A mockbuster (sometimes also called a knockbuster) 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 are often made with a low budget. Often these films are created to be released direct-to-video at the same time as the mainstream film reaches theaters or video outlets. Though the words are often used interchangeably, the term mockbuster implies a spoof or parody of the original film's premise, while knockbuster implies a more derivative (or knock-off) use of a successful film in the same genre.
Though it is possible to use properties of this sort to intentionally deceive consumers into mistakenly purchasing the derivative title (e.g., customer thinks he or she is buying Transformers, but 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 and wants more in the same sub-genre, and buys/rents C. Thomas Howell's The Land That Time Forgot).
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 traded on the publicity surrounding the theatrically released Snakes on a Plane. The Asylum, a Hollywood, California based film studio known for creating several mockbusters, created Snakes on a Train, as well as Transmorphers, AVH: Alien vs. Hunter, The Da Vinci Treasure, and most recently the Syfy-premiered film Battle of Los Angeles.
The 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 available 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, 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.
Mockbusters/knockbusters 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 Blob generated The Green Slime; 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 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 rip-off Hobgoblins.
A film does not necessarily have to be a derivative of an actual pre-existing film in order to be a knockoff, and instead might attempt to capitalize on the popularity of an existing TV show or any other such form of media with a public following. The 1979 film Angel's Revenge is widely considered to be a film knockoff of the concept behind the popular Charlie's Angels TV-series.
GoodTimes Entertainment was notorious for making animated "mockbuster" counterparts to popular Disney films in the 90s.
Similarly, Vídeo Brinquedo is a Brazilian CGI animation studio that has specialized since 2006 in producing low-budget direct-to-video films that are for the most part considered blatant (and extremely poorly done) knockoffs of movies created by Pixar, as well as Disney and DreamWorks. Their titles so far include Little & Big Monsters (considered derivative of DreamWorks' Monsters vs. Aliens), The Little Cars series of cartoons (considered derivative of Pixar's Cars), Ratatoing (considered derivative of Pixar's Ratatouille), Tiny Robots (considered derivative of Pixar's WALL-E), What's Up?: Balloon to the Rescue! (considered derivative of Pixar's Up), The Frog Prince (considered derivative of Disney's The Princess and the Frog) and many other titles. In every case Vídeo Brinquedo's knockoff is released suspiciously close to the release date of the more professional, higher-budgeted film that many say of which it is a rip-off.
Foreign knockoffs and illegitimate sequels
It is common for mockbusters and rip-offs to be filmed and released outside of the country that the original movie was made in. Many Turkish, Italian and Brazilian versions/knockoffs of famous American films exist, as well as completely illegitimate sequels.
Star Wars, its various sequels and their popularity spawned such foreign knockoffs as the 1982 Turkish film Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (often commonly referred to by the unofficial title of "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 rip-off 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 rip-off 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 1988 film 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 motor-cycle helmet and a black flak jacket) as the antagonist rather than an intergalactic hunter.
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 1982 Steven Spielberg film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The film was released in its final form in 1983 with a furry, orange rip-off 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 pre-existing 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 1990 an Italian-made science-fiction/horror film titled Terminator II was released in Italy 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 robot disguised as a human that is presented and played in such a way that it's a clear rip-off of 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 rip-off 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 US 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.
- B movie
- Z movie
- Vídeo Brinquedo
- The Asylum
- Michael Schelp
- Bruno Mattei
- The television show Mystery Science Theater 3000 had episodes featuring mockbusters of other movies.
- List of films considered the worst
- Brian Raftery (December 21, 2009). "Now Playing: Cheap-and-Schlocky Blockbuster Ripoffs". Wired. http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/12/ff_the_asylum/all/1. Retrieved June 25, 2011.
- ^ a b c Potts, Rolf (October 7, 2007). "The New B Movie". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/07/magazine/07wwln-essay-t.html?_r=2&ref=magazine&oref=slogin. Retrieved February 6, 2009.
- ^ Lumenick, Lou (July 26, 2006). "B-list knockoffs of summer hits are fool's gold". The New York Post.
- ^ Editorial Writer(s) (January 21, 2000). "Faux Film Festival". Suck.com. http://www.suck.com/daily/2000/01/21/. Retrieved May 10, 2009.
- ^ Gagliano, Rico (March 17, 2008). "Bollywood's copycat film industry". Marketplace. http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/03/17/bollywood_copycats/. Retrieved May 18, 2009.
- ^ "Faux Lee Artists". Entertainment Weekly. May 7, 1993. http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,306450,00.html. Retrieved May 20, 2009.
- ^ Baby, Sean. "Turkish Star Wars, E.T., Wizard of Oz". Wave Magazine. http://www.thewavemag.com/pagegen.php?pagename=article&articleid=22122. Retrieved May 20, 2009. [dead link]
- ^ Glenn Kay (2008). Zombie Movies. Chicago Review Press. p. 95. ISBN 1-55652-770-5.
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