Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Curse of the Twin Movie

The twin movie was a curse that dominated the ‘90s. It happened before and has certainly happened since, but during that decade, when one studio announced an idea for a film that sounded commercially viable, it was common for a rival studio to scramble to create something similar. Other times, similarly themed flicks were released a year or so apart by pure coincidence. Either way, one of the films usually got screwed over in the process.

In terms of declaring “winners,” my decision was based on culture significance and profitably. No matter if these films are good or not (many aren’t), they were discussed plenty when they were released, and the release of one typically meant critical and/or commercial harm to the other. It’s not about which film is better. It’s about which film did better.

Tombstone (1993) | Wyatt Earp (1994)
Kevin Costner became attached to Tombstone after reading Kevin Jarre’s script. But when he and Jarre disagreed about the film, Costner went off and made Wyatt Earp with his old pal, Lawrence Kasdan. Ironically, Jarre was fired while filming Tombstone after clashing with the cast and studio. The result: despite production woes, Tombstone is a fine film (Val Kilmer, if nothing else, is astounding in it), while Wyatt Earp is a bit of a slog. Winner: Tombstone

Terminal Velocity (1994) | Drop Zone (1994)
Two films where an innocent man gets roped into investigating a crime, with skydiving as a bitchin’ backdrop. Both films flopped hard but remain so bad they’re good. Drop Zone has a whacked Gary Busey, but Terminal Velocity has Christopher McDonald as a bleached blonde baddie. Winner: Terminal Velocity

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) | 
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)
Long titles, road trips, cabaret drag queens – To Wong Foo was America’s answer to Australia’s vastly superior Queen of the Desert. This isn’t even a competition here, it’s just so amusing that a film like To Wong Foo ever became a thing. Winner: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Showgirls (1995) | Striptease (1996)
So here’s the thing, in terms of box office, Striptease was a massive hit, and Showgirls was a bomb. But I ask: when was the last time someone mentioned watching Striptease for any reason, even if it was to hate-watch? Winner: Showgirls

Dante’s Peak (1997) | Volcano (1997)
Dante’s Peak is the “intelligent” volcano movie, and Volcano is the disaster volcano movie. Both did okay at the box office (surprisingly, Dante’s Peak cost $26 million more to make than Volcano), but neither are really talked about today. Toss a coin with this one. Winner: Volcano

Prefontaine (1997) | Without Limits (1998)
Two biopics about famed runner, Steve Prefontaine. Prefontaine was directed by a successful documentarian (Steve James, who was fresh off Hoop Dreams), starred Jared Leto, but bombed at the box office. Without Limits was directed by an Oscar winner (Robert Towne), produced by Tom Cruise, and released by a major studio. And still, the film absolutely tanked. Well intentioned as both films may be, it’s hard to declare either a favorite. Winner: Prefontaine

Deep Impact (1998) | Armageddon (1998)
Deep Impact was a kick-off-the-summer release, Armageddon was a Fourth of July flick. Deep Impact is a dramatic disaster movie, Armageddon is disaster porn. When their respective budgets are measured against their respective gains, both films did about the same financially. In terms of wow factor, nothing in either film tops Deep Impact’s final set piece. But in terms of lasting relevance, Armageddon wins out here Winner: Armageddon

The Truman Show (1998) | EDtv (1999)
This is one of those pairings that defines a cursed twin movie. The Truman Show was a massive hit, and by the time EDtv came out less than a year later, people were over the gimmick of a regular fella being monitored by the public all day. Winner: The Truman Show

Saving Private Ryan (1998) | The Thin Red Line (1998)
This is a tricky pair, one that I’ve discussed extensively on this site. Saving Private Ryan will always win the popular vote, due to its realistic battle sequences, conventional narrative, and marketability. But The Thin Red Line is the best war film ever made. Winner: Saving Private Ryan. It will always be the better-known film, even if it isn’t the better made film.

