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17 Copycat Films Spawned From Quentin Tarantino's 'Pulp Fiction'

by The Playlist Staff
May 22, 2014 1:05 PM
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Pulp Fiction, Copycat

You are old. 20 years ago this very day (OK, yesterday to be exact), a 31-year-old wunderkind with only one previous film to his name stepped onto the Palais stage in Cannes to accept the Palme d’Or for his modest kitchen-sink drama “Pulp Fiction.” As momentous as that evening must have been for Quentin Tarantino, it’s hard to believe that even he, not exactly legendary for his humility, could have envisaged just how influential his film would be in subsequent years, and just how rabidly lesser talents would rush to try and replicate its success. Because, without wanting to overstate anything, “Pulp Fiction” changed everything.

The landscape of Hollywood was remade, the mini-major Miramax become the preeminent force in independent film (a major-mini-major?) and Quentin Tarantino was a household name overnight (and seemingly was handed a lifetime directorial carte blanche that very evening). But this wasn’t simply a marketing success or a coup for the industry. “Pulp Fiction” changed what was seen as viable in terms of storytelling, pushing envelopes all over the place: narrative structure (loosely connected but separate story strands); chronology (messed with); dialogue (non-naturalistic, verbose, pop-culture inflected, wildly profane); even casting (has-been John Travolta, Bruce Willis in a ball gag, ingenue Uma Thurman as a femme fatale etc., etc.). For any aspiring filmmaker at the time, hell, for a lot of critics and cineliterate observers, it was a heady explosion of joyously referential but irreverent filmmaking and it felt like anything was possible.

But so few Tarantinos come along in a generation (maybe for the better—how many more could we handle?) that in fact what did happen, despite the sense of wide-open potential, was that rather than necessarily being inspired to go off and do their own thing like Tarantino did, studios and fledgling directors took the path of least resistance and tried to make a movie like Tarantino’s. And so the film industry over the next decade and a bit became something of an echo chamber, as blackly comedic, multi-stranded, extremely violent, wordy crime flicks started to crop up, first one at a time, but pretty soon in whole batches.

We’ve assembled 17 of those slipstream films below, and some are of course better than others, but what’s interesting is to examine just which ones did manage to put their own twist on the formula, and which, well, didn't. Because having now waded through an awful lot of copycat dross, we’ve gained an even higher respect for the film that started it all, and noticed a throughline in the worst efforts which seems to be that their writers and directors have simply assumed that by assembling something that is brash, amoral, slickly violent, peppered with n- and c-words (and liberally salted with “fucks”) and populated with male characters of a racist, homophobic and/or sexist, criminal bent, voila! you’ve got ‘Pulp.’ But Tarantino, and it’s something even we are sometimes guilty of forgetting, is much, much smarter than that, and underneath the glossy, slick surface of "Pulp Fiction" is an absolutely rigorous, even classical, adherence to the storytelling basics of character building and coherent plotting, the more effective for seeming so effortless, malleable and invisible.

So in celebration of the real deal, here they are: the knock-offs, the rip-offs, the me-toos and the also rans, all vying for a sliver of that “Pulp Fiction” magic but more often than not unable to escape the long, long shadow of the film that defined the '90s, and beyond.

Things to do in Denver When You’re Dead

“Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead” (1995)
Playing something like a romanticized elegy for gentlemen gangsters, 'Denver' fizzled in theaters, despite boasting Andy Garcia backed by a cast of notables and several Tarantino alumni. Garcia plays Jimmy The Saint, an ex-con forced into doing a final favor for a slumming Christopher Walken, who proceeds to assemble a team of That Guy Actors. The plan goes sour and Steve Buscemi is dispatched to stalk and kill the men. The echoes of Tarantino are heard far and wide—Buscemi’s contract killer is named Mr. Shhh, nearly every character bears a humorous moniker, the dialogue is akin to a mashup of sixty years of gangster movies, and the tone shifts between graphic violence and humor. You’d be wrong to write off the picture though, since all artifice aside, the filmmaking is hardly pedestrian. The actors deliver, in particular a gentle Christopher Lloyd and a certifiably demented Treat Williams, while Buscemi cements his presence without so much as a word. It’s stylized, artificial even, but there’s no denying screenwriter Scott Rosenberg (who also penned last year’s “Pain & Gain”) has a sense for the kind of tough guy talk that belongs on the silver screen (and only there). If nothing else, embrace the spoilers and enjoy this scene—the source of fan favorite line: “I am Godzilla, you are Japan!” [B-]

