When the buzz gets going on a hot script or great rushes, it’s no-holds-barred in Hollywood to get the imitator out first and cream off some of the anticipation…n.b. No Patrick Bergin/C. Thomas Howell films.
10: SUBJECT MATTER: Mutually Assured Destruction
Fail Safe (1964)Doctor Strangelove (1964)
Henry Fonda said that he would never have made Sidney Lumet’s nuclear-thriller if he had seen Doctor Strangelove first, because he – like Fail Safe‘s audiences – would have found himself laughing too much in the wake of Kubrick’s comic apocalypse. Columbia Pictures produced both movies.
WINNER: n/a (Smart money on Doctor Strangelove)HEARTS AND MINDS: Doctor Strangelove
9: SUBJECT MATTER: Gender-bending road movie
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995)
Transamerica (2005) made a very late bid for entry in this category, but this was really a two-bitch face-off of Zoolander proportions, featuring two different sets of occasionally hysterical drag-queens learning to love a little on the way to some McGuffin destination.
WINNER: Priscilla won an Oscar for best costume design but only a quarter of To Wong Foo‘s grossHEARTS AND MINDS: They’re both enjoyable romps, but ultimately it comes down to which respected actor you’re more surprised to see in such a role, and Terence Stamp has got to pip it in Priscilla for a superb turn as the very emotionally over-wrought Bernadette Bassenger (aka ‘Ralph’).
8: SUBJECT MATTER: Cops and dogs
K-9 (1989)Turner & Hooch (1989)
Neither of the pooches in these films are conventional, trained police-dogs within their respective plots, but amateur sleuth-hounds with a capacity for disaster. James Belushi’s K-9 goes for the more obvious slapstick with relish, whereas Tom Hanks has a slightly more sedate role as the cop protecting a canine witness to a murder.
WINNER: Turner and Hooch cost $30M more to make but did similarly to K-9 despite Tom Hanks’ presence.HEARTS AND MINDS: They’re both pretty dismissible films. It’s a hell of a lot easier finding out anything about Turner And Hooch on Google though…
7: SUBJECT MATTER: Eek, big rocks heading for Earth.
Deep Impact (1998)Armageddon (1998)
Prez Morgan Freeman’s line (in Deep Impact) “Life will go on, we will prevail…THIS IS NOT ARMAGEDDON!” was truncated to “Life will go on, we will prevail” when it became clear the two films would become box-office competitors. Michael Bay’s double-Y chromosome, knuckle-draggingly dumb space flick turned out to be quite a contrast tonally from Mimi Leder’s SFX-laden chick-flick; even though a central character makes an absurdly identical sacrifice at the end of both movies, they’re actually a fair contrast to each-other.
WINNER: Armageddon – $555M (Worldwide gross)HEARTS AND MINDS: Flip a coin. If lack of opposing thumbs makes this impossible, default to Armageddon.
6: SUBJECT MATTER: Size isn’t important.
Antz (1998)A Bug’s Life (1998)
This Disney Vs. Dreamworks bug-off may have got the odd cigar chewed away among the Mouse execs looking for a unique follow-up to Toy Story, but both films enjoyed a fairly favourable critical and box-office reception. However, Disney’s DVD magic-machine assured that Bug’s Life doubled the worldwide gross of its competitor.
WINNER: A Bug’s Life – $358M (Worldwide gross)HEARTS AND MINDS: Either. Truth be told, they’re both engaging enough, but it’s amazing how ‘by-the-numbers’ they feel since both are examples of a cinematic form that was still emergent at the time.
5: SUBJECT MATTER: ‘Nam.
The Deer Hunter (1978)Apocalypse Now (1979)
With enough distance from the war to begin to approach it cinematically, the initial parries were elliptical, with the likes of Julia (1978). But Francis Ford Coppola had been working on his Heart Of Darkness transliteration for years when The Deer Hunter came along and trumped his milestone war-film at the Oscars.
WINNER: In terms of Oscars, The Deer Hunter (9 nominations, 5 wins including best picture vs. best cinematographer and sound for Apocalypse). In financial terms, Apocalypse Now never stopped earning on VHS and DVD whereas Hunter became another ‘seventies movie’.HEARTS AND MINDS: I love the smell of victory in the morning.
