Anytime that a movie gets released and is popular or a huge success, some smaller studio is going to try and take advantage of that success and release its own movie that is somewhat similar. It has happened throughout cinematic history but wasn’t more prevalent than during the drive-in, exploitation, and VHS rental craze.
Low-budget producers in the United States and around the globe were churning out their own versions of popular American films. Some of these took just a core theme from its popular source; some marketed it with a similar sounding title and similar looking movie poster, some actually lifted footage and music from its original source, some stole licensed characters, and some were almost shot for shot from the original.
The films on this list mostly focus on the period from the 1970’s and 1980’s, when exploitation cinema and the video rental market were at its strongest. Some are decent B-movies, some are bad, and some are awesome because of how bad they are.
This is not meant to be an all inclusive list or a best of list, because there are hundreds upon hundreds more of these rip-offs that were made in order to piggyback off the success of some other film. In fact, there could be whole subgenres created for some of these groups of films that have copied its popular predecessor.
1. Three Giant Men AKA 3 Dev Adam (1973)
A Turkish gang led by an evil Spiderman is terrorizing Istanbul and the police enlist the assistance of Captain America and the Mexican professional wrestler Santo to take care of them. Most of what happens involves Santo and Captain America running around and fighting people in various places, including a gymnasium, a graveyard, and an abandoned factory. There is also a weird and memorable torture sequence involving a guinea pig eating a man’s eyes.
This is the first film on this list that is considered Turksploitation, which were unauthorized Turkish film adaptations often using American copyrighted characters, movies, and television series. These films would often use soundtracks from the original films, and various clips from the films. Santo isn’t American, but he was popular in Turkey and had his own series of films that came from Mexico.
The representations of the ripped off characters are somewhat different to their normal representations. Mexican wrestler Santo often appears in the movie without his mask on. The real Santo would never take his mask off in public and was actually buried with it on when he died.
Captain America doesn’t have his shield and is missing the wings on the side of his mask. Spiderman is the most different out of the three, he is the villain of the film and his suit is mostly green with some red on the upper part of it. He also has some huge eyebrows sticking out of his eye holes.
The film is basically the equivalent of a low budget version of the Batman television series, minus the fighting sound bubbles. The action and fight scenes are decent, even though the characters don’t fight in their normal styles. So don’t expect flips and web shooting from Spiderman, and Santo does more Judo then professional wrestling moves.
It has a huge cult following among comic book geeks. It was frequently sold at the comic book conventions as a bootleg on VHS and DVD and probably still is by some of the merchants.
2. Seytan AKA Turkish Exorcist (1974)
This is a Turksploitation rip off of The Exorcist. It is pretty much a shot for shot replica of the original film except for the addition of an Ouija board and Islamic religious elements, as opposed to Catholicism.
It also includes the same music from the original films. This is a good example of how having excellent direction and a better production budget make the original one of the scariest horror films ever made, versus a low budget laugh riot.
3. A*P*E (1976)
This is a South Korean produced rip off of the American released King Kong film. The ultimate in low budget knock off films and pretty much just a straight rip off story wise of the 1976 American version, except the ape escapes a freighter and terrorizes the city of Seoul.
This is one of the films that would be referred to as Z-movie, with a much lower production budget than even a B-movie would have. It was shot for around $23,000, and they didn’t waste a penny. The ape costume is pretty much a bad Halloween costume, but there is a rather hilarious battle between the ape and a plastic shark in the water. This is worth watching only for the truest fans of low budget films.
4. Orca (1977)
“Terror just beneath the surface” . One of the earliest Jaws rip off films, it came out only two years later. If the Jaws movie had never existed, this one may have been considered the classic as opposed to a rip off. In this film, a killer whale takes revenge out on a sea captain that killed his female mate and child.
Dino De Laurentiis instructed the producers of the film to find a fish that was more terrible than the great white after watching Jaws, and that’s how they came about using a killer whale. There are many similarities to the Jaws film: a big angry fish, Richard Harris’s character is similar to Quint, Charlotte Rampling is similar to Richard Dreyfuss’s scientist character, the scientific book about whales, the boat at sea, the whale attacking the boat, the whale being intelligent, and the fin rising in and out of the water.
They used a combination of captured trained whales and some artificial whales made out of rubber. You can tell which shots involve the captured whales if you watch closely, because they have collapsed dorsal fins.
Production wise this is an excellent film, and would stand on its own merit if it weren’t stuck in the shadow of Jaws. It features good underwater footage, good shark and whale footage, nice scenic shots of the marine town, good shots in a polar ice cap area, decent action and effects, sinking boats and explosions, and good performances from Rampling and Harris.
Rampling had appeared in several cult films such as The Damned, Asylum, The Night Porter, and Zardoz. Harris had a very long acting career that began in the 1960’s, but is probably best known to modern audiences for playing Dumbledore in several of the Harry Potter films.
There are also early appearances from Robert Carradine (Revenge of the Nerds), and future sex symbol Bo Derek (10). It also has a very good score composed by Ennio Morricone, who is best known for his spaghetti western scores on Sergio Leone’s films such as The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.
