Blame it on the movie: Lawsuits that hounded high-profile films

September 6th, 2019
Blame it on the movie: Lawsuits that hounded high-profile films

Films may inspire, titillate, bore, or elicit laughter. A film that gets rave reviews and makes more than twice the amount of its production budget may be considered successful. But box-office or critical success is hardly a factor where outraged and offended audience members are concerned. Sometimes, it’s just impossible for filmmakers to predict the effect their films will have on moviegoers, as in the case of these high-profile films.

Now showing: A movie about driving that's neither fast nor furious
Drive is a slow-paced art-house drama with some violence and only a few driving scenes. If you were one of the 500 people who saw this in the theaters and expected Ryan Gosling to race off with wrestler-turned-actors in heart-stopping sequences, you were probably disappointed like Sarah Deming.

In 2011, Ms. Deming sued the film distributors for the film’s lack of driving scenes and its alleged antisemitic themes. For her troubles, she requested to be refunded the price of the movie ticket and subsequently called for the movie industry to stop producing “misleading movie trailers.”

False advertising is not always a victimless crime, but to sue a film company because the car-themed movie you just saw is not like any of the Fast and the Furious movies, that’s just pulling a fast one.

Rated Not Suitable For Grown-ups
In the opening sequence of the 1994 Oliver Stone movie Natural Born Killers, Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis lay waste to a diner, sparing only one man whom they entrust with the legend of “Mickey and Mallory.”

In 1995, copycats Sarah Edmondson and Ben Darras went on a killing spree like in the movie. One of their victims was Patsy Byers who narrowly escaped the duo’s deeds. The Mickey-and-Mallory wannabes were eventually caught, but Byers was not content and sued Time Warner (the film production company) and Oliver Stone. She claimed that the film was responsible for promoting violence.

The Louisiana judge, however, found the evidence against the filmmakers insufficient and dropped the case. What happened to Byers warranted its time in the court, but the defense lawyers’ statement that “Litigation of this type chills creative activity” was not without its merits.

The reality or The Matrix?
Crimes in the name of popular films aren’t unusual, but some become so influential that they give birth to their own legalese. Just take a look at The Matrix, a hit movie that inspired several madmen to commit crimes because they believed they were in a matrix, instead of in the real world where crime and punishment go hand in hand like blue and red pills do. This led to the creation of “The Matrix defense,” which defense attorneys use in cases where their client claims to have committed their crime because, like Neo and company, they were in a simulated reality where right is wrong and committing crimes is fine.

Who acted real captain-like?
Any film that stars Tom Hanks is almost guaranteed to be a tale of heroism and bravery. In Captain Phillips, he plays real-life ship captain Richard Phillips, the supposed savior of the hijacked MV Maersk Alabama and its crew. The crew members of the ship claimed the movie had its hero wrong. They were right.

Nine crew members filed suit against the shipping company and claimed that Captain Phillips put their lives in danger when he steered the ship into pirate-infested waters. According to the men for whom the movie wasn’t named after, it was Captain Phillips’ negligence that got them in trouble.

Incidentally, they didn’t sue the titular captain, but they certainly did not approve of his and their portrayal in the film. If there’s any justice in the world, Hollywood would create a maritime thriller that accurately depicts what the Maersk Alabama crew had suffered: post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleep disorders, inconvenience, and humiliation.

The crew didn’t sue the film production company, but its popularity, its multiple awards, and the fact that Tom Hanks played the “hero” did not salve the wounds of those poor boatmen.

For physical or emotional injuries that are worse than being deceived by movie trailers, consult Seattle’s Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams.