Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When someone creates something that makes a lot of money, it’s only natural that others are going to try to emulate it in order to re-create that success. It’s this motivation that drives the creation of similar tools, gadgets, boondoggles…and yes, stories.
With competing films such as Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down hitting theaters, as well as the aftermath of the Snow White wars that lead to Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror Mirror, I’m often asked, “Why do so many studios rush to beat each other to the theater when they are essentially telling the same exact story?” The answer is fairly obvious, but it gives us insight into the evolution of the film industry both stateside and abroad.
Back in the days of the Studio System, where studios effectively controlled every facet of the industry, from which actors were signed to which theaters where the completed films would show, there was the practice of producing B movies.
For example, when a studio produces an original film that succeeds at the box office, known as an A film, rather than starting over from scratch on their next project, they would recycle the sets, props and even screenplays to produce a film that was nearly exactly like the previous one, but with different actors and slight changes in the story. This was the B film, a self-produced knock-off of a previously successful film.
It didn’t stop at the letter B either, as the process would be repeated several times until another film came along with the same success and scale. On top of that, rival studios would attempt the same thing by producing their own version of that same film, and then producing B films, C films and so on.
When anti-trust legislation forced the studios to sell the theaters they owned, they had to become even more ambitious with their ideas and film production so that the new privately-owned theaters would be incentivized to show their films in order to draw in a crowd.
This made the competition even more intense, as being branded a copycat at the box office would deal damage to the theatrical gross a film would make during its run. However, that damage was seen as a necessary risk in the wake of the more innovative films like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
While many studios in the states sought to outdo one another, filmmakers in other parts of the world attempted the same thing by recreating American films with local actors and locations, giving rise to what is known as “Remakesploitation” cinema.
The two primary motives that gave rise to the genre is the lack of availability of large-scale theaters capable of showing American blockbusters in other parts of the world, such as Turkey, Italy, India and even as far as Nigeria. On top of that, local movie-goers were more inclined to see a film that featured actors that naturally spoke the same language as theirs as opposed to a foreign film that had been dubbed.
This was something that even American studios took advantage of from time to time, most famously with the 1931 Spanish version of Dracula that was produced by Universal—utilizing the same sets and props as the American counterpart. However, the practice was abandoned, as it was literally the cost of two film productions.
Like so many of the topics discussed in this column, it all comes down to money and how a studio can get the biggest return on their investment with the smallest amount of risk and be the first ones to do it before anybody else, too.