5. Mighty Peking Man AKA Goliathon (1977)
“Action…Excitement…Spectacle beyond your wildest dreams!” . This film comes from the Shaw Brothers studio, mainly known for its martial arts films. Trying to capitalize of the recent success of the American King Kong film and Japanese Godzilla films, they introduced a King Kong figure called the Mighty Peking Man. In this version, the giant ape goes into the city in order to search for his sexy Sheena type lady who was taken from him.
The special effects and miniature work are excellent in this, rivaling any of the Toho produced Godzilla films. The look of the ape is also cool and different compared to the American versions that have been done; they were able to put their own spin on it. This is a definite must watch for fans of the King Kong and Godzilla films.
6. Deadly Hands of Kung Fu AKA The Dragon Lives Again (1977)
A true masterpiece of rip off cinema! This has to be one of the best and funniest of the Bruceploitation films that were made, which were a group of martial arts films made to capitalize on Bruce Lee’s popularity after his death in 1973. All of them featured Bruce Lee lookalikes that looked similar to him, performed his signature mannerisms, and changed their names to sound similar to his.
What makes this one so great is that it also rips off other movie icon imagery and names from Japan, England, and America. Bruce Lee dies and goes to a hell that looks like a Hong Kong town and decides to open a gym, but he gets hassled by the local mafia thugs and their boss. The bad guys include James Bond, Zatoichi, Clint Eastwood dressed in his western outfit, Dracula, Emmanuel, The Godfather, and The Exorcist, plus a group of mummies and guys dressed in spandex skeleton outfits.
There are a couple of other characters that are obviously trying to reference somebody, but I couldn’t make them all out. Lee gets help from Popeye, Caine from the TV show Kung Fu, and the one-armed swordsman. He ends up having individual fights with Zatoichi, Dracula, and Eastwood during the movie.
Add to that some decent martial arts action, nudity, slapstick humor, a talking skeleton, comedic dialogue, and an erection joke, and you have yourself a very amusing action comedy that contains a lot of fairly well known characters. This is a must see for anyone that loves strange and crazy films.
7. Starcrash (1978)
“From a vast and distant galaxy… A space adventure for all time!” . An Italian produced Star Wars rip off that was meant to capitalize off of its success. A pair of smugglers picks up the sole survivor of a mission to destroy a superweapon, created by the villainous Count Zarth Arn. They are then asked to complete the mission to destroy the weapon and rescue the Emperor’s son.
While the plot sounds similar to Star Wars there are some changes to the main characters. The Han Solo type character named Stella Star is female, who is mostly dressed in a bikini clad outfit throughout the film. Her sidekick uses a laser sword that is similar to a lightsaber.
There is an android character that is a robot policeman that somewhat resembles Darth Vader. They go and rescue a male character as opposed to a female princess. The end result is an Italian psychedelic low budget camp version of Star Wars, with additional elements borrowed from Barbarella, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and the Ray Harryhausen films.
Most of the posters that were used in the advertising of the film are similar to the original Star Wars posters, featuring a character that looks like Darth Vader, similar poses that Luke and Leia had, and similar spaceships including one that is identical to the Millennium Falcon.
It also features appearances from Christopher Plummer, well known B-movie actor Joe Spinell, and David Hasselhoff’s debut.
8. Piranha (1978)
“Then… you were shocked by the great white shark – Now… you are at the mercy of 1000 jaws!” . This was a rip off and somewhat spoof of Jaws from Producer Roger Corman’s production company New World Pictures, mixing elements of horror and comedy. In this version, piranha that have been bioengineered by the army are accidently released into a river and terrorize a kids camp and resort. A drunk and a skip tracer are the only people trying to stop them from killing more people.
This has to be one of the best of the Jaws rip off films, combining horror, jokes, comedic dialogue, some stop motion animation, violence, blood, nudity, and some gore. They are able to achieve scares and intensity with quick cuts and the music.
There are many elements from the Jaws movie that are used in this; including an opening nude swimming scene, a person getting killed on a small fishing pier, showing the underwater viewpoint of the fish, a guy in a canoe attacked, and a large group of people being attacked in the water.
It was written by John Sayles, who would go on to become a prolific director. It was one of the first films directed by Joe Dante, who would go on to direct The Howling and the Gremlins films. It featured minor appearances by Kevin McCarthy, Dick Miller, Paul Bartel, and Barbara Steele.
Universal Studios were going to sue New World for spoofing Jaws, but dropped the lawsuit after Steven Spielberg saw a pre-screening of the film and loved it . The piranha effects were done using rubber fish that were attached to poles . The film was shot over thirty days on a budget of $660,000 and ended up being one of New World Pictures most successful films .
There is an in joke at the beginning of the movie when the female lead is playing on a Jaws arcade videogame. The poster for Piranha is pretty much a replica of the original jaws poster, with a giant piranha going after a woman that is partially in the water.