4: SUBJECT MATTER: Absurd beards/moustache combos.
Tombstone (1993)Wyatt Earp (1994)
Lawrence Kasdan’s take on the Earp legend was hamstrung by a streak of earnestness that didn’t have the same impact as Costner’s Dances With Wolves; the movie yielded some riches, but its lack of fun wasn’t rewarded by any great or enduring dramatic impact. By contrast the absurd beard-off of George P. Cosmatos’ Tombstone proved to be the whiskeriest western ever made, with a great balance between comedy and action, a memorable take on Wyatt Earp from Kurt Russell and a scene-stealing turn from Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday.
WINNER: Tombstone retook its estimated budget twice over in the US alone, whereas Wyatt Earp clawed back only a fraction of its $63M budget.HEARTS AND MINDS: Tombstone. One of Kurt’s finest moments.
3: SUBJECT MATTER: Get your ass to Mars.
Mission To Mars (2000)Red Planet (2000)
This was the planetary exploration dogfight that left Hollywood red-faced and allergic to straight sci-fi; these two films are arguably responsible for collectively ending the stream of Hollywood science-fiction in the 1990s. Looking back, both are enjoyable slices of ‘realistic’ NASA-edged sci-fi, but one of the films had no aliens at all and the other very few, and very late. The truth is that Hollywood wanted to go to Mars but couldn’t afford to terraform it – and what else is there to do there? Throw rocks at tin cans, and you gotta bring your own tin cans (– Forbidden Planet). A better move would have been to commit to filming Kim Stanley Robinson’s excellent Mars trilogy, now being adapted for TV by AMC – now that would have been Lord Of The Rings for the tech crowd.WINNER: Both burned up in orbit financially, but Mission To Mars ($90M budget) clawed more back in DVD-land than Red Planet ($75M budget).HEARTS AND MINDS: A cool psycho robot in Red Planet but better rendition of space travel in Mission To Mars, so flip for it.
2: SUBJECT MATTER: Volcanic!
Dante’s Peak (1997)Volcano (1997)
Though both films ably impress upon the viewer the nuclear-style force of an initial volcano eruption, the subject matter itself suffers from the ‘Jaws’-sequel syndrome. You know – just, err go somewhere else. Most of Pompeii was successfully evacuated during the disaster with just sandal-leather and horses, so both plots rely on egress being blocked. Many have noted that they’d like to own a satellite phone as reliable as the one that gets Pierce Brosnan out of trouble at the end of Dante’s Peak – must be the same model they use in Jurassic Park III.
WINNER: Dante’s Peak registers a worldwide gross of $169M vs. $120M for Volcano, but both took time to get there.HEARTS AND MINDS: Neither are really outstanding, but Tommy Lee Jones gives his characteristic edge to Volcano.
1: SUBJECT MATTER: Magicians at warThe Prestige (2006)The Illusionist (2006)
Christopher Nolan’s tale of rival conjurors was closely followed by the rather more conventional tale of Edward Norton trying to wrest entrapped Jessica Biel from the clutch of evil Rufus Sewell. Ultimately Nolan’s opus mopped up what interest there was in the subject, though Andrew O’Connor’s Magicians (2007) thought the hat-trick was worth a try.
WINNER: The Prestige enjoyed a $97.2M worldwide gross, more than double that of Illusionist.HEARTS AND MINDS: The Illusionist has some kind of plan for getting out of the convoluted problem it sets, whereas The Prestige cops out with sci-fi. Nonetheless the latter is a more intriguing and atmospheric film.
Honourable mention: An American Werewolf In London / The Howling / WolfenBack to the Future / Peggy Sue Got MarriedBraveheart / Rob RoyBrazil / 1984Cannonball Run / The Gumball RallyChapter 27/ The Killing of John LennonFinding Nemo / Shark TaleFlight 93 / United 93Full Metal Jacket / Platoon (and arguably Hamburger Hill)Godspell / Jesus Christ SuperstarIndependence Day / Mars AttacksMadagascar / The Wild (2006)Saving Private Ryan / The Thin Red LineThe Exorcism of Emily Rose / RequiemTuristas / Hostel
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