Whole-Plot Reference

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Sometimes rather than just a brief reference or homage to some other work of fiction, a work will actually be a full-blown recreation of something else's story. This is usually done in sitcoms, and likely a spoof to at least some degree.


See also Homage, Fable Remake and Recycled in Space ... sometimes with the Serial Numbers Filed Off.

Compare Parody Episode, Whole Costume Reference (the clothing version). May be a Twice-Told Tale.

Examples of Whole-Plot Reference include:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • Gorsky and Butch do a brief Matrix parody in their first book. In the third one, they do a more extended parody: Butch makes a Face Heel Turn, joining the agents of Comix, in hope of achieving his goals and finally ending the senseless plot so he can star in a 'real comic'. In the meantime Gorsky leads the resistance under the guise of Morfinius, tempting to destroy the Comix by making Jerry ( the heroes Butt Monkey sidekick) the main character.
    • They also do Aliens at one point: the whole section of the comic is the movie but it turns out to be an illegal copy with borked subtitles: all sorts of wacky hijinks result from it, most importantly the aliens getting replaced with sheep because their name have been misspelled (makes sense in Polish) - the marines discover a nest with missing colonists hanging on the walls in oversized wool sweaters.
  • The comic book version of PvP did a homage/parody of The Matrix called "The Comix".
  • There's a Star Wars Expanded Universe comic featuring Luke's childhood friend Janek "Tank" Sunber, who'd joined the Empire, become a lieutenant, and ended up stationed on a planet of tribal aliens. The plot of that handful of comics is essentially Zulu, with Imperials desperately fighting wave after wave of aliens and being worn down.
  • Judge Dredd did this quite a bit in the late 80s and 90s, with parodies of such things as The Wizard of Oz, Twin Peaks, Edward Scissorshands, and many more.
  • The whole Hellfire Club section of the X-Men's The Dark Phoenix Saga is basically Chris Claremont's riff on the The Avengers episode "A Touch of Brimstone", in which Mrs Peel gets brainwashed into being the Hellfire Club's Queen of Sin by John Cleverly Cartney. Claremont even gives Mastermind the real name Jason Wyngarde, after Peter Wyngarde, who played Cartney, and Jason King, Wyngarde's most famous role.
  • The story of Steve Rogers' return to the land of the living, Captain America: Reborn, is a extended reference to Slaughterhouse-Five.

Fan Works

Films -- Live Action

  • Avatar received much praise for its visuals, but criticism for its storyline being basically a retelling of, Dances With Wolves, A Man Called Horse, The Last Samurai, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Pocahontas.
  • The Breakfast Club has had a whole litany of these. They include:
    • A whole episode of Degrassi the Next Generation was dedicated to parodying the movie, ending in the "bad boy" and "basketcase" ending up together in the end, with the "pretty girl" and "jock" ending up together. Toby didn't end up with anyone, though... like Brian.
    • Lizzie McGuire also did an entire episode based on that plot. Three kids (including Lizzie) where brought together because they were accused of starting a Food Fight.
    • Victorious also has an entire episode taken from it.
    • An episode of Dawson's Creek was a parody with several characters lampshading it.
  • The movie My Own Private Idaho keeps dropping in and out of the plot of Shakespeare's Henry IV.
  • Film example: Epic Movie was essentially a parody of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and a Shallow Parody of everything else they could put together.
  • Similarly, most of the first Scary Movie follows closely the plot of Scream (with some scenes from the second and a slew of late 90s horror in-between) and the second is mostly based on The Haunting. (the others have the main plot being an amalgam instead, with the third being a mix of The Ring and Signs, and the fourth mixes War of the Worlds, The Village, The Grudge and Saw)
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? is based off of Homer's The Odyssey. Although the entire plot is only loosely similar, there are certain parts that mirror the source material quite closely.
  • Barb Wire is basically Casablanca with more boobage.
  • Strange Brew puts the MacKenzie brothers in the role (sort of) of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in a loose adaptation of Hamlet. The brewery is called Elsinore.
  • The Cheap Detective combines the plots of The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and Casablanca.
  • Now, rip-offs of Alien or Aliens are legion, but the movie Carnosaur 2 repeats the whole plot of Aliens almost scene by scene, with Spear Counterparts of Ripley and Newt, and dinosaurs instead of the Xenomorphs (with a Tyrannosaurus Rex stand-in for the Alien Queen).
    • Spiders is another one. It replaces the Xenomorphs with giant spiders, and eventually sets them loose in a city, allowing for giant monster sequences.
  • Repo Men has been accused of being this to Repo! The Genetic Opera.
    • Though the actual film is more like Blade Runner but with bionic organs replacing the replicants.
    • More accurately, Repomen is a more faithful adaptation of the novel which The Genetic Opera was very loosely inspired by.
      • The novel that Repomen claims to be based on came out after the Genetic Opera concept was created. The book came out the same year as Repo! The Genetic Opera, which had been originally a stage play before it was adapted to be a movie by the play's creator. This dates that concept well ahead of the book.
        • The book was in release hell for years though (in fact, the film was in pre-production a few years before the book was published), possibly due to the dark premise. At this point, people should stop claiming one rips off the other as they are more or less totally different films.
  • While Mel Brooks is fond of referencing/parodying films, classic and contemporary, in his works, Spaceballs is essentially It Happened One Night recycled through Star Wars.
  • Akira Kurosawa's done a couple of these. Throne of Blood was basically Macbeth in medieval Japan, and Ran could be considered King Lear in medieval Japan.
  • Many teenage romantic comedies do this. To name a few, Clueless is Jane Austen's Emma, 10 Things I Hate About You is Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, and She's the Man is Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
    • Easy A is an aversion, since while it repeatedly references Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the plot is not the same at all.
  • Although it isn't apparent at first, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a combination of two G1 cartoon episode plots: the three-part episode "The Ultimate Doom", with the Decepticons attempting to transport Cybertron to Earth via space bridge and then enslave humans to restore it to its former glory; and the two-part episode "Megatron's Master Plan", where the Decepticons receive the help of several treacherous, sycophantic humans, also resulting at one point in the Autobots being exiled from Earth, and their chosen means of escape destroyed in transit by the machinations of the Decepticons, though the Autobots survive in both cases.
  • The plot of Ip Man 2 heavily borrowed from that of Rocky IV. This includes: a rival-turned-friend killed in a fight against a foreign fighter, the main character trained to avenge his death, and the fact that the fighter in question was supposed to be an unbeatable juggernaut. Ip Man himself went as far as giving a speech promoting tolerance like Rocky did after he won the match.


