It happens every few years. Two movies are released around the same time, usually within a year of each other, and feature nearly identical plots, setting and subjects. The year 2013 is unique in that it has two pairs of films that tread on nearly identical territory. First, there's Oblivion and After Earth, both of which feature a movie star attempting to survive on a deserted and dangerous future Earth. Then there's Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down, both of which center around terrorists taking control of the White House (and the one man who can stop them, of course).
In honor of this phenomenon, let's take a quick journey back in time and examine some of these other occurrences. Let's put these movies head-to-head and see who comes out on top. After all, if you're going to release two movies about an asteroid colliding with the Earth within a few months of each other, people are bound to start comparing them.
Tombstone (1993) vs. Wyatt Earp (1994)
In One Corner... we have George P. Cosmatos' Tombstone, which hit theaters on December 25, 1993. An action-packed take on the life of lawman Wyatt Earp, the film is best known for a typically badass Kurt Russell performance.
In the Other... we have Lawrence Kasdan's Wyatt Earp, which arrived on June 24, 1994. A three-hour prestige piece that tells the entire life story of the titular cowboy (played by Kevin Costner), the movie has all but vanished from the public consciousness.
The Similarities and the Differences: They both share the legendary Wyatt Earp as their central hero, but both films use him for very different reasons. Tombstone is a lean, mean and violent action flick that plays fast and loose with history, using the iconography of the Earp name as an excuse to deliver plenty of incredible shoot-outs. Wyatt Earp is a far different beast, telling a bigger (and more bloated) story than Tombstone, making it more of a biopic than a Western.
Critical Response: Although Rotten Tomatoes didn't exist when either of these films were released, their current scores accurately reflect critical opinion at the time. Currently, Tombstone has 73% positive reviews and Wyatt Earp only has 42%.
Financial Success: Although neither were massive blockbusters, Tombstone's $56 million box office gross is far more impressive than that of the far more expensive Wyatt's Earp, which only made a paltry $25 million.
Verdict: There's a reason people still talk about Tombstone and no one even remembers that Wyatt Earp was a thing. Sure, Kasdan's take may have a layer of prestige that Tombstone is lacking, but Cosmatos' macho, gritty Western is a more pleasurable watch in every way.
Babe (1995) vs. Gordy (1995)
In One Corner... we have the beloved family film Babe, which was released on August 4, 1995. An Australian production, the film follows a young pig who ends up becoming a "sheep dog" under the care of a kind-hearted farmer played by James Cromwell.
In the Other... we have Gordy, which arrived on May 12, 1995. The film follows a talking pig who goes on a quest to save his family from getting butchered, getting involved in all kinds of shenanigans in the process.
The Similarities and the Differences: On the surface, both Babe and Gordy are family movies about talking pigs. However, the big and important difference is that the talking animals in Babe only converse with each other while the talking pig in Gordy is a magical animal that can actually be understood by humans. Although both movies humanize their animals, only Babe treats its nonhuman characters like, well, animals.
Critical Response: Once again, Rotten Tomatoes paints a stark picture. Babe has a 98% rating, which is unsurprising since it remains a relatively beloved movie to this day and was nominated for seven Academy Awards (including Best Picture). Gordy has 14% and, if you're lucky, you can pick up a copy in a Walmart bargain bin.
Financial Success: Babe was a minor hit, grossing $63 million on a modest budget. Gordy was not, earning only $4 million.
Verdict: These two films aren't even worthy of being in the same room. If not for the fact that they both star cute pigs, there'd never be a reason to ever compare them. Babe remains a charming and lovely little kids movie anchored by some wonderful voice work (including a prefame Hugo Weaving) and an incredible James Cromwell performance. Gordy feels like it was written and filmed by a committee of Hollywood hacks.
Volcano (1997) vs. Dante's Peak (1997)
In One Corner... we have Volcano, released on April 25, 1997. The film has an indelible and gloriously stupid disaster movie premise: what would happen if a volcano hidden under the city of Los Angeles suddenly erupted and only Tommy Lee Jones could save the day?