American Strays

"American Strays" (1996)
If there's one single element of Tarantino's style that is most frequently copied across this list, and most frequently falls absolutely flat, it's the snappy, digressionary, pop-culture-obsessed dialogue he wrote with such fluidity and wit in "Pulp Fiction." "American Strays," a direct-to-dvd film starring a direct-to-dvd cast of Luke Perry, Eric Roberts and Jennifer Tilly from writer/director Michael Covert, is a case in point. The characters snip and spar at each other over the benefits of 8-tracks over CDs, or "old" Aerosmith over "new" Aerosmith, without ever convincing us that they're doing anything but reciting a lot of words that a young writer had thought would sound real cool all strung together. And the Tarantino love-in doesn't end there: 'Strays' is a multi-stranded supposedly blackly comic, semi-parodic take on the desert/road movie, populated by oddball characters who have quirks instead of personalities (this old guy collects dolls! This suicidal dude has taken out a hit … on himself!) and who only collide in, what else, a big ol' gunfight in the Oasis diner. Perry is extraordinarily wooden, and Tilly seems to have been playing the role of sociopathic sexpot forever, but Roberts is a minor redeeming feature of the film, cast against type as a family man who has lost his job. Still there's nothing he can really do to rescue the shoddiness of the endeavor, with Covert's movie right down to the prevalence of low angle shots, at best an example of ventriloquism. Unfortunately, we can see his lips move. [C-/D+]

The Way of the Gun

The Way of the Gun” (2000)
As great as ‘Pulp’ is, the majority of the films that tried to emulate it ain’t in the same ballpark, the same league, they ain't even the same fucking sport. Some get closer though, as in this beautifully crass (for the first half at least) Christopher McQuarrie crime film. Sure, "The Way of the Gun" is hyper-violent and has a coterie of vulgar, bad people making up its cast of characters. It’s talky and very much “written.” But it’s not so much a knockoff of the QT style as that it shares a similar sensibility for dialogue and genre subversion. It’s even fair to say that McQuarrie was ahead of Tarantino here in terms of heavily aping spaghetti western tropes and style (“Kill Bill” came three years later). It’s a twisty, ‘70s throwback tale of two low-lifes (Benicio Del Toro and a gravelly-voiced Ryan Phillippe) who kidnap a surrogate mother to a rich couple in hopes of a big score. Things spiral out of control on the way to a brutal gun fight in a dusty old Mexican town. The characterizations and dialogue really sing, especially coming from the two leads and James Caan as a veteran cleaner of sorts, who puts on an acting clinic in ultimate grizzled old man badassery. There’s a lot of memorable moments, acting choices and sequences: the hilarious, vulgar opening scene sets the tone and establishes these “heroes”; Del Toro slapping a prostitute in the ass before a gun fight; and Phillippe unwittingly leaping into a pile of broken glass (goddammit anyway!), until it all comes way unmoored in the final act. The success of “Pulp Fiction” allowed for the existence of "The Way of the Gun," but perhaps unusually for this list, its successes and failures feel mostly its own. [B-]

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  • Ray | August 15, 2014 5:02 AMReply

    Pulp Fiction was based on a film called Black Sabbath which features 3 none linear stories.

  • Tiff | August 14, 2014 2:41 AMReply

    "You are old. 20 years ago this very day (OK, yesterday to be exact)".

    Oh wow.. this article was written May 22 this year. My birthday is May 21 and I am exactly 20 years old. Huh.

  • Sanker from india | June 21, 2014 6:26 AMReply

    Wasn't innaritu's primary influence krzysztof kieslowski? Chance and destiny etc? Even the image of the model on the billboard was a homage to that famous image in three colors: Red. Never thought it was directly Tarantino influenced. Now I see it though. Kewl.

  • robthom | June 3, 2014 1:22 PMReply

    I haven't seen a few of those.

    My favorite has to be Denver.
    Treat Williams, Buscemi, Walken, everybody was great and pulled their weight in that one.
    Didn't care for Anwar, but Fairuza made up for that.