Live Action TV

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer did one with "The Monkey's Paw," where Dawn and Spike try to resurrect Joyce. It only becomes more disturbing after Season Six, since Buffy also seemed to come back wrong but got better. What does that say about what happened with Joyce?
    • Given that one was done by a powerful witch to someone who died a mystical death using a powerful artifact and an ancient ritual whereas the other was done by a teenager with no magical experience on someone who died of natural causes using a ritual gained from an evil demon...nothing good. You get what you pay for.
      • Then again, we see a spell in Season 3 that brings people back from the dead without post-death memories that can be done without any magical skills. Sure, it doesn't heal the body, but that could easily be done with a secondary spell.
      • It also doesn't bring them back to life, just reanimates them as psychotic zombies intent on killing people. Which might be seen as a considerable drawback.
  • Just Shoot Me pulled a neat trick when it set an episode up so that it could suddenly turn completely into King Lear.
  • Quantum Leap has the episode where Sam pulls the Yet Another Christmas Carol scheme on a Scrooge-like character who shared his "neurons and mesons" and thus could see Al, who played the role of the ghost(s).
  • Also the series finale of Dallas, which was a subverted Wonderful Life episode.
  • Charmed has an entire episode based on the movie Ladyhawke, down to the eclipse. It's Lampshaded by Prue: "I swear I saw this in a movie once."
  • A number of people have noted quite a resemblance between The Fixer and Callan. Both are ITV shows, so copyright isn't an issue here.
  • Early Edition had an episode with a plot that strongly resembled the classic movie Roman Holiday. Princess gone missing, officials covering her while she meets a down to earth man and they enjoy the American city together; and they both end on much the same note.
  • The 3rd Rock from the Sun episode "Citizen Solomon" includes a plot based on a portion of Citizen Kane. Oddly, it's the "B" story which is based on Kane, not the "A" story. In the episode, Tommy is Kane, Alissa is Susan and August is Leland.
  • The original Battlestar Galactica and its sequel, Galactica 1980, succumbed to this several times. It wasn't so much homage or parody as... wholesale plot theft, usually in response to the Dreaded Deadline Doom. Example: "The Gun on Ice Planet Zero" came from The Guns of Navarone.
    • Even "The Return of Starbuck", the one episode of Galactica 1980 that many fans will accept, bears a striking resemblance to Enemy Mine, which had first appeared in short story format in 1979.
  • Farscape, especially the first season, references The Wizard of Oz. Crichton sometimes notices.
  • Scrubs has an episode based on The Wizard of Oz, from the yellow lines to the exits, to three of the main characters needing a heart, courage and a brain.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation's "QPid", the Costumer part, anyway, is pretty much The Adventures of Robin Hood (lampshaded by Worf's complaint about not being a Merry Man), down to a fight between Robin/Picard and Guy of Gisborne on a staircase. Which makes Vash's absolute refusal to play Marian a whole lot funnier. (Though someone somewhere seems to have gotten Guy of Gisbourne and the Sheriff confused, because Q is clearly playing Basil-Rathbone-Guy but calls himself the Sheriff, and Guy more resembles the dim-witted, rotund Sheriff of the movie.)
    • Eureka later used the TNG episode "Remember Me" as a Whole-Plot Reference for the episode "Games People Play". Which was the point, since it was the 100th episode.
  • The MacGyver episode "Countdown" is either a rare example of a Whole-Plot Reference played entirely straight, or a cynical attempt to rip off the plot of a film most of MacGyver's audience wouldn't have seen. The episode "Trumbo's World" went so far as to use footage from the movie it was ripping off. (Respectively, Juggernaut and The Naked Jungle.)
  • In the Smallville episode "Roulette", Olliver's storyline is blatant rip-off of the 1997 Michael Douglas film The Game, right up to the male lead having suicidal tendencies.
