There are few collections of films quite as influential as Akira Kurosawa’s samurai movies, with the likes of Yojimbo, Rashomon and Seven Samurai creating the foundations by which western cinema thrived.
Becoming the basis for the western genre, samurai movies established a narrative basis that focused on good vs. evil, where the everyday civilian is forced to fight against oppressive leaders. What’s more, the cinematography and visual storytelling of filmmaker Akira Kurosawa was nothing short of revolutionary, with the same epic monochrome imagery being used time and time again across the history of the medium.
Often considered to be the most “remade, reworked, referenced” movies in all of cinema, as stated by David Desser, countless films have taken the framework of Seven Samurai, reskinning the samurai movie for animated children’s films, sci-fi epics and much more. Whilst hundreds of films have taken inspiration from the iconic movie, we’ve put together a list of just ten influential movies that are indebted to Kurosawa’s classic.
10 films inspired by Seven Samurai:
A Bug’s Life (John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, 1998)
Whilst, on the surface, it may seem like the Pixar animation A Bug’s Life has nothing at all in connection with Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, look closer and you’ll see that it may as well be a straight remake. Mirroring the plot of the 1954 film, following a group of defenceless villagers who come up against powerful overlords with the help of wise outsiders, the similarities between both films don’t stop here either.
If the story wasn’t proof enough, there’s even a line in the movie, “They come, they eat, they leave, that’s our lot in life” that makes a direct reference to the quote in Seven Samurai, “Farmers are born to suffer, that’s our lot in life”.
Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012)
It’s no secret that Quentin Tarantino likes a good old movie reference, constantly nodding to the likes of Sergio Leone, Martin Scorsese and Akira Kurosawa throughout his filmography. His 2012 Blaxploitation western, Django Unchained, is no different, borrowing several camera tricks and cinematic techniques from the classic movie, in particular, one moment involved hooded raiders coming over a crested hill on horseback; a direct reference to Seven Samurai.
For further examples of Tarantino’s Akira Kurosawa influence, look toward the 2003 film Kill Bill, 2015s The Hateful Eight and even the bombastic war movie Inglourious Basterds from 2009.
Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)
Quentin Tarantino’s not the only one who loves a good movie reference, with Wes Anderson also fond of a small wink back to the history of cinema, granted, with a little more nuanced than his filmmaking peer. His 2018 animation Isle of Dogs may make the most nods to cinema history, with one charming movie set in Japan, making explicit reference to Seven Samurai at one point.
Whilst other films reflect the movie’s iconic cinematography, Anderson tributes Kurosawa’s film with a reference in the soundtrack, referencing the film in the scene below, to reflect the selfless heroism of the protagonist.
John Wick (Chad Stahelski, 2014)
One of Seven Samurai’s biggest, and most unlikely, contributions to modern cinema is the whole concept of a battle scene occurring in the pouring rain, an epic cliche that we take for granted in contemporary filmmaking. This has been used in countless other movies, from The Matrix Revolutions by Lana and Lilly Wachowski to Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice by Zack Snyder.
One of the finest uses of this narrative tool comes in 2014s John Wick where Keanu Reeves’ protagonist takes down the villain, played by Michael Nyqvist, during a soaking wet brawl at a dockyard.
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Peter Jackson, 2002)
Speaking of battles in the rain, Peter Jackson’s 2002 sequel Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers also uses this Seven Samurai-borrowed imagery in the epic rain-soaked battle of Helm’s Deep. This isn’t the end to the similarities, however, with the battle itself seeming quite reminiscent of the plot of the Kurosawa film in which the heroes at the centre of the story are outnumbered and outgunned in the face of a monstrous enemy.
Peter Jackson’s films, based on the novels by J. R. R. Tolkien are epics in their own right, so it’s no surprise that they cross over with Kurosawa’s own timeless samurai classic.
Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)
Considered to be one of the greatest and most eccentric action movies of the 21st century, the fact that George Miller borrowed aspects from the 1954 film shows just how timeless the Kurosawa film really is. Taking inspiration from the movie’s plot, following a band of misfits rising up against their oppressors with help from a tough outsider, Miller also copied much from his 1981 film Mad Max 2: The road warrior which itself also drew from Kurosawa.
One scene even explicitly references Seven Samurai, when Tom Hardy’s Max wanders off into the fog to take down a villainous Bullet Farmer, killing the whole squad before wandering back through the smog, a direct remake of the scene in which the character Kyûzô does exactly the same thing in Kurosawa’s film.
The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges, 1960)
The most famous and most explicit film to draw inspiration from Seven Samurai, John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven is a western remake of the 1954 movie that illustrates just how much the all-American genre borrows from classic Samurai fiction. Starring iconic Hollywood actors such as Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn and James Coburn, The Magnificent Seven is essentially, beat-for-beat, the same as Kurosawa’s film.
Swapping samurai for cowboys and the rural village for a quiet western town is all too easy for Sturges, with multiple scenes being taken for the American remake that proved great, if lesser in comparison to the original.
Predator (John McTiernan, 1987)
So, this one may not seem all that obvious, but dig deeper and the similarities will ring true. Telling the story of seven elite commandos who find themselves outnumbered by a violent force that picks them off one by one, it is up to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch to fight against the natural order of predator vs prey.
If this wasn’t evidence enough, in the 2010 reimagining of the movie, they double down on the aspect of ‘elite warriors’ and even include a scene where a Yakuza member takes on the titular monster in a scene reminiscent of a Kurosawa showdown.
Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)
George Lucas’ creative borrowing of Seven Samurai’s plot is common knowledge in contemporary cinema, with the American filmmaker taking much of the film’s identity for use in his influential space opera. Lifting several lines from the original 1954 film, including when C-3PO says, “we seem to be made to suffer, it’s our lot in life”, a line taken from Seven Samurai; “Farmers are born to suffer, that’s our lot in life”.
Speaking about the impact of the movie on his life, Lucas told IGN, “Seven Samurai made an extraordinary impact on me…”I had never seen anything that powerful or cinematographic. The emotions were so strong that it didn’t matter that I did not understand the culture or the traditions”.
Summer Wars (Mamoru Hosoda, 2009)
Considered to be one of the finest anime movies of the 21st century, Summer Wars doesn’t appear to be similar to Kurosawa’s classic on the surface, following a 21st-century concept about a student who tries to fix a problem he made in the fantastical digital world of OZ, only for things to go disastrously wrong. Whilst the strict narrative isn’t particularly similar, there are aspects to the modern anime that echo the samurai classic.
One moment in the film even makes direct reference to Seven Samurai, “You have to protect others in order to protect yourself,” the character of Ri’ichi Jin’nôchi states, before quickly revealing they lifted it from the iconic movie.