ROME — A Paris appeals court on Friday found French director-producer Luc Besson guilty of plagiarizing John Carpenter’s 1981 cult classic “Escape from New York” with the 2012 space-set movie “Lockout.”
The court ordered his EuropaCorp production company to pay 450,000 Euros ($502,000) in damages to the U.S. horror helmer, according to a report on French news service BFMTV.
Besson, who is France’s most international director and recently drew applause at Comic-Con with footage of his big-budget sci-fier “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” had denied the charge. The suit was brought by Carpenter and his “Escape” co-writer Nick Castle in 2014.
Besson did not direct “Lockout.” He co-wrote it with Stephen Saint Leger and James Mather, who co-directed it. His EuropaCorp produced the film at the center of the plagiarism suit.
There was no comment from EuropaCorp on Friday.
The court ruled that “Lockout” had “massively borrowed key elements” of “Escape,” according to BFMTV.
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“Lockout” stars Guy Pearce as a former CIA Agent wrongly convicted of murder who is offered freedom if he can free the U.S. president’s daughter from an outer-space Alacatraz where an uprising has occurred. It was widely considered a shameless ripoff of “Escape” when it was released in 2012.
In “Escape,” the island of Manhattan is a giant penitentiary where inmates have taken over. Kurt Russell plays a government agent-turned-convict who has to go in and rescue the U.S. president
“The setup is basically ‘Escape From New York’ in space,” wrote Variety critic Justin Chang in his “Lockout” review.
The 2014 suit brought by Carpenter and French studio StudioCanal had prompted a first favorable ruling in May of 2015 when the court sentenced EuropaCorp to pay $22,800 to Carpenter, $11,400 to Nick Castle and $57,000 to Studiocanal, which holds rights to “Escape.”
In an analysis of the court’s finding by Amelie Blocman published by the European Audiovisual Observatory and widely referenced in the French press at the time, the court “noted many similarities between the two science-fiction films: Both presented an athletic, rebellious and cynical hero, sentenced to a period of isolated incarceration – despite his heroic past – who is given the offer of setting out to free the President of the United States or his daughter held hostage in exchange for his freedom.”
Among other similarities: the hero “manages, undetected, to get inside the place where the hostage is being held, after a flight in a glider/space shuttle, and finds there a former associate who dies; he pulls off the mission in extremis, and at the end of the film keeps the secret documents recovered in the course of the mission.”
The combination of these elements was sufficient to constitute copyright infringement, the Paris court had ruled in 2015.
In Friday’s appeals ruling, the court increased the damages. Carpenter and Studiocanal in the suit had demanded $2.4 million.
EuropaCorp is now expected to pay up, according to an inside source.
Distributed by Film District, “Lockout” grossed $14.3 million in the U.S. and $32.2 million worldwide.