    Out of the proto-pulp fictions, Kalifornia is 10x what Stone did with NBK.
    It would have been interesting to see what Tarentino would have done with his own script though.

    Wild at Heart was another Proto-Pulp Fiction that Tarentino seemed to borrow from almost as equally as Goodfellas.

    Layer Cake was pretty good.
    But I can never really get into British Gangster movies.
    Maybe because that accent is almost exclusively marketed in america for its fussy sophistication to peddle political agendas, documentaries and goofy products in infomercials that it just never seems intimidating.

    Love and a 45 had moments.
    Young and skinny Rene Zelwegger looking amazing probably chief among them.

  • robthom | June 3, 2014 1:27 PM

    Six String Samurai always seemed like an obvious rip of the whole Tarentino trend IMO.
    At least the surface stylings, but in a pseudo Sci-Fi setting.

  • joe | June 3, 2014 4:47 AMReply

    One film that I didn't see on this list was Milcho Manchevski's Before the Rain. Released the same year as Pulp Fiction. Manchevski, who both wrote and directed, breaks down and plays with the story's three acts much the same way QT did. They where both writing their stories at the same time presumably without knowing much about what the other was doing. A lot more serious than QT's, though I love them both, Before the Rain is a film that flew under the radar and was missed by a lot of people. Watch this film guys.

  • Buscemi | June 2, 2014 4:19 AMReply

    A little more recent but the mention of Very Bad Things reminded me of how much The Hangover lifted from that film and how it has a very Tarantino-esque style (drenched in cans of Keystone Light) to it.

  • wayne via | May 31, 2014 3:13 AMReply

    I only see two movies that resemble pulp fiction the first one the foreign movie about the dog amorres something same time structure and the movie go that one really had the pulp fiction thing the story titles on screen as well, and the whole time structure that's what really makes go seem like pulp fiction that was awesome I loved the movie go. Pulp fiction is my number one favorite movie.

  • FUCKING BASTARD | May 30, 2014 3:44 PMReply

    Amores Perros is a rip-off only because the "three interlocking stories that see characters occasionally cross over; a criminal element; harsh violence", those are mere similarities, Tarantino did not invent the structure of hyperlink cinema nor stories with characters that "cross over", those were invented way before he was even born, in fact he hasn't invented anything. Plus Amores is a drama, Pulp is a black comedy, not even the same genre, unlike most of the other real rip-offs. I'd put Amores Perros with the other "The Not Really Rip-Offs". Do us a favor, please do some research before vomiting.

  • nice list 54321 | May 27, 2014 1:05 PMReply


    2 -AMERICAN STRAYS eric roberts

    3 -WAY OF THE GUN ryan phillipe

    4 -GO katie holmes sarah polley timothy olyphant

    5 -THE BIG HIT mark wahlberg

    6 -2 DAYS IN THE VALLEY charlize theron

    7- AMORES PERROS gael garcia bernal

    8- GET SHORTY travolta

    9- BE COOL travolta

    10- SUICIDE KINGS christopher walken

    11- 8 HEADS IN A DUFFEL BAG joe pesci

    12- PALOOKAVILLE vincent gallo

    13- VERY BAD THINGS cameron diaz

    14- THE BOONDOCK SAINTS willem dafoe

    15- INTERMISSION colin farrell cillian murphy

    16- REINDEER GAMES ben affleck

    17- PHOENIX ray liotta

  • Joe B | May 27, 2014 2:42 AMReply

    Your review of "Boondocks" was perfect and hilarious.

  • AddictedAICN | May 26, 2014 7:42 PMReply

    What about the underrated "Lucky Number Slevin"

  • Whodatninja | May 26, 2014 5:08 AMReply

    The fact that this "entertainment journalist (haha)" has absolutely no ability to appreciate some of the flourishes that does in fact distinguish Boondocks from other films of the genre regardless of your feelings of the film, speaks volumes of the authir's shortcomings. It also ignores (or simply isn't aware of) some obvious entries that only an actual film fan would include (Thursday with Tom Jane and Aaron Eckhart, Best Men, and Truth and Consequences N.M. Directed by Kiefer Sutherland spring to mind). Although many on this list are pretty weak (although how can you not admit that Vaughn and The Rock were so funny in the otherwise horrific Be Cool together it should have just been about them and nothing else) there are a number of flicks here that may not be Oscar calibre but are entertaining in their own right (Reindeer Games and even the sometimes very funny 8 Heads, which is far better than Gone realize that right?). It was good to see Denver get some good nods and especially Way of the Gun. In general it does seem like the author needs to get himself a Netflix membership and get a better number of films under his belt before he attempts another list.

