A mockbuster (sometimes also called a knockbuster or a drafting opportunity) is a film created with the apparent intention of piggy-backing on the publicity of a major film with a similar title or theme and is often made with a low budget. Most of the time these films are created to be released direct-to-video at the same time as the mainstream film reaches theaters or video outlets.
Though it is possible to use properties of this sort to intentionally deceive consumers into mistakenly purchasing the derivative title (e.g., someone thinks he/she is buying a copy of Transformers, but he/she is actually getting Transmorphers), another possible intention is to provide legitimate add-on buying opportunity in the marketplace (e.g., customer enjoyed Will Ferrell's Land of the Lost Fimie and wants more in the same sub-genre, and buys/rents C. Thomas Howell's The Land That Time Forgot).
Mockbusters have a long history in Hollywood and elsewhere. For example, the 1959 Vanwick film The Monster of Piedras Blancas was a clear derivative of Creature from the Black Lagoon, complete with a creature suit by the same designer, Jack Kevan. Attack of the 50 Foot Woman spawned Village of the Giants; The Land That Time Forgot spun Legend of Dinosaurs & Monster Birds; Star Wars gave derivative birth to a jumble of imitations — Starcrash, Battle Beyond the Stars, among others. The success of Steven Spielberg's 1982 family-film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial spawned the infamous 1988 film Mac and Me. The 1984 film Gremlins and its ensuing popularity inspired the creation of the notoriously bad 1988 ripoff Hobgoblins.
Such films tend to fit the classic B movie model, produced on a small budget and largely derivative of the target film and other similar projects. The greatly reduced costs made available by using modern video and computer graphics equipment, and the tie-in to the mainstream film's advertising, has allowed the mockbuster to find a profitable niche in the home video market. Blockbuster, at one time one of the largest DVD and video-game rental chains, gave implied support to the concept by purchasing 100,000 copies of The Asylum's version of War of the Worlds in time to coincide with the theatrical opening week of Steven Spielberg's film based on the same novel starring Tom Cruise.
Rather than being a knockoff of another film, a mockbuster might attempt to capitalize on the popularity of an existing TV series or other form of media with a public following. The 1979 film Angel's Revenge is widely considered to be a film knockoff of the popular TV series Charlie's Angels. This same principle can also work in reverse: the Mister Ed television series was derived from the popular film series Francis the Talking Mule (which had also been imitated by the Disney film Gus).
GoodTimes Entertainment was notorious for making animated "mockbuster" counterparts to popular Disney films in the 1990s. Similarly, Vídeo Brinquedo is a Brazilian CGI animation studio that in 2006 began to produce low-budget direct-to-video films that are for the most part considered blatant (and extremely shoddily made) knockoffs of movies created by Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks. Their titles, and the films they are considered to be derivative of, include Little & Big Monsters (DreamWorks' Monsters vs. Aliens), The Little Cars series of cartoons (Pixar's Cars series), Ratatoing (Pixar's Ratatouille), Tiny Robots (Pixar's WALL-E), What's Up?: Balloon to the Rescue! (Pixar's Up), and The Frog Prince (Disney's The Princess and the Frog). In every case Vídeo Brinquedo's knockoff has been released suspiciously close to the release date of the more professional, higher-budgeted film that inspired it.
In some cases, the knockoff film may bear little or no resemblance to the original it is marketed to ride the coattails of. In 2012, Super K – The Movie, an Indian fantasy/science-fiction animated film about an artificially created boy named "Super Kloud" with superpowers, was released direct-to-video in the United States as Kiara the Brave. Its title and cover art focused on an incidental female character with red hair, in what was considered to be an obvious attempt to evoke the redheaded female protagonist of Brave, a Disney/Pixar movie set in medieval Scotland.