In the Other... we have Dante's Peak, which hit theaters on February 7, 1997. Pierce Brosnan stars as a lone scientist who believes that a long-dormant volcano is about to erupt and destroy the peaceful town nestled under it... and he's right. Chaos and screaming and driving through lava ensues.
The Similarities and the Differences: Well, they're both both volcano movies and they both feature a movie star teaming up with a once-promising female costar (Anne Heche and Linda Hamilton, respectively) to try to convince a community that they're all in danger of being wiped out by burning hot magma. Of course, the L.A. setting of Volcano leads to bigger and crazier set pieces, but it ends up feeling like fantasy compared to Dante's Peak, which at least seems to have a layman's understanding of how volcanoes work. They're also similar in that they're both really, really, really stupid.
Critical Response: Neither film was particularly loved at the time and neither film is particularly liked today. The only thing that makes Volcano's 44% Rotten Tomatoes rating look good is the 27% attached to Dante's Peak.
Financial Success: Although Dante's Peak ultimately made more cash ($67 million to Volcano's $47 million), it was also the more expensive film. It seems that '97 audiences had no interest in watching movie stars run from volcanic eruptions.
Verdict: Both films are fairly terrible, but it would be lying to say that they're totally bereft of any charm. Volcano and Dante's Peak are built on hackneyed, brittle foundations and exist only to provide massive amounts of mayhem for a popcorn-munching audience. They succeed when the focus is on special effects and special effects alone. But that's just a silver lining, since all of those special effects scenes are interspersed with awful characters saying awful dialogue and doing stupid things.
Armageddon (1998) vs. Deep Impact (1998)
In One Corner... we have Armageddon, which arrived on July 1, 1998. One of director Michael Bay's earliest tributes to excess, the film finds a (shockingly great) ensemble cast attempting to save the world from a massive asteroid that is on course to end all life on the planet.
In the Other... we have Deep Impact, which was released on May 8, 1998. Directed by Mimi Leder, the films finds a (shockingly great) ensemble cast attempting to save the world from a massive comet that is on course to end all life on the planet.
The Similarities and the Differences: The funny thing about Deep Impact and Armageddon is that while they appear identical on the surface, they couldn't be more different in how they're executed. Despite its blockbuster premise, Deep Impact is a drama at its core, taking a genuine (if not always successful) interest in how people would react if faced with the end of the world. On the other end of the spectrum, we have Armageddon, a gloriously dumb, frequently offensive, illogical cacophony that uses the end of the world as an excuse to showcase a bunch of action scenes performed by actors who always have a quip on the tip of their tongues.
Critical Response: Neither film fared particularly well with the critics upon release, receiving mixed-to-negative reviews all around. Right now, Armageddon holds a 39% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and Deep Impact a 47% rating. As you can guess, the reviews had very, very different criticisms for each film.
Financial Success: Despite the not-great notices, both films were big hits at the box office, with Armageddon taking in $201 million and Deep Impact $140 million. Late '90s audiences may have hated volcanoes, but they really loved asteroids/comets.
Verdict: How can you even compare these movies? Deep Impact isn't great, but it tends to function like a real movie populated by real people who make generally human decisions. Meanwhile, Armageddon is... Armageddon. What's better? The slightly vanilla disaster movie or the headscratchingly profane, so-dumb-it's-kind-of-fun one? This one has to be a draw.
Mission to Mars (2000) vs. Red Planet (2000)
In One Corner... we have Brian De Palma's Mission to Mars, which came out on March 10, 2000. The film follows a rescue team sent to Mars to discover the fate of the previous expedition. Naturally, they discover more than they bargained for and so on and so forth.
In the Other... we have Red Planet, which was released on November 10, 2000. The film follows a special team sent to Mars to discover why their recent terraforming effort has gone awry. Naturally, they discover more than they bargained for and so on and so forth.