  • mass | May 25, 2014 9:51 PMReply

    This article and the comment section proves that some people just try way to hard to compare films with one-another just because plots feature black comedy and intertwining and non-linear narratives, a lot of curse words, and violent crime.

    Going by the logic this article uses, Pulp Fiction is merely a copycat of a novel called "Trainspotting" (not the film), which was written and sold in 1993, a year before Pulp Fiction. This novel is not only non-linear like Pulp Fiction (with about 8 different narrators) with intertwining plots, but it is also darkly comedic almost in the same vein as Pulp Fiction. The novel is also pretty graphic as well. The dialogue has its own electric style. The first page has three instances of "c%%nt", one of "f!!ck" and one of "f!!ck!ng". So the curse words are there too. Furthermore, Trainspotting draws on a lot of pop culture of the 1980s. So that's there too. There's also a lot of quotable passages.

    This is just one novel that came out before Pulp Fiction. Using this article's logic, Tarantino created a copycat film that spawned from Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting.

  • bill | May 25, 2014 6:08 AMReply

    Nothing by Elmore Leonard should be on this list. Indiewire = teens with laptops.

  • jimmiescoffee | May 25, 2014 1:09 AMReply

    i like Very Bad Things & Reindeer Games. sorry.

  • Bribisk | May 26, 2014 5:37 PM

    Me too! Love them...

  • Whodatninja | May 26, 2014 5:16 AM

    I too have a lot of issue with this list, but Be Cool (except for Vaughn and The Rock together "twinkle twinkle baby!") is like a punch to the gut. It's really bad.

  • Whodatninja | May 26, 2014 5:15 AM

    Reindeer Games has Frankenheimer (who even his lesser stuff is better than most action thrillers get released), an incredibly sexed up Charlize Theron and some solid set pieces. At the very least it's a decent action dark comedy with Theron vamping it up.

  • Denny | May 25, 2014 2:27 PM

    you like very bad things and reindeer games with afflack? Your right you should feel sorry.

  • Jay | May 24, 2014 4:24 PMReply

    "Feeling Minnesota"
    "The Immortals" (1995)
    "Blood Guts Bullets and Octane"
    "Destiny Turns On the Radio"
    "Albino Alligator"
    "Truth or Consequence, N.M."
    "Fall Time"
    "Love & a .45"
    "Smokin' Aces"

  • Whodatninja | May 26, 2014 5:11 AM

    Reindeer Games has Frankenheimer (who even his lesser stuff is better than most action thrillers get released), an incredibly sexed up Charlize Theron and some solid set pieces. At the very least it's a decent action dark comedy with Theron vamping it up.

  • Joe Camel | May 24, 2014 3:50 AMReply

    Don't forget TWENTY BUCKS as an impressive predecessor.

  • GERARD KENNELLY | May 27, 2014 1:07 PM

    back to the future star Christopher Lloyd was scary as hell in that

    he won the indie spirit award

  • Ryan O. | May 24, 2014 2:13 AMReply

    I just want to let whoever wrote the bit about "The Boondock Saints" know that I am still standing and applauding. I hate that movie so much that I can't even come up with something intelligible to say about it other than "**** that movie."

  • Stephen D. | May 25, 2014 5:19 PM

    Completely Agree!

  • JK1193 | May 23, 2014 9:07 PMReply

    Magnolia is definately Pulp-esque, and David O. Russell has a lot of strong similarities to Tarantino.

    I've never seen this, but wasn't Boondock Saints a giant cult hit?

  • Whodatninja | May 26, 2014 5:13 AM

    Boondocks Saints indeed a cult hit. A huge one. How often do movies reduced to basically a straight to video death become more popular over time, spawn about a million different t shirts, hoodies and replica pea coats and then get a theatrical released sequel 10 years later?