Often, but not always, a mockbuster will use a title with a similar-sounding name to the mainstream feature it intends to piggy-back upon. For instance, the 2006 mockbuster Snakes on a Train, written by Eric Forsberg, traded on the publicity surrounding the theatrically released Snakes on a Plane. The Asylum created Snakes on a Train, The Land That Time Forgot, Transmorphers, AVH: Alien vs. Hunter, The Da Vinci Treasure, Battle of Los Angeles, Paranormal Entity and many other titles.
Artistic license is the freedom to reinterpret existing works of art, from new perspectives and using new visual techniques. The Asylum notably has made movies with titles similar to the originals. However, rare mockbusters use artistic license to adapt out of copyright works (works that are now in the public domain such as Popeye, King Arthur, etc.). The notion of "artistic license" is limited when countries outside the US attempt to change the plots of major American blockbusters to a plotline that better fits their national sentiments. For instance, the Indian Superman mockbuster Ultraguy has Superman getting his powers from a god.[unreliable source?]
Asylum CEO David Michael Latt responds to criticisms about loose plot lines by stating that "We don't have spies at the studios. We have a general sense of what the film is and we make our movie completely original, just based on that concept." Mockbusters are extremely low budget, and the revenue they gain is based entirely on the sales of their DVDs. Low budgets also mean that directors need to think of creative yet cheap ways to achieve the endings that they desire. A case that illustrates this point is the mockbuster of Snakes on a Plane. There was much online hype about Snakes on a Train and consumers wanted what they saw. Latt said, "With only four days left of shooting my partner called and said everyone is really excited about Snakes on a Train, but they’re more excited about the poster, which showed a snake swallowing a train. It was meant to be, you know, metaphorical. But the buyers wanted it, so I was given the mandate that the ending had to have the snake eat the train." At the same time another representative of Asylum, David Rimawi, says that while a handful of their movies do have "artistic elements," that's just not something they're concerned with. The Asylum does not purport itself to be an "artsy" production house.
Intent to deceive
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Mockbusters have been particularly criticized[by whom?] for releasing these movies "direct to DVD" (D2D). The D2D concept is especially notable because the mockbusters are often placed alongside the DVD releases of the originals in the store. Apart from the titles, producers have complained that the cover art is also too similar to that of the originals. A case that explains this is Disney's Brave versus Brightspark’s Braver. The lawsuit between the two films cites the cover art and the close plotlines as copyright infringement. Some film fans said the Brightspark DVDs were good value for money, but others expressed their disappointment with the DVDs on film websites.
On Lovefilm, Richv from Barnsley said of Braver: "The contents bore NO relation to the actual film, in fact I would say the packaging is meant to fool you into thinking you were buying the soon to be released 'Brave'. Stylistically I would say this was made about 20 years ago, very cheaply."
In customer reviews on Amazon.com a reviewer called Flossie said: "This is the worst DVD I have ever purchased, as all the reviews state below. I don't know about Disney taking a lawsuit but I shall be contacting trading standards myself for such a misrepresentation of any film."
The judge in the Warner Bros. v. Global Asylum case is quoted to have said that: “The release date of December 11 — three days before the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — provides additional evidence that Asylum intended to profit by associating its film with Plaintiffs’ work. The close proximity of the release dates demonstrates a clear intent to capitalize on the extensive attention that the Hobbit Marks will receive leading up to the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. At oral argument, counsel for Asylum admitted that the temporal proximity of the release dates was ‘not a coincidence’.”
In fact most of the other mockbusters seem to follow the trend of releasing their movies very close to the release dates of the original:
- Jack the Giant Killer came out on March 12, 2013, Jack the Giant Slayer on March 1, 2013.
- Hansel & Gretel came out January 8, 2013, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters came out January 17, 2013.
- Grimm's Snow White, Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror Mirror were all released in 2012.
- 2009's Sherlock Holmes was followed by 2010's Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes from The Asylum.
