Dueling Movies

Coming soon to a theater near you: A film about the plot to kill Osama Bin Laden, directed by Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker).

Also coming soon to a theater near you: Another film about taking out Bin Laden, directed by John Stockwell (Turistas).

Meanwhile, the late Apple leader Steve Jobs is penciled in for two biopics: an independent entry with Ashton Kutcher as the technical visionary, and the other one from a major studio, based on the recent bestselling book by Walter Isaacson, with casting yet to take place.

And coming soon to yet another theater near you: A survey of the life of Deep Throat actress Linda Lovelace (starring Amanda Seyfried).

And also coming soon to a theater near you: A different survey of the life of Deep Throat actress Linda Lovelace (starring Malin Ackerman).

Dueling movies. Wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened. Certainly won’t be the last. In fact, the practice is fairly common and not all that new.

Consider, for example, the years 1939 and 1940, where two “Honest Abe” movies greeted moviegoers. Henry Fonda did the honors in 1939’s Young Mr. Lincoln, directed by John Ford, and focusing on the great man’s years as a lawyer.  Raymond Massey was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1940’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois, which takes Lincoln’s story all the way to the White House in 1860.

In 1965, two films were issued with the same name: Harlow, about the movie star sex-bomb Jean Harlow. One was a glossy production with Carroll Baker as the platinum blonde screen queen, while the other was shot in a week in a video-to-film process and starred Carol Lynley. Neither was a hit.

A year earlier, two films looked at the end of the world (as we knew it) with completely different approaches. Fail-Safe, helmed by Sidney Lumet, took the serious side of a nuclear altercation between the U.S. and Russia, ratcheting up the intensity as U.S. President Henry Fonda has to figure out how to deal with a catastrophic situation. A similar situation befalls president Peter Sellers in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, but the filmmaker took a wildly satiric approach to the material. Both were from the same studio (Columbia) and both received fine reviews. However, Strangelove was first to the theaters, and its lampooning painted a comic cloud over Fail-Safe’s intense but relentlessly grim approach. Strangelove bested Fail-Safe big at the box-office.

Here, then, is a scorecard of Hollywood movies that may have seemed like good ideas at the time, just not when they went against their doppelgangers on the big screen.

Armageddon (1998) / Deep Impact (1998)

Premise: Meteorites barreling into the Earth!

Overview: Both films were expensive, but while Armageddon took the expected Jerry Bruckheimer / Michael Bay, action-adventure approach, Deep Impact, produced by Steven Spielberg, was more serious in tone despite the similar idea. Both movies featured big casts. The former offered an odd mix of Hollywood A-list players like Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck teamed with indie regulars like Billy Bob Thornton, Steve Buscemi and Will Patton. Deep Impact, directed by former TV specialist Mimi Leder (Pay It Forward), showcased Tea Leoni, Robert Duvall, Elijah Wood and Morgan Freeman as the President of the U.S.

Critical and Box-Office Consensus: Neither received glowing reviews, but Armageddon did capture a younger, more enthusiastic audience and topped Deep Impact $200 million to $140 million.

Sweepstakes Winner: Armageddon.

Dante’s Peak (1997) / Volcano (1997)

Premise: A volcano is about to erupt threatening all those who live nearby.

Overview: Look out, Captain…it’s gonna blow!? In Dante’s Peak, Pierce Brosnan tries something different than James Bond, playing a volcanologist trying to get a South American town evacuated. And in Volcano, Tommy Lee Jones, a hyperactive emergency medical specialist, tries to warn the officials and constituents of L.A. that a big volcano could topple the city.

Critical and Box-Office Consensus: Neither did great in the theaters. Dante’s Peak peaked at $70 million on a budget over $100 million, while Volcano took in $45 million with a budget of $90 million. Volcano received better reviews than Dante’s Peak overall, which is like saying Earthquake was a more critically favored disaster film than Rollercoaster.

Sweepstakes Winner: Volcano by a bar of Lava.

The Abyss (1989) / Leviathan (1989) / Deepstar Six (1989)

Premise: Scientists encounter horror and mystery as they carry out underwater explorations.

Overview: James Cameron’s expensive, dangerous-to-film The Abyss was shot under a veil of secrecy, but the word that it involved lots of water and something spooky was enough to inspire George P. Cosmatos’ lower-budgeted Leviathan, starring Peter Weller and Amanda Pays, and the even lower-budgeted Deepstar Six from Friday The 13th auteur Sean S. Cunningham, with Greg Evigan and Nia Peeples. Cameron definitely took the metaphysical route with his journey, but the other two were H2O-infused horror movies.

Critical and Box-Office Consensus: The Abyss received mostly positive reviews, which pointed out that it was a thinking man’s popcorn movie. The two copy-cats didn’t fare well, getting glubbed by critics. Still, The Abyss cost nearly $70 million to produce, and brought in just about $30 million, a major disappointment to Cameron and the studio. (Eight years later, Fox was understandably nervous about letting the director go back in the water with a big budget for Titanic. We’re sure they got over it.) In reality, Leviathan and Deepstar Six may have been more financially successful (or less financially disastrous) because of their cheaper costs.

Sweepstakes Winner: The Abyss, due to its ambitiousness.

The Truman Show (1998) / EdTV (1999)

Premise: A man has his life filmed for TV cameras, making him famous.

Overview: Peter Weir’s The Truman Show features Jim Carrey’s breakout performance in a semi-serious role, playing Truman Burbank, a carefree insurance salesman who has no idea his life has been scripted and chronicled on TV 24/7 since he was an infant. And in Ron Howard’s EdTV, video store clerk Matthew McConaughey gets similar TV treatment when he’s chosen to be the focus of a reality show, but in this comedy, he’s aware of the coverage.

