Today we look at that most famous bit of film advice; good artists borrow, great artists steal. Some of the most iconic moments or scenes in film history came out of reverence or thievery of other artists. Here are some examples of filmmakers and screenwriters lifting ideas from other art to give shape to their own, or inspire them in the first place.
In literature, screenwriter Danny Rubin was moved by The Vampire Lestat’s take on coping with immortality to ask some of the same questions the best way he knew how; through comedy, and so we got Groundhog Day (where Bill Murray’s existential crisis is heightened because not only does he never age, every day is a repetition of the last).
The Dark Knight Rises supplants elements from revolutionary France in A Tale of Two Cities to the criminal uprising in Gotham City (and a character even quotes the novel’s final lines at one point).
There’s even a film franchise inspired by a magazine article; Racer X about illegal New York street racers instigated the Fast and Furious series, including the make-up of the first film’s line-up. Apt.
Many famous paintings and sculptures are visually parodied on screen, but others are lifted from in a more conceptual sense.
Barry Lyndon is based heavily on every painting of the time available to the filmmakers, who studied how these spaces were lit, and how groups at large gatherings tended to stage themselves (at least in paintings with particular subject matter, candle-light card games, garden proposals, etc.)
Pierrot le Fou borrows the lovers leaning from their car windows to kiss seen in Ron Hick’s Love on the Road.
Francisco Goya’s dark paintings influenced monsters like the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth, which devours fairies like Saturn devours his son.
La Pieta pops up a lot in interpretations of grief-stricken women clutching the bodies of their deceased loved ones (one of the best is the refugee in Children of Men, who the characters pass by but the camera lingers on).
John Kacere loved to paint photorealistic depictions of women’s backsides, and Jutta in particular seemed to inspire the framing and use of slightly see-through underwear in the opening shot of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, our introduction to one of the vulnerable protagonists.
M.C. Escher’s iconic impossible spaces are common. Inception, and can be seen in the translation of the moving staircases to the screen in the Harry Potter films.
House by the Railroad inspired the Psycho House, coming from the more general observation by screenwriter Joseph Stefano that if Norman Bates were a painting, he’d be painted by Edward Hopper.
Norman Rockwell’s work is so deeply ingrained as the definitive take on Americana, that any film aiming to capture a pure and sentimental view of the American past that doesn’t look to him is making a wrong move. The best example is probably Forrest Gump, America taking a very rosy look at a lifetime’s worth of its history, which borrows much from Rockwell’s aesthetic, including elements of storytelling he incorporated into his work, which seemed inherently old America somehow. These include the offices, packed cars, bullies, principles, doctors, and suits leftover from his home town.
As far as music goes, nicking ideas here isn’t so common. Jailhouse Rock was an entire film based around the premise of that single, titular Elvis Presley song. Earth, Wind and Fire shaking Steven Spielberg’s dashboard indirectly provided the inspiration for the T-Rex’s earth-shaking (and therefore cups-on-dashboard rattling) steps in Jurassic Park.
A classic photo was put to good use too; Stanley Kubrick styled the look of the creepy twins in the Shining on Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967, originally meant to evoke the tension between their eerie similarities and individuality, Kubrick flipped the script, going so far as to eliminate all individuality by making them speak and move in unison (rendering them all the creepier).
These are just a few examples of the sort of “borrowing” creatives love to do. Standing on the shoulders of giants, sometimes, gets you further than you might have thought. So, always be on the lookout, you never know what might set your next breakthrough into motion.