If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then James Cameron must be one of the most beloved directors in Hollywood. Every one of his films has been aped at least once, sometimes before they even came out. Here are some of the most blatant ripoffs.
1984’s The Terminator influenced practically every low-budget action film for the next decade, but there are two films that rip off that film’s plot so blatantly that they deserve special note. 1989’s Lady Terminator is a bizarrely edited retread with mysticism and an ancient curse thrown in while 1997’s Future War has the novelty of adding dinosaurs to the mix. Neither is very good, but they’re made infinitely better by listening to professional comedians’ commentary on them.
Ever heard of Carnosaur 2 or Xtro II: The Second Encounter? Don’t worry, neither has any other sane human being. I, on the other hand, keep up with blatant ripoffs of Aliens as a hobby. Not really, but these two films have the distinction of being the follow-ups to decent creature features, and it’s hilarious that they copied and pasted the plot of another sequel to an amazing creature feature, Aliens. I guess you can’t improve on perfection, so the best you can hope to do is emulate it.
DeepStar Six, Leviathan, and even Lords of the Deep managed to beat The Abyss to theaters in 1989. That’s mainly because Cameron was such a perfectionist that he fell behind schedule pushing his actors and the limited digital effects of the era to their limits to get his vision on screen. The imitators all tanked at the box office, and The Abyss even underperformed. That year was packed with big blockbusters, so it’s not hard to see why The Abyss fell by the wayside. I see it as Cameron’s masterpiece. While it has gone on to receive the praise it deserves, all of its ripoffs have been forgotten.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Again, in this case another film beat Cameron to the punch. In 1989, an Italian film known as either Terminator 2 or Shocking Dark debuted. It continues the story of the first Terminator by rehashing the story of Aliens. It’s a surreal combination. Needless to say, this unauthorized sequel has been blissfully forgotten by most of the world, thanks to the far superior Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
True Lies is based on the French film La Totale! But let’s face it, when you’ve got an Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle directed by James Cameron, whatever came before it is going to pale in comparison. Honestly, I’ve never heard of any direct ripoffs of True Lies, though Mr. and Mrs. Smith comes the closest. In that 2005 film, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie both play secret agents who keep their double lives hidden from each other. It’s a clever concept, but it’s nowhere near as fun as True Lies.
Most filmmakers wisely avoided trying to capture lightning in a bottle the way Cameron did when he made Titanic in 1997. Only Michael Bay attempted to pull off the same formula with Pearl Harbor in 2001. It made plenty of money, but it’s not particularly well-remembered. As far as animated atrocities based on Titanic, there are two that I know of: 1999’s The Legend of the Titanic and 2000’s Titanic: The Legend Goes on. Wow. To be able to not only reference the first ripoff but also the famous song from the original is an incredible feat, and that second film managed to do it. Thankfully, the only legend those films left behind is one of cringe-induced laughs at their expense.
It has been stated many times that Avatar is little more than a flashy version of Ferngully: The Last Rainforest and Dances with Wolves. The only other film that has managed to reuse the same formula as Avatar is How to Train Your Dragon, which did it far better, in my opinion. But beyond simple plot similarities, the film’s groundbreaking 3D special effects had the biggest impact. For a few years after 2009, it seemed like every movie not directed by Christopher Nolan or Quentin Tarantino got repackaged into a 3D version in theaters. The technology still exists today, but it’s not as hyped as it was a decade ago. That doesn’t change the fact that Cameron was the trailblazer of a major trend in cinema.
James Cameron will always be one of my favorite filmmakers because even when he had limited budgets to work with, he always made top-tier films. This is highlighted by all of his imitators. Even when others try to do what he did with bigger budgets and a ready-made template to follow, the results rarely match what Cameron already accomplished. Now that’s talent.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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