Usually, a competing project is poison for a studio. Especially in the era now where a blockbuster costs the national budget of a small country to get out into the world, you don’t want to be up against a film with similar subject matter.
Yet this keeps happening, time and time again. Even now, there are two live action Jungle Book movies in various stages of production, for example. And let us not forget when K-9 and Turner And Hooch once did battle…
But how have the movie showdowns of old turned out? And are there any instances where everyone’s a winner?
Er, not many as it happens…
The Haunting Vs The House On Haunted Hill
Let’s start with two reasonably budgeted horror films, that both got wide releases. Jan De Bont left most people thinking Speed was a fluke by the time they got to the end credits of his tepid remake of The Haunting. Based on The Haunting Of Hill House, it was a movie that cost $80 million to make, and overcame horrific reviews to pull together $177 million in box office business. Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones starred, and DreamWorks was confident enough to give the film a big July release.
Following more quietly three months down the line was another horror remake with a very similar name. This time, director William Malone (who would go on to make Feardotcom) put together his take on the 1959 movie House On Haunted Hill.
On paper, his movie was a more modest affair. There were no movie stars – Geoffrey Rush and Famke Janssen starred – and the cost was a far more economical $37 million. We mention the movie too because it has a brilliant opening scene, that’s better than anything else in either of the two battling features.
But still, people really didn’t go for House On Haunted Hill either. Reviews were slightly better, but still poor, and the box office came in at just north of $40 million. It did enough on home formats to warrant an eventual straight-to-DVD sequel, but that wasn’t until many years later. In truth, both The Haunting and House On Haunted Hill are mainly forgotten. It would take a long time too for someone to schedule a big horror film in high summer again…
The best film: House On Haunted Hill
The box office winner: The Haunting
Tombstone vs Wyatt Earp
This one was an interesting battle. For some time, Kevin Costner had been chasing the idea of bringing the Wyatt Earp story to the big screen. With his box office currency at a relative high, Warner Bros. agreed to foot the bill, and Costner reunited with his The Big Chill director Lawrence Kasdan for the movie. At one stage, the project was intended to be a multi-part TV mini-series (and in that sense, the idea was arguably 20 years too early). That changed when Costner got interested (he’d eventually make a western TV series, Hatfields & McCoys).
That said, Costner had previously been attached to the project that would become Tombstone. At that stage, original director Kevin Jarre was still involved, and Kurt Russell (who would work, reportedly unhappily, with Costner on 3000 Miles To Graceland) was attached.
Costner left Tombstone, believing that the character of Wyatt Earp and not Doc Holliday should be the main focus. But Tombstone carried on. Val Kilmer signed on shortly after Costner departed.
Tombstone was reportedly a very, very bumpy production, and was even said to have been ghost-directed. Yet it started production first, and made it to the screen first. It had a six month head start on Wyatt Earp, and soaked up $56 million in the US at the end of 1993. Reviews weren’t bad either. Reportedly, Costner had used his clout to, in the words of Kurt Russell, “shut down all avenues of releases for the picture except for Disney, except for Buena Vista,” something Russell added “I always respected, I thought it was good hardball.”
Buena Vista ended up with a hit on its hands.
Over at Warner Bros., though, the Costner-headlined Wyatt Earp was a very different beast. A three-hour plus western biopic, one that whizzes past the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral. critics near-savaged it in the summer of 1994. Its box office total in the US came to just $25 million, and it was regarded as one of the flops of the summer.
A shame. This is one of those showdowns where we like the differing films for differing reasons. One aims for easier targets and hits them well, one aims for far more difficult ones and clips a few of them.
Oh, and some free trivia: Kurt Russell reportedly ghost-directed Tombstone…
The best film: Depends what mood you’re in.
The box office winner: Tombstone
500 years after Columbus’ discovery of America – if you believe certain history books – the movie business decided to muscle in on the celebrations. As a result, three Columbus-themed projects went into development. And in this case, three Columbus-themed films actually made it to the screen.
