Sometimes a story idea is so great it has to be told twice. Other times the story barely warrants a single telling let alone two. Unfortunately, Hollywood usually can’t tell the difference resulting in the strange happenstance whereby every couple of years a pair of films remarkably similar to one another come out to audience reactions of, “Didn’t I just see that?” It can be confusing. For example, until maybe a month ago I didn’t know that Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down were actually different films.
As a viewer, the most obvious response is to point to such redundant films and cry, “Give me something original, dangit!” However, it can also be kind of fun seeing such similar films, providing a Rashomon-like experience of seeing the same story as told by separate teams of writers, directors, and actors and seeing the ways they differed. More often than not, though, one of the film emerges as the clear victor, box office and/or quality-wise. Also, sometimes both films just kind of suck, and are only really remembered because they had the misfortune of coming out around the same time as a similar film.
Here are 19 pairs of films which may or may not have sucked but were definitely too similar for their own good, listed from the most recent to the oldest, limited to those which were released within 1 year of one another:
1. Olympus Has Fallen (March 23, 2013) vs. White House Down (July 1, 2013)
What Are They About?: The White House is under attack, and it’s up to a not-quite-CIA guy to save the President of the United of the States.
How Are They Different?: Olympus is a redemptive story about a disgraced former Presidential guard saving the President whereas White House Down‘s hero is just a police officer. Plus, Jamie Foxx’s White House Down President is more a man of action than Aaron Eckhart’s President in Olympus.
How Much Did They Make?: Olympus=$160.8 million worldwide on a budget of $70 million; White House Down has made $34.7 million worldwide on a budget of $150 million and is likely to end up making less than Olympus.
Which One Is Better?: White House Down; its’ lighter tone is preferable to the more grim Olympus. Bizarrely, critics and audiences can’t pick between the two, though, as both movies hold identical Rotten Tomatoes scores of 47% from critics and 73% from users.
2. Mirror Mirror (March 30, 2012) vs. Snow White & The Huntsman (June 1, 2012)
What Are They About?: Live-action re-tellings of the classic Snow White & The Seven Dwarves story, Mirror Mirror hewing closer in tone to the Disney version and Snow White & The Huntsman leaning in the complete opposite direction toward the Grimm’s fairy tale version.
How Are They Different?: Mirror Mirror director Tarsem Singh most likely did not have an affair with the actress playing Snow White (Lily Collins) as The Huntsman director Rupert Sanders did with his Snow White (Kristen Stewart).
How Much Did They Make?: Mirror Mirror=$166.1 million worldwide gross with a $85 million budget; Snow White & The Huntsman=$396.5 million worldwide gross with a $170 million budget. A sequel to Snow White has been announced.
Which One Is Better?: Snow White & The Huntsman; Charlize Theron as an ice queen is preferable to Julia Roberts’ over-acting. According to critics, though, the movies differ considerably in tone, performance, and visual design but are about the same quality-wise, with Mirror Mirror scoring a 45% and Snow White & The Huntsman a 48% on Rotten Tomatoes.
3. No Strings Attached (January 21, 2011) vs. Friends With Benefits (July 22, 2011)
What Are They About?: Male/female friends who decide to enter into a casual, romance-free sexual relationship together only to find their passion a prelude to inevitable feelings and eventually love.
How Are They Different?: Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher in No Strings have known each other for 15 years prior to becoming fuck buddies while Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis in Friends with Benefits do not know each other at the beginning of the movie.
How Much Did They Make?: No Strings=$147.7 million worldwide on a budget of $25 million; Friends with Benefits=$149.5 million worldwide on a budget of $35 million. So, they basically did identical business worldwide, but Friends with Benefits cost a little more to make.
Which One Is Better?: Friends With Benefits; Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis have amazing chemistry together whereas Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher have none. Moreover, Friends with Benefits is simply the funnier, smarter, better movie. The critics agreed, as No Strings only has a 48% Rotten Tomatoes approval rating whereas FwB has 71%.
4. Skyline (November 12, 2010) vs. Battle: Los Angeles (March 11, 2011)
What Are They About?: Aliens attack Earth, specifically the city of Los Angeles.