The Similarities and the Differences: Both films follow expeditions to Mars, where the chief goal of the astronauts is to solve some kind of mystery and both films ultimately feature the discovery of life on Mars. Although the details are very different, Mission to Mars and Red Planet are atypical in that they both attempt to mine some hard sci-fi out of this setup, eschewing typical action and adventure in favor of some occasionally interesting concepts and ideas. It doesn't work at all and both films are very bad, but you know what? A for effort.
Critical Response: However, the critics weren't so quick to hand out A's for effort. Mission to Mars' 25% Rotten Tomatoes rating is abysmal, but it looks high compared to Red Planet's 14%.
Financial Success: With a $60 million gross, Mission to Mars was a minor flop, failing to earn back its budget but not completely falling on its face. The same cannot be said for Red Planet, which made a paltry $17 million.
Verdict: Ugh. They're both losers. Let's not dwell on this. They're both unique brands of terrible.
Finding Nemo (2003) vs. Shark Tale (2004)
In One Corner... we have Pixar's beloved Finding Nemo, which arrived in theaters on May 30, 2003. As you and your kids know, the film follows a clown fish and his forgetful friend as they search the ocean for his missing son.
In the Other... we have DreamWorks Animation's Shark Tale, which hit theaters on October 1, 2004. A kid-friendly, undersea riff on mafia movies, the movie follows a braggart fish who takes credit for the death of a vicious shark, only to find his life growing steadily more complicated as his celebrity in the aquatic community grows.
The Similarities and the Differences: This isn't the first time Pixar and DreamWorks had two suspiciously similar films in theaters at roughly the same time. In 1998, the rival studios released Antz and A Bug's Life, both of which told stories set in the world of insects. History repeated itself with Finding Nemo and Shark Tale, both of which take place underwater and star a cast of fish and other marine life. Although the similarities don't run too deep, the surface-level stuff caused both films to be relentlessly compared to each other, with animation fans debating who was ripping off whom.
Critical Response: This one's not even close. Finding Nemo currently holds a jaw-dropping 99% on Rotten Tomatoes while Shark Tale sits at 36%. It's not even fair to compare these two.
Financial Success: This one's also not close. Finding Nemo was the second biggest hit of 2003, grossing $339 million (which became $380 million when it was rereleased in 2012). Shark Tale's $160 million gross isn't bad by any means, but it's a clear example of the difference between a hit and a genuine phenomenon.
Verdict: Finding Nemo is a modern classic and Shark Tale... isn't. Much of this has to do with the former's timeless quality -- it truly feels like it hasn't aged a day. In comparison, the more joke and pop-culture-reference-driven Shark Tale already feels ancient, making it a perfect example of what Pixar used to get so right and DreamWorks so wrong (the line is getting blurrier these days). In any case, Finding Nemo is going to be a family staple for decades to come and Shark Tale is going to quietly sink into the abyss.
Chasing Liberty (2004) vs. First Daughter (2004)
In One Corner... we have Chasing Liberty, which was released on January 9, 2004. Mandy Moore stars as the daughter of the president of the United States, who rebels against her sheltered life and falls for a hot guy... only to learn that he's actually an undercover Secret Service agent.
In the Other... we have First Daughter, which was released on September 24, 2004. Katie Holmes stars as the daughter of the president of the United States, who rebels against her sheltered life and falls for a hot guy... only to learn that he's actually an undercover Secret Service agent.
The Similarities and the Differences: Although Chasing Liberty finds the president's daughter rebelling in Europe and First Daughter finds her rebelling in college, these two movies are virtually identical in every way. Most of the movies on this list feature a similar concept but differ in execution, but this is the rare case where both films are eerily similar, all the way down the plot twists and the lessons learned.
Critical Response: Both films also received similar reviews, with Chasing Liberty coming out on top with 19% on Rotten Tomatoes and First Daughter scraping the bottom of the barrel with 8%.
Financial Success: Another thing that these two have in common is that they were huge box office bombs, bringing in only $12 million and $9 million, respectively.
