n principle, the Mockbuster is a bit like a movie with an Alternative Pornographic Name, but there’s generally no nudity. It’s not part of a pair of Battling Films, because it can’t even afford the fare to get to the ring where the shows duke it out. A mockbuster is a movie that is suspiciously similar to another more popular, more well-known — and, let’s face it, more “real” — movie, to the point of being the copy of an entire film. Why? Trying To Make Money Off A Popular Idea, of course.
Because they’re generally made by no-name studios to make a quick buck, the biggest difference between mockbusters and the movies they’re based on is budget. The mockbuster has serious budget restrictions. Think “three kids with a cellphone” production values. The writing is usually subpar, too—the producers aren’t striving for Genuine Artistry; they’re trying to rip off a more popular idea in an attempt to con gullible consumers. Of course, depending on what they’re copying, and the fact that it’s probably not out yet when they start making the mockbuster, the original might not have been such a cinematic masterpiece itself.
However, if there’s one thing mockbusters can do well, it’s Copycat Covers. Their designs and logos, like the colors of a viceroy butterfly, are designed to resemble the “real” movies they’re copying as closely as possible. Remember, Covers Always Lie. They also pick titles similar to the original, often containing similar words, or made-up words that sound the same.
The people mockbusters tend to appeal to seem to fall into four brackets: kids too young to know the difference between the real deal and the fake; people too old to care, who might get the two confused when looking for something for their kids and grandkids; parental Propriety Police who want to get their children The Upstanding Alternative to a mainstream film that is more in line with their values; and Dorks, who aren’t fooled at all, but who watch them for their awesome badness. Bad stuff is interesting! As such, they tend to be sold in supermarket magazine racks, pharmacy gift racks, and grab bags in outlet shops.
The rare cases of mockbusters that might actually try to do something “artistic” are those adapting Out Of Copyright works, though again, generally only if a more “popular” story adapting the same work came out recently. This phenomenon sometimes applies to live theater as well with regards to public domain works (Pixie Stories, The Theater Spirit) that have had a more popular version created that smaller theater companies could never produce on their own.
Mockbusters tend to be made in countries outside of the US, as if in “response” to a coming American blockbuster. Those might change the plot based unobtanium to something more in touch with their national sensibilities (the Indian Ultraguy mockbuster has him getting his powers from a god, for example) and the genre might skew towards one more popular in that country (the Brazilian series Non-Villains is somewhat like a soap opera).
How do all of these copyright friendly guys get away with it? Often times, it’s simply a matter of obscurity. Sure, that “Larry Baxter” guy on the back of the cereal box who has to find the “Gilded Stitch” is pretty similar to some book you read, but how much money is there really to be made from suing some company that designs bargain-basement cereal boxes?
See also Alternative Adult Film Names (when this is applied to porn), Shoddy Knockoff Product (when this is applied to commercial products), In Everything But Name, and In Name Only Sequels (when old foreign movies have their titles for the re-release changed in order for them to cash-in from current blockbusters).
Has nothing to do with the Mythtesters or Phantomgetters.
UK Created For Television Film channel Movies 24 ran a Mockbuster season, deliberately confusing the derivatives with the originals and calling out the trope by name. It includes The Terminators, Aliens Versus Hunters, Transmorphers Fall Of Man and Snakes On A Train.