How Are They Different?: Skyline centers upon civilians reacting to a sudden unexplained alien attack while Battle centers upon a U.S. Marine squad called into evacuate citizens from LA before the Air Force blows it up to halt an alien invasion. The people who made Skyline did the special effects for Battle, which resulted in a very juicy lawsuit.
How Much Did They Make?: Skyline=$66.8 million worldwide on a budget of $10 million; Battle: Los Angeles made $211.8 million worldwide on a budget of $70 million. The Skyline people announced a sequel before the film even came out, but this may not end up happening.
Which One Is Better?: Battle: Los Angeles is at least a superioer action movie. Only 11% of Rotten Tomatoes critics liked Skyline whereas 48% liked Battle: Los Angeles.
5. Paul Blart: Mall Cop (January 16, 2009) vs. Observe & Report (April 10, 2009)
What Are They About?: Overweight (in Seth Rogen’s case, just slightly overweight) security guards who attempt to save the day and get the girl.
How Are They Different?: Paul Blart is a more standard everyman forced into heroism situation whereas Observe & Report revels in the mundane (Rogen is trying to stop a series of flashings at the mall) and dark (he has sex with a passed out Anna Faris at one point).
How Much Did They Make?: Paul Blart was a huge hit with $183.2 million worldwide on a budget of $26 million while Observe & Report tanked at $26.7 million worldwide on a budget of $18 million.
Which One Is Better?: Observe & Report; mostly because I am apparently genetically predisposed to dislike Kevin James. Critics liked Observe & Report (51% of Rotten Tomatoes) quite a bit more than they did Paul Blart (33% on Rotten Tomatoes), but audiences clearly felt just the opposite.
6. Who Do You Love (September 11, 2008) vs.Cadillac Records (December 5, 2008)
What Are They About?: Biopics about Leonard Chess, the record label king behind early blues artists like Muddy Waters, Little Walter, and Howlin’ Wolf and early blues/rock n’ roll artists like Etta James and Chuck Berry.
How Are They Different?: Etta James only appears as a fictionalized character named Ivy in Who Do You Love whereas the Beyonce Knowles version of James is a huge presence in the second half of Cadillac Records.
How Much Did They Make?: Cadillac Records failed to break even at $8.8 million worldwide gross on a budget of $12 million. Who Do You Love was an independent film making the film festival rounds throughout 2008, but did not come out in theaters, albeit in a microscopically limited fashion, until April of 2010 (meaning it probably technically shouldn’t count for this list; sue me). I can find no information about its budget and/or gross.
Which One Is Better?: Cadillac Records; its over-reliance on its completely fictional Leonard Chess/Etta James romance in the second half is a big problem, but Mos Def and Jeffrey Wright are brilliant as Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters respectively. Critics preferred Cadillac at 68% on Rotten Tomatoes to Who Do You Love’s 46%.
7. The Illusionist (September 1, 2006) vs. The Prestige (October 20, 2006)
What Are They About?: Magicians in the late 1800s/early 1900s with a pretty girl at the center of the action.
How Are They Different?: Christopher Nolan’s Prestige is about two warring magicians whereas The Illusionist is about a mysterious magician on the lam. The plots of the two films do not often overlap.
How Much Did They Make?: Illusionist = $87.8 million worldwide on a budget of $16.5 million; Prestige = $109.6 million worldwide on a $40 million budget.
Which One Is Better?: The Prestige; it is cooler to the touch, emotionally than The Illusionist, but you simply can’t beat Christopher Nolan. Critically, it’s basically a tie as The Illusionist has a 74% Rotten Tomatoes rating and The Prestige a 76%.
8. Chasing Liberty (January 9, 2004) vs. First Daughter (September 24, 2004
What Are They About?: Dads who just don’t understand and respect their daughter’s need for privacy except in this case the dad is the President of the United States and the daughter, well, the First Daughter.
How Are They Different?: Chasing Liberty is about the First Daughter on the run with a cute boy/love interest in Europe whereas First Daughter is about the titular character making with the nice-nice with a cute boy at college. In both cases, the boy is an undercover agent who was supposed to look after her but couldn’t stop himself from falling in love with her.
How Much Did They Make?: They both bombed, Chasing Liberty making $12.3 million worldwide ($23 million budget) and First Daughter doing slightly worse at $10.5 million worldwide (budget not reported).
