There is a fine line between taking influence for your own original idea from another source and just plain ripping off another artist. Chris Addison’s “The Hustle,” a new comedy starring Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway, is being described as a modern, gender-swapped version of Frank Oz’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (1988) – which in itself is a remake of Stanley Shapiro’s “Bedtime Story” (1964). Three different interpretations of the same plot.
Similar kinds of thing have occurred with Leo McCarey’s “Love Affair” (1939), which was remade twice as “An Affair to Remember” (1957) and “Love Affair” (1994), and to a lesser extent “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993). The most famous example of this is of course, “A Star is Born,” released originally as “What Price Hollywood” in 1932 and then four more times with the more recognizable title in 1937, 1954, 1976 and 2018. While all these remakes could easily fall under the “Hollywood’s running out of ideas” banner, there’s something to be a little admired about the creators owning up to taking a new spin on an old story.
But how far can influence go? The biggest movie of the year, the Russo Brothers’ “Avengers: Endgame,” had viewers noticing not only similar themes to “Return of the Jedi” (1983), but also the 2001 season 7 finale of the Star Trek spin-off “Voyager” (also amusingly called “Endgame”). Yet even with the similarities pointed out, it hasn’t affected the success of the Avengers feature, possibly because the modern Marvel franchise is so beloved and so many people have seen it, that some aren’t even Star Trek fans. Sometimes, though, the original creator of the source used for inspiration – especially with flops – will go through the effort to challenge the new interpreter legally. This was the case when John Carpenter successfully sued Luc Besson for nicking the plot of “Escape from New York” (1981) for “Lockout” (2012).
Later this year, we have remakes and new adaptations of “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” “Witness for the Prosecution,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Little Women,” as well as “Booksmart” and “Good Boys,” both of which look like they take a lot from “Superbad” (2007) based on their trailers. Here’s hoping at least one of them brings something fresh to the same old story.