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15 of Film and Television's Best Spiritual Successors

By Dustin Rowles | Seriously Random Lists | November 25, 2013 | Comments ()


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You’ve Got Mail is a Spiritual Successor to Sleepless in Seattle. Same actors, same premise, same director. You say “spiritual successor,” and I say a slightly better remake.

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L.A. Confidential is a Spiritual Successor to Chinatown — Both neo-noirs set in Los Angeles 40 years into the past, both feature scores by Jerry Goldsmith, and both suggest that evil deeds are a necessary means to an end.

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Casino is a Spiritual Successor to Goodfellas — Similar stories, the same director (Martin Scorsese), the same actors (Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci), the same screenwriter (Nicholas Pileggi) and the same use of music.

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Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration are all Spiritual Successors to Waiting for Guffman, which was a Spiritual Successor to This Is Spinal Tap. They all use the same faux-documentary style to highlight the same kind of reality heightened for laughs, they all share similar cast members, and they all come from Christopher Guest.

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The Goldbergs as a Spiritual Successor to The Wonder Years, which itself was a Spiritual Successor to the movie Stand by Me. Basically, The Wonder Years is a coming of age story story from the same time period as Stand by Me told with the same poignancy, while The Goldbergs takes The Wonder Years and tells a similar coming of age story in a similar way, only its set in the 80s.


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Parker Lewis Can’t Lose as a Spiritual Successor to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Basically, Parker Lewis is Ferris Bueller, only he goes to school (most days). It’s not like anyone was trying to disguise this: Parker’s girlfriend is even named Annie Sloane (as opposed to Ferris’ girlfriend, Sloane Peterson).

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This is 40 is the Spiritual Successor to Knocked Up, which was the Spiritual Successor to The 40 Year Old Virgin — These are not just spiritual sequels, but at one point, Knocked Up was supposed to be an actual sequel to The 40 Year Old Virgin, and This is 40 takes characters from Knocked Up and spins them off. They all have the same roster of actors, they all come from Judd Apatow, and they all have the same sensibility. They are not just spiritual sequels, but spin-offs from each other, exploring different central characters.

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The Way, Way Back is a Spiritual Successor to Adventureland, which as a Spiritual Successor to Garden State. The Way Way Back took the coming of age story set in an amusement park (only here, it’s a water park) from Adventureland, while Adventureland took the same emo romance and quirky characters from Garden State.

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Fierce Creatures is the Spiritual Successor to A Fish Called Wanda. The same four actors playing characters with very similar dynamics, and some of the same supporting characters. It’s practically a direct sequel.

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The World’s End is the Spiritual Successor to Hot Fuzz, which was the Spiritual Successor to Shaun of the Dead, which was the Spiritual Successor to Spaced. Basically, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost took the same character sketches and put them in different settings, but created the same brand of comedy with the same running gags throughout all four properties.

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The Hangover is a Spiritual Successor to Very Bad Things. I may be the only person who adored the nihilistic Very Bad Things, and liked it, in fact, more than The Hangover. The Hangover is basically the same story with less drastic results. There are many spiritual successors to The Hangover (including two actual sequels), but they’re better known as hack jobs (except for Bridesmaids).

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Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby is the Spiritual Successor to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgund — Adam McKay and Will Ferrell essentially took Ron Burgundy out of the anchor’s seat and put him in the driver’s seat.

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Mean Girls is a Spiritual Successor to HeathersMean Girls is a less dark version of Heathers, featuring The Plastics instead of The Heathers. Basically, Heathers is Mean Girls with a body count.

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Black Sheep is a Spiritual Successor to Tommy Boy — The same two lead characters, and the same brand of comedy, only Black Sheep is the inferior a movie.

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Labryinth is a Spiritual Successor The Dark Crystal — Both feature Jim Henson created creatures, both were co-written by Henson, and both have similar set designs. Labyrinth is a lighter, more accessible The Dark Crystal.



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  • Jiffylush

    I like The Goldbergs but the spiritual successor to the Wonder Years was Freaks and Geeks.

  • Jifaner

    I didn't expect to like The Goldbergs. I had very, very low expectations. I am so glad my husband convinced me to try it. The show is so funny and so sweet, and yes, very Wonder Years. The footage from the show's creator that they show at the end of the episode is just the best and makes me want to hand each of my kids a movie camera. Go forth and film our insanity, it might make you a pile of money someday haha.

  • John W

    Very Bad Things is a spiritual successor (read: ripoff) of Stag a movie with the same exact plot that was released a year earlier.

    Stir of Echoes::Sixth Sense

    Speed::Die Hard

    Predator::Alien

    Pearl Harbor::Tora Tora Tora

    Bull Durham::Slapstick

  • Walt Jr

    More. I want MORE. This was awesome!

  • e jerry powell

    Nope. You've Got Mail is the spiritual successor -- and, in fact, directly references -- 1940's The Shop Around the Corner with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. Nora Ephron's screenplay for You've Got Mail was adapted from the same play as the earlier film. If anything, Sleepless in Seattle is the spiritual successor to An Affair to Remember, a film that SiS directly references.

    Nora Ephron (R.I.P.) adored old movies, so it follows that both Sleepless and Mail (and Harry/Sally, if you want the Meg trifecta) echo films of that era so strongly.