  • heezels | May 25, 2014 7:47 PM

    When you say "Pulp-esque" do you mean the genre of pulp fiction, or the film Pulp Fiction?

    If you mean the film, in what way is it "Pulp-esque."

  • paul | May 23, 2014 3:01 PMReply

    Pulp Fiction is one of the most overrated films ever. Fact.

  • ger herd ken L Lee | May 27, 2014 1:08 PM

    altman rip off + scorsese rip off = pulp fiction

  • Whodatninja | May 26, 2014 5:14 AM


  • Chris | May 25, 2014 5:21 PM

    Fact. Paul knows nothing about cinema and comments on posts about things he hates because he has nothing better to do.

  • Johnny | May 25, 2014 2:36 PM

    translation: "Pulp Fiction is one of the most overrated films ever, and anyone who disagrees is a moron."

  • Ze | May 23, 2014 12:26 PMReply

    In terms of intertwined narratives, i can see the influence of Pulp Fiction in both Magnolia and Playing by Heart. Oh, and Crash too, to be honest...

  • Ze | May 24, 2014 6:42 PM

    @kyle - I understand what you're saying (by the way, i love Robert Altman's movies!), but i was referring to the influence of Pulp Fiction's fast paced, adrenaline charged intertwined narratives. Altman mastered this art in a very different way but i still think that Pulp Fiction's intertwined narrative influenced soooo many movies because it was such a cultural phenomenon...

  • kyle | May 23, 2014 8:17 PM

    In terms of intertwined narratives, I'd say Robert Altman has more of the influence than Pulp Fiction did.

  • Dale Granzow | May 23, 2014 12:08 PMReply

    American Hustle was like a Tarantino movie without the action. If even one head had exploded, it would have been on this list.

  • Eric Robert Wilkinson | May 23, 2014 3:09 AMReply

    Just a thought: Joe Carnahan's BLOOD GUTS BULLETS & OCTANE (1998)

  • Indie fan | May 23, 2014 12:34 AMReply

    Requiem For A Dream
    Keys To Tulsa
    I think 90s was indie film bonanza. I loved many indies for that era.
    So, no one was really influenced by Robert Rodrigues?

  • Josh | May 23, 2014 12:26 AMReply

    You left out the horrible THURSDAY, a Siskel & Ebert's bete noire.

  • Josh | May 23, 2014 12:15 AMReply

    You left out the horrible MAD DOG TIME, by Joey Bishop's kid.

  • go fcuk yourself | May 27, 2014 1:10 PM

    fine cast

    millers crossing tom reagan
    hooper from jaws
    dr ian malcolm from jurassic park

  • Carson Wells | May 23, 2014 12:10 AMReply

    I might be the only one but I though the Brazillian film City of God had a Pulp Fiction feel to it.

  • Orson | May 23, 2014 1:50 AM

    City of God has more of a Goodfellas vibe to me.

  • brian | May 22, 2014 5:44 PMReply

    Go rocks. Very overlooked.

  • dave rare | May 22, 2014 5:29 PMReply

    the female assassin genre movie "Domino" with Kiera Knightley, Christopher Walken, and Tom Waits? "Broken Arrow" with Travolta. "Face/Off" with Travolta and Cage. "Con Air" and "The Rock" with Cage. "Crimson Tide"'s uncredited Tarantino rewrite. "Plump Fiction" the lame parody movie. Every direct to DVD "From Dusk Till Dawn" sequel. "The Rules of Attraction" by Roger Avary name drops Tarantino, as do "Die Hard with a Vengeance" and "Captain America:The Winter Soldier". "Destiny Turns on the Radio" starring Tarantino. "Curdled" with the character Angela Villalobos. "Romy & Michelle" had a Big Kahuna Burger. "Space Jam" had a Pulp in-joke.

  • Drew Morton | May 22, 2014 5:20 PMReply


  • there will be blood 987654321 | May 27, 2014 1:11 PM

    the only thing you CAN assume about a broken down old man is that hes a survivor

  • Mike Shields | May 22, 2014 4:35 PMReply

    How could you forget Boogie Boy w/ Mark Dacascos, Karen Sheperd and Frederic Forrest? Advertised as from the producer of Pulp Fiction, Roger Avary. Yeah, right!