Antz (1998) | A Bug’s Life (1998)
Antz was released in early October and made a fair amount of money, but A Bug’s Life’s prime Thanksgiving release allowed it to make a killing. Plus, despite Antz having an impressive and random cast (Woody Allen, Gene Hackman, Sylvester Stallone, Christopher Walken, Anne Bancroft), A Bug’s Life is inarguably the better film. Winner: A Bug’s Life

The Sixth Sense (1999) | Stir of Echoes (1999)
In August of 1999, a movie about a little kid who sees dead people became a cultural phenomenon. A month after its release, another movie about a kid who sees dead people came out, and hardly anyone noticed. Stir of Echoes is a fine film, and writer/director David Koepp’s DVD director’s commentary for the film is one of the best I’ve ever heard. But this pair is the epitome of a cursed twin movie. Winner: The Sixth Sense

Stigmata (1999) | End of Days (1999)
Two end-of-the-millennium, devil-on-Earth flicks co-starring Gabriel Byrne. What’s not to like?! A lot, evidently, as both of these movies are pretty bad. End of Days was more commercially successful, but it’s hard to recall anything memorable about either film. Winner: End of Days

Mission to Mars (2000) | Red Planet (2000)
It was the studio race to the Mars. Touchstone had the Brian De Palma-directed, PG-rated, Mission to Mars, while Village Roadshow had the less commercial friendly Red Planet. Perhaps what these films remain best known for is how they underwhelmed critics and audiences. Winner: Mission to Mars

The Descent (2005) | The Cave (2005)
Here are two movies about a group of spelunkers who descend into a cave and are picked off by deadly creatures who inhabit it. The Cave was a $30 million studio movie and The Descent was a $3.5 million indie. One is masterful modern horror film, the other is a dud from the get. Winner: The Descent

Capote (2005) | Infamous (2006)
Capote was such an influential, Oscar-winning hit, that by the time Infamous came out a year later, the public was Capote’d out. There’s a lot about Infamous I appreciate, but it was certainly the cursed twin movie here. Winner: Capote

Flight 93 (2006) | United 93 (2006)
Flight 93 was a made-for-TV film that was quietly released in January and didn’t really make an impact. United 93 remains one of the best, most fearless films so far this century. Winner: United 93, but I give the A&E network credit for trying.

The Illusionist (2006) | The Prestige (2006)
The Illusionist was a tiny indie by a relatively unknown director, and The Prestige was a studio hit by a wildly popular director. Shame there wasn’t enough magic to go around here. Winner: The Prestige

The Girl (2012) | Hitchcock (2012)
The Girl is about Alfred Hitchcock (Toby Jones) and his tumultuous relationship with Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller) while making The Birds and Marnie. It was made by BBC and HBO and was released to little fanfare. Hitchcock is about Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) making Psycho with his wife, Alma (Helen Mirren). The film was distributed by Fox Searchlight, to little fanfare. Neither are very good, but Miller remains the highlight of both. Winner: The Girl

Mirror Mirror (2012) | Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
Mirror Mirror was a gentler retelling of Snow White, while The Huntsman was an action adventure reiteration. They have the exact same score on Rotten Tomatoes and even though The Huntsman’s budget was more than double Mirror Mirror’s, both made the same amount percent wise. I suppose The Huntsman’s ability to spawn a semi-successful sequel pushes it over the edge. Winner: Snow White and the Huntsman

A Hijacking (2012) | Captain Phillips (2013)
These films aren’t about the same event, but they both contain pirates who take control of a ship, and refuse to leave until they get what they want. This twin is a bit of a shame as A Hijacking is actually a very good film. It was just so out shadowed by the superb Captain Phillips. Winner: Captain Phillips

Olympus Has Fallen (2013) | White House Down (2013)
Terrorists take over the White House, and it’s up to one really buff white guy to save the President and save the world! Critically, I suppose White House Down is the “better” movie. But it cost double what Olympus did and made significantly less (based on budget-to-box office dollars). Plus, if I’m going to see a movie with a logline as bonkers as these flicks, I’d rather go with the more balls-to-the-wall of the two. Winner: Olympus Has Fallen

Jobs (2013) | Steve Jobs (2015)
Jobs was the tiny indie, Steve Jobs was the studio powerhouse. Steve Jobs had Boyle, Sorkin, Fassbender; Jobs had Kutcher. And while Steve Jobs is by far the better film, it actually made mess money (percentage wise) than Jobs. It didn’t help that Steve Jobs got absolutely screwed by Universal in its distribution. A cautionary tale on what to avoid when releasing a film. Winner: Steve Jobs


  1. Too Wong Foo will always have a special place in my heart. My mom was a Patrick Swayze fan, so I got to see many films and TV shows that probably weren't age appropriate: Dirty Dancing, Ghost, Road House, the bodice-ripping TV miniseries "North and South" and this oddly desexualized road movie about out, gay drag queens who weren't in the throes of a terminal illness. It's not as good (or at least as visually distinctive) as Priscilla but it's a whole lot more fun. That a film like Too Wong Foo was made by a major Hollywood studio, that it allowed its gay characters to not meet tragic ends and that it was an actual box office hit in the era of DADT are all simply miraculous.