The Asylum defend their claim by stating that it isn't their intention to dupe customers. The Asylum cites reports from both Blockbuster and Hollywood Video that show that less than 1% of customers who rent one of their films ask for a refund. The fact that the return of their films hasn't been very large has been used to argue that consumers are not being duped. "There's a segment of people who watch them because they know they're bad and they're funny, and they're fun to make fun of with their friends," says Kyle Ryan, the managing editor of The A.V. Club, a sister publication of The Onion.
Foreign knockoffs and illegitimate sequels
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It is common for mockbusters and ripoffs to be filmed and released outside of the country that the original movie was made in. Many foreign versions/knockoffs of famous American films exist, as well as completely illegitimate sequels.
Star Wars, its various sequels and its popularity spawned foreign knockoffs such as the 1982 Turkish film Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (often commonly referred to by the unofficial title "Turkish Star Wars", but its title translates to "The Man Who Saves the World"). The 1968 Charlton Heston film Planet of the Apes inspired the low-budget Japanese film Time of the Apes, made in 1974 but released in 1987. The 1975 film Jaws spawned the 1980 Italian ripoff Great White, as well as Monster Shark (also commonly referred to by its alternate title Devil Fish, the title it was featured under in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000), another Italian ripoff released four years later. Two Italian directors have done movies inspired by George A. Romero's 1978 Dawn of the Dead: Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 sold itself as the sequel to that film (which was called Zombi in Italy) and even used a line originally written for Dawn of the Dead. Bruno Mattei released Hell of the Living Dead in 1980, was widely considered Mattei's attempt to rip off Dawn of the Dead. The movie even goes as far as to illegally use music from the original soundtrack of Dawn of the Dead created by the band Goblin without the permission of Goblin, Romero, The Laurel Group or anyone else involved with Dawn of the Dead’s production. Similarly, Mattei also directed the film Strike Commando in 1987, widely considered to be very derivative of the successful 1985 American film Rambo: First Blood Part II, and also drawing elements from movies such as Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. In 1988 Mattei filmed a movie titled Robowar, widely seen as an attempt to cash in on the successful 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Predator, but with this version featuring a low-budget "military robot" (an actor in a motorcycle helmet and a black flak jacket) as the antagonist rather than an intergalactic hunter. Both Strike Commando and Robowar featured cult-favorite American actor Reb Brown of Space Mutiny fame in the lead role. The first one had a sequel, Strike Commando 2, starring Brent Huff, which also ripped off Rambo: First Blood Part II.
The Spanish film Pod People in its early stages had a plot based around evil replicating aliens, but the producers demanded that rewrites be made of the script in order to cash in on the success of the Steven Spielberg film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The film was released in its final form in 1983 with a furry, orange ripoff of the character E.T. with a trunk. The alien befriends a little boy (who nicknames him "Trumpy") and has seemingly magical powers that somewhat mirror those of the original E.T., but are brought to life with lower-budgeted special effects.
In 1983, one year after the American release of Disney's cult classic science-fiction film Tron, a South Korean studio named Namyang Planning released an animated science-fiction film called Computer haekjeonham pokpa daejakjeon, which was later released internationally by Joseph Lai under the title of Savior of the Earth. The film's story is centered on an average video game-fan being transported into cyberspace by a mad scientist and being forced to play video games in order to survive. The film is often known by the unofficial title of "Korean Tron" due to the fact that, despite being animated, it contains a number of obvious narrative and visual elements that were lifted from Disney's Tron. These include the luminous body-armor, the identity-discs, several of the vehicles featured in Tron, and direct animated adaptations of characters from the original film, including SARK. Both films even feature a cameo appearance of the popular video game character Pac-Man.
