The people that made these films should be in an asylum.
With every big name movie or show that grows popular, there are bound to be copycats. It’s inevitable, and you can’t really stop it unless you take legal action against the cons artists.
Of course, there are some gray areas. A prime example is from 1994, when media conglomerate Disney themselves sued the media company, Golden Films’ when people were purchasing their version of “Aladdin” instead of Disney’s.
Disney lost the case. However, because most of their fairy tale movies were stories in the public domain, anyone can make a film if they so desire.
“If they spent so much money to create a big to-do,” Joe Cayre, the president of Good Times at the time, said on Bangor Daily News, “What better time to put it out? And it being a public-domain vehicle, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
With these types of movies that are obviously used to rip off other successful movies, names get thrown around, such as “mock-buster” or “bootleg.” They’re often used interchangeably.
However, it’s typical for these studios who make their entire business around ripping off films to not last that long. Golden Films barely lasted a total of 10 years, so obviously not a stable business model.
Except it is.
What if I told you that there is a studio that not only has made an entire company just to make these films, but turned a real, hefty profit?
You may have seen a film from them or may recognize a cover made by them, but do you remember their name? They don’t want you to anyways.
They’re simply The Asylum.
A Brief History
The Asylum started in 1997 in Burbank, California. They’re mostly known for their local, straight-to-video movies of dubious quality.
The company was founded by David Micheal Latt, David Rimwai, and Sherri Strain with a clear owner “privately held” according to their Wikipedia page.
Normally, the straight-to-video shtick would be a short-term, lucrative business, especially with competition. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least, not until 2005– the movie that started their terrible, scummy career.
Back then, the Asylum was only making horror movies, but by the time 2005 rolled around, they made the movie that set their careers in stone– an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” the same year as Steven Spielberg’s adaptation.
Despite the peculiar timing of said movies, Blockbuster ordered 100,000 copies of Asylum’s movie, which was a bigger order than their other movies. Which could be for a good reason– their movies suck.
Something to keep in mind: according to The Asylum’s website, they’ve made over 500 movies, an extensive library of 300 “original” productions, and produce 25 films a year. Why is this important?
Most of the big, blockbuster films by the likes of Disney, Pixar, and even DreamWorks, haven’t made that many films in their lifespans.
Disney, a long-standing studio, has made fewer films (around 492 at the time of writing) in their century of being a film conglomerate. The Asylum has made 500 in barely 30 years. Let that sink in for a minute.
Their “Most Popular” Production
Yes, even someone who aspires to be like everyone else and make a quick buck has had some big(ger) budget titles that have not only made money, but were genuine successes.
One of, if not the most popular production from The Asylum has to be the “Sharknado” franchise. With the first movie coming out in 2013 on the SyFy channel, who seem to be the only TV channel willing to broadcast their films.
“Sharknado” was the first in a whole film series of 6 films. All produced within 5 years and made loads of money just off of viewership, reaching a maximum of 3.87 million viewers just by the second film.
With every establishment in the franchise, it’s about a catastrophic tornado full of sharks and humans having to survive it, each film having a unique gimmick as well.
The films didn’t have a budget that exceeded 5 million dollars. However, only a few films have made it to international theaters, and only made about 100,000 dollars in select theaters.
Even by their standards, the films’ Rotten Tomatoes pages weren’t even the most critical as they could be. The first movie started off with a 74%, which isn’t bad at all.
However, since then, it was on a decrease, as the last film, “It’s About Time” from 2018, is rated a whopping 27%. Not good.
Another massive money maker for the Asylum is, in fact, a TV series. Airing on the SyFy network, is their zombie-survival horror series “Z Nation.”
Compared to their other works, “Z Nation” has done pretty well for itself. It has not only five seasons, but a spin-off series on Netflix.
Sadly, moderately good TV shows couldn’t hold The Asylum’s attention.
How to Rip Off (And Get Away With It)
But going back to The Asylum’s films, their films don’t, and never had, the greatest track record. People have learned to spot a rip off film from a mile away, and it wasn’t with just their “The War of the Worlds” adaptation.
No, it was much more than just that film.
In 2007, “Transmorphers”, a blatant rip-off of the Micheal Bay “Transformers” movie of the time, managed to beat out the original film in terms of release. Just two days before Micheal Bay’s film hit theaters, “Transmorphers” plagued all the local Blockbusters.
However, the first real legal trouble with The Asylum was in December 2012, when Warner Bros. attempted to sue the studio for their film seemingly ripping off “The Hobbits” with “Age of The Hobbits.”
While the movie by The Asylum doesn’t have anything that closely related to the Warner Bros. film, their title was close enough to the point where Warner sued them in May of said year.
This isn’t the only time The Asylum has been sued for making a title (or film for that matter) way too similar to another movie. Universal had to have their hand in it too.
Universal issued a 54-page copyright infringement and false advertising claim in the wake of their movie’s release of “Battleship.”