Which One Is Better?: Chasing Liberty; they’re both horrible, but Mandy Moore makes for the more likable lead. Only 19% of Rotten Tomates critics liked Liberty, though, which is horrible but better than the mere 8% earned by First Daughter.
9. Mission to Mars (March 10, 2000) vs. Red Planet (November 10, 2000)
What Are They About?: Astronauts go to Mars. Bad things happen. They shouldn’t have gone to Mars.
How Are They Different?: Red Planet is about a group of astronauts looking for resources for a dying Earth whereas the Mission astronauts are sent, as the title indicates, on a rescue mission to the planet.
How Much Did They Make?: Red Planet was a colossal bomb at a mere $33.4 million worldwide with a $80 million budget compared to the $110.9 million worldwide gross for Mission to Mars, a good number until you see that Mars actually cost $100 million to make.
Which One Is Better?: Red Planet; simply because the 2001: Space Odyssey homage ending of Mission to Mars is so derivative it ruins the entire film. Honestly, they’re both bad (Mission at 25% on Rotten Tomatoes and Red at 14%).
10. Saving Private Ryan (July 24, 1998) vs. The Thin Red Line (January 15, 1999)
What Are They About?: WWII, one the European Theater and the other the Pacific Theater.
How Are They Different?: Saving Private Ryan is set in the European Theater of WWII, dealing with D-Day and its immediate aftermath, whereas The Thin Red Line is about The Battle of Guadalcanal in the Pacific Theater of WWII. In plot and tone, they are very different films forever clumped together, though, because they were two WWII movies from iconic directors release within 6 months of one another.
How Much Did They Make?: Spielberg did the Spielberg thing with Private Ryan, making $481.8 million worldwide on a budget of $70 million, whereas Terrence Malick did the Terrence Malick thing with Thin Red Line, making $98 million worldwide on a $52 million budget.
Which One Is Better?: Saving Private Ryan; it wants you to walk away from it with a need to go thank an old person for being awesome whereas The Thin Red Line wants you to find an old person who will read to you the poetry they wrote about how much it sucked being a soldier. Both are good, though, 78% of Rotten Tomatoes critics liking Red Line versus 91% liking Private Ryan.
11. The Truman Show (June 5, 1998) vs. EDtv (March 26, 1999)
What Are They About?: Central male characters who have their lives taped and broadcast to the world.
How Are They Different?: Jim Carrey in The Truman Show doesn’t know he’s on a TV show, but Matthew McConaughey in EDtv is completely aware. Carrey lives in an elaborate bio-dome/ film set in which everyone is an actor and everything is either product placement or something in which a camera is hidden, but McConaughey simply lets a rather early version of a reality TV crew follow him around for a week.
How Much Did They Make?: Truman Show was a colossal hit ($264.1 million worldwide on a $60 million budget) whereas EDtv was a colossal bomb ($35.2 million worldwide on a $80 million budget).
Which One Is Better?: The Truman Show; it’s a classic while EDtv is not. EDtv isn’t bad, at 64% on Rotten Tomatoes, but Truman is practically flawless at 95%.
12. Antz (October 2, 1998) vs. A Bug’s Life (November 25, 1998)
What Are They About?: The other side of the shoe – family-friendly animated depictions of the secret lives of those things we humans often simply step upon, antz and various other small insects.
How Are They Different?: A Bug’s Life has far less Woody Allen…in fact, none, since he is the voice of the protagonist in Antz. The animation quality in A Bug’s Life is far superior to Antz.
How Much Did They Make?: Antz was a minor hit ($171.7 million on a $105 million budget) that has gone generally forgotten, but A Bug’s Life was a huge hit ($363.3 million worldwide on a $120 million budget) that is remembered fondly.
Which One Is Better?: Antz; simply because it is so insane watching a kids movie with a Woody Allen-voiced protagonist. Truthfully, these are both fun films, and the critical reception was largely identical (95% approval of Antz vs. 92% of A Bug’s Life).
13. Deep Impact (May 8, 1998) vs. Armageddon (July 1, 1998)
What Are They About?: Pop quiz, hotshot: Giant asteroids are on a collision course for Earth. What do you do?
