Every once in a while, a movie comes along that changes everything. A film that rewrites the rules and influences a generation of film-makers. But all too often, the people who imitate these ground-breaking movies miss the point. Here are 10 science fiction and fantasy movies from which everybody copied the wrong thing.
1) Close Encounters of the Third Kind
What everybody copies: The UFO imagery, the light-saturated weirdness, the notion of looking for clues to extraterrestrials. Plus this movie really helped to popularize the "grey" alien form.
What they should have copied: The sense of spiritual wonder, which no alien contact movie before or since has quite managed. And way Steven Spielberg creates a highly personal journey with an epic sweep to it. Basically, everybody borrowed certain design elements from this film but nobody has ever duplicated what made it special.
2) The Matrix
What everybody copies: Everybody borrowed the wirework (which was borrowed from Asian films in the first place.) And "bullet time," the slow-mo fighting that combines kung-fu with treacley ordnance. And this film helped popularize some gothy fashions and big black trenchcoats.
What they should have copied: The great exploration of the nature of reality and the message about complicity and corporate control.
3) Mad Max: The Road Warrior
What everybody copies: This movie spawned a boom of low-budget and medium-budget post-apocalyptic movies. People copied the hairstyles and the fashions and the vehicles. The goalie masks and the mohawks.
What they should have copied: The intense look at what happens when people run short on crucial resources, like gasoline, and the theme of resource depletion in both this movie and Beyond Thunderdome. Plus just the sheer inventive mayhem in this movie — none of the legion of imitators managed to create car stunts and action set-pieces with one-tenth the wild abandon.
4) 2001: A Space Odyssey
What everybody copies: The "acid trip with wacky lights" thing. The evil computer.
What they should have copied: Almost nobody has really tried to copy this film's realistic look at space travel, until pretty recently, with films like Moon and Gravity.
5) Blade Runner
What everybody copies: The grim, dark, dreary environments with Asian influences. The neon-lit urban dystopias with noodle shops.
What they should have copied: The actual texture that makes future L.A. feel like a real place, and not just a painted façade. Plus the tense moments and the frustrated characters who have no way out of a bad situation.
What everybody copies: The "horror movie in space" thing. The facehugger. The notion of a KY-jelly-coated monster taking people out.
What they should have copied: The working class characters in a spaceship that felt like it had seen some lightyears. And the evil corporation that is screwing them over.
What everybody copies: The thing of the wisecracking badasses going into a meat-grinder and getting killed one by one. The notion of a sequel that raises the stakes (and number of threats) from the first movie.
What they should have copied: Everybody, including arguably James Cameron himself, failed to duplicate a big part of what was so great about this film: the way it establishes all of the characters as living, breathing people with deft brushstrokes. The fact that even as it pivots from military movie to horror movie to action movie, the people always feel totally real.
8) The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
What everybody copies: The huge battles and the sweeping medieval vistas. A lot of the VFX for showing crowds of Orcs or whatever. The motion-captured Gollum.
What they should have copied: The sense of real stakes in the middle of all this grand epicness, with amazing actors bringing a sense of weight to the proceedings. The really grand thing about Peter Jackson's Rings movies is the way they convince you the fate of Middle Earth is at stake through strong performances.
9) Batman Begins
What everybody copies: It's hard to think of a superhero movie that's been more influential, especially in terms of how we tell origin stories. Everybody copied the "gritty" "realism" and the vaguely Frank Miller-esque noir feel.
What they should have copied: The way we keep seeing Bruce Wayne making mistakes and learning from them. The hints that he has to destroy Bruce Wayne to become Batman, and the meditation on what it means to sacrifice your real identity to create a "legend." Liam Neeson as an assassin guru.
10) 28 Days Later
What everybody copies: Everybody copied the zombie hordes and the fast zombies and the sense of zombie rage instead of zombie apathy
What they should have copied: The realization that the soldiers are the real monsters. Nothing about the zombies is as terrifying or inhuman as Christopher Eccleston, and that's why this film still packs a massive punch.
Thanks to Annalee, Meredith, Lauren, Robbie, George, Esther and especially Genevieve for the suggestions!