Dueling Movies: The Final Chapter (For Now)

Regular readers know the drill: We’ve been sharing our favorite examples of comparable movies that surfaced simultaneously, as well as our call as to which won viewers’ hearts and minds, hard-earned cash, or both. If you want to catch up, you can check out the previous installments here, here, and also here.

The Lost Boys (1987)/Near Dark (1987)

Premise: Vampires are no longer old dudes with capes.

Overview: Bloodsuckers with the accent on the young and younger are the name of the game. Brat Packers and Brat Pack contemporaries Kiefer Sutherland, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Alex Winter, Jason Patric star in The Lost Boys, in which two brothers new to a California town suspect something creepy is going on with the locals. And Aliens veterans Bill Paxton, Jeanette Goldstein and Lance Henriksen join Adrian Pasdar and Jenny Wright in vampiric proceedings in the Southwest in Kathryn Bigelow’s horror/sagebrush/road movie mash-up Near Dark.

Critical and Box-Office Overview: Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys got so-so notices, but took in a decent $33 million in theaters. Its cult has lived on, spawning two direct-to-DVD sequels and lots of love on cable and video. Near Dark received fine reviews but spotty distribution and, like The Lost Boys, its rep has grown over the years, thanks to adulation from cable and home video viewings.

Sweepstakes Winner:  Sorry, Frog brothers. Near Dark wins by more than a fang. It remains one of the best horror outings of the 1980s.

Fair Game (2010)/Nothing But the Truth (2008)

Premise: A female CIA operative is outed in a newspaper article causing all sorts of problems for those connected to her.

Overview: Here’s a case where one film sticks to the facts and the other fictionalizes the true story. Fair Game centers on the real events leading to the disclosure in the press that Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts), wife of U.S. government official Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn), is a CIA operative. Nothing But the Truth takes a fictionalized approach from a different angle, looking at the journalist (Kate Beckinsale) who writes the story about her soccer mom friend (Vera Farmiga), and the horrible chain of events that occur when she refuses to name her sources.

Critical and Box-Office Consensus: By the time Fair Game reached theaters, the public had little interest in the Valerie Plame story, despite the fine cast and even though real-life principals Plame and Wilson promoted the film themselves. Meanwhile, Nothing But the truth played only in L.A. and New York with hopes of getting Oscar attention, as its distribution company went out of business.

Sweepstakes Winner: Both films offer compelling, thought-provoking dramas about politics, the press, and American policies as well as fine direction and topnotch acting.  We’ll give the edge to Nothing But the Truth, thanks in part to Beckinsale’s finest screen work.

Dangerous Liaisons (1988)/Valmont (1989)

Premise: Sexual games, backstabbing, blackmail and deceit in the court of France in the late 18th century.

Overview: Two world class directors took the assignments: Stephen Frears (The Grifters) tackled Dangerous Liaisons, starring Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, John Malkovich, Uma Thurman and Keanu Reeves, while Milos Forman (Amadeus) handled Valmont featuring Colin Firth, Annette Bening, Fairuza Balk and Meg Tilly.

Critical and Box-Office Consensus:  Released an entire year earlier than Valmont, Dangerous Liaisons —adapted by Christopher Hampton from his own award-winning play–garnered seven Oscar nominations and three wins, leaving Forman’s film (based on the 18th century novel by Choderlos de Laclos) floundering at the box-office and with critics. Liaisons took in over $33 million in American alone on a budget of $14 million while Valmont imploded with a little over $1 million on a $33 million budget.

Sweepstakes Winner: Sacre bleu! Dangerous Liaisons, but of course!

Country (1984)/The River (1984)

Premise: How do you save the farm threatened by tough finances and floods?

Overview: Star couple Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard were the leads and guiding artistic forces behind Country, a troubled Touchstone production (original director Hal Ashby was replaced by Richard Pearce one week before filming began) in which the government asks a family running a struggling Midwestern farm to pay back their FHA loan immediately. The River relies more on physical peril, as rising waters threaten the farm run by Tennessee couple Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek.

Critical and Box-Office Consensus: Both films met with mixed reviews and tepid box-office results. While both films had their boosters, the serious, sometimes depressing subject wasn’t exactly entertainment heavy.

Sweepstakes Winner: It’s close, but we’ll go with The River, bolstered by the performances, the flood sequences and Vilmos Szigmond’s impressive cinematography.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009)/Observe and Report (2009)

Premise: That husky security guard watching over the mall has more going on than you think.

Critical and Box-Office Overview: Paul Blart, with Kevin James in the lead, was released during the January doldrums and scored big with an amazing $145 million take on a $25 million budget. It was family friendly and review proof. By the time the Seth Rogen-starring Observe and Report made it to theaters that April (and Paul Blart was still playing in some venues), it was a case of déjà vu for movie fans. Little did they know—or care—that Observe was a different kind of mall cop, edgy, a bit creepy with a dark sense of humor. But does that make it a good movie? Critics and audiences were divided. The result was a $23 million washout on a budget close to the same.

Sweepstakes Winner: Kevin James was not only “The King of Queens,” but the king of this box-office faceoff as well.

Did we miss any? Comment and share your favorites!