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These movies reached across the Pacific for inspiration. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the "Top 10 Movies That Ripped off Anime."
For this list, we’ll be looking at the films that took elements, scenes, or plots from anime, whether directly or indirectly.
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A found footage movie about a trio of teenagers who develop psychic powers, Chronicle owes much of its plot to the highly influential anime film Akira. Both movies deal with teenagers with telekinetic powers rebelling against authority, with one of their group spiraling out of control, culminating in a psychic battle in a major city between former friends. Even some of the shots, like the psychic shockwaves, are similar. Both endings are pretty bleak, although Akira definitely goes bigger and weirder. Of course, director Josh Trank has admitted to being influenced by Akira, so at least he’s upfront about it.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
This turn-of-the-millennium sci-fi film has quite the complicated history, given that it was originally envisioned by Stanley Kubrick and then completed by Steven Spielberg after Kubrick’s death. However, it’s also heavily based on the anime Astro Boy, especially that show’s first episode. Each story follows a young robot boy built to replace a dead son, who, after being rejected for not being real, joins a circus. You could call this a coincidence, given that both stories are probably derived from Pinocchio, but given that Kubrick approached Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka about working together in the 1960s, it’s more than likely intentional.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
One of the lesser known Disney movies, Atlantis: The Lost Empire follows a turn of the 20th century expedition to find the titular lost city. The anime series Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water also deals with a trip to Atlantis aboard a submarine, but both stories were inspired by 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. However, the similarities seem more than coincidental, as both series also feature crystal technology not seen in the original story, as well as suspiciously similar character designs and archetypes—and even shots and moments that look very much alike.
Transcendence is a film that explores artificial intelligence and the breakdown between the digital and real worlds, albeit in a rather dull and predictable way. These themes are explored much better in the anime series Serial Experiments Lain, which follows a girl who realizes she’s actually a real-world avatar of an omnipotent and omnipresent computer intelligence. Besides Lain herself, the same concepts and ideas are seen in Transcendence, though not nearly as comprehensively or engagingly, especially given that Johnny Depp seems like he’s sleepwalking through the whole thing.
The Matrix Franchise
Anyone who’s seen any anime at all can tell that The Matrix franchise owes a lot to Japanese animation, but let’s dive into specifics. While several of the fight scenes are reminiscent of Dragon Ball, particularly in the climax of the third film, the biggest and most direct influence on The Matrix is arguably Ghost in the Shell. The Wachowskis have been very open about how much the film influenced their concept for the movie, borrowing heavily from its cyberpunk aesthetic, particularly people with plugs all over them, as well as the famous, green computer text.
Pacific Rim Franchise
We know, this is an obvious one. Although Pacific Rim also takes influence from the giant monster movie genre that gives the franchise’s creatures their name, Kaiju, the series wouldn’t exist without the hundreds and hundreds of anime about giant robots and mech suits. While there isn’t a specific series or film that we can point to that Pacific Rim rips off directly like some of our other entries, the influence of franchises like Gundam or Evangelion can definitely be felt throughout the films, and director Guillermo Del Toro cites Gigantor as an influence.
A young woman named Lucy with psychic powers suggested to be the next evolution of humanity goes on a hyper violent rampage against soldiers and the people responsible for her new abilities. No, we’re not talking about Lucy, the movie by Luc Besson! Rather, we’re talking about Elfen Lied, an anime and manga series that predates that film by around a decade. Lucy even borrows thematic elements from Elfen Lied, with musings on what it means to be human and other existential concepts. Both received a somewhat mixed reception though, so maybe Besson should have improved more on the material he derived his work from.
Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending dream heist movie has been hailed by many as a highly original and fantastic film; except, while the latter may be true, the former… not as much as you might think. Inception shares its concept of machines that allow people to enter dreams with the Satoshi Kon film Paprika. Although the tone of both films is very different, as Paprika plays around with the concept more and is more surreal, Inception does take some shots from the 2006 movie, such as a female character shattering glass to enter a new part of the dream, which definitely helps make it feel less original than when we first saw it.
Speaking of mind-bending movies based on anime by Satoshi Kon, Black Swan is another Western film to borrow from the Japanese director’s filmography, specifically Perfect Blue. Black Swan follows a ballet dancer named Nina who becomes unable to distinguish between reality and delusions while also dealing with traumatic feelings about sexuality. Perfect Blue follows an actress named Mima who becomes unable to distinguish between reality and delusions while also dealing with sexual trauma. Hmm! The films both contain similar scenes and imagery as well, and, given that Darren Aronofsky once purchased the rights to Perfect Blue, it’s safe to say that Black Swan is heavily derived from Kon’s work.
The Lion King
Many have noticed the connections between Shakespeare’s Hamlet and The Lion King, but the Disney musical also drew heavily from the anime series Kimba the White Lion by Osamu Tezuka. Besides the fact that the protagonists’ names rhyme, The Lion King also took imagery like the iconic Pride Rock cliff, thematic elements like the circle of life, and character archetypes, like hyena sidekicks, as well as many other aspects of the series. While Disney has vigorously denied ripping off the show and has often cited The Lion King as their first “completely original” movie… we’re not buying it… even if we love the movie.