Japanese animation has also been the target of mockbusters. When Mazinger Z was popular in South Korea in the 1970s, animation director Kim Cheong-gi created Robot Taekwon V as the Korean counterpart. After the success of Taekwon V, 70 animated features were produced in South Korea between 1976 and 1986, many of which lifted stories, characters and designs from Japanese anime. In 1983, South Korea released Space Gundam V. Despite its name, the series is not related to Mobile Suit Gundam; instead, it is a knockoff of the Super robot genre featuring an unauthorized depiction of the VF-1 Valkyrie from Macross. The 2010 Chinese animated series Astro Plan has been criticized for being a ripoff of Macross Frontier and Mobile Suit Gundam 00.
Low-budget studios in foreign countries may produce completely illegitimate sequels to preexisting higher budgeted movies or movie franchises that began in other countries. These sequels are unofficial and often even unknown to the creators and producers of the original franchise. These unofficial sequels are rarely or never released in the country where the original film franchise is made, usually due to licensing issues.
In 1980, an Italian science-fiction/horror film was released with the title Alien 2: On Earth to cash in on the international blockbuster Alien released the year before. The Ciro Ippolito-directed "sequel" has no connection to Ridley Scott's film either in story or concept, aside from having some alien creature killing people.
Similarly, a film titled Terminator II was released in Italy in 1990 as a supposed sequel to the 1984 American film The Terminator. This was almost a full year before the release of the James Cameron film Terminator 2: Judgment Day in America. Despite its title, the film's plot is actually closer to being a mockbuster of James Cameron's 1986 hit film Aliens, though one of the characters featured is a robot disguised as a human that is presented and played in such a way that it clearly mimics Arnold Schwarzenegger's iconic character in the movie The Terminator.
In 1995, a low-budget made-for-TV movie debuted in Italy called Jaws 5 (also called Cruel Jaws). However, only a Jaws 2, Jaws 3 and Jaws 4 were ever officially released by Universal Pictures as sequels to the 1975 Steven Spielberg movie Jaws. Jaws 5 even features stock footage illegally taken from the original Jaws and its sequels (and, ironically enough, Great White, another Italian ripoff of Jaws), as well as use of a mangled version of the Star Wars theme.
Both Terminator II and Jaws 5 were directed by Bruno Mattei, an Italian director infamous for both low-budget, poorly reviewed B-movies and exploitation films, as well as illegitimate sequels to famous American films. The script for Terminator II was written by cult-famous Italian B-movie writer/director Claudio Fragasso, most notable for being the director of the cult classic horror film Troll 2.
A rare alternate title for the film Pod People is Return of E.T..
The first two films in the Evil Dead trilogy of films were released in Italy under the titles of La Casa and La Casa 2. In 1988 Joe D'Amato acted as producer for a completely unrelated sequel called La Casa 3, also called Evil Dead 3. This was a full five years before Sam Raimi would direct and release Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness in the US. La Casa 4 was another further unrelated sequel to the Evil Dead franchise, also produced by Joe D'Amato and also released in 1988, starring David Hasselhoff and Catherine Hickland. The film alternately bills itself as both Evil Dead 4 and Return of the Exorcist, also making it an unofficial/illegitimate sequel to the 1973 American film The Exorcist, 11 years after the official U.S. release of Exorcist II: The Heretic. D'Amato would again act as producer for yet another illegitimate Evil Dead sequel in 1990 with the release of La Casa 5, also called Evil Dead 5 and this time directed by Claudio Fragasso.
The 1975 low-budget Italian film Naked Exorcism (Un urlo nelle tenebre) also bills itself under the title The Exorcist 3. This was a full 15 years before William Peter Blatty directed and released The Exorcist III and a full eight years before he wrote the novel it was based on.
The 1987 Italian war film Eroi dell'inferno was released in America by Asiavision under the title of Inglorious Bastards 2: Hell's Heroes. Despite the original The Inglorious Bastards/Quel maledetto treno blindato being a war film set in World War II, Inglorious Bastards 2: Hell's Heroes is set during the Vietnam War. Oddly enough, both films feature actor Fred Williamson, but playing different roles.