    I also prefer Deep Impact and Dante's Peak to their respective competitors. They bring moments of grace and humanity to disasters that are treated as CGI spectacles in their respective competitors. I remember sitting in the theater, awed that scene of the father and daughter on the beach as the tsunami crests over them in Deep Impact. And the grandmother who sacrifices herself to get her family across the acidified lake in Dante's Peak. There's literally nothing like those scenes in Armageddon or Volcano.

    Great idea for a list. I had never heard of a few of these films (The Cave, Red Planet and the Prefontaine movies).

    1. That's cool about your appreciation to To Wong Foo. And I mean hey, we all connect with things differently.

      And I too prefer Deep Impact and Dante's Peak. Again, the "winners" are the movies that won out in terms of box office and popularity. Deep Impact has great emotion and some serious destruction, but Armageddon will always be better know, you know?

  2. As much as i love Saving Private Ryan, i have to agree with you that The Thin Red Line is better. Saving Private Ryan used to be my favorite, but the more i watch The Thin Red Line, the better it gets. I do however have to disagree with you on Olympus Has Fallen over White House Down. They are both bad, but i remember having a lot more fun while watching White House Down in a "so-bad-it's-good" kind of way. Olympus Has Fallen almost made me fall asleep many times.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed reading this as i am very fascinated with this subject. I always try to seek out these "twin movies" to see which one is better. A few other instances of "twin movies" being released close together i can think off right now are Finding Nemo and Shark Tale from 2003 and 2004. Finding Nemo is the obvious winner here. This is the End and The World's End in 2013. A tough one, but i'm gonna go with The World's End. Paul Blart Mall Fart and Observe and Report from 2009. Paul Blart still gives me nightmares. No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits from from 2011. Don't ask me how i remember that one. The list could go on and on. Hell, you could even argue that we had another instance of it this year with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War.

    1. I LOVE all the ones you listed. I could've kept going and going, but at some point, you gotta wrap things up haha. And I must admit, the Olympus vs White House matchup was the most difficult to declare a winner. Both are just so bad.

  3. OK, let's see....

    Tombstone over Wyatt Earp because the former approached their story more simply and had more fun. Drop Zone over Terminal Velocity because the former was more entertaining and it had Gary Busey. Priscilla over To Wong Foo as the latter was alright but Priscilla is just more fun and had a great soundtrack. Showgirls over Striptease as the latter was just... eh despite Demi Moore's nice fake tits and dancing to Prince's "If I Was Your Girlfriend" but Showgirls for all of its bawdiness is just so fucking entertaining. I pick Volcano because it had a better story and better effects than Dante's Peak. Deep Impact is a better film as you know my opinion about Michael Bay's work on Armageddon and everything else after that. I think Without Limits was the better film as I don't remember Prefontaine at all. The Truman Show obviously as EdTV was just.. eh... while A Bug's Life is just awesome while the animation in Antz looks very dated. The Thin Red Line will always be better than Saving Private Ryan though they're both great films. Stir of Echoes I actually like more as repeated viewings of The Sixth Sense haven't hold up for me. Stigmata I think is a better film than End of Days as it had better performances and an excellent soundtrack. Mission to Mars is slightly better than Red Planet because of de Palma.

    I haven't seen The Descent as I'm aware that it's original cut of the film instead of the American theatrical version is considered a masterpiece while The Cave is just... eh.... Capote obviously is better than Infamous though the latter is pretty good. I haven't seen Flight 93 so I have nothing to say about it as I do love United 93. The Prestige is definitely the better film though The Illusionist I think is underrated. I too choose The Girl over Hitchcock. I haven't seen Mirror, Mirror as I'm not interested in it at all while Show White and the Huntsman I thought was alright. I haven't seen A Hijacking so there's nothing else to say while I haven't seen nor have any interest in Olympus is Fallen because I think Gerard Buttwad is a wanker while White House Down I thought was... eh despite the work of Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Jobs recently came on Starz as I saw bits of it and was like.... "ugh" because I don't see Steve Jobs at all in that kettlehead. Steve Jobs though is great.

    These twin movies are such overkill.

