Blockbuster Movies And The Classic Films That Inspired Them
Even the greatest, most original artists in the film industry borrow ideas from the greats that came before them. Movies like Pulp Fiction and Star Wars have been imitated so often we forget that they, too, were imitating other great films from the past. Discovering the inspiration for our favorite films gives us insight into the processes of our favorite directors and writers, and can introduce us to movies we otherwise might not have watched.
Take a look at some of the most popular, talked-about movies in recent history and the movies that inspired them.
- Photo: 20th Century Fox / Universal Pictures15 VOTES
'Star Wars' (1977) And 'Flash Gordon' (1936)
The Flash Gordon film series of the 1930s was more than just an influence on George Lucas's Star Wars trilogy - it's the basis of the story and many of its characters.
Lucas tried to purchase the film rights to Flash Gordon, only to find that the Italian director Federico Fellini already owned them. That disappointment led him to create his own sci-fi characters, which Lucas himself admits are "tributes" to Flash Gordon characters.
Like Star Wars, the Flash Gordon series sees two heroes dress up as soldiers to infiltrate the home base of a megalomaniac, flanked at times by a formidable, furry ally, in the hopes of saving a space princess. Lucas even took the Star Wars opening text crawl from Flash Gordon.
While Lucas's creation is original, it still owes plenty to its space opera predecessors.
- Photo: Gramercy Pictures / United Artists24 VOTES
'The Big Lebowski' (1998) And 'The Long Goodbye' (1973)
The Big Lebowski is the Coen brothers' goofy reimagining of the film noir, placing its smart-mouthed slacker protagonist at the center of a sprawling mystery that, by the end of the story, turns out to be too big for the hero to solve on his own. But before Lebowski replaced the terse growl of the hard-boiled detective with his own laid-back, hippie drawl, Robert Altman created his own groovy gumshoe with the help of Elliott Gould in 1973.
The original novel version of The Long Goodbye was based on Raymond Chandler's fictional detective Philip Marlowe. The part had been played faithfully on-screen by Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep, one of the most popular movies in the film noire genre. So when Altman decided to update the character, critics scoffed - this Marlowe wasn't a gritty detective, but a low-life, "untidy, unshaven, semiliterate, dim-wit slob who could not locate a missing skyscraper and would be refused service at a hot dog stand" (sounds a little like Jeffrey Lebowski's conservative tirade against "The Dude," doesn't it?). It wasn't until decades later that The Long Goodbye got the positive reception it deserved.
- Photo: Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.34 VOTES
'The Dark Knight' (2008) And 'Heat' (1995)
The most obvious similarity between Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight and Michael Mann's Heat is the two movies' bank heist scenes.
Director Nolan filmed the robbery at the beginning of his 2008 superhero flick in a way that clearly mirrors a climactic scene in Heat, and even includes a small part for Heat actor William Fichtner. But the most striking parallel is the use of masks: The crooks in Heat wear huge white hockey masks to hide their identities and intimidate their victims, much as the Joker and his accomplices wear clown masks.
But Nolan said Heat's influence is much deeper than that: He loved the way the movie demonstrated how "you can create a vast universe within one city and balance a very large number of characters and their emotional journeys in an effective manner."
The Dark Knight shows how all manner of people, including cops, nurses, prisoners, politicians, judges, and media personalities, are affected by the Joker's transgressions. It's an approach clearly influenced by the way Heat examined the personal lives of both bank robbers and cops as they try to outsmart one another on the dramatic stage of Los Angeles.
- Photo: Miramax / United Artists47 VOTES
'Pulp Fiction' (1994) And 'Kiss Me Deadly' (1955)
Quentin Tarantino's touchstone neo-noir is, unsurprisingly, influenced by a number of classic noir films. But none made a more iconic contribution to Pulp Fiction than Kiss Me Deadly, a 1955 Robert Aldrich mystery that centers on a glowing briefcase. Although in Aldrich's movie the suitcase is glowing because it contains nuclear materials, Pulp Fiction famously used the effect to create a sense of mystery - we never find out what's inside the suitcase.
Tarantino said the similarity is a coincidence, but even if you're inclined to believe him on that point, he's open about the impact Kiss Me Deadly had on his movie. The director told an interviewer he based Bruce Willis's character on the protagonist in Aldrich's film, Mike Hammer. Like Hammer, Willis's boxer Butch Coolidge is "a bully and a jerk, except that when he's with his girlfriend, Fabienne, he's a sweetheart.”
- Photo: FilmDistrict / 20th Century Fox57 VOTES
'Drive' (2011) And 'The Driver' (1978)
Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn cited a number of influences for his 2011 smash-hit neo-noir thriller, including Point Blank, Thief, and even Grimms' Fairy Tales. But there's another, lesser-known work with some striking similarities to Drive.
The Driver also features a protagonist simply named "The Driver." Like Ryan Gosling's character, this film's hero is also quiet, dislikes guns, and is respected in the criminal world for his talent and professionalism as a getaway driver. Though the hero of The Driver struggles to evade capture by the police rather than the mob, it's hard to imagine that Refn conceived of his film without first having watched this one.
- Photo: DreamWorks / Warner Bros.67 VOTES
'Saving Private Ryan' (1998) And 'The Searchers' (1956)
In a 1981 interview, Steven Spielberg made it clear that The Searchers, the classic 1956 John Ford Western, is one of his favorite movies. "The Searchers has so many superlatives going for it," he told Film Quarterly. "It's John Wayne's best performance... it's a study in dramatic framing and composition. It contains the single most harrowing moment of any film I've ever seen. It's high on my 20-favorite-film list." And while many have pointed out the clear influence the film had on some of Spielberg's work, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, no movie bears the mark of Ford's masterpiece like Saving Private Ryan.
Spielberg's 1998 WWII epic centers on a company of very different men who travel a bloody, dangerous road as they search for the endangered Pvt. Ryan, a plot that mirrors that of The Searchers. In that film, a surly, cynical John Wayne and his nephew spend years searching for Wayne's missing niece, threatened at all times by Comanche warriors at the height of the conflict between Texans and Native Americans. Saving Private Ryan is certainly a darker, more morally ambiguous movie than The Searchers - it is Spielberg, after all - but the parallels are clear if you watch both movies.