How Are They Different?: In Deep Impact, the answer to the pop quiz is to ponder the societal ramifications of a catastrophic event while Armageddon simply nonsensically sends a bunch of oil rig experts to blow the asteroids up real nice.
How Much Did They Make?: Deep Impact=$349.4 million worldwide on an $80 million budget; Armageddon=$553.7 million on a $140 million budget.
Which One Is Better?: Deep Impact; it takes the subject a bit more seriously. Critics liked the films about the same (47% for Deep Impact vs. 39% for Armageddon). Armageddon has clearly had a longer-lasting cultural impact due to the immense popularity of Aerosmith’s “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from the soundtrack and visual similarities to director Michael Baby’s subsequent work on the Transformers films.
14. Dante’s Peak (February 7, 1997) vs. Volcano (April 25, 1997)
What Are They About?: Volcano goes boom, people go flat. Male/female duo try to warn/protect potential victims.
How Are They Different?: Dante’s Peak is about a volcano erupting near a trendy town which greedy capitalists knew better than to populate so close to an active volcano while Volcano is pretty much just a throwback disaster movie in which a volcano inexplicably erupts in Los Angeles.
How Much Did They Make?: They both did okay, Volcano at $122.8 million worldwide off of a $90 million budget and Dante’s Peak at $178.2 million off of a $116 million budget.
Which One Is Better?: Volcano for being truer to its B-movie roots. Rotten Tomatoes gives Dante a 27% approval rating and Volcano 44%.
15. Gordy (May 12, 1995) vs. Babe (August 4, 1995)
What Are They About?: Talking pigs.
How Are They Different?: Gordy is trying to save his family from the slaughterhouse (remember, this is supposed to be good, family fun, and its plot is about preventing animals from slaughter) while Babe is attempting to save the farm.
How Much Did They Make?: Gordy was made on-the-cheap with no officially reported budget and made $3.9 million in a limited domestic release. Babe, on the other hand, was a colossal hit at $254.1 million worldwide on a $30 million budget, and it spawned a sequel, Babe: Pig in the City.
Which One Is Better?: Babe; Gordy is a perfectly innocuous mid-90s family film whereas Babe is universally beloved to the point that it was nominated for Best Picture. Heck, Babe’s 98% critical approval rating makes it seem as if there isn’t a person alive who dislikes the film. That’ll do pig, that’ll do.
16. Tombstone (December 25, 1993) vs. Wyatt Earp (June 24, 1994)
What Are They About?: Biopics about the life of old American west lawman Wyatt Earp.
How Are They Different?: Wyatt Earp focuses upon the wider Earp family and Wyatt’s entire career as a lawman while Tombstone focuses strictly on the Tombstone, Arizona portion of his life.
How Much Did They Make?: Tombstone came in at $56.5 million on a $25 million budget while the more ponderous and longer Wyatt Earp flopped at $25 million on a $63 million budget.
Which One Is Better?: Wyatt Earp; both films feature rather bland Wyatt Earps, but I prefer Dennis Quaid’s version of Doc Holliday to Val Kilmer’s. I am in the minority, though, as Tombstone has 73% while Wyatt Earp has 42% on Rotten Tomatoes.
17. K-9 (April 28, 1989) vs. Turner & Hooch (July 28, 1989)
What Are They About?: Buddy cop comedies in which one of the buddies is a rather large dog.
How Are They Different?: The exact breed of dog differs. Plot-wise, the K-9 dog is an actual police dog trained to detect drugs whereas the Turner & Hooch dog is a witness Tom Hanks decides to temporarily adopt to help solve a case. The general “dog messes up my stuff and gets between me and my woman” shenanigans are mostly the same.
How Much Did They Make?: K-9=$78.2 million domestic on $17 million budget; Turner & Hooch= $71 million domestic on a $21 million budget.
Which One Is Better?: Turner & Hooch; just so you can see future two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks acting his ass off in a death scene alongside a dog. Critically, Turner & Hooch has the huge edge at 62% on Rotten Tomatoes compared to K-9‘s 22%.
18. Leviathan (March 17, 1989) vs. The Abyss (August 9, 1989)
What Are They About?: Deep sea divers encounter aquatic aliens.
