"White House Down," "Olympus Has Fallen," and the Proud Tradition of Same-Subject Movies. Here are some favorites.
With the Washington D.C. disaster film Olympus Has Fallen currently atop the box-office standings, Columbia Pictures took the opportunity to release the poster for their own D.C.-in-peril movie, Roland Emmerich's White House Down. This kind of overlap in subject matter, leading to Competing Movie narratives, is not an uncommon occurrence. Already this year, we've got Tom Cruise and Will Smith returning to a post-apocalypse Earth in Oblivion and After Earth, respectively. As well as Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic Cooper looking to best the version of "Liz & Dick" that Lifetime and Lindsay Lohan put on TV. Yes, Same-Subject movies have a ... well, if not "proud" tradition then a loud one. Here are a few of our favorite examples.
Cinematic Subject: Alexander the Great Competing Films: Oliver Stone's Alexander; Baz Luhrmann's Untitled Alexander Project The Story: The wide gap between Luhrmann's 2001 Moulin Rouge! and 2008's Australia is partially explained by his abandoned "Alexander" project, which had Leonardo DiCaprio attached. Once Stone's film got a good head of steam and was clearly going to be finished first, Luhrmann's epic fell apart and would remain a cinematic what-if. The Victor: Despite getting pretty terrible reviews and delivering a watered-down version of a possible romantic storyline between Colin Farrell and Jared Leto, Alexander still got made, which gives it the win by default.
Cinematic Subject: Truman Capote Competing Films: Bennett Miller's Capote; Douglas McGrath's Infamous The Story: Not only were both films to dramatize the life of the famous author and celebrity gadfly, but both were to focus on the period in his life when he wrote In Cold Blood. Infamous had the more star-studded cast, including Sandra Bullock, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Sigourney Weaver (and a pre-Bond Daniel Craig), but Capote cast Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the lead, while Infamous opted for Toby Jones. The Victor:Capote made it to theaters earlier, was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director at the Oscars, and won Hoffman a Best Actor trophy. Infamous limped into arthouses a year later and was branded an afterthought.
Cinematic Subject: Asteroids Competing Films: Mimi Leder's Deep Impact; Michael Bay's Armageddon The Story: In 1998, blockbuster fans were offered two competing visions of apocalypse, both by the same galactic means: an asteroid headed directly for earth. Bay's film was filled with his usual bombast and humor and Bruckheimer-approved cast (Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, Owen Wilson), ultimately saving the world through One Man's Sacrifice; while Deep Impact offered President Morgan Freeman gravely preparing the world for the worst ... and then watching it happen. The Victor: In many ways, Deep Impact is the ballsier film for actually having the asteroid hit, but it also runs a bit contrary to the Big Summer Movie ethos of big explosions followed by big victory. Maybe that's why it opened in early May. Despite getting to theaters second, Armageddon was seen as the bigger player by headlining July 4th weekend, and indeed it took in more money and is more widely remembered today.
Cinematic Subject: Snow White Competing Films: Tarsem's Mirror Mirror; Rupert Sanders's Snow White and the Huntsman The Story: In the wake of Alice in Wonderland, big CGI/big art direction adaptations of fairy tales were in high demand, so both these films were put into motion quickly. Both projects were pretty clearly going after different takes, with Huntsman hitting darker, gothic, Kristen Stewart-y notes, while Mirror Mirror was going for full-on comedy. Both treated their Wicked Queens as the lead role, however, with Charlize Theron repping Huntsman and Julia Roberts headlining Mirror Mirror. The Victor: Well, both were pretty well shredded by critics, both got a smattering of technical Oscar nominations, and neither one did a whole lot to help their respective leading ladies' careers. Huntsman did much better business, though it was saddled with a lot of that Kristen Stewart infidelity silliness in the press. Still, it clears a low bar for success.
Cinematic Subject: Sex Friends Competing Films: Ivan Reitman's No Strings Attached vs. Will Gluck's Friends with Benefits The Story: There are enough romantic comedies throwing darts at a wall of various scenarios to put would-be romantic partners in that eventually two were bound to hit theaters around the same time. Somehow, both 2011 "sex friends" comedies ended up starring Black Swan cast-mates Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Neither one was hotly anticipated by critics, who weren't wild about the premise, nor about their himbo leading men, Ashton Kutcher and Justin Timberlake, respectively. The Victor: Both films were similar-sized modest hits, but it was the Kunis/Timberlake Friends with Benefits that ended up winning critics over, albeit barely, primarily through the chemistry of the leads.
Cinematic Subject:Les Liaisons Dengereuses Competing Films: Stephen Frears's Dangerous Liaisons; Milos Forman's Valmont The Story: Surely, a novel as rich as this one could bear two competing features. After all, it would later bear a teenage retelling (Cruel Intentions), a stage play, and a fictitious musical starring an embarrassing Sean Hayes on this season of Smash. Dangerous Liaisons not only starred the red-hot Glenn Close but also the ascendant Michelle Pfeiffer and Uma Thurman, while Valmont's cast was no less impressive, with Annette Bening, Colin Firth, and Meg Tilly (and Fairuza Balk!). The Victor:Frears's film made it to theaters first, at the end of 1988, just in time for awards season, where it was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress. It won for its screenplay, costumes, and art direction. Valmont got a costume nomination the following year, though it didn't win. In fact, it paled in comparison to Dangerous Liaisons in most respects.
Cinematic Subject: Steve Prefontaine Competing Films: Steve James's Prefontaine; Robert Towne's Without Limits The Story: The story of 1970s collegiate distance runner Prefontaine was suddenly the hot screenplay in 1997, with both Disney (Prefontaine) and producer Tom Cruise (Without Limits) putting films into production. Prefontaine featured the more-famous-at-the-time Jared Leto in the title role, while a pre-Almost Famous played Prefontaine in Without Limits. The Victor:Prefontaine hit theaters first, but neither film made any impact at all at the box office. Without Limits was the better reviewed film, however, and got Donald Sutherland a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Cinematic Subject: Cartoon Ants Competing Films: Dreamworks's Antz; Pixar's A Bug's Life The Story: With their very first feature, Dreamworks Animation came boldly out of the gate, challenging Pixar (which hadn't quite earned the reputation it has today, but was still Disney-backed at the time) with a bug-themed venture. A bitter public fight would ensue between Dreamworks' Jeffrey Katzenberg and Pixar's John Lasseter over accusations of theft and dirty studio practices, but the upshot was that both films opened within 55 days of each other, in the fall of 1998. As would be the pattern with Dreamworks vs. Pixar, the former loaded up on above-title voice talent, including Woody Allen, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Lopez, Sharon Stone, and Gene Hackman, leaving poor A Bug's Life with its sitcom leads, Dave Foley and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The Victor: Both films were loudly cheered by critics. Both films would be little more than footnotes compared to their studios' later successes (Shrek; The Incredibles; Wall-E). But A Bug's Life would double up Antz's take at the box-office, setting a pattern at Pixar that stars are secondary.
Cinematic Subject: Volcanoes Competing Films: Roger Donaldson's Dante's Peak; Mick Jackson's Volcano The Story: Disaster movies, like romantic comedies, shuffle through enough scenarios that eventually, subject-matter overlap like this is going to happen. In one corner, Linda Hamilton and Pierce Brosnan find themselves stranded on a mountain in Washington when it erupts. In the other, Anne Heche and Tommy Lee Jones run around Los Angeles, trying to keep the volcano hidden under the La Brea tar pits from melting everyone in Southern California out into the ocean. Both films are junky good fun, when it comes down to it. Really only a matter of personal preference. The Victor:Dante's Peak made a little more money, got a little worse reviews. It all looks to be pretty even. Watch them both, pick a favorite, then judge all your future relationships by whether people agree with your choice or not.