Verdict: Chasing Liberty is probably a slightly better film, but that's really not saying much since the last thing these movies have in common is that they're both pretty bad. We'll just give it to the Mandy Moore version since it managed to come out first.
Capote (2005) vs. Infamous (2006)
In One Corner... we have Capote, which initially entered limited release on September 30, 2005. Directed by Bennett Miller and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, the film follows author Truman Capote as he researches the book that would become In Cold Blood and becomes personally involved with the murderers at the center of the story.
In the Other... we have Infamous, which hit theaters on October 13, 2006. Directed by Douglas McGrath and starring Toby Jones, the film follows author Truman Capote as he researches the book that would become In Cold Blood and becomes personally involved with the murderers at the center of the story.
The Similarities and the Differences: Although there have been competing biopics for years, none have been quite as eerie as Capote and Infamous. Both are not only about Truman Capote, they're about the exact same period in his life, revolving around his relationship with murderer Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr. and Daniel Craig). Because of this, the films becomes a fascinating case study in how different filmmakers can approach the same material. Capote plays very much like a biopic or historical drama, leaning on Hoffman's Oscar-winning performance whenever it can. Infamous plays more like a thriller, which Jones' (less showy, but still incredibly impressive) Capote acting as a piece in a larger ensemble.
Critical Response: Although both films received positive reviews, Capote was the clear favorite, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 90% (and five Oscar nominations). However, Infamous was also well-liked, with a strong 72%.
Financial Success: All of the awards attention helped push Capote to a respectable $28 million at the box office, but Infamous failed to gain any traction, grossing only $1.1 million.
Verdict: Both Capote and Infamous are fine films and their different takes on an identical story make them a fascinating double feature. Although Capote had more cultural clout at the time of release, Infamous is just as good, albeit very different in style and tone. This one's a draw.
The Prestige (2006) vs. The Illusionist (2006)
In One Corner... we have Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, released on October 20, 2006. The story of two rival magicians in 19th century London, the film is a stylish, science fiction-tinged thriller about obsessed men destroying themselves and others to create the perfect illusion.
In the Other... we have Neil Burger's The Illusionist, which hit theaters on September 1, 2006. Set in 19th century Vienna, the film is a stylish, fantasy-tinged drama about a magician, the Duchess that he loves and the political conspiracy to destroy him.
The Similarities and the Differences: Other than the fact that both films are about magicians and deal heavily with illusions and performances, The Prestige and The Illusionist couldn't be more different. The Prestige is a dark, mean-spirited and vicious little thriller that revels in the nuts and bolts of a magician's stagecraft. The Illusionist is a romance at its heart, uninterested in how magic is made and using its main character's occupation to inject some magical realism into what could've been a fairly standard "commoner falls in love with royalty" plot.
Critical Response: Both films were well-liked, with The Prestige earning a 76% score on Rotten Tomatoes and The Illusionist a 74%. However, The Prestige is probably more well-known today thanks to the pedigree of Christopher Nolan, who would go on to direct The Dark Knight and Inception.
Financial Success: Neither film was a big hit, but they did respectable business, earning $53 million and $39 million respectively.
Verdict: Although both films succeed at what they're trying to do, The Prestige is probably the better film overall. Although it's ice cold in that typical Nolan fashion, it's a fascinating look at the mechanics of magic tricks and the lifestyle of magicians. It delivers plot twists and unexpected turnarounds every few minutes, ultimately culminating in a truly bizarre finale. The Illusionist is warmer and easier to like, but it feels a little slight when directly compared to its rival film.
Observe and Report (2009) vs. Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009)
In One Corner... we have Observe and Report, which was released on April 10, 2009. Seth Rogen stars as a bipolar shopping mall security guard who takes his job a way too seriously, becomes obsessed with a shopgirl, abuses his power and has a complete and total psychotic breakdown.
In the Other... we have Paul Blart: Mall Cop, which arrived in theaters on January 16, 2009. Kevin James stars as a goofy shopping mall security guard who takes his job way too seriously, falls in love with a shopgirl and must rise to the challenge when a team of criminals take over the mall and hold the customers hostage.
