According to Indiewire, Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. director John Carpenter noted certain similarities between his films and the Luc Besson produced Lockout. The film featured Guy Pierce as a roguish criminal sent into an orbiting prison to retrieve the president’s daughter. The Escape films feature a roguish criminal sent into maximum security prisons built on the ruins of New York and Los Angeles to retrieve, in order, the president and then a subsequent president’s daughter.
Carpenter sued Besson, the writers of Lockout and Besson’s film company, Europacorp for in French court. The court was sympathetic and ruled in Carpenter’s favor. Quoting from Observatoire européen de l’audiovisuel, the court said,“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.” Further comparisons include:
He 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 court held that the combination of these elements, which gave the film ‘New York 1997’ [Escape’s French title] its particular appearance and originality, had been reproduced in ‘Lock-Out’, apart from certain scenes and specific details that were only present in the first film.
Europacorp must pay Carpenter, co-writer Nick Castle and Escape‘s rightsholder fines totaling an approximate $90,000. Indiewire also notes the ruling possibly sets a precedent to make a certain level of homage enter the realm of straight-up theft. Quentin Tarantino better watch out.
This is not Besson’s first legal wrangling. In 1996, director Kathryn Bigelow threatened to sue Besson for breach of contract when he reneged on his financial support for her long-in-development Joan of Arc film, “Company of Angels” after realizing she would not cast his then-wife Mila Jovovich as Joan. She also claimed he stole the script, reworking it as The Messenger to star Jovovich. The matter was ultimately settled out of court.