Mockbusters that are made after popular animated films are known as a "drafting opportunity." For example, Kiara the Brave (a mockbuster of Pixar's Brave) or Puss in Boots: A Furry Tale (a mockbuster of Puss in Boots) use soundalike titling to "draft off" the marketing success ("slipstream") of popular films. "Can you trademark an actual noun? The idea of a battleship?," asks Boxoffice magazine editor Amy Nicholson. The original Puss in Boots was made by DreamWorks by 300 people working for four years at the cost of $130 million. The mockbuster, with nearly exactly the same name was made by 12 people, in six months, for less than $1 million. For these large production houses, it wasn't just a question of free riding on the marketing success of these more popular films; mockbusters have become a source of bad publicity. Customers who had accidentally bought the mockbuster Puss in Boots: A Furry Tale but did not know that it was a mockbuster gave the original movie bad reviews. Mockbuster producers have had no legal troubles with drafting off as a result of a Disney case against Good Times Entertainment which had made different versions of Aladdin.
Mockbusters have also had legal complications with false advertising. They supposedly tweak the plot lines and the titles just enough to skirt legal trouble and yet ride on the publicity of major blockbusters. Until the Hobbit case, mockbuster production houses have been able to achieve soundalike titling to such an extent that even actors in the movies have been confused about which movie they are starring in. Some actors starring in the original have gone on to become fans of the mockbuster model. Kel Mitchell was the star in the mockbuster Battle of Los Angeles, the mockbuster to the original Battle: Los Angeles. His friend was in the original and they began promoting both movies together. Kel has since then became a fan of the studio's formula: "I laugh out loud when I see that a film is coming out; I wonder what The Asylum is going to do with it. They're going to remix that name and put it out."
The Asylum vs. Warner Bros., 2012
In 2012, The Asylum was sued by Warner Bros. Pictures and The Saul Zaentz Company (SZC) for trademark infringement, false designation of origin, trademark dilution, false advertising, and unfair competition. Plaintiffs alleged that defendant's movie title "Age of the Hobbits" infringed the registered trademarks held by SZC in the designation "Hobbit." Unlike fairytales, which are in the public domain, the J. R. R. Tolkien novels have been exclusively licensed to Warner Bros. and SZC for production and film adaptation. The court described Global Asylum (the defendant in this case) as a low budget company that makes "mockbusters" of popular movies with similar titling. Warner Bros. and SZC submitted evidence to prove that consumers would be confused by the identical title and that they would lose not only ticket sales but also DVD revenue. The evidence included a survey showing that 48 percent of 400 surveyed respondents associated the term “Hobbit” with SZC, d/b/a “Tolkien Enterprises” and Tolkien properties. A separate survey conducted by Nielsen National Research Group showed that approximately 16 to 24 percent of survey respondents were confused about the source of Age of the Hobbits.
The Asylum claimed that they were justified in using the word "Hobbit" as a fair use of scientific terminology after some scientists borrowed the term from the Hobbit stories a few years prior to describe a human subspecies in Indonesia. The Asylum argued that it provided warnings stating that this was not the Tolkien creature. There were major plot differences between the two films: "In an ancient age, the small, peace-loving Hobbits are enslaved by the Java Men, a race of flesh-eating dragon-riders. The young Hobbit Goben must join forces with their neighbor giants, the humans, to free his people and vanquish their enemies."
The Federal Court found that Warner Bros. had a valid trademark in the word "Hobbit". The court rejected The Asylum's scientific fair use claims since there was no evidence to suggest that the movie was about prehistoric group of people who lived in Indonesia. The court rejected all of The Asylum's defenses: (i) that it was permitted to use “Hobbits” in the title of its film pursuant to the free speech test of the Second Circuit’s decision in Rogers v. Grimaldi, (ii) that its use of the mark constituted nominative fair use to indicate plaintiffs' movies and (iii) that the “Hobbits” mark was a generic name. The court decided that The Asylum had failed to prove its defenses and on December 10, 2012, found in favor of the plaintiffs and entered a temporary restraining order. This restraining order prevented the use by Global Asylum of the title Age of the Hobbits. The Ninth Circuit court of appeals affirmed in 2013.
