Sometimes movies are like buses. You wait years and years for a comedy about a chubby mall cop or an action thriller about a terrorist attack on the White House or a computer animated adventure about ants, and then two come along in the same year! With thousands of projects drifting around Hollywood at any given time – as treatments or outlines or scriptments or simply just a Post-It note on Ridley Scott’s desk – it can be easy for two similar projects to get made. After all, there are only a finite number of movie concepts in the world. Anyone could think of “Die Hard in the White House” – and two people did, at roughly the same time. It happens. Two of the same project go into development at the same time and end up getting released just months apart from each other. Who knows how these things work? That’s why the studios announce their movies as soon as possible – to stop their competitors. One time, a producer named Bingham Ray got a call from the writer of Infamous, a biopic of Truman Capote, who told him that the script was finished. Ray told him, “I know, I’ve got it on my desk!” before looking at the title page and seeing that he was writing Capote, a totally different biopic of Truman Capote by a totally different writer. Anyway, here are 10 cases where two of the same movie came out in the same year.
10. Skyline and Battle: Los Angeles
This one ended in a lawsuit. Basically, VFX wizzes the Brothers Strause do a lot of visual effects for big budget science fiction movies. They directed Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, but they don’t direct a lot of stuff. They usually just do the special effects – that’s where the money is. But when they did decide to direct another feature, Skyline, about an alien threat in Los Angeles, they got sued by Sony Pictures Entertainment. This is where the plot thickens. The Strauses’ visual effects company had been hired to work on the effects for one of Sony’s movies, Battle: Los Angeles, which is also an L.A.-set sci-fi action pic about an alien invasion. The Sony brass were furious that Skyline was slated for release four months before Battle: Los Angeles, and they thought the Strauses had been screwing them around. However, the brothers called Sony’s claims in the suit “completely baseless,” and said that the legal action as a whole was “a blatant attempt by Sony” to force a release date change on another company with a rival film. Later, Sony dropped the suit, since they saw Skyline and realized that it’s a different movie and not theirs. Bravo, Sony. Bravo.
9. Finding Nemo and Shark Tale
Pixar and DreamWorks both set a computer animated movie in the beautiful world of under the sea at around the same time. Finding Nemo is clearly the finer film – it told a universally relatable story of parenthood as an overprotective father endures every parent’s worst nightmare and he learns that he has to sometimes let go and give his son the freedom to make his own mistakes. Shark Tale is a parody of movies like The Godfather and other gangster films that the movie’s audience of children would definitely not have seen (who thought that was a good idea) and perpetuates the stereotypes of Italian Americans. They’re not very similar movies at all, but on the surface, it might look that way, so DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said at the time, “Any similarities are mere coincidence. We’ve been open with the Pixar people so we don’t step on each other’s toes.” This was not the first time that Pixar and DreamWorks were making two competing movies set in the same world at the same time – it happened once before with A Bug’s Life and Antz, and that ended sourly with a bitter feud between the two studios, but more on that alter.
8. Happy Feet and Surf’s Up
George Miller is the director who gave us Mad Max, a dark, violent, action-packed vision of the future, so the last thing anyone would’ve expected from his next movie was for it to be an animated musical about dancing penguins. Happy Feet is a beautifully touching movie starring a fantastic cast of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, and Hugo Weaving. Funnily enough, Happy Feet appeared at a time when a bunch of other penguin movies were coming out – March of the Penguins, Madagascar, and particularly Surf’s Up. Surf’s Up is a rare (and possibly the only) example of an animated kids’ movie that is a mockumentary. It’s a parody of The Endless Summer and Riding Giants and North Shore and other surfing movies and documentaries that no one has ever heard of. This format and premise were an odd choice for big budget children’s entertainment, but it’s got a terrific cast – Shia LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges, Zooey Deschanel, James Woods, Jon Heder – and it’s a damn fine movie. Another odd choice was making the beach-set surfing movie about penguins. The mockumentary format helped to distinguish it in a crowded penguin movie market, actually – Roger Ebert wrote, “The originality of the documentary format coupled with the splendid CGI effects qualifies Surf’s Up as not just another penguin movie.” Happy Feet fared better at the box office. Both Happy Feet and Surf’s Up had a budget of $100 million, but the former grossed $384 million, while the latter grossed just $149 million.
7. Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman
In 2012, we got not one, but two big budget movie adaptations of the Snow White fairy tale. They may have been released in the same year and followed the same basic plot, but tonally, they were very, very different. Mirror Mirror was going for a bright, colorful, surreal, manufactured look with a script that was jokey and gimmicky, while Snow White and the Huntsman was going for a gritty, action-packed, “Twilight meets The Lord of the Rings” kind of thing. However, despite the varying tones, neither movie quite panned out. They’re both mediocre blockbusters that suffer from the same problem of messy inconsistency. The Guardian’s film critic Peter Bradshaw said that even though Snow White and the Huntsman was “less jokey than the recent Mirror Mirror…this Twilight-ified fairy tale has the same basic problem – the result is tangled and overblown.” Still, Richard Roeper wrote that Snow White and the Huntsman was “vastly superior to Mirror Mirror,” so if his opinion is anything to go by, there is a clear winner (plus it did a lot better at the box office than Mirror Mirror – so much better that it warranted a sequel/prequel/spin-off movie called The Huntsman: Winter’s War, which did fail miserably).
6. A Bug’s Life and Antz
Both of these animated movies are about a neurotic ant who must prove himself to his colony. A Bug’s Life is Pixar’s attempt at this premise and Antz is DreamWorks’ attempt. DreamWorks released Antz in October 1998 and Pixar literally released A Bug’s Life one month later in November 1998. That’s so close together! Both movies did relatively quite well at the box office. Antz cost about $42 million to produce, and made back $171 million. A Bug’s Life grossed more, but it also cost more. It grossed $363 million and cost $120 million to produce. The two movies and their competition started an intense feud between the two studios. “I should have been wary,” said A Bug’s Life director John Lasseter, recalling that DreamWorks boss Jeffrey Katzenberg “kept asking questions about when it would be released,” before announcing his own ant movie to be released one month before Lasseter’s. Lasseter and fellow Pixar boss Steve Jobs felt that Katzenberg had stolen their idea, and the feud began. Roger Ebert wrote positively about the competition between the two films: “Will A Bug’s Life suffer by coming out so soon after Antz? Not any more than one thriller hurts the chances for the next one. Antz may even help business for A Bug’s Life by demonstrating how many dramatic and comedic possibilities can be found in an anthill.” As it turns out, it did help – because A Bug’s Life did two times the business of Antz.
5. Observe and Report and Paul Blart: Mall Cop
Mall cops seem ripe for satire. They’re sort of cops, but they’re not really cops. They have authority over the mall. The mall! That’s hilarious. In 2009, two different comedy teams decided this. Adam Sandler produced a family friendly mall cop movie starring Kevin James called Paul Blart: Mall Cop, while Jody Hill directed what the critics referred to as “the dark mall cop movie,” Observe and Report, which starred Seth Rogen as the lead mall security guard, Ronnie Barnhardt. The critics are right – it is very, very dark. Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a fun, bubbly romp with the basic premise of “Die Hard in a mall,” starring a fat man who has diabetes and pines after the girl at one of the kiosks in the mall. Observe and Report is quite a bit different. The lead character is desperate to join the police academy, and along the way, he date rapes the girl at one of the kiosks in the mall (same sort of romantic subplot as Paul Blart, but with much darker consequences). Observe and Report is a dark odyssey into the psychology of Ronnie – he beats people up, shoots people, and goes after the mall’s resident flasher like Travis Bickle goes after all the scum on the streets. Jody Hill acknowledged the fact that two mall cop comedies were being made at the same time: “We knew the whole time, actually. And 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.” Yeah, different in the sense that one is shockingly grim and batshit nuts and inspired by the work of Martin Scorsese, while the other is a slapstick farce with a surplus of Segway gags.
4. Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached
Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached are both romantic comedies about two friends, a male and a female, who attempt to enter into a sexual relationship without compromising the friendship, and end up falling in love. It’s a great premise for a romcom – so great that the universe planted it in the minds of two writers at the same time when the concept floated down from the stars. They’re so similar, in fact, that the original script for No Strings Attached was actually called Friends with Benefits. And funnily enough, that script was actually written by New Girl creator Elizabeth Meriwether. It obviously had to change its title, because you can have two competing romcoms with the same premise, but you can’t have two competing romcoms with the same title! The movies both did well at the box office – in fact, staggeringly, they made more or less the exact same amount of money: about $150 million each – because their producers wisely cast two huge stars in the lead roles. Friends with Benefits stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis and No Strings Attached stars Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. There’s not a single one of those actors that isn’t phenomenally famous! So, neither movie failed in this case.
3. Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down
These two movies went into development at around the same time and the film industry press covered the race between Sony Pictures and Millennium Films to get the two films made like it was a Presidential election (no pun intended). Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down both have the premise of “Die Hard in the White House,” as terrorists attack the White House and a Secret Service agent (well, in White House Down, he’s technically an aspiring Secret Service agent) helps the President to stay alive and face the heat. Olympus Has Fallen’s script was originally titled White House Taken, but that was way too close to White House Down, so they changed it to the far cooler Olympus Has Fallen. Olympus Has Fallen, starring Gerard Butler, is easily the more successful of the two. It cost $70 million to produce and grossed $170 million at the box office. A sequel, London Has Fallen, followed a couple of years later and grossed $205 million. A third film, Angel Has Fallen, set on a hijacked Air Force One, is currently filming. White House Down, on the other hand, starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, was somewhat of a box office flop, losing $197 million for Sony in the summer of 2013. The problem with White House Down is that it cost twice as much as Olympus Has Fallen, and it’s half as good. Not a good combination.
2. Tombstone and Wyatt Earp
What are the odds that two big budget biopics of Old West historical icon Wyatt Earp would be made in the same year? Usually, the case with these two movies with the same premise coming out in the same year situations is that you wonder which of the two is going to be really successful. One of them is going to click with audiences, and then the other one is going to burn out and fail, because the audience already saw the movie in a different form, so the demand is gone. Well, in this case, what we realized is that the demand for a Wyatt Earp biopic was never really there. Tombstone was the more financially successful one, technically, but only because it was cheaper to make. Wyatt Earp cost $63 million to make and only grossed a return of $25 million, so it was a box office flop. What may have contributed to this is the gargantuan 190 minute running time. Who the hell wants to sit through a movie that’s over three hours long? Tombstone, on the other hand, only cost $25 million to make and ended up bringing in $56 million at the box office, so that’s a modest profit. Still, the world could probably have done without both of these movies, let alone just one.
1. Armageddon and Deep Impact
An asteroid threatens to destroy Earth and wipe out humanity and it must be stopped! That’s how the premise of both Armageddon and Deep Impact goes. Deep Impact had a two and a half month head-start to rack up box office numbers, and Armageddon still managed to beat it at the box office. It actually went on to become the highest grossing movie of the year. Deep Impact may have lost out on the box office figures, but astronomers have said that it is the most scientifically accurate of the two. Maybe that’s why it didn’t do as well. Audiences want some Hollywood escapism, and that’s what Michael Bay and his $140 million production budget give you in Armageddon. If you wanted some scientifically accurate astronomy, you’d enrol in a college course. Plus, Armageddon has the bigger stars. Sure, Deep Impact has Robert Duvall, Morgan Freeman, and Elijah Wood, but those are B-list names. Armageddon has the A-list factor going for it: Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler. And there’s Billy Bob Thornton, Owen Wilson, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Steve Buscemi for dessert. In the end, Deep Impact grossed about $350 million, which is good, but Armageddon grossed $550 million – almost double!