Making movies can be a litigious business – and for some crazy reasons – as these films found out.
Reason: there wasn’t enough fast driving in it
If you went into the 2011 Ryan Gosling film expecting a pedal-to-the-metal action flick, you were probably disappointed, even if the resulting drama was still one of the best movies that year.
However, Michigan resident Sarah Deming was furious that she didn’t get to see a ‘Furious and Furious’-style autothon and sued, saying the trailer was misleading and promoted violence against Jews.
What damages was she seeking? A refund on her ticket, which the cinema had already offered.
‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
Reason: the script made too many jokes about a character’s toupee
Investment banker Andrew Greene sued the Scorsese movie for using his likeness in a character called Nicky Koskoff, played by actor P.J. O’Byrne, who’s one of Jordan Belfort’s (Leonardo Di Caprio) greedy, amoral trader posse.
What’s more, Koskoff is nicknamed ‘Rugrat’ on account of his terrible wig – Greene said his ‘appearance’ in the film was damaging his business and the syrup gags were insulting. The banker argued the drama “portrayed [him] as a criminal, drug user, degenerate, depraved, and/or devoid of any morality or ethics” and is suing for £40million. The case is ongoing.
‘Rasputin and the Empress’
Reason: it defamed the wife of Rasputin’s proclaimed murderer
Amazingly, this 1932 horror movie is responsible for almost every film ending with a legend saying what you’ve just watched is fiction and any similarity with real people is co-incidental.
That’s thanks to a lawsuit against the movie by the wife of Russian Prince Felix Yusupov who claimed to have been the person who assassinated the real Rasputin. Because he’d written a memoir in which he’d admitted to being the Mad Monk’s killer, he didn’t have much of a case for libel, but instead his wife Irina sued, arguing that in the film’s text preface MGM had essentially admitted two of the characters were based on her and her husband.
She said in reality she’d never met Rasputin, but in the movie the character based on her was raped by him. She was awarded £25,000 – the equivalent of about £1.6million today. A judge later told MGM that if they’d written a disclaimer saying none of the characters were based on real people, they’d have been protected.
‘Warcraft: The Beginning’
Reason: sending a promotional text message about the film without permission
American Charlie Fitzgerald III got cheesed off with texts Universal (via a marketing company) sent his phone, encouraging him to watch the 2016 movie.
His particular beef? He says he never agreed to receiving them and that Universal was thus in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. He’s asking for £400 in damages (rising to £1200 if the company did it deliberately) and the matter remains tangled up in the courts.
‘The Dark Knight Rises’
Reason: the software Catwoman was trying to steal was the same as real-life tech
Company Fortres Grand had been selling computer history-removing software called Clean Slate since 2000 and argued that Selina Kyle’s search for a program that erased her criminal history was a copyright infringement. They added that there’s a line of dialogue using the words, “clean slate”.
The judge sided with Warner Bros., saying that the production company had made a film not a piece of software.
Reason: the filmmakers were negligent resulting in the death of a camera assistant
The tragic 2014 death of camera assistant Sarah Jones on the set of since-abandoned film ‘Midnight Rider’ sparked a swathe of legal machinations, which included its writer/producer/director Randall Miller going to prison for involuntary manslaughter. Jones was killed by a train outside Doctortown, Georgia while the crew were shooting a scene on a working track.
Jones’s parents also filed a wrongful death suit against multiple members of the crew and production company which ended with a confidential settlement.
The Jones have since set up the Sarah Jones Film Foundation, which advocates for safer film sets.
Reason: the filmmakers mistreated unpaid interns
In a case which has fundamentally altered the way Hollywood does business, in July 2016 a settlement was reached by 20th Century Fox with a number of plaintiffs who have been arguing for five years that they should’ve been paid for work they did for the company.
Eric Glatt, Alexander Footman and others sued after working at Fox and various subsidiaries – including the production of Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar-winning ballet drama – saying essentially that while they were taken on as interns, they carried out work which was worthy of payment.
The lawsuit sparked a slew of other class actions against other filmmaking businesses including NBCUniversal and Lionsgate, who have also settled the cases before going to trial.
Reason: John Carpenter said it ripped off ‘Escape from New York’
Suing for lack of originality seems like something of a futile gesture in today’s reboot-happy Hollywood, but that’s exactly what iconic director John Carpenter did after seeing Luc Besson’s ‘Lockout’ (2012) starring Guy Pearce.
The movie, which failed at the box office, was about a laconic criminal given a chance to redeem himself by rescuing the President’s daughter from a supermax prison in space.
Carpenter said that pretty much aped the plot of his 1981 Kurt Russell-starrer ‘Escape from New York’, although the earlier film had the antihero evacuating the Prez himself from a prison on a dystopian Manhattan.
A French court found in favour of Carpenter and ordered Besson to pay damages.
‘Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story’
Reason: infringing on the Carpenters’ musical copyright
One of writer/director Todd Haynes’ infamous earliest efforts was this short, lo-fi biopic which recreated the life of the tragic singer using Barbie dolls.
Karen’s brother and bandmate Richard wasn’t pleased with how he and his sister came across and when he found out Haynes hadn’t secured any of the music clearances required to use the band’s tunes in the film, he sued and won. The film can now officially never be shown publicly, although, you know, YouTube.
‘Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2’
Reason: unauthorised use of the original film’s actors’ likenesses
The stars of ‘The Blair Witch Project’ laid a lawsuit on the ‘Book of Shadows’ producers for £3.25million each, after they were featured – albeit briefly – in the rubbish sequel as well as the surrounding advertising.
While the characters played by Heather Donohue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams – spoiler alert! – died in the first movie (or did they, start the conspiracy theories now), the actors said they cropped up in marketing materials for number two, as well as the film itself, doing substantial damage to their commercial reputation.