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20 Mockbusters You Might Confuse for the Real Movie

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When there’s massive hype and anticipation for a major release, sometimes smaller studios try to cash in, piggy-backing off the blockbuster’s success with their own low-budget versions. With the advent of online video streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus, these “mockbusters” have been on the rise for the past 10 years. Here are 20 knock-off movies that you might confuse for the real deal (if you squint real hard).

1. Frozen Land

Following Disney’s Frozen, Phase Four Films released the animated film Frozen Land. Originally titled The Legend of Sarila, the film distributors re-branded the French Canadian movie's artwork and logo to mimic Disney’s wildly popular family film for its home video release in late November (around the same time Disney released Frozen). In fact, The Legend of Sarila was released theatrically in Canada under its original title in February 2013. Disney eventually sued Phase Four Films for intentionally misleading the public.

2. Atlantic Rim

Released a few days before Pacific Rim hit theaters, The Asylum (you'll be seeing that name a lot in this list) released Atlantic Rim on DVD. The low-budget film featured almost the same premise as its major studio counterpart, but took place in New York City instead of Hong Kong. Atlantic Rim boasted a $500,000 production budget as compared to Pacific Rim’s $190 million. The mockbuster also featured ex-Baywatch star David Chokachi and Naughty by Nature rapper Anthony “Treach” Criss.

3. Apocalypse Z

Originally called Zombie Massacre, this Italian zombie movie was re-titled Apocalypse Z when it was released on DVD in the U.K. to capitalize on the anticipation of World War Z starring Brad Pitt. The film was an adaptation of a video game of the same name for the Nintendo Wii. Iconic German schlock director Uwe Boll produced Apocalypse Z and made a cameo appearance in the film as the President of the United States.

4. Street Racer

While the low-budget film Street Racer closely resembles the title to Warner Bros’ Speed Racer, the car chase action flick's story is closer to those of The Fast & The Furious film franchise. The movie also bears a resemblance to two other racing movies from The Asylum: Speed Demons released in 2003 and Death Racers from 2008.

5. Android Cop

Released a week before Sony’s RoboCop remake was scheduled to open in theaters, The Asylum released Android Cop starring Michael Jai White. While the DVD box art looks like it was created to fool people into thinking it's the new remake, Android Cop’s narrative more resembles RoboCop 2, in which involves a drug-related citywide plague.

6. What’s Up?: Balloon to the Rescue

Brazilian animation studio Vídeo Brinquedo (Toyland Video) is known for low-budget, direct-to-DVD animated movies that closely resemble Pixar and DreamWorks family films. What's Up?: Balloon to the Rescue is a blatant rip-off of Pixar’s Up, and both films were released in the United States during the summer of 2009. Instead of thousands of small balloons to lift up his house, the elderly man in What's Up?: Balloon to the Rescue uses one big hot-air balloon. Revolutionary.

7. The Apocalypse

In 2007, The Asylum released the direct-to-DVD disaster film The Apocalypse. It was made with heavy similarities to other asteroid blockbusters released a decade earlier, namely Armageddon and Deep Impact. While The Apocalypse was originally conceived as a straight up action film, its buyers wanted the movie to have religious themes to appeal to a Christian movie-going audience. The Asylum then created Faith Films, a faith-based film distribution arm of the company.

8. Transmorphers: Fall of Man

Although Transmorphers was the mockbuster of Michael Bay’s Transformers in 2007, its prequel Transmorphers: Fall of Man actually received a few favorable movie reviews when compared to the film it was trying to copy, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

9. Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls

Released at the same time as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls was actually the film adaptation of British author H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 novel King Solomon's Mines. The adventurer Allan Quatermain was also the template for George Lucas when he created the character Indiana Jones with director Steven Spielberg. Still, there's no doubt who is trying to profit off of whom with these films.

10. Bikini Spring Break

While Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers was originally supposed to be released in 2012, the colorful, trippy film was delayed until 2013. That didn’t stop the folks at The Asylum from releasing Bikini Spring Break, which features almost the same premise of four young co-eds from a conservative college throwing caution to the wind in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida during spring break.

11. Pirates of Treasure Island

Released a week before Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest during the summer of 2006, Pirates of Treasure Island borrowed heavily from the popular Disney film. Although the movie received harsh criticism for being a weak imitation, Pirates of Treasure Island was officially based on author Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Treasure Island.

12. AE: Apocalypse Earth

While AE: Apocalypse Earth was marketed to look like an imitation of After Earth, the low budget science fiction film’s narrative was more of a mix between Predator and Avatar. AE: Apocalypse Earth was shot on location in Costa Rica and was released a few weeks before M. Night Shymalan’s movie starring Will Smith.

13. Paranormal Entity

In 2007, Paranormal Activity was a surprise box office hit. Shane Van Dyke—Dick Van Dyke’s grandson—conceived, wrote, and made the copycat Paranormal Entity for The Asylum. Although both Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Entity were made for almost the same amount of money, the former quickly became a pop culture phenomenon and an instant classic in the horror genre, while the latter was instantly forgotten.

14. Alien Origin

In June 2012, director Ridley Scott released Prometheus, an origin story to his 1979's Alien. A few days after Prometheus hit the screen, The Asylum released Alien Origin. While The Asylum is known for its low-quality mockbusters, Alien Origin is considered one of its worst.

15. Chop Kick Panda

With the working title Tae Kwon Do Panda, Gaiam released the 41-minute animated direct-to-video Chop Kick Panda to capitalize on the anticipation and excitement of Kung Fu Panda 2 in 2011. Netflix received heavy criticism from customers who were duped into watching Chop Kick Panda, thinking it was the international smash hit.

16. Almighty Thor

A few days after Marvel Studios' Thor came out in theaters, The Asylum's Almighty Thor aired on the SyFy Channel. While Marvel’s movie was based on the popular comic book of the same name, The Asylum’s was apparently just based on Norse mythology. Almighty Thor stars Richard Grieco as Loki and pro wrestler Kevin Nash as Odin, so it has that going for it.

17. Sunday School Musical

Banking off the success of the theatrical release of High School Musical 3: Senior Year, The Asylum produced Sunday School Musical. The knock-off film was conceived when producer Paul Bales attended a seminar for marketing to a Christian audience. Like The Apocalypse, Sunday School Musical was distributed by Faith Films.

18. Snakes on a Train

One of The Asylum's first films, Snakes on a Train put the studio on the map for making low-grade copycat movies. When the producers were looking for additional financing for Snakes on a Train, a Japanese investors group became interested based solely on the poster. The would-be investors wondered if the movie featured a giant snake eating an out-of-control train. The film didn't orignally have a scene like this, but producer David Rimawi added it to secure funding. 

19. Aliens vs. Avatars

While most knock-off movies only copy one popular movie, Aliens vs. Avatars rips off two: Alien vs. Predator and Avatar. The film follows the intergalactic battle between a quarrelsome alien race and shape-shifting extraterrestrials, while six college friends find themselves in the middle of the interstellar war.

20. Kiara the Brave

Originally titled Super K, Phase 4 Films released, re-titled, and re-packaged the Indian animated film as Kiara the Brave, after Pixar’s Brave. Kiara the Brave takes place in a special part of the galaxy called Dreamzone, but somehow it didn't win an Oscar like its counterpart Brave.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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© Nintendo
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Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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