Frequently, successful films will spawn pornographic knock-offs with punned titles. Examples include: Gilligan's Bi-Land (Gilligan's Island), Edward Penishands (Edward Scissorhands), "Kinky Kong" (King Kong), Forrest Hump (Forrest Gump) Raiders of the Lost Arse (Raiders of the Lost Ark), and Flesh Gordon (Flash Gordon).
Even some classics of the genre are mockbusters: the 1973 film The Devil in Miss Jones is a mockbuster of the 1941 film The Devil and Miss Jones, and the 1985 film Black Throat is a mockbuster of the 1972 film Deep Throat.
In other media
The term has also been used for media besides film, such as video games capitalizing on the success of a known franchise like Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty. A notable example of this are games developed by the French studio Gameloft. Most of the games in their portfolio bear similarities to popular video game series, with reviewers commenting about the company bringing the experience from those games into mobile platforms.
- B movie
- Z movie
- The Asylum
- Bruno Mattei
- Michael Schelp
- Vídeo Brinquedo
- The television show Mystery Science Theater 3000 had episodes featuring mockbusters of other movies.
- Brian Raftery (December 21, 2009). "Now Playing: Cheap-and-Schlocky Blockbuster Ripoffs". Wired. Retrieved June 25, 2011.
- "Low-budget knockoff movies benefit from Hollywood blockbusters". Los Angeles Times. June 24, 2012. Retrieved 2012-06-25. "The animated knockoff is what's known in the film industry as a 'drafting opportunity.' ... The Asylum, a production company in Burbank that built much of its business with what staffers lovingly call 'mockbusters,' ..."
- Potts, Rolf (October 7, 2007). "The New B Movie". The New York Times. Retrieved February 6, 2009.
- Editorial Writer(s) (January 21, 2000). "Faux Film Festival". Suck.com. Retrieved May 10, 2009.
- Gagliano, Rico (March 17, 2008). "Bollywood's copycat film industry". Marketplace. Retrieved May 18, 2009.
- Lovece, Frank (May 7, 1993). "Faux Lee Artists". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved May 20, 2009.
- Baby, Sean. "Turkish Star Wars, E.T., Wizard of Oz". Wave Magazine. Retrieved May 20, 2009.[dead link]
- Brent Lang (2012-06-14). "Low-Budget 'Kiara the Brave' Capitalizes on Similarities to That Other 'Brave' Cartoon". The Wrap. Retrieved 2013-03-30.
- Lumenick, Lou (July 26, 2006). "B-list knockoffs of summer hits are fool's gold". The New York Post.
- blog, "in defense of mockbusters"
- Glenn Kay (2008). Zombie Movies. Chicago Review Press. p. 95. ISBN 1-55652-770-5.
- "Low-budget knockoff movies benefit from Hollywood blockbusters". LA Times.
- "Trademark Suit Blocks "Age of the Hobbits" Mockbuster Release". Sullivan Law.
- Belloni, Matthew (2012-11-07). "'The Hobbit' Producers Sue 'Age of the Hobbits' Studio for Trademark Infringement (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2013-04-30.
- Moore, Trent (2012-11-08). "Warner Bros. officially trying to kill that Hobbit mockbuster". blastr. Retrieved 2013-04-30.
- "IP/Entertainment Law Weekly Case Update for Motion Picture Studios and Television Networks". Loeb & Loeb, LP. 2012-12-20. Retrieved 2013-04-30.
- "Gameloft: The Asylum of Games - Destructoid". Destructoid. Retrieved 20 December 2012.
- "Gameloft at peace with copycat reputation". GamesRadar. Retrieved 15 November 2013.
- "Gameloft answers game cloning charge". Eurogamer. Retrieved 15 November 2013.