  • triguous | May 22, 2014 2:46 PMReply

    I love The Way of the Gun. Why it landed Christopher McQuarrie in director's jail for ten years still mystifies me. Ryan Phillippe is particularly outstanding as "Parker". I thought for sure it'd make an A-lister out of him. I'd still very much love to see McQuarrie's original 2.5 hour cut of the film.

  • 654321 | May 27, 2014 1:13 PM

    he sounds just like young pacino doesn't he

    especially the 'your eye ball' scene

  • Rick | May 22, 2014 2:18 PMReply

    Big fan of Way of the Gun.

  • Washington | May 22, 2014 2:15 PMReply

    "Ringo Lam's "City on Fire" (which he appropriated large swaths of for "Reservoir Dogs") "

    Wait I just read the rest of the article. Another clueless idiot who has clearly never actually bothered to watch City on Fire, just repeats a movie nerd trivia thing he heard on the internet once.

  • Trent | May 24, 2014 3:35 AM

    Granted, it's been about 15 years since I saw both movies, but my general impression from when I saw City on Fire was that Tarantino took last 15-20 minutes of it and expanded to a feature. Now, it might be enough to debate whether this counts as "appropriating large swaths" or not, but I don't think it's enough to call the author an idiot.

  • Washington | May 22, 2014 2:13 PMReply

    What on earth are you talking about with Way of the Gun? The third act is almost entirely a great gunfight (even better than Heat's) that the film had been building toward and half the "memorable moments" you listed are IN IT. Are you remembering it right?

  • Erik | May 22, 2014 6:50 PM

    Hey Washington, I'm with you. I wrote that piece, and loved the final act of Way of the Gun. Also graded it higher than what ended up in the published feature. Editor changed it up, to my surprise. At least know that I like it more than what was represented in the piece.

  • Shane | May 22, 2014 2:02 PMReply

    2 Guns from last year with Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg felt like it had Tarantino written all over it.
    It had all the hallmarks of a Tarantino ripoff - the long speeches, the explosions of violence, etc.

  • Joe | May 24, 2014 9:00 AM

    2 Guns was horrible. I love Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg and wanted so much to like that movie but what a pile of crap. It really didn't seem like the stars played very well off each other. I was underwhelmed, to say the least.

  • Edward Davis | May 22, 2014 1:55 PMReply

    Happy Palookaville got a good notice. It's solid. Much like "Bottle Rocket" in the bumbling crime/comedy vein. These other films are mostly trash (aside from Amores Perros, good grade there too).

  • rodie | May 22, 2014 1:52 PMReply

    Um, Tarantino is a copycat (just a very good one), but this article seems to make him out like some kind of original that others immediately followed. But really what happened is Pulp Fiction blew up and so all these scripts and ideas people already had been wanting to do in a similar tone suddenly got greenlit and found financial backing from people wanting to strike on the Pulp Fiction train.

  • Dale | May 25, 2014 2:25 PM

    Washington, Tarrantino is DEFINITELY a copy cat. Definitely.

  • Josh | May 23, 2014 12:24 AM

    Yes, he is an appropriator of material from other artists, for sure, on a much greater scale than most filmmakers. He takes these bits and pieces from other works and makes them his own. That doesn't make trying to imitate what he does, and doing it badly, in most of these cases, any less risible. Please be more specific about which scripts were lying around unproduced until Pulp Fiction came out, and which ones were "inspired" by its success.

  • Washington | May 22, 2014 2:12 PM

    "Tarantino is a copycat"

    The only thing saying this does is demonstrate how completely clueless the person is about the creative process.

    Let's hear what some of your favorite directors/musicians/artists are whose works you think are wholly original.

  • look | May 22, 2014 1:26 PMReply

    How about Things to do in Denver when your dead(1996). It even has Walken.

  • woody harrelson | May 27, 2014 1:16 PM

    where did i see them last ?????

    walken STAND UP GUYS

    treat williams 127 HRS

    andy garcia CITY ISLAND

    christopher lloyd SIN CITY A DAME TO KILL FOR

  • Chris | May 22, 2014 1:46 PM

    How about look at the beginning of the article, where "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead" is the very first movie they talk about.

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