    • They also dished out a Hangover episode.
  • The finale of Highlander the Series was also a Wonderful Life episode. Nevertheless, it was far and away the best episode of the entire season (even if that's not saying much).
  • Doctor Who:
  • Remember WENN did this twice, with Casablanca and Sunset Boulevard.
  • House did this with the Season 6 opener, "Broken," wherein he is a patient in a mental hospital: did somebody say One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? Why, yes I did. Subverted in that while the references were played up, everything was the opposite of One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest: the nurses and psychiatrists were actually trying to help, and House's attempt to "liberate" one of the other patients ends badly. Really badly.
    • Lie to Me made a similar reference. The psychiatrist running the place clearly has it in for Cal (which makes perfect sense) but when he's shown the evidence that Cal's symptoms are coming from ergot rather than schizophrenia he lets him and the other victims out without hesitation.
  • The entire second season of Californication is a Whole Plot Reference to The Great Gatsby, with Hank as Nick and Ashby as Gatsby.
  • The underlying storyline of Heroes' fourth season is Carnivale with abilities.
  • Magnum, P.I. did this once with Raiders of the Lost Ark. Lampshaded by Magnum spending the whole episode racking his brains as to why it all seemed so familiar.
  • Good Eats has a send-up of Misery in the episode "This Spud's For You", and a sequel "This Spud's For You Too". Of course, it's about making potato dishes, and is by far, more family-friendly.
    • Good Eats does this all the time; the episode about scallops, for example, was a spoof of Jaws. An exhaustive list of examples would be too long.
  • Whether unintentional or a deliberate reference, the Fringe episode "White Tulip" (2x18) borrows heavily from the plot of The Broken Bride by the band Ludo: A scientist creates a time travel device to go back in time to the day in May when his fiance/bride was killed in a car accident with the intention of saving her life. Minus about 14 years, pterodactyls, a dragon and a zombie apocalypse. It even ends with the time traveler realizing he cannot save his bride and getting in the car to die alongside her.
  • The Latest Buzz has a full episode based around The Wizard of Oz.
  • Red Dwarf: "Back to Earth" becomes a Whole-Plot Reference to Blade Runner around halfway in, and most of Queeg is based on The Caine Mutiny. Also, "The Last Day" is based on the Jack Nicholson film The Last Detail.
  • On episode of 30 Rock was an extended reference to Amadeus with Frank as Salieri, Tracy as Mozart, and Tracy's porn video game as the masterpiece.

Frank: I've devoted a lifetime to porn, and he masters it in one day?!



  • In a particularly obscure example, the Nebulous episode "The Lovely Invasion" is a very close parody of an early Doctor Who episode "The Claws of Axos". Additionally, the episode "The Deptford Wives" is just The Stepford Wives with a little Jurassic Park thrown in for good measure.

Video Games

Web Comics

  • Ctrl+Alt+Del's Animated Adaptation did a two-episode homage to Star Wars.
  • Pv P did a series of strips echoing the plot of Watchmen when the movie came out, but due to the difference in mediums, Scott Kurtz used syndicated cartoon characters and called it "The Ombudsmen". They mapped onto the Watchmen superheroes (Dagwood for Dr. Manhattan, Dilbert for Ozymandias, etc.) surprisingly well.
  • Pibgorn did A Midsummer Night's Dream with Gender Flipped roles and actual fairies IN THE THIRTIES!
  • Jane's World's current arc is literally The Last Starfighter with lesbians.
  • Just Peachy does this in one story arc with the movie "Singing in the Rain". They even reference the movie in this strip.
  • Many Sluggy Freelance parodies cobble together from different works in a genre, but the "Torg Potter" storylines were mostly whole plot.
  • Dangerously Chloe fans early on noticed how the premise is close to "Ah! My Demoness". There are, however, obvious differences.

Web Original

Western Animation