  • Aeonopolis

    The real spiritual successor to Chinatown is Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

  • Clevegal42

    I don't know some of the movies listed, so maybe this isn't the only one that this is happening with (or maybe I just don't get it - entirely plausible and my feeling aren't hurt if you point that out to me), but the picture for Black Sheep is actually Tommy Boy (its the scene where they just hit the deer before they load it up into the car). And no, I'm not ashamed that I knew that right off.

  • Semilitterate

    Sleepless in Seattle was the spiritual successor to An Affair To Remember, You've Got Mail was a cheesy attempt to cash in on the pairing of Hanks and Ryan.------Oh and Durante---priceless

  • chanohack

    So then wasn't Sleepless in Seattle cashing in on their chemistry in Joe vs. The Volcano?

  • chanohack

    Fierce Creatures is a goddamn gem.

  • BWeaves

    I don't think "spiritual successor." I tend to think, "cashing in on the new coattails."

  • causaubon

    I've always considered The Breakfast Club ---> St. Elmo's Fire ---> The Big Chill to be a trilogy.

  • Walt Jr

    Oooh, Good one!

  • semiotheque

    I've always taken High Fidelity as a spiritual successor to Grosse Pointe Blank, and Grosse Pointe Blank as a spiritual successor to Say Anything, with the evolution of Cusak's characters over the three films as a meta-theme.

    Basically I think Lloyd Dobbler, after getting dumped by Diane Court off-screen, after Say Anything ends, imagines himself becoming Martin Blank but never actually pulls it off and instead just grows up to be Rob Gordon. On this reading, the middle film is a kind of extended alt-universe riff of who the character imagines himself to be (uber-confident but all surface) before realizing that the fantasy of himself is just as lonely as he is in real life, so he settles for life as an ordinary guy in a record store, and the third film is him coming to see that not as settling but as choosing.

  • VonnegutSlut

    I suppose The Raven is the end result of your hypothesis when a post-midlife crisis Lloyd Dobler/Rob Gordon goes on an opium bender & imagines himself to be Edgar Allen Poe.

    In reality, he's just wandering around his apartment wearing nothing but a monocle & a cravat while quoting "Annabel Lee."

  • Adam Herbst

    Chinatown did not take place in LA but in San Francisco. I also don't think that what you claim to be the theme of the movie was in fact the theme of the movie.

  • jollies

    I love the confidence that it takes to "correct" a fact with a mistake.

  • Adam Herbst

    Oops, my mistake.

  • Sverrir Sigfússon

    Not to whine too much, but couldn't the list be in a uniform style? It starts with normal text with bold titles, then bolds everything then back to the first. Then there's all italics, with intermittent title bolding before rounding it off with bolded italics. It comes off as supremely slapdash.

    Edit: And of course it gets fixed mere seconds later. L.A. Confidential still all bold though.

  • Auteur Theory, homage, and/or creative people rehashing the same stuff?

  • Repo

    Maybe it was the heavy use of italics, but this list read pretty weird.

  • cruzzercruz

    Very Bad Things > The Hangover.

  • Erin S

    For me Stardust was the spiritual successor to The Princess Bride, which is one of the reasons I was so sad it wasn't bigger in the mainstream. Nothing can compare to the original of course, but the tone was there.

  • ZestyItalian2

    Is it just me, or does the inclusion of "The Goldbergs" stick out here like a radioactive sore thumb? Crossing my fingers this isn't some of that not-so-covert "native advertising" that seems to be cropping up elsewhere on the web.

  • jollies

    I think Dustin really likes the Goldbergs and hasn't yet figured out that he is on a lonely island in that regard. Or else he does realize this, but he is trying to change hearts and minds.
    Dustin -- stop trying to make the Goldbergs happen. It's not going to happen.

  • Natalie

    Basically, this did not make me reconsider my belief that Hollywood adores formulas.

  • Why is this list?

  • corbydjk364

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  • melissa82

    Ah thanks for clearing that up.

  • Yeah, I'm having a little trouble with this one, much as I love lists. LA Confidential and Chinatown I get, but most of these are pretty much blood-relatives to begin with, so calling them "spiritual successors" is akin to saying your cousin is like family to you.

  • Art3mis

    Yes, exactly. I like the idea of this list, but it just ended up being a list of mostly-sequels/remakes/same people filming a similar story. I think the Princess Bride --> Stardust example above is the perfect example of a true spiritual successor.

  • VonnegutSlut

    You're not the only one: I, too, adore Very Bad Things.

    I also like The Last Supper with Cameron Diaz, of which Very Bad Things was a Spiritual Successor, IMO.

  • I adore Very Bad Things. And I approve this message.

  • John G.

    The Last Supper is not good, but at least there is some fun to be had in there. Very Bad Things is just a terrible terrible movie with no fun.

  • Temmere

    The Last Supper was a decent examination of a group of people who thought they were doing the right thing and then, to varying degrees, came to see that they were not. Very Bad Things was just unrelenting fucking ugliness.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I liked The Last Supper. It might be because of fond memories seeing it at the college theater, but it was a good modest film to me. Enough to get a liberal-minded college student thinking about self-righteousness and judgment, anyway.

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