Critical and Box-Office Consensus: The Truman Show received mostly rave reviews and was nominated for three Academy Awards, although Carrey didn’t get his much-discussed nomination. EdTV received mostly positive reviews, but coming out eight months after the acclaimed, more cerebral Truman didn’t help. The Truman Show took in $125 million, while EdTV welcomed just $23 million in box-office receipts.

Sweepstakes Winner: The Truman Show. A lot of people got Carrey-ed away with it.

Check out more cinematic combats in our next installment.

  • Rick Cardona

    You forgot Tombstone and Wyatt Earp both came out in 1993. Tombstone was far superior in every way!

    • Irv

      Thanks, Rick. This is only the first part of what turned out to be a long article and I have Tombstone besting Wyatt Earp in a latter installment. Wyatt Earp, of course, had all the prestige and hype while Tombstone was essentially dumped by its studio. But the underdog won in both quality and box-office returns in the end. Thanks, Irv

      • Abehambino

        Hear hear! Tombstone was a great movie! Alsoit was the last real great western .

    • Ganderson

      Good call, and one of the more amusing episodes in the Dueling Movies context.  The Costner film was supposed to be a major movie “event” while Tombstone was a throw-away, low budget, popcorn flick. But, as Irv points out, Tombstone took Wyatt Earp to the cleaners in terms of plot, writing and dialogue, acting, sets and costumes, historical accuracy, and direction.  The only close call is Val Kilmer versus Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday; both were excellent, though thoroughly different, performances and interpretations.  What aggravated me most about Wyatt Earp was the focus on the family squabbles — about half-way through the movie I wasn’t sure if the big gunfight at the OK Corral was going to be between the Earps and the Clantons or between the Earps and their wives.

  • Blair Kramer

    Regarding the top line on this post,  the American military operation to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden wasn’t a “plot.”  Criminals plot.  The American military PLANS!

    • ranchorenal

      Americans have been plotting to assassinate enemies and overthrow governments since 1776, but especially since WW II.  First, it was to fight the International Communist Conspiracy, and now it’s the War Against Terrorism.  Same old coniving, plotting, and executing — then it was with cluster assassins, bomblets, napalm, and Agent Orange; now its with SEAL 6 teams and unmanned Predeator Drones armed with Hellfire missiles — anything to spare American lives.

  • http://bitactors.blogspot.com/ Bit Part Blogger

    Irv, a quick correction to Dante’s Peak and Volcano. Pierce Brosnan was trying to evacuate an Alaskan town, though there was a flashback to his history in South America. And Tommy Lee Jones was an emergency management specialist for the city of LA, not medical at all.

    • Pamhandle

      You are quite right. I have seen both movies, kind of lean to Dante’s Peak as the better of the two.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/CGRLUPNLT6P3VWL42P2VG2I22I hockeyguy 08

    How bout Twister and Tornado ?  Change a few names and slightly modify the plot and we have two movies..

  • tim ed kenneally

    i don’t agree with neither senor cardona or herr ganderson on the better of the wyatt earp movies. i think wyatt earp was the far superior film for a thinking man’s western film enjoyment. i liked the fact that it showed the wives at wyatt’s throat for his stronghold over the brother’s lives. tombstone was all flash and no substance. val kilmer was good as doc but dennis quaid nailed the part as the sickly dentist from georgia. i like kevin costner only in westerns and he really was believeable as wyatt whereas kurt russell was good also but he went overboard in lots of scenes. the real wyatt wasn’t like that. the real problem i have with tombstone is the small role of western superstar sam elliott in the role of morgan. he should have played wyatt! as for the the box office  who cares which one made more money? i certainly don’t.

  • bella

    duel in the sun, 1946

  • Dog888k

    Duelling “people in wigs” movies; after Tom Jones was a smash hit in ’63 there came out a movie of Moll Flanders with Kim Novak. More lusty 18th century stuff.  Moll was not as bad as the critics said it was imo, and Tom Jones has not aged well in 40+ years imo.   

  • Pamhandle

    I really liked “Abyss”. Don’t know why it did so bad at the box office.

  • Tom K.

    “Fail Safe” and ” Dr. Strangelove . .” are on my ‘ Must watch once a year, every ‘ list.  Was just entering my ‘teens’ during the Cuban Missle Crisis and was wondering if I would live to see my mid-teens !  Find and watch ” The Missles of Octoder ” !

  • jackjones

     Dueling movies?I thought you meant Flynn and Rathbone, etc.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PODTFFPVEUXYHXVGNS5G5FWKGI DIRK

    And its still goes on — with the 2 different SNOW WHITE movies this year!

  • Pingback: Dueling Movies: The Revenge (Not In 3-D) | MovieFanFare

  • Aaron

    “The Abyss” over “Leviathan”.

    “Fail-Safe” and “Dr. Strangelove” were both excellent.

    Didn’t care for “Volcano”,didn’t see “Dante’s Peak”.

    Loved “The Truman Show”,didn’t see “EdTV”.

  • A.Fan

    Don’t forget the saga of Joey Butafucco !! The were a couple versions of that.

  • Dog888k

    Joan Davis did The Traveling Saleswoman in 1950.
    Joan Blondell did The Treaveling Saleslady  in 1935.
    Ginger Rogers did The First Traveling Saleslady in I956 (the movie “that wrecked RKO”)
    i suppose that on this theme you could include Lucy Ball as The Fuller Brush Girl.

    • Dog888k

      Its “Traveling,’ not “Treaveling” for the Blondell movie.

  • Dog888k

    In the mid 50s there were several movies about lady stars with booze problems: Kim Novak played Jeanne Eagles, Susan Hayward played Lillian Roth in I’ll Cry Tomorrow, and Anne Blythe did The Helen Morgan Story.