The highbrow one came from Ridley Scott. Starring Gerard Depardieu and Sigourney Weaver, 1492: Conquest Of Paradise was a sizeable piece of work, if not one that many people traipsed off to see. The critical response wasn’t bad, and some of Scott’s visual work in the movie remains excellent. Yet coming off the back of Thelma & Louise, it wasn’t the big hit that had been anticipated.
That said, it was a fair better endeavour than Christopher Columbus: The Discovery. This one came via the Salkinds (the pair behind the first three Superman films, of course), and they hired regular 007 director John Glen to direct.
The coup, though, was getting the-then reclusive Marlon Brando to star. Robert Davi signed up too, but the end result here was barely worth turning up to see, sadly. Davi, later on, would muse that he took the job as when else was he going to have a chance to work with Brando? A fair point.
It came to something that even the Carry On team couldn’t make box office gold out of Carry On Columbus. The last Carry On film to date, this one starred Jim Dale, and boasted a host of appearances from the British comedy stars able to walk. Even the keenest Carry On fanatic would have to concede that the magic had long since gone by the time this one hit the screen, though…
The best film: 1492: Conquest Of Paradise
The box office winner (UK): Carry On Columbus
The box office winner (US): Christopher Columbus: The Discovery
Joan Of Arc
At one stage in the 1990s, three competing adaptations of the Joan Of Arc story were going through the Hollywood machine. One fell apart fairly quickly, and that left two competing adaptations.
The promising one was to be helmed by Kathryn Bigelow. Off the back of Point Break and Strange Days, she was set to direct Company Of Angels. The project started life at 20th Century Fox, which eventually passed until it was picked up by Morgan Creek Productions, who had a deal at Warner Bros.
Eventually, though, Morgan Creek passed on the project, with its then production head, Bill Todman Jr, telling Premiere magazine back in 1998 that “it was strictly a business decision … it just didn’t culminate in getting done.”
Luc Besson, however, had been attached to Bigelow’s project as executive producer, and instead, he would jump aboard Joan Of Arc at Sony, starring his then-wife Milla Jovovich. This time, the story got to the screen, although the dampened critical and commercial reaction to the eventual movie suggested that Bigelow’s film may have been the more interesting. We’ll never know….
The best film: Joan Of Arc
The box office winner: Joan Of Arc
Mission To Mars vs Red Planet
Soak up The Martian and enjoy it, because a good Mars movie has been a long, long time coming. Back in 2000, it looked like we might have two of them, when Mission To Mars was scheduled for release in March, and Red Planet in November. But the movie gods had other ideas.
Mission To Mars came first. A big budget production, with investment from Disney it was set to be directed by a pre-Pirates Of The Caribbean Gore Verbinski, but when he dropped out, Brian De Palma joined late on. Gary Sinise and Tim Robbins led the cast, and hopes were high for the March 2000 release.
The film cost $100 million to make, but grossed a surprisingly low $110.9 million. The problem? The movie was vilified, becoming a critical target (although it was quite liked in France, Wikipedia tells me. Crikey). Mainly because it’s not very good. The opening was interesting, but the film went downhill from there. Most surprisingly, and disappointingly, it didn’t feel like a De Palma film at all. It felt like De Palma as a director for hire.
Terrific to look at, though.
Red Planet didn’t fare much better, and if anything, has become infamous for the falling out between two of its stars, Tom Sizemore and Val Kilmer (see: 14 co-stars who didn’t get along). It got to the point where it was said that Kilmer wouldn’t step foot on the set if Sizemore was there. Furthermore, Kilmer also apparently refused to even say the name of Sizemore’s character.
Director Anthony Hoffman valiantly tried to hold the film together, but his efforts were mainly in vain. While Red Planet has a couple of decent moments, the $80 million production fell hard at the box office. Its $33 million take was reflective of the scorn the movie had attracted.
The best film: Er, do we have to pick? It’s like choosing between two relatives you don’t like much.
The box office winner: Mission To Mars
Robin Hood vs Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves
It tends to be a forgotten fact that, in the late 1980s, there were three competing Robin Hood projects fighting for a greenlight. The three scripts were being developed by Tristar Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Morgan Creek Productions, and the only one that would go forward to become a movie would be the Robin Hood screenplay that Kevin Costner chose he wanted to make.
