"I think the best explanation for Ken Levine's career is that there's some kind of matronly school teacher standing behind him repeatedly going, 'Now do it again, but properly this time.'"
An author has a big hit. Then he writes more stories with essentially the same plot as the first hit. Replication of success may vary.
Compare Creator-Driven Successor, which continues on the same themes without rehashing the story. See also Expy, Strictly Formula, Recycled Premise, and Recycled Script. Also see Better by a Different Name and its more vitriolic sibling They Copied It, So It Sucks!, both of which are about people thinking a creator has done this to someone else's work. Not to be confused with Adaptation Name Change.
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Anime and Manga
- Summer Wars is almost a Shot for Shot Remake of Digimon Adventure: Our War Game at times, albeit with a lot of Adaptation Expansion. The two films were both directed by Mamoru Hosoda.
- The Dragon Ball Z movies recycle the plot of whatever arc they are placed in the timeline and sometimes they don't even bother making the villains anything more than expies (Janemba to Buu etc). For example, Bojack Unbound is just a recycled Cell Games with Gohan beating Bojack in the exact same way he defeated Cell (going SSJ2 and receiving moral support from the afterlife by Goku), Fusion Reborn is about the Made of Evil demon Janemba (instead of Majin Buu) being clobbered by the fusion Gogeta (instead of Vegetto). Even Garlic Jr. is just King Piccolo + Raditz... This practice is lampshaded hard by the abridged version of Lord Slug, where Lord Slug's plan is compared to King Piccolo's and some of his own minions accidentally call him King Piccolo. Likewise, the abridged versions of Cooler's movies (especially the second one) make a lot of jokes about how he's a copy of Freeza. (As Freeza's older brother, Cooler doesn't appreciate this.)
- The Saint Seiya tends to recycle its own stories with the same formulas over and over again, specially in the mangas written by its original author, Masami Kurumada. He also tends to respeat over and over a similar formula in his other mangas. His formulatic and fast paced pattern became well known in Shonen Jump publication as the Kurumada style and it's considered a classic in old-school manga.
- FanFiction.Net has had to explicitly ban "rewriting names of characters/locations of one story in order to upload to multiple categories" (although this only concerns the most blatant version of this trope).
Films — Live-Action
- Tyler Perry receives a lot of criticism for this. His movies usually have a black woman in an abusive relationship (or who was in one) who is a single mom. She will meet a nice working class man, and hate him at first because of that, but they will grow to like each other. Meanwhile, somebody will have a problem with their baby mama, somebody will be on drugs, Madea will discipline some children and there will be some incest involved. But at the end, there will be a church scene where everyone finds Jesus and all is well. His first movie, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, actually received decent reviews; his later movies have been poorly received by critics but made quite a bit of money.
- A lot of cinephiles say this about Howard Hawks's films Rio Bravo, El Dorado and Rio Lobo, all of which had John Wayne playing the lead.
- Dan Brown. Except for the settings and MacGuffins of each story, they're all the same. The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, Digital Fortress, Deception Point — all written by the same exact formula to a hundred details of specificity.
- Gordon Korman made his name with This Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall! featuring the zany yet skillful Bruno and his Only Sane Man friend Boots as they mess around in a Boarding School. In addition to writing some direct sequels, he also made several other "Crazy Awesome Guy and his straight-man best friend get up to Crazy Enough to Work schemes" books before eventually branching out. Such as:
- I Want to Go Home = this time they're at a summer camp.
- Who Is Bugs Potter? and its sequel = this time they're musicians.
- Our Man Weston = this time they're twins.
- Don't Care High = this time they're at the world's most apathetic high school.
- A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag = this time, the Bruno Expy is Born Unlucky.
- Of course, some of his books he wrote in high school, which is a bit of an excuse.
- Almost all of the fantasy novels by L.E. Modesitt Jr., and even some of his science fiction novels, feel like the same story with a different coat of paint. Luckily for him, it's still a pretty good story (and it's really nice paint).
- Julian F. Thompson's big hit was The Grounding of Group Six, about five teenagers whose Rich Bitch parents paid a school to have them killed off. The guy hired to do the killing does a Heel–Face Turn when he realizes that the kids aren't the monsters he was told they were. Then they all run off and hide in the woods, form True Companions, and Pair the Spares. He also wrote several other books on the "five or six kids get dumped by parents, run off together to the woods, form True Companions and Pair the Spares" theme, such as:
- Gypsyworld = takes place in another world, and some of the kids were gotten rid of by their parents and some were just stolen, but the gypsies won't tell them which was which. Otherwise, same as Group 6 but with an eco-theme.
- A Band of Angels = kids on the run again from the government.
- Most of David Gemmell's books feature an old hero who becomes a mentor to a young hero, a fiery damsel who is rarely in distress, a magical order, and a hopeless battle.
