The movie business is indeed a fickle one. Every day, studios are making decisions about how to spend millions of dollars on projects that could end up becoming the next Oscar winning film or blockbuster hit. However, these projects could just as easily end up earning a reputation as one of the worst films to ever hit the big screen.
In some cases, a film will not only fail to turn a profit but can actually lead to such large-scale litigation that the creative team behind the project finds itself fending off million dollar lawsuits. Though there are far too many of these instances to cover, we’ll review some of the more high-profile lawsuits that major films have faced in recent years. For the record, we’re only discussing movie’s that faced million dollar lawsuits lawsuits or bigger.
1. Avatar (2009)
James Cameron’s record-breaking box office smash still stands among the most successful films ever made. So it stands to reason that someone out there would want a piece of the profit. In 2013, an album cover artist named William Roger Dean sued Cameron and Fox for the design of the Na’vi home of Pandora, citing that its fantasy landscapes closely resembled his own artwork. Not only is Dean seeking upwards of $50 million in damages, but also an injunction against distribution, full accounting, a court order declaring that Cameron stole his work, and all those rights made applicable and credited in future Avatar projects.
2. The Hangover Part II (2011)
In 2011, tattoo artist S. Victor Whitmill filed a copyright infringement suit over the use of art he designed in the Warner Bros. comedy sequel The Hangover Part II. In the film, Ed Helms’s character wakes up sporting the same face tattoo as Mike Tyson. This was the very same art that Whitmill designed for Tyson years earlier. Whitmill sought monetary damages and since his suit would have cost the studio delaying release of the film mere months before it hit theaters (where it ultimately earned nearly $600 million worldwide), Warner Bros. opted to settle the suit at undisclosed terms. We can only imagine that Whitmill found the effort worth it in the end.
3. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
In the 2012 Disney hit Wreck-It Ralph, the titular video game villain sets out on a mission to become a hero. The film was such a hit for the studio that it spawned a recently announced sequel. However, the film became the subject of a $10 million dollar lawsuit last year alleging that Disney stole the concept behind the film from writer Dyke Robinson. Robinson claims he submitted a manuscript — entitled Digiland — to the Mouse House in 2012 and was turned down. The suit appears to still be ongoing as of this writing. Chances are that this may be yet another case of similar story ideas coming to fruition roughly around the same time, given the pre-production process needed to bring a film to life.
4. The Hobbit series (2012-2014)
As fans of The Lord of the Rings trilogy know, a film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was delayed by nearly a full decade thanks to rights issues. However, even after director Peter Jackson’s first film in The Hobbit series hit theaters, the franchise remained stricken with legal woes. Alleging that The Weinstein Company is owed royalties from all three films, the production house launched a $75 million lawsuit against Warner Bros. The studio — which released all three films — claimed that The Weinstein Company sold all rights to the novel to Warner Bros. subsidiary New Line Cinema 15 years earlier and that the agreement only included royalties on the first film.
5. American Hustle (2013)
With films like The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook under his belt, producer David O. Russell has become something of an Academy Awards favorite. Yet, his 2013 film American Hustle got into a bit of hot water when a line of dialogue referenced an article by former The New Yorker writer Paul Brodeur. In the film, Jennifer Lawrence’s character states that Brodeur authored an article stating that microwaves zap the nutrition from food. In response, Brodeur filed a $1 million dollar libel lawsuit claiming that the reference in the film has damaged his reputation. The suit was ultimately dismissed.
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