Something oddly wonderful happened in early ’70s Hollywood the likes of which was never glimpsed again. No, I’m not referring to Elliott Gould’s emergence as a leading man and international sex symbol. Instead I’m talking about a situation where two studios with similar projects decided to combine forces instead of racing to complete competing movies. 20th Century Fox had the rights to Frank Robinson’s and Thomas Scortia’s novel “The Glass Inferno,” and WB had the rights to Richard Stern’s “The Tower.” Both books were disaster tales about a devastating high-rise fire, so the studios combined their efforts resulting in 1974’s The Towering Inferno. It was an immense success.
Similar scenarios have happened many times since with competing projects bearing a remarkable resemblance to each other in plot or subject, but none of them have ended in that same congenial way. Either one film drops out of the running (think Linda Lovelace biopic Inferno surrendering to Lovelace), or two similarly themed movies hit screens within months of each other. That’s actually the most common scenario, and it’s set to happen again next year. Kind of.
Two CGI-filled epics about Hercules are set for release in 2014. February will bring Hercules: The Legend Begins, a Renny Harlin film starring Twilight‘s Kellan Lutz as the muscular hero, and then Brett Ratner‘s Hercules with Dwayne Johnson in the title role flexes its way into theaters in July. While these head-to-heads are often tough to call a victor on in advance, this one seems like a no-brainer. Always bet on The Rock.
Earlier Hollywood feature face-offs weren’t always so easy to predict.
2013: Olympus Has Fallen vs White House Down
This year saw two action thrillers with terrorists attacking the White House only to be thwarted by a disgraced cop/Secret Service agent. Both films also feature the hero teaming up (at least temporarily) with the President, see the child of one of the two men in jeopardy, and suffer from ridiculously bad CGI effects. That last one is probably doesn’t qualify as a ‘feature’ per se, but it’s a shared trait all the same. It’s the differences though that for many early prognosticators made WHD the clear winner. It had a blockbuster director in Roland Emmerich compared to OHF‘s Antoine Fuqua, it had a summer release date compared to a March opening, it had twice the budget, and it had the coveted PG-13 compared to the other’s audience-limiting R-rating. The winner? Gerard Butler’s bloody and headshot-happy Secret Service agent in Olympus Has Fallen who not only beat Channing Tatum’s very funny Die Hard homage at the domestic box-office but is also getting a sequel.
2012: Mirror Mirror vs Snow White & the Huntsman
While 2012 saw a battle of Alfred Hitchcock biopics the fact that one of them premiered on HBO made it less of a race, so instead the big face-off was was in the world of fairy tales. Two big, effects-filled takes on the story of Snow White released three months apart. Tarsem’s Mirror Mirror is headlined by Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, and Julia Roberts, and while it sticks closer to the traditional tale it has some, shall we say, issues of tone when it comes to the comedy. Namely it’s not funny even though it very much thinks it’s hilarious. By contrast, Rupert Sanders’ film takes a far more action-oriented approach as a big fantasy adventure complete with doom, gloom, and a mopey heroine in Kristen Stewart. The star power continues with Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, and a bevy of recognizable faces as the dwarves, and while it has its detractors the movie has some fun and exciting sequences. The winner? Both films grossed twice their budget, but while the latter also cost twice as much it’s still considered to be the more successful of the two. On the other hand I don’t believe Mirror Mirror‘s production was tainted by infidelity, so really who knows who the real winner is.
2011: No Strings Attached vs Friends With Benefits
Can a guy and a girl have sexual relations without it ruining their friendship or leading to something more? The answer is yes, but apparently there’s enough disagreement on the topic that two romantic comedies were produced in 2011 to answer the question. Oddly, both films cast perfect leading ladies in Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, respectively. Even odder, neither leading man (Ashton Kutcher and Justin Timberlake) is much of an actor. Oddest of all? Both movies made $149 million worldwide. As in there’s only a difference of roughly $314,168 between them. The winner? Portman beats Kunis, Timberlake beats Kutcher, and they made nearly the exact same amount at the box-office, so the winner is… people who never really got into That ’70s Show?
2009: Paul Blart: Mall Cop vs Observe and Report
This head to head is a superficial one at best, but it’s still odd that the only two movies in existence (probably) about mall cops came out just three months apart. Now take a minute and consider how both films could be improved by swapping the two lead characters into each other’s film. The winner? Depends on where you stand on the troubling issues of date rape and Kevin James.
2006: The Illusionist vs The Prestige
This year’s Now You See Me has turned cinematic magicians into CGI-assisted punchlines, but 2006 saw two serious period pieces explore the art of prestidigitation and the personalities behind them. Both feature drama, romance, and intrigue, but Christopher Nolan’s amped up the mystery and thrills with a script that itself is a bit of a magic trick. They’re also both beautifully produced and stuffed with fantastic casts in both lead and supporting roles. The winner? Neil Burger’s The Illusionist seemingly never stood a chance against a film from the director of Batman Begins, but while it appeared to have been swallowed by the bigger film’s shadow it actually managed quite well with critics and ticket buyers. But not nearly as many people seem to remember it now unfortunately.