How Are They Different?: Leviathan is basically Alien set underwater whereas the true villain in The Abyss is man, not alien. Sidebar, 1989 also saw the release of 4 other underwater-themed movies (Deep Star Six, The Evil Below, Lords of the Deep, and The Rift). However, the most similar of the bunch are Leviathan and Abyss.
How Much Did They Make?: Leviathan was but a blip on the map at $15.7 million total gross while The Abyss raked in $90 million worldwide but cost $70 million to make.
Which One Is Better?: The Abyss; if not for the special effects progress made in it, we never would have had the shape-shifting T-1000 in James Cameron’s next movie Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Critics really hated Leviathan (11% on Rotten Tomatoes) but loved Abyss (88% on Rotten Tomatoes)
19. Iron Eagle (January 17, 1986) vs. Top Gun (May 16, 1986)
What Are They About?: Young, reckless Air Force pilots with something to prove and serious daddy issues.
How Are They Different?: Iron Eagle is about a rescue mission to save the main character’s stranded Air Force pilot father; Top Gun is about a young hotshot with dead daddy issues at the Naval Flying School where he steps on people’s toes, has a horribly awkward romance, and plays shirtless volleyball for a long, long time.
How Much Did They Make?: The difference between the two is embarrassing. Top Gun earned a stunning $356.8 million worldwide (remember, we’re talking about 1986 here) on a $15 million budget while Iron Eagle only managed $24.1 million domestic on a $18 million budget. However, Iron Eagle did spawn three sequels versus Top Gun‘s none.
Which One Is Better?: Top Gun; you can’t play a drinking game matched to homoerotic moments in Iron Eagle the way you can with Top Gun. Over half (55%) of RottenTomatoes critics liked Top Gun while Iron Eagle doesn’t even have enough reviews to qualify for a score.
Hitchcock (November 23, 2012) vs. The Girl (BBC/HBO TV Movie Premiered on December 26, 2012)
These are last year’s competing biopics about Alfred Hitchock, each focused on the making of one of his iconic films. Toby Jones plays Hitchcock as he directs The Birds in The Girl while Sir Anthony Hopkins is Hitch directing Psycho in Hitchcock. This falls into the honorable mention category because only Hitchcock was a theatrical release while The Girl was a TV movie which aired on HBO in America and the BBC in the UK. Sadly, this was not the first time the excellent Toby Jones fell victim to the duplicate project curse.
Capote (September 30, 2005) vs. Infamous (October 13, 2006)
Ah, yes, the competing Truman Capote biopics that have basically the same exact plot: Truman Capote develops a friendship with a convicted killer while doing research for his book In Cold Blood. His childhood friend and To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee joins him. Capote was the more acclaimed and successful of the two, earning Philip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar for his performance in the title role. However, there are some who prefer Toby Jones’ take on Capote in Infamous. This falls in the honorable mention category because they were technically released more than 1 year apart from one another, even if that difference is only 1 year and 13 days.
As it turns out, this trend of duplicate projects doesn’t result in one film cannibalizing the box office for the other as often as you’d expect. So, we can probably expect duplicate projects to continue coming at us. There always seems to at least be one pair in development (in recent years, it’s been competing biopics about pornstar Linda Lovelace, tech icon Steve Jobs, and indie rock troubadour Jeff Buckley). There have been lawsuits in some cases or minced words in the press. However, if it has ever elevated to homicidal John Turturro Secret Window-style “You stole mai story!” confrontations they do a good job of covering it up:
For the record, other films I considered listing include Little Big League (kid becomes the owner of the Minnesota Twins)/Rookie of the Year (kid becomes a pitcher for Chicago Cubs) and This is the End/Rapture-Palooza/It’s a Disaster (all 3 end-of-the-world comedies released in 2013 but with very different plots).
Lastly, what’s with Tom Hanks, Val Kilmer, Toby Jones, and Morgan Freeman all popping up on this list more than once?
- ‘Friends With Benefits’ And Other Movies That Are Exactly Like Other Movies (moviefone.com)
- Pitting Hollywood’s Most Derivative Movies Against Each Other (pajiba.com)
- Identically themed movies that were released at the same time (thechive.com)