When the patent on a brand name drug expires, any pharmaceutical company can then produce that drug which is known as a generic. The active ingredients of the generic drug must be the same as the original brand name drug, but the exact formulation and compounds are different. Unlike the active ingredients in pharmaceuticals, ideas can not be patented. Movies and television shows are protected by copyrights that prevent the production of material that is the same formulation, but the basic idea can be used immediately to create generics.
When a theatrical motion picture is expected to be widely popular, or is significantly hyped, it is not uncommon to see a generic or two sitting on the shelves of video rental stores. When the movie Snakes on a Plane was in theaters , video stores were offering Snakes on a Train. When the big budget movie Twister was spinning it’s way across the box office, a low budget movie called Tornado was whirling into televisions, along with another generic called Night of the Twisters.
Generics are not always low budget knock-offs. Two major motion pictures in 1998 dealt with an impending end of the world meteor collision. Deep Impact was released two months prior to Armageddon, but both of them could be called generics of the 1979 movie, Meteor. Actually even Meteor, was not the first time the idea of a meteor destroying the earth had been used. Influences can be seen everywhere in pop-culture, but not everything influenced by something else is a generic. A generic is often so close in composition that it falls into an ambiguous gray that borders on copyright infringement.
It’s also interesting to note that some generics become more successful than the originals. The popular cartoon series, Transformers, is a generic of the cartoon series, Challenge of the GoBots. Both cartoons were based on toylines, and even the GoBots toys were the first released. Transformers went on to inspire a comic book, sequel shows, and three motion pictures. On the other hand, the GoBots are a barely remembered curiosity of the 1980’s.