- Most of David Eddings' work is like this, following a very clear High Fantasy outline with lots of Expys, Lampshade Hanging, and snark (though he did tend to play around a bit with what personalities occupied what roles- in The Belgariad, for example, The Hero is a farmboy Chosen One and the Big Bad is a God of Evil in the traditional Satanic vein; in The Elenium, the roles are held by a Knight in Sour Armor and an Eldritch Abomination, respectively). There's a Lampshade Hanging in The Mallorean (the sequel to The Belgariad), where the characters realise they're following the same prophecy again.
- Made even more blatant when you realize there are places where lines of dialog used in the first were apparently copy/pasted into the second.
- Jack McDevitt: Some Adventurer Archaeologists find a clue leading them to a lost location full of ancient knowledge. There's probably a government or corporation messing things up, whether unintentionally or malignantly. Someone WILL sacrifice him or herself, either for their comrades or to protect the knowledge (sometimes this is by way of Redemption Equals Death — see the next item). There will be a Face–Heel Turn or a Heel–Face Turn. One or two couples will develop — generally someone from such couple will die, leaving their partner devastated. When they find the cache, some huge catastrophe will destroy all of what they find except when they can carry while running away, or they'll be an epoch too late. Either way, their discovery changes everything.
- Goosebumps. It's a given that the main character will be 12 years old, that they will be unpopular, and that they are doing at least one of the following things: moving to a new house, going to camp, visiting relatives, or working on a school project. They will encounter strange and spooky things but will make it out fine, until the last second where the surprise Twist Ending kicks in and they turn out to be dogs or something.
- Jodi Picoult's books all have the same (general) formula after she wrote My Sister's Keeper, which was (and still is) her most successful book: People (usually centering on the woman) living a normal life (in some New England town), something big happens/happened to them (i.e. husband is cheating, child is arrested) and there ends up being a court case either involving family members (i.e a family member committed a crime) or involving family members suing each other. Usually the court case involves children or teens. Expect one child to be severely ill and wiser than their years. The parents will/already did forget about the other child, if there is one. It is often a Tear Jerker, but is successful because of that (the judge/jury feels sorry for the defendant). Usually there is a Shocking Swerve near the end, and somebody dies. Examples include: Vanishing Acts, House Rules, Handle with Care.
- Sarah Dessen's books almost always follow this formula: The girl has an annoying, messed up family situation (usually moves a lot), girl doesn't know how to deal with it, girl meets boy, boy fixes everything in girl's hypothetical world, and then there's always that moment when Girl and Boy are going to have a falling out, but they'll be back together by the end. Only some of her earliest novels (That Summer, Someone Like You, Dreamland) don't follow this formula. Another novel, The Moon and More, does change up this formula some (in that the main character doesn't end up with either of her love interests), and promptly got flack from fans for mixing things up too much.
- Children's books by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond hardly even bother with different names. Start with If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, then try If You Give a Bear A Brownie. If you liked that, you're sure to like If You Give A Cat A Cupcake!
- Cassandra Clare. So far, both of her series have been about an ordinary teenage girl who learns she has magical powers that her conveniently absent parents hid from her. Unable to go home, she finds herself living at the local Extranormal Institute and gets into a love triangle between a Deadpan Snarker and a Nice Guy. The villain, who has mysterious ties to her parentage, aims to Take Over the World with the help of her evil older brother. And most of the characters in The Mortal Instruments are expies from The Draco Trilogy, her Harry Potter fanfiction.
- P. G. Wodehouse admitted to this trope several times, at one point complaining that a reviewer had "called attention to the thing I try to hush up – viz., that I have only got one plot and produce it once a year with variations." On another occasion he said that he'd put paid to a reviewer who called his previous book "the same old characters with different names" by writing his new book about the same old characters under the same names.
- Mercedes Lackey has several series that are just the same story happening two or three times in a row. For instance, the Mage Storms trilogy.
- Quite a number of Raymond E. Feist's books follow the plotline of (1) one or two misfit boys get in trouble, (2) they randomly come across the ongoing battle against that evil wizard who keeps reincarnating throughout the series, (3) they get recruited by the shadow council, a group of powerful magicians, (4) they end up in a magical resort where Everybody Has Lots of Sex, (4) the powerful magicians oppose the evil wizard, (5) the misfit boy(s), despite being way out of their league, happen to influence a key event causing victory, and (6) evil wizard escapes again.
- Dean Koontz novels, especially the ones from the 80s and 90s, will have a highly competent, good hero who is slightly depressed and withdrawn because of bad experiences in his past, who in the course of the plot will meet a woman who is either very confident and outgoing or extremely shy and sheltered but who also has enormous inner strength, they're always both very Christian and end up in a relationship. The villain is usually a pure evil monster with a scientific explanation, or a human man who believes himself to be a new god or somehow superior to the rest of the world. Then there's a choice of cute kid, noble (or actually magical) handicapped person, or cute, noble, highly intelligent dog (always a lab or golden retriever), or some combination of the above.