The Tristar project was apparently barely in the running, but for a long time, it looked as if 20th Century Fox would prevail. It had a director, with John McTiernan – hot off the back of Die Hard and in the midst of The Hunt For Red October – set to make the film. And at that stage, it was the most advanced of the projects. Costner was circling it too, although he was making his directorial debut, Dances With Wolves, at the time, and was determined not to get boxed in on screenplay changes as he had done on the film before that, Tony Scott’s Revenge.
The problem was that Fox’s script wasn’t ready, and that McTiernan was also interested in a new project with Sean Connery (that ultimately didn’t get made). Upcoming independent Morgan Creek thus moved quickly, and pulled a masterstroke by hiring one of Costner’s best friends, Kevin Reynolds, to direct. Reynolds had directed Costner before on Fandango, and his involvement – along with a screenplay from Pen Densham and John Watson that was willing to go broader than the traditional Robin Hood legend – led to Costner committing to Prince Of Thieves instead. The Fox and Tristar projects shut down shortly after (although a competing Robin Hood movie, starring Patrick Bergin, would get a UK cinema release in 1991, heading straight to telly in the States).
The best film: Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves
The box office winner: Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves
No Strings Attached vs Friends With Benefits
A pair of comedies that both landed in 2011, and both centred on couples having some casual pumpus of the rumpus.
First up was Ivan Reitman’s No Strings Attached, and it sure benefitted from making it to the screen first. Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher headlined the movie, which went by the title of Friends With Benefits at first. But Paramount, which was backing this one, altered its title, and No Strings Attached became the film’s new name near the end of 2010.
The release followed in January, and while reviews were fairly mixed, the box office was nothing to sniff at. The $25 million comedy was a good hit for Paramount, earning a decent profit thanks to its $149 million gross.
But for my money, the much, much better film was Friends With Benefits from Sony, that followed didn’t turn up until July 2011. Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis starred this time, for Easy A director Will Gluck. Kunis was the difference really (and Natalie Portman was the standout of No Strings Attached), and Friends With Benefits – while no classic – is more fun.
Critics tended to agree, although the box office called this one a dead heat. Friends With Benefits would also take $149 million in all, although it cost a little more to make.
The best film: Friends With Benefits
The box office winner: A tie. No Strings Attached probably made more profit, though
Deep Impact vs Armageddon
Proof that sometimes, a movie showdown can end up with two winners.
First out of the traps in 1997 was Deep Impact. It was directed by Mimi Leder, her second live-action feature for the then-infant DreamWorks studios (anyone else remember The Peacemaker? Quite good, that was). It would prove to be its first major live action hit. While some of the CG work in Deep Impact looked ropey then and ropier now, the success of the film was down to a few factors. It was human-centic, its science wasn’t too far off the mark, it was good, and more importantly, it was well marketed. It was one of those instances, too, where a name check for one film seemed to help the other.
The juggernaut turned up later in the summer, though.
I’ve got a sizeable soft spot for Michael Bay’s Armageddon, and the first hour in particular is an absolute hoot. I wonder if Bay has a strong 90-minute comedy in him, because the back and forth between his lively ensemble of characters remains a delight (see also: Clint Eastwood’s Space Cowboys for that).
Armageddon was a huge bet for Disney. Massively expensive, it was greenlit at a time when CG blockbusters weren’t the norm, and the-then studio chairman Joe Roth was gambling with his job a little. As an insurance policy, he had Bruce Willis on a multi-picture deal, and made Armageddon one of those films. It was one of the last notable examples of a movie star being hired because a studio didn’t think audiences would go for effects only, rather than the other way around.
There’s 40 minutes of incoherence in Armageddon, which really isn’t bad by Bay’s later standards in particular, but off the back of an aggressive marketing campaign (albeit one that wasn’t a patch on the excess of the promotions for Bay’s next big Disney blockbuster, Pearl Harbor), Armageddon hit very big.
Its science was, er, a bit on the “dramatic” side, though.
The best film: Probably Deep Impact, but we like ’em both
The box office winner: Armageddon
Dante’s Peak vs Volcano
Volcano will always have a special space in our hearts for being sold with one of our very favorite taglines: The Coast Is Toast. What’s not to like there?
