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Follow the Leader

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"I am afraid to say that the history of entertainment is also the history of imitation."
Satoru Iwata, late CEO of Nintendo, in 2010

Whenever a work achieves enough success, there will be imitators. It doesn't matter if it's a cheap foreign knockoff or a major Hollywood production. It doesn't matter whether the writers are choosing to do this or the producers are. If they think they can make money by basing their creation on a successful work, or at least something else in its genre, they will do so. Thanks to Sturgeon's Law, this has the typical effect of flooding the market with a lot of inferior works. But not always; sometimes they improve on the original, or find new approaches to it.

Of course, the trailblazing work may itself not be original; in this day and age, little is. But it just manages to capture the public's interest (and their money), and it is this magical moment that studios strive to duplicate, after the fact. It isn't unusual for the press releases or documents for these imitations to mention the comparison.


May result in the resurrection of a previously successful franchise in the same genre; X-Men and Spider-Man, for instance, led to Batman Begins and Superman Returns. These may or may not become Lost in Imitation.

If the imitators have enough of the spark to become successful and spawn imitators of their own, a whole new genre may be created, as imitators and follow-ups evolve and begin to codify a style.

Note that this phenomenon is not limited to recorded visual entertainment. The music industry in particular is just as prone to "trend-hopping," as are video games and, really, any entertainment medium. Also note that while the text of this article deals primarily with American institutions, the concepts herein apply equally in all parts of the world.

It's also interesting to note that Follow the Leader may result in its own particular form of Narm. Just try dressing your characters up in black leather longcoats and using Bullet Time in your action sequences nowadays without becoming Matrix knockoff Snark Bait.


Another potential problem is Misaimed Fandom. Instead of looking at the core reasons why the original may have been so popular and basing their follow-up on that, such as three-dimensional characters, a unique plot and genuinely witty or moving writing and acting, the creators following the leader only tend to focus on the superficial stuff on the surface — it's got pirates in it; pirates must be popular, so let's all make nothing but pirate movies! — and thus completely miss the point of what made the original great in the first place; In some cases, imitators will deliberately copy the problems of the original, believing those elements were important to the success of the work, when they were actually flaws of the original that could be ignored, but in the imitation will become major problems.

This approach also tends to lead to market saturation and, eventually Fan Disillusionment; after all, no matter how much you like pirate movies, if the only thing anyone makes is pirate movies, you're going to get sick of pirates and want to see stories about something else. This is also the reason why Cyclic Tropes are cyclic: someone does it one way, everyone imitates it; after a while, someone wants to do it differently, and everyone imitates that. Of course, once that's mainstream, someone will want to do it differently, and back it goes the other way...

So why bother following the leader at all? Well, since the original being copied probably had something that made it successful, it's rare for the duplicates to fail completely. And once in a while, they can pay off big time. Some works actually manage to replicate much of the success of the leader, often by original elements that give the followers their own quality or, even more rarely, by highly derivative works that manage to maintain or even exceed the quality of the leader. The latter usually happens with video games, especially if the leader is not on that system and the follower is a successful answer to it. Anyway, what's the point in innovations if nothing else is going to take advantage of or even build on it?

Truth in Television pretty everywhere outside of media, as well. Someone had to discover smelting bronze for an entire period of history to massively use it, someone else had to discover smelting iron for the Iron Age, and some particular Ur-Example had to realize rocks were better than bare hands as tools. But imitating technology is one thing (you tend to lose wars if you don't); non-creative "creative works" are something else. While this trope is often used in a negative connotation, this isn't always the case - the leader often sends a message to executives that something that they had seen as "too niche" or too hard to market before actually isn't. This has in fact allowed plenty of things to get a mainstream release, or even a release period. As anyone who worked in the industry can tell you, getting an official release (even a small one) can be very competitive.

A Super-Trope to:

Compare Dueling Works.



Alternative Title(s): Following The Leader


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