Universal’s ultimate goal was to cease the production of any further “American Battleships” DVD’s, and anything related to the movie. They were talking posters, trailers, anything related to the movie to just cease production–they wanted them flat out DESTROYED. Taken from The Artifice:
“The timing of Universal’s recently filed lawsuit coincides with mixed reviews of its big-budget film Battleship — the first movie based on a board game since Clue. Looking for a scapegoat, or more publicity, for its pending box-office disaster, the executives at Universal filed this lawsuit in fear of a repeat of the box office flop John Carter of Mars. The Universal action is wholly without merit, and we will vigorously defend their claims in Court. Nonetheless, we appreciate the publicity.”
Even throughout the lawsuit, The Asylum doesn’t seem to take anything seriously, they just seemingly dismiss every and all accusations about their bootlegging history, which sadly, isn’t the only time they’ve dismissed accusations and claimed people were jealous of their fame.
Eventually, the lawsuit never went anywhere. All that ever came of it was The Asylum changing their battleship movie’s name to “American Warships.”
A New Division Has Opened, and It’s Somehow Worse
Sadly, the Asylum’s career doesn’t stop at direct-to-video live action films. In 2016, they started an animation division in the studio. Their first film being “Izzie’s Way Home,” a rip-off to capitalize on Pixar’s latest film at the time, “Finding Dory.”
While initial viewing of the film was low; making only barely 29,500 dollars in DVD sales, it was only the beginning for their animation division. For worse films were to come.
Later on, as DreamWorks’ “Trolls” was hitting theaters, an equally more infamous film was churned out just in time to cash in– that being “Trolland.”
This is it– the movie that made The Asylum completely infamous online, especially in YouTube circles. People began finding their animated films, reviewing them, and gawking at them.
And they have a good reason to, since this is the entire movie.
(Images from The Asylum’s official YouTube channel)
Y’know, I would say that it only goes up from here, but it really doesn’t. The next couple of films to be made somewhat flew under the radar. Such as “Cargo” and “Homeward.” The next one? It started their next big controversy.
Putting the AI in The Little Mermaid
In the wake of A.I. being the reason TV shows have halted production, due to their writers, directors, and even actors striking against them, The Asylum didn’t hesitate to cash in on Disney’s recent “success.”
The live action “The Little Mermaid” was controversial, and did alright in the box office. So of course, The Asylum responds by making an animated mermaid movie to cash right in, to steal attention from the public away from Disney, like they always do.
However, with this movie arose peculiar accusations, specifically the alleged usage of A.I. for its movie poster.
(Image from The Asylum)
“Users on social media are mocking a poster of ‘The Little Mermaid’ shared online for seemingly being generated with AI. However, the AI poster is for a film that doesn’t exist.” An article from The Chainsaw claims.
“That ‘Little Mermaid’ most likely does not exist, did not seem to bother people on the internet. Shortly after Ehrlich tweeted the image, the film critic’s post riled up users on Twitter and went viral on the platform. Users circled out details in the ‘Little Mermaid’ poster that suggest it could be made with AI.
Jordan, a 28-year-old freelance artist, pointed out three key details in the artwork:
- Ariel’s pupil is “off” and the iris is incomplete
- Brush strokes in Ariel’s hair are “nonsensical”
- Intersecting lines between characters that “will likely blend into one another at some point.”
However, later in the article, it details how it’s rumored that The Asylum was behind it, but was brushed off as a “publicity stunt.”
Well, The Asylum was behind the poster. And this is what the movie actually looks like compared to the poster:
(Images from The Asylum’s YouTube channel)
So yeah, comparisons are stark, and completely different.
No official press release from The Asylum has neither confirmed nor denied the A.I. accusations for their films’ poster. For some, however, the movie itself brings up A.I. accusations.
Did A.I. really make this movie? It’s hard to prove, and no confirmation or denial can give us anything to work off of.
So, how is this studio so unknown?
These movies do get a lot of coverage, and are reviewed excessively online. But is that really enough to solidify their name?
To some, yes. They’ve made successful properties before, but they’re also incredibly infamous, and clearly have gotten into legal trouble with their properties without much hassle.
So, how are they getting away with this?
No one exactly knows. They can get in trouble for making their DVD box art and movie titles look way too similar to another movie, but nothing can be done about the movies themselves.
Even with their successes like “Sharknado”, “Z Nation”, and “Black Summer”, and even gaining their very own TV channel, there’s a shocking amount of people who are oblivious to their name and other blunders.
Whether we like it or not, I’m sure The Asylum will still be around. Either do to unironic or ironic watching of their films, or sheer spite. Sometimes, the best thing you can do in a situation like this is laugh.
We can laugh at these movies, we can criticize them, just make the best of the situation. Because while these movies are still being made and spreading around, we might as well get a laugh out of it, trashy movie or not.