- Most of Brian Jacques' Redwall plots are very similar. Redwall's in trouble. A hero carries Martin's legendary sword and kicks ass. Family-Unfriendly Violence occurs. Someone important (or not important, but very kind or innocent) dies. More Family-Unfriendly Violence. The Big Bad gets a big dose of Laser-Guided Karma and dies. Redwall is saved. The end. All interspersed with lots of Food Porn.
- This is the problem that Nicholas Sparks' detractors find with his books: somewhere in North Carolina, a good girl (always a Christian and almost always a Daddy's Girl) finds love with a bad boy who is usually non-religious, one may have another suitor who's a Jerkass, the love of the girl magically transforms the boy and they leave the other boy/girlfriend for the true love, there's some for of conflict (Dad disapproves, one's from the wrong side of the tracks, etc.), the girl (or someone else crucial to their lives) dies (mainly because True Art Is Angsty) and the boy is grieving, but somehow feels closer to God, because losing the love of your life is supposed to bring you closer to religion after years of not following anything?
- Doctor Who: 1970s-era script editor Terrance Dicks once complained about writer Terry Nation that, while he told an excellent story, it was always the same story (his Jon Pertwee-era contributions, "Planet of the Daleks" and "Death to the Daleks", were blatant rehashes of the first Dalek story, except on a different planet, with different characters, and with a different Doctor). This led to what many fans consider his masterpiece: "Genesis of the Daleks".
- Van Kooten En De Bie: Their TV show had several different names over the years, but was always known as "Van Kooten en De Bie" and essentially the same format: the duo discussed what was in the news that week and then showed sketches or pre-recorded interviews with their characters in between.
- The critically/fan-acclaimed albums for Metallica tend to be down to an 8-9 song formula. Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, ...And Justice For All, and Death Magnetic all follow a similar structure to the music, with varying music lengths based on how advanced CD/LP technology is at the time. Each opens with a song that sounds like most of the rest of the album that also has an unusual intro (acoustic, fade-in, heartbeat) before the album's title track if it has one. Track four is generally lighter or slower ("One"note and "The Day That Never Comes"note have identical song structures) and the penultimate track (or last, in the case of Lightning) is an instrumental before a fast-paced song that's not as long as the ones preceding it.
- King Crimson tends to cycle with two-three albums sounding similar to each other, followed by a New Sound Album. Examples being the similarities for Lark's Tongue in Aspic, Red, and Starless and Bible Black.
- The Kabuki plays of Chikamatsu Monzaemon, a man regularly referred to as the 'Japanese Shakespeare'. Courier for Hades, Love Suicides at Amijima, and Love at Sea all follow the same plot: a man (usually poor or made poor at the beginning of the story) is in love with a courtesan, but doesn't have enough money to pay her ransom. The protagonist has a rival, who wants the courtesan for himself, and so the protagonist steals money to pay the ransom. None of the characters in any of these plays live happily ever after. Oh Monzaemon, you really know how to work a crowd.
- Super Mario Bros.. Almost all of his 2D games have the same plot: the princess has been kidnapped. Cross a bunch of levels to reach Bowser's castle and save her. Sometimes, this is introduced as a plot twist (in Super Mario Bros. 3, you're saving transformed kings and the princess is safe at home until the final world).
- The Mega Man series includes the most infamous Mission Pack Sequels in Video Game history, especially considering how the second half of the original NES games (Mega Man 1 - 6) used the exact same plot. While simple and generic, the first three games had a not-horrible progression of intensity: Wily betrays Light, Wily's Revenge, Wily's False Reform. Games 4-6 (and, while we're here, Mega Man & Bass, Mega Man 9, and Mega Man 10) all involve the apparent Big Bad making way for Wily to steal the endgame. 9 at least is honest enough to admit it's Wily behind the scenes upfront.
- Sonic Adventure tells the story of Dr. Eggman discovering a Sealed Evil in a Can, trying to use it to build his evil empire, and finding out at the end that Evil Is Not a Toy. Switch the title and you have the plot of Sonic Unleashed, Sonic Lost World, and the DS version of Sonic Colors.
- In the Metal Gear series, Metal Gear 2, Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and (to a slightly lesser extent) Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and Metal Gear: Ghost Babel have extremely, extremely similar plots, events and setpieces, with only the names/justification changed (although the similarity between MGS1 and MGS2 is lampshaded/deconstructed by the story). Metal Gear, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker have suspiciously similar plots to each other as well, although it's not as clear. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots had its own plot, and, coincidentally or otherwise, it's more often than the others considered by fans to be really incoherent and bad; On the other hand, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain had a mixture of plot points from all over the series wrapped in a revenge plot, and the story is considered by some fans to be lacking in narrative focus.