    1. Great picks. It's funny, because most of my "winners" are the films I don't prefer, but they just did better financially. I'm glad to hear your praise for Stir of Echoes. That's a vastly underrated movie.

      The American cut of The Descent is a goddamn travesty. It's amazing what removing 30 seconds from the end of a movie can do. Never watch that version.

  4. I'm sorry to nitpick, but the Illusionist actually did quite well at the box office

    1. Oh wow you're right. No idea how I messed that one up. So weird.

  5. Armageddon forever, man! I'm also so with you on Tombstone, The Truman Show, and Saving Private Ryan. Man, that's a debate that may never end among us film buffs. It's no contest for me. I always go to which one do I prefer to re-watch. That is SPR every single time. I love them both, for sure, but it is what it is. I just don't find The Thin Red Line to be the best ever, though I get how that can be argued.

    There are so many of these where I saw one and not the other. I guess we make our choices when it comes to twin movies. Great stuff, Alex!

    1. Thanks Kevin! SPR is a very good film and I still absolutely love it. But if we're comparing, TTRL will always win out for me. Still, they're both classics. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. Great post! I haven't seen a lot of these pairs, but I have a soft spot for To Wong Foo (though I do agree that Priscilla is a better film), I think Mirror Mirror is just so lovely- and this may be controversial, but I think Showgirls is very misunderstood! It's trashy, but I think it's quite good (but also kinda bad xD). Been a while since I commented, been busy with school, but hope everything is going well with you! :)

    1. Thanks! No I'm with you, I actually really like Showgirls. I think Verhoeven knew exactly what he was doing there. It has its place, that movie.

  7. Great stuff, got me thinking about similar films which came out a while apart like Vertigo and Point-Blank (both disregarded by audiences at the time, funnily enough)

    Always fascinated by this sort of thing and the decisions that drive such similar productions. Learning about Halloween and the slasher craze it spawned recently was pretty fun, in particular how despite the sea of shite some genuine diamonds in the rough rose above and are now definitive cultural icons.

    On that note: What do you think of Hellraiser?
    Are you planning on doing any other Horror franchise breakdowns because 1-8 with those are a hell of a lot of fun, no matter how terrible the later ones are.

    1. Dude. I just watched the first Hellraiser for the first time a few months ago. It's so funny to go back to the source of these original horror films. That movie is so small - mostly all in one house! I guess the franchise opens up in scope after...? Are the sequels actually good?

    2. I've seen up to 4 thus far and whilst they don't match the original the gap isn't too huge. The third one is a lot more comical but funnily enough isn't nearly as bad as a lot of other horror franchise films which abandon a lot of the 'fear factor'. Reading through the breakdowns again I'd say they're worth a watch, certainly up there with Chucky as the best consistently.

      Of course Nightmare on Elm Street is the king of that.

    3. Oh for sure. Man, those breakdowns were exhausting. After a few films I was like, "Do I really have to sit through 6 more of these goddamn Jason flicks?"

  8. Will always love The Illusionist more. I actually did a Mirror Mirror vs Snow White and the Huntsman post on my blog once and Mirror Mirror won by a small margin cuz it was more fun and Sean Bean didn't die in it (gasps!!).

    Fun list :D

    1. Thanks!

      Sean Bean DIDN'T die?! I didn't even know that was possible haha.

  9. Funny how much Fassbender in that Jobs pic looks like Ed Harris in Truman Show given how they are both extremely handsome men who look waaay older than they are. That's just a small digression :P

    This is such a fascinating subject and one I noticed the most with Hitchcock and the Girl, it was just so odd that they would make two films about this so close to each other.

    And as much as I hate Mallick's National Geographic style filmmaking Thin Red Line is the best war movie I've seen.

    1. Ha I love your current Ed Harris craze! He's the man.

      And what's so weird about both Hitchcock and The Girl is that neither are very good. Psycho is one of my favorite films, and I can't believe a narrative film about the making of that film was so... lame.

  10. One that you missed is GoodFellas and Miller's Crossing. They're both VERY different films, even if they do cover similar subject matters, but Miller's Crossing (which I consider to be the better film) was completely overshadowed by GoodFellas, and if i'm not mistaken, bombed at the box office.

    Two more recent ones that you didn't include are The World's End and This is the End, which despite being very different in tone were very similar in terms of their story, and the four spy movies released in 2015: Rogue Nation (which was incredible), Kingsman (which was really fun), Spy (haven't seen this one yet), and Spectre (completely average).

    And thanks for including SPR and TