Do you remember the 2012 thriller Lockout from producer Luc Besson? While it may have slipped fairly quickly out of the public consciousness, John Carpenter certainly hasn’t forgotten about it. And how could he? The movie has now been proven in court to be an almost exact replica of his 1981 cult classic Escape From New York, which introduced Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken.
Luc Besson has been ordered to pay John Carpenter half a million dollars after being found guilty of plagiarism, with the court ruling that Lockout directly ripped off the story in Escape From New York. Besson originally denied that his film was a copycat. In the original Escape From New York, New York’s Manhattan Island has become a prison that houses the country’s worst criminals. Snake is tasked with breaking in to save the president, whose plane has crashed within the borders of this massive walled off compound.
An appeals court in Paris ruled that Lockout “massively borrowed key elements” from Carpenter’s movie. This hasn’t sat well with Besson. A spokesman for the filmmaker had this to say in a statement released to the press.
“[We’re] very surprised by the ruling but the judges have spoken and we will accept their judgment.”
Lockout follows the plight of Emilie Warnock (Maggie Grace), the daughter of the American president, who leads a humanitarian mission to MS One, an outer-space prison in which the 500 most dangerous criminals from Earth are kept in a state of artificial sleep. Just as Emilie arrives, the now-awakened prisoners stage a violent rebellion, and she and the MS One crew are taken hostage. Emilie’s only chance for salvation lies with Snow (Guy Pearce), a wrongly convicted agent who has been promised his freedom if he saves her.
Most times, plagiarism cases are hard to prove in court, especially when it comes to Hollywood screenplays. Especially with the fact that so many sci-fi and action movies follow very similar three-act beat structures that often contain the same tropes. But for years, Escape From New York fans have been quick to call Lockout an out-and-out rip-off. Which has now been proven in court.
John Carpenter, who co-wrote, produced and directed Escape from New York was originally seeking $2.4 million (2.2 million euros) in damages. Accroding to Yahoo, last year, the court found Luc Besson to be guilty of plagiarism and ordered the filmmaker and his Europacorp production company, along with his co-writers, to pay Carpenter, co-writer Nick Castle and StudioCanal, which holds the rights to Escape from New York 85,000 euros. But Besson balked, appealing the case, claiming the lawsuit was a block on artistic freedom. Besson’s lawyers turned the tables, claiming that Carpenter had ripped off the classic Western Rio Bravo and Mad Max in making his movie. The appeals court disagreed with these new claims, and ruled once again in Carpenter’s favor. They’ve now ordered Besson to pay even more, upping the ante to 450,000 euros. The similarities between the two films are said to be many and include the following.
“[Both heroes] got into the prison by flying in a glider/space shuttle, had to confront inmates led by a chief with a strange right arm, found hugely important briefcases and meet a former sidekick who then dies. And at the end (of both films the heroes) keep secret documents recovered during their mission.”
Besson’s spokesperson wanted the public to know that the judge did rule that there were quite a few differences between the two films as well. And says that Carpenter having not gotten his full claim represents how much originality there is in Lockout.
Luc Besson made quite a few waves last weekend, when he showed off the first footage from his next directorial effort Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets at Comic-Con. The sneak peek was praised for being original and exciting, and unlike anything that has ever been done before in the sci-fi genre. That movie was met with a standing ovation, and will be released next summer. While Besson is credited with co-writing Lockout, the movie was actually directed by Stephen St. Leger and James Mather. They were not mentioned in the initial report, and it doesn’t look like they are being held responsible for the movie.