2005/06: Capote vs Infamous
This is a bit of a cheat as the films opened a year apart, but it’s worth noting because once again poor Toby Jones got shafted in the biopic department. Just as his Alfred Hitchcock portrayal in 2012’s The Girl was overshadowed by the higher profile Anthony Hopkins turn in Hitchcock, his portrayal here of Truman Capote was a footnote to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Oscar-winning turn. The winner? Anyone but Toby Jones apparently.
2004: Chasing Liberty vs First Daughter
Even the President’s daughter has oats to sow apparently, and since sex in the White House is verboten these teenage girls are forced to explore the outside world in their search for romance. Mandy Moore and Katie Holmes both portray girls stuck under the the most powerful thumb on the planet, but that presidential digit may not be strong enough to stop true love. Same setup and perhaps not surprisingly, the same conclusion. The winner? Joey Potter for life.
2000: Mission to Mars vs Red Planet
Does anyone even remember seeing these movies? Both feature missions to the red planet that go horribly awry because apparently none of these scientists and astronauts read Ray Bradbury. The casts of both consist of recognizable and likable second-tier actors, but only the former was directed by Brian De Palma. The winner? Mission to Mars grossed just over $100 million, but that was also the film’s budget. Still, Red Planet tanked miserably, so De Palma wins by default.
1998: Deep Impact vs Armageddon
Comets and asteroids are heading towards Earth, and life as we know it is about to end. What these two films presuppose is, what if it isn’t? Actually both movies accept the impending threat, but while Mimi Leder’s Deep Impact focuses on earthbound plans to save a small percentage of mankind in bunkers, Michael Bay’s Armageddon sends oil riggers up in a plan that makes perfect sense and will not be questioned. The winner? The one not directed by a woman, amirite? I kid. The real winner is Fish Story. Seriously. Go rent it and see how music, not bombs, is the answer to deadly space rocks hurtling towards our planet.
1998: Antz vs A Bug’s Life
Two animated epics about insects trying to stand apart from the maddening, chitinous crowd opened a month apart, but most folks only remember the Pixar one. Sure, part of the problem for Dreamworks may have been the misguided notion that kids would love the idea of a Woody Allen-like lead character voiced by Woody Allen complete with all the tics and neuroses that adult audiences have come to love over the years, but you don’t know until you try I guess. The winner? Not only did A Bug’s Life school Antz at the box office, but I will defend it to my dying days as the most unappreciated Pixar classic.
1997: Dante’s Peak vs Volcano
Danger erupts from beneath our feet as volcanoes spew molten death! Unlike most disaster films most folks will never find themselves in a situation where a volcano could become a legitimate threat. Tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes can strike in far too many places to avoid at all times, but a volcano is usually fairly easy to spot in advance. Or is it?! The winner? Dante’s Peak made more money at the box-office, but the sheer audaciousness of popping open a volcano in downtown Los Angeles makes Volcano the winner in my book.
1994: Drop Zone vs Terminal Velocity
Clearly inspired by the antics of Point Break three years prior, these dueling pics sent crime fighters skydiving to catch criminals that eluded more pedestrian, Earth-bound authorities. Both cost roughly the same to produce, but neither caught on with the general public in part because they’re not very good. The winner? The one that threw Charlie Sheen out of a moving airplane, obviously.
1993/94: Tombstone vs Wyatt Earp
The Old West’s legendary lawman, Wyatt Earp, got two big screen renditions just six months apart, but while the films share characters and details they each approach their subject in vastly different ways. Kurt Russell brings the man to life in the more action-oriented Tombstone, and he’s assisted by a stellar cast portraying both the good and the bad in Earp’s life. Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Michael Biehn, Powers Booth, and Stephen Lang are just a few of the familiar faces. Lawrence Kasdan’s film doesn’t shy away from the action, but it’s far more spread out and padded with drama. Of course, it’s hard to beat Kevin Costner in a western. The winner? Tough call, but while neither film set the box office on fire, only one gave us the immortal words, “I’m your huckleberry.”
1989: K-9 vs Turner & Hooch
While some of the film pairs here can be chalked up to coincidence or general similarities, this one stinks of someone leaking a logline to a competitor. Two movies about tough talking detectives paired with precocious police canines who disrupt their orderly lives while teaching them compassion and finding them lovers? That said, both movies earned nearly the same amount ($70+ million) meaning that in 1989 we valued Jim Belushi and Tom Hanks the same. The winner? The one that had the balls to kill the dog and make all of America cry.
1986: Iron Eagle vs Top Gun
The plots for these two aren’t really all that similar, but they both aimed for a comparable demographic in young men eager to reach the danger zone. The first is about a teen (Jason Gedrick) who takes to the skies in search of his father who was shot down over a Middle Eastern country, while the second follows the adventures of a brash young pilot (Tom Cruise) who must learn to keep his ego in check before he kills someone. (Goose!) Both films make piloting jets and shooting down bad guys look incredibly cool, and more importantly, both recognize the power of music while flying the unfriendly skies. The winner? Okay, fine, maybe this one is a bit lopsided.
Can you think of any other ridiculously similar movies that went head to head?