allegories to present new ideas in interesting ways, but as a genre it also often borrows creatively from other sources. Here are ten movies that are either remakes of other genres or use a critical idea that they borrowed from a book or a movie that wasn’t science fiction.
Directed and written by Peter Hyams, this Sean Connery vehicle takes most of its plot points and narrative from the Fred Zinnemann classic western, High Noon(1952). That’s marginally less surprising when you discover that the movie was originally written by Hyams as a western, but the success of Blade Runnerand Alien convinced him to make it a space based film.
The technical term for a space western is a ‘Bat Durston’, after an infamous advert printed in GalaxyMagazine in 1950, which concocted a space gunslinger only to tear the subgenre to pieces. The reputation of western-themed sci-fi took a real beating in the ’50s, and it did take a long time to be considered as anything more than pulp material.
That said, Gene Roddenberry sold the pilot for Star Trek as ‘wagon train to the stars’ in the 60s, so some people liked the genre mix. A more recent example of this is Firefly and its associated movie Serenity, which draws on the post American civil war era as its historical reference.
Battle Beyond The Stars (1980)
This movie borrows wholesale from The Magnificent Seven (1960), itself a remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. But what’s really interesting about its link to the source material is that it also manages to also have Robert Vaughn, playing effectively the same character, and even using some of the same dialogue. And also, it has George Peppard, who was tested for the role of Vin in The Magnificent Seven, even if he didn’t get it.
There are numerous references throughout the movie to both films, with the natives of the planet Akir being called Akira as a nod to Akira Kurosawa.
Normally movies that borrow so heavily from others are coy about it, but Battle Beyond The Stars actually celebrates its origins quite candidly.
Star Wars (1977)
George Lucas is a huge Kurosawa fan too, and the number of ideas borrowed from The Hidden Fortress (1958) in his most famous film are numerous and well documented. What many fans of the series don’t appreciate perhaps is that C-3PO and R2-D2 even have their counterparts as two bickering hangers-on to General Makabe called Tahei and Matashichi. Admittedly The Hidden Fortress doesn’t have a climactic attack on the Death Star, but so much of what happens to the characters in that movie is recreated quite slavishly.
Even those things not borrowed from Hidden Fortress aren’t very original. The attack on the Death Star is the climax of Dambusters (1955) reworked in outer space, and C-3PO’s design is very close to the female robot in Fritz Lang’s classic Metropolis(1927).
Thankfully George is happy to accept how much he’s been influenced, and none of the people who he borrowed from chose to get legal about it.
Enemy Mine (1985)
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen after he’d done with The NeverEnding Storyand his TV mini-series of Das Boot, Enemy Mine tells the relatively simple story of two difficult personalities marooned on the same desolate planet.
That they’re two different species is the twist, because this exact story minus the space combat was the previously explored in None But The Brave (1965) and Hell In The Pacific (1968). In those a soldier learns to cooperate with his enemy to survive living in isolation, resulting in mutual respect.
The idea has since reappeared numerous times in TV shows and films. Most notably in Battlestar Galactica(both versions), in Star Trek: TNG and Star Trek Enterprise, to mention just some.
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Gene Roddenberry said many times that this classic movie involving interstellar travel was a massive influence on Star Trek. But what he didn’t point out was that it borrows conceptually from the play the The Tempest by the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare’s original story is that of a man and his daughter who live on an isolated island, and use magic to try and sink a nearby ship causing the crew to become marooned with them. That’s practically the plot of Forbidden Planet, and there is even a servant character called ‘Ariel’ that Prospero (the Morbius figure) sends like Robbie, to keep an eye on his unwanted guests.
Oddly for Shakespeare, where they really diverge is that The Tempest has a happy ending, where Forbidden Planet most certainly doesn’t, but in many other respects they’re parallel morality tales.
If you’ve not worked it out, and that may include the director and writer James Cameron, Avatar is Pocahontas set on a distant world. Even the character Jake Sully shares the same initials as John Smith, and the plot of a technologically superior invading force devastating and trying to quell nature connected locals remains unchanged. So it’s not just the characters and narrative, but also the theme that’s been borrowed here.