- Metal Gear Ac!d and its sequel have very similar stories, events and setpieces to each other, too. (Snake infiltrates a laboratory performing experiments on children due to the urging of a general keeping information from him, gets a blond female Ms. Fanservice assistant, develops a rivalry with an enemy Brute who is actually a pretty nice guy, is stalked somewhat homoerotically by the lead scientist in the base, is constantly plagued by the suspicion that his memories may be lies and he may just be the Tomato in the Mirror, and ends up in the thrall of the manipulations of an extremely powerful little girl with the spirit of a dead person living on inside them.) The similarity between them is lampshaded in the story with a couple of obvious Nostalgia Levels, but not justified at all. They also both do callbacks to Metal Gear Solid with levels where you have to go out of your way to get sniper rifles.
- In every main series Pokémon game there's this kid who just got their first Pokémon. They go traveling around the world and eventually becomes Pokémon Champion. They somehow manage to get in issues with Team Rocket/Team Magma/Team Aqua/Team Galactic/Team Plasma/Team Flare/the Aether Foundation/Macro Cosmos/whatever and foil Giovanni/Archer/Maxie/Archie/Cyrus/N/Ghetsis/Lysandre/Lusamine/Rose/whoever's evil plans.
- Most Fire Emblem games follow the same basic plot: The Hero (who's almost always a Prince) watches his country get invaded and taken over by The Empire, and leads his Ragtag Bunch of Misfits in many battles against them, eventually invading the enemy's capital and defeating their Tin Tyrant ruler, only to find out that there was a Man Behind the Man manipulating things behind the scenes (who's almost always an Evil Sorceror) who's out to summon a Sealed Evil in a Can. The Hero leads his army in several battles against the true Big Bad's forces and eventually fights/defeats the sealed evil, often with the aid of a legendary weapon of some kind. What keeps the series interesting is that, while it has a mostly static set of character roles in its plots, the actual personalities of the characters who fill them are very different between games. (for example, in one game the Tin Tyrant is a Misanthrope Supreme and a Tragic Villain, while in another he's a Blood Knight Social Darwinist who wants to instill a new world order)
- As the Zero Punctuation quote up on top suggests, the BioShock and System Shock games shows elements of this. BioShock is quite close to System Shock 2 in particular: Atlas is Polito, seemingly benevolent Voice with an Internet Connection helping you against the apparent enemy (The Many or Ryan). But then there is a midgame reveal and (Polito or Atlas) is shown to have been using you and to be the Big Bad (Fontaine or SHODAN) after all. In the beginning, you get yourself out of a plane about to sink or a section about to decompress, visit a truly remarkable place (an underwater Objectivist utopia or humanity's first FTL ship), and spend most of your time there fighting people who have turned into zombies (Splicers or Hybrids). You make use of both weapons and magic (Plasmids or Psionics) while working your way first to one central enemy, Ryan or The Many and then to another Fontaine or SHODAN. On the way to the second enemy, you come across a helpful scientist or her logs (Delacroix or Tenenbaum) in a place that's otherwise devoid of non-hostiles.
- Bioshock Infinite later established this as an inherent part of the Multiverse in which the games take place. "There is always a man, a lighthouse and a city" is the description used, one which applies to the BioShock games and also to the System Shock games if taken a little metaphorically.
- Resident Evil 5 is essentially Resident Evil 4 in Africa! Both games have glaringly similar plots, with the only difference being the setting and characters. In RE 4, Leon is ambushed at the start of the game and has to hold out until the church bell rings. In RE 5, Chris is ambushed at the start of the game and has to hold out until the chopper arrives. The helicopter pilot ends up dying in both instances. The same enemies appear under different names. Leon is reunited with Ada, who is working for the enemy. Chris is reunited with Jill, who is working for the enemy, and the basic premise involves one man trying to spread the virus to the whole world by targeting impoverished, rural villages as guinea pigs for his experiment.
- The developer Psikyo was infamous for rigidly adhering to the formula set by the first Aero Fighters for the entirety of its 90s shoot-em-up output: nearly all of their game were vertically-oriented shmups with 7 or 8 stages and a second loop. The first three or four stages are played in a random order. Stages are short. Most bosses have two phase, usually going from a vehicle or battletation to a more humanoid or animalistic mecha... etc. While the games added at least one mechanic or changed the specific of how the random stage ordering or Charged Attack works, the games were so interchangeable that until the company started making 3D games, all of their shmups shared the same bullets, powerups/bombs sprites and Continue? screen graphics.