The Similarities and the Differences: Both films are comedies about bumbling mall cops, but their senses of humor couldn't be more different. Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a silly, slight, family-friendly affair that mines most of its comedy from Kevin James being overweight and falling down a lot. Observe and Report is an evil, pitch-black, soulless dark comedy that revels in the misfortune and emotional pain of its cast. In other words, Paul Blart is strictly Hollywood and Observe and Report is the furthest thing from it.
Critical Response: Observe and Report divided the critics in half, scoring a 51% on Rotten Tomatoes. Paul Blart: Mall Cop didn't fare well either, scoring 33%.
Financial Success: The difference in the two films' comedic temperament made a huge difference at the box office. Observe and Report bombed with $23 million and Paul Blart: Mall Cop became one of the surprise hits of the year, grossing a huge $146 million.
Verdict: Paul Blart: Mall Cop may have won the box office, but it's Observe and Report that's showing postrelease legs. Although certainly not for everyone, Jody Hill's pitch-black comic masterpiece plays like a comedic remake of Taxi Driver -- it's alive and angry in a way that Paul Blart could never hope to achieve.
No Strings Attached (2011) vs. Friends with Benefits (2011)
In One Corner... we have No Strings Attached, which hit theaters on January 21, 2011. Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher star as two friends who introduce casual sex into their relationship, only to find themselves falling in love.
In the Other... we have Friends with Benefits, which arrived on July 22, 2011. Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis star as two friends who introduce casual sex into their relationship, only to find themselves falling in love.
The Similarities: They're both romantic comedies about f**k buddies who fall in love. The jokes may be different, but they both follow a fairly typical rom-com template with varying degrees of success.
Critical Response: Despite the identical template, Friends with Benefits earned significantly better reviews than No Strings Attached, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 71% (compared to 49%).
Financial Success: Released in January, No Strings Attached rode a very quiet season to a strong $70 million. Released in the middle of summer, Friends with Benefits fought tooth and nail against blockbuster competition for a solid $55 million.
Verdict: Although they both push all of the same buttons, Friends with Benefits wins this round because the pairing of Timberlake and Kunis is ultimately more charming and believable than Portman and Kutcher.
Mirror Mirror (2012) vs. Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
In One Corner... we have Mirror Mirror, which was released on March 30, 2012. A "reimagining" of the Snow White fairy tale, Mirror Mirror features Lily Collins' fair princess eluding Julia Roberts' wicked queen with the help of a band of dwarves.
In the Other... we have Snow White and the Huntsman, which hit theaters on June 1, 2012. A "reimagining" of the Snow White fairy tale, Snow White and the Huntsman features Kristen Stewart's fair warrior princess eluding Charlize Theron's wicked queen with the help of Chris Hemsworth's huntsman... and a band of dwarves, of course.
The Similarities: Last year's dueling Snow White projects couldn't have been more different in execution. Mirror Mirror is a children's film through and through, a whimsical, lightweight romp filled with jokes and sight gags and over-the-top performances. In contrast, Snow White and the Huntsman is a dark, gritty, fantasy war film, an attempt to create a new Lord of the Rings with an iconic character in the lead.
Critical Response: Neither film earned rave reviews, scoring Rotten Tomatoes scores of 49% and 48%.
Financial Success: With a box office take of $64 million, Mirror Mirror failed to make back its box office at the domestic market. Snow White and the Huntsman may look more successful with a gross of $155 million, but the film cost significantly more than that to make and market.
Verdict: Once again, here are two films that, despite sharing a main character, couldn't be more different. Mirror Mirror is a small, cute little movie that feels like it was made strictly for the younger set. Snow White and the Huntsman skews older and its over-the-top grimness starts to feel a little silly after awhile. If I were six, Mirror Mirror would be the winner here. If I were 13, Snow White and the Huntsman. But right now? Eh, no winner.