That said, few people are expecting the sequels to Avatar to follow that of Disney’s Pocahontas II: Journey To A New World, or even the historically accurate events of the real native-American who later took the name Rebecca Rolfe, and is buried in a Gravesend churchyard.
Be very suspicious of any creatures that look like a Raccoon in the next one, I say.
Edge Of Tomorrow (2014)
Officially, the source material for this movie is the Japanese graphic novel All You Need Is Kill. But it is very hard to ignore that the premise in both the comic and the film is the same one that was worked so effectively by Harold Ramis in Groundhog Day (1993).
The idea of a day that repeats indefinitely probably wasn’t totally original when it was used by Ramis, and since then it’s reappeared a number of times, even in the Disney animated film Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas and also in the excellent Source Code (2011).
It could be argued that the strong influence of the comic and movie are video games where you often get to repeat the actions, hoping not to die by learning from your mistakes. However, the comedy elements of this movie are undoubtedly inspired by video games, and the infuriation that repeating things naturally does to people.
Sadly, there is no Bill Murray cameo as John from Stripes (1981), surely another missed cross-over opportunity.
Robinson Crusoe On Mars (1964)
Can you guess the source material for this movie? If you didn’t say Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, then sit in the corner with a ‘D’ hat on.
The film follows exactly the plot, with the mild exception that instead of being shipwrecked, Commander Kit Draper and his monkey Mona (don’t ask…), end up marooned on Mars. Even if it sounds utterly preposterous, it makes a much better stab at a Mars movie then a couple of more recent efforts I recall, and how Draper survives is a pretty interesting story. The introduction of ‘Friday’ as an out-of-luck alien who comes from an advanced civilization that enslaved him is also quite compelling.
Defoe penned an interesting yarn, and Robinson Crusoe On Mars does his survival tale some justice, even if the effects aren’t great by modern standards.
Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)
Star Trek was never a TV show that would pass up some classic literary inspiration, so it wasn’t out of character for it to use a well-known novel as the source for the second movie in the franchise.
If you’ve never made the connection, and the movie tries to make it obvious at numerous points, that the story here is Moby Dick by Herman Melville, written in 1851. Protagonist Khan is Ahab, obsessed with pursuing his white whale, the USS Enterprise.
If you think that’s a coincidence, the book is clearly visible on a shelf in what’s left of the USS Botany Bay. And there are numerous snippets of dialogue lifted from its pages. Khan’s dying worlds are Ahab’s harpoon throwing encouragement verbatim, “From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee, for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”
And another line, “He tasks me. He tasks me and I shall have him! I’ll chase him ’round the moons of Nibia and ’round the Antares Maelstrom and ’round perdition’s flames before I give him up!” is a mild reworking of what Ahab says on page 156 of the original print.
But, as far as I can ascertain, at no point did Ahab ever get really angry in Moby Dick and shout ‘Khannnnnnnnnnnn!’ inside a hollowed out moon. Shame.
Mars Attacks! (1996)
A slightly leftfield one to end on, given this was a remake of, well, something a little different. Tim Burton’s career has had its ups and downs, certainly. And for many people, Mars Attacks!, his homage to ’50s B-Movies, Mars Attacks! was as heavy on cameo casting as it was short-on-laughs.
But where it gets really bizarre is when you realise that the source material for it was trading cards. Mars Attacks! was originally a set of colourful cards very much in the mould of many other trading cards produced in this era. First released in 1962 by Heritage, they gained notoriety for both graphic violence and having implied sexual overtones. Eventually pressure groups had them withdrawn, and they became valuable to card collectors for their rarity.
Nearly two decades later Topps re-launched the brand as part of their Top Trumps product series, producing both cards and small comics. An expanded set of 100 cards was eventually released in 1994, two years before Tim’s card inspired movie appeared.
Sadly, Mars Attacks! didn’t manage to trump the world box office. And that meant plans for Dinosaurs Attack! were left in ruins…
This article first appeared on Den of Geek UK in March 2016.