Towards the end of the 1990s, competing projects seemed to be a regular occurrence, and so in this case there was the natural disaster dust-up between Dante’s Peak and Volcano.
In truth, they had volcanoes in common, but not a fat lot else. Roger Donaldson, of No Way Out and (yes!) The Bank Job fame was calling the shots on Dante’s Peak, which was the first non-007 blockbuster that Pierce Brosnan committed to following his James Bond debut. Linda Hamilton co-starred, and it followed a kind of Twister-a-like theme, as people get close to a natural disaster, and then peg it. It had a six month head start over Volcano, but still did middling business at best.
So the focus then switched to 20th Century Fox’s Volcano. For this one, Fox brought in Mick Jackson, whose biggest hit to date remains The Bodyguard. And the conceit? That, sitting under Los Angeles is a big volcano, which shoots out of the ground and erupts, whilst Tommy Lee Jones tries to save people.
It’s a huff and puff effort this one, albeit very much in the template of a disaster movie. It also has one of the least subtle morals at the end of a 90s film that we can recall. Volcano, for all its willingess to pour lava onto landmarks, would fail to ignite too, though. Neither volcano movie would emerge particularly victorious, although the cheaper Dante’s Peak brought home a good chunk more cash.
The best film: Volcano. Just.
The box office winner: Dante’s Peak
Mirror Mirror vs Snow White And The Huntsman
More a minor skirmish than a flat-out battle, this one. 2012 saw two live action Snow White films go up against each other, with the first – Mirror Mirror – having a good few months on Snow White And The Huntsman.
Mirror Mirror was cheaper to make, costing $85 million. A Czech-US co-production, its casting coup was Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen, but the rest of the ensemble was hardly shabby. Lily Collins played Snow White, Armie Hammer was the Prince, and living spoiler Sean Bean was the King. Tarsem Singh directed.
In the opposite corner, Snow White And The Huntsman was a big Universal blockbuster. Rupert Sanders directed, and Kirsten Stewart – at the height of her Twilight powers – took the title role. Around her, Chris Hemsworth jumped from Thor to the Huntsman, whilst Charlize Theron ate up the screen as the evil stepmother.
In this case, money won every battle too. Snow White And The Huntsman cost $170 million to make, but by the reckoning of most critics, it was the better film by distance. Furthermore, audiences backed it. While Mirror Mirror would do perfectly decent business with $183 million worldwide, Snow White And The Huntsman would just about scrape itself a sequel – The Huntsman, due next year – thanks to its $396 million at the box office. That was below what Universal was hoping for, but enough to encourage the studio to roll the dice again…
The best film: Snow White And The Huntsman
The box office winner: Snow White And The Huntsman
Outbreak vs Crisis In The Hot Zone
Warner Bros. outwitted 20th Century Fox in the battle of competing virus outbreaking (chortle) thrillers in the mid-1990s, scoring a decent box office hit in the process.
At one stage, after all, there were two such projects on the go. The most promising was inspired by an article (then book) by Richard Preston. Titled Crisis In The Hot Zone, 20th Century Fox attracted the interest of Ridley Scott behind the camera, and Robert Redford and Jodie Foster in front of it. It looked like it was set to be a go picture, as posh people who work in movies no doubt say.
However, there was competition from across town. Warner Bros. had its own virus outbreak thriller on the go, and it signed up Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot, In The Line Of Fire) to direct it. Casting was going well too, not least when Dustin Hoffman was recruited to headline the movie.
The thinking was that there was room for only one film of this ilk, though, and Warner Bros.’ project, while not in tip-top shape, was closing to being ready to shoot. Furthermore, there were problems on Crisis In The Hot Zone. Rewrites had beefed up Robert Redford’s role, and that put a question mark over Jodie Foster’s involvement.
Warner Bros., meanwhile, was winning the game of brinkmanship, and scrambled Outbreak into production. That may just have been the final straw for Crisis In The Hot Zone, and the project headed to turnaround shortly after.
That wasn’t the end of the story, though. Having won the battle, Warner Bros shut down production on Outbreak, and put aside some time to rework the screenplay. The film would be released in 1995, and prove to be a box office hit. It would be over 15 years until the next mainstream virus thriller, Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion.
The best film: Outbreak
The box office winner: Outbreak
Antz vs A Bug’s Life
A clash of films that apparently led to long, frosty relations between Pixar’s John Lasseter and DreamWorks Animation boss Jeffrey Katzenberg. For its second full length feature after Toy Story, Pixar took on a bug-leaning take on The Seven Samurai, telling the story of Flick who would join an unlikely circus.
However, over at the newly-formed DreamWorks, it too was taking its first steps with an ambitious slate of animated projects. The first was to be a hand-drawn telling of the biblical story of Moses, the excellent The Prince Of Egypt. But Katzenberg, having heard about Pixar’s project, didn’t want to be second to market. He dramatically moved up the release of computer animated movie Antz, gambling that Pixar couldn’t and wouldn’t follow suit.
Antz would now have a five month advantage over A Bug’s Life, and it would thus became DreamWorks Animation’s maiden release. A successful one, too. With Woody Allen on voicing duties (a job he reportedly hated), the DreamWorks studio had its first hit.
A Bug’s Life, though, would do better. Give that it was Pixar’s second movie, its visual look was more polished, and Disney’s marketing a bit sharper. Plus, it had those glorious outtakes in the end credits, too. Still: two really good films in this instance…
The best film: Score draw
The box office winner: A Bug’s Life
Olympus Has Fallen vs White House Down
Sony poured no shortage of cash into Roland Emmerich’s White House under siege movie White House Down. But it was in a losing battle to the screen with Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, that Nu Image was backing.
Olympus Has Fallen was in development first, when Sony spent $3 million on the White House Down screenplay from James Vanderbilt. Gerard Butler was already on board Olympus, and Fuqua would sign up shortly after. Olympus Has Fallen thus started shooting first, having being fast-tracked when White House Down appeared on the radar. It was a more modestly-budgeted film, costing $70 million to make against White House Down‘s $150 million.
Olympus arrived in cinemas first too, and it felt like an old-style, hard-edged, quite nasty action film. A successful one, too. In March 2013, it proved a surprise hit, generating $161m of business worldwide, and a comfortable profit. The sequel, London Has Fallen, arrives next year.
White House Down would follow later in the summer, and would actually take more money at the box office: $205 million worldwide in all. But the profit was lower, so Olympus ultimately won out. A shame, though. I think White House Down is one of the most gleeful, dumb fun action movies of the past few years, and it edges Olympus for me. Yet it feels like Roland Emmerich on home turf, fully in on the joke. See also: is this 2013’s most unfairly overlooked blockbuster)
I’m fully aware others don’t agree. I’ve had this argument before…
The best film: White House Down
The box office winner: Olympus Has Fallen
Paul Blart: Mall Cop vs Observe And Report
Perhaps a lower key scuffle rather than a full out fight, 2009 saw a pair of comedies set around security guards working in shopping centers. Or “malls.” But we’re going with shopping centers. Paul Blart: Shopping Centre Cop is a much better title.
There was a friendly rivalry between the two projects, as it happened. Seth Rogen, star of Observe And Report, noted this in an interview he gave to GQ, where he admitted that each knew of the other project all along. “We’re friends with those guys, so we would literally send each other pictures of the wardrobe, just to make sure we weren’t stepping on each other’s toes. They’re totally different movies,” he said.
He wasn’t kidding.
The lighter, bubblier Paul Blart starred Kevin James, and was a surprise hit in January 2009. It earned $183 million at the global box office off a modest budget. A sequel followed, albeit taking six years (!) to make it to the screen. Paul Blart 2 wasn’t very good though.
Observe And Report, meanwhile, was a very dark beast, influenced by Taxi Driver and The King Of Comedy.
Sold by Warner Bros. as a comedy, Rogen’s guard was a manuc depressive, something that the movie didn’t play down at all. The film didn’t quite work, but it’s without doubt the one that stays in your head the longest. No sequel followed, mind, as the film struggled with critics, and struggled at the box office too. It cost $18 million to make, took nearly $27 million, and a sequel didn’t follow.
The best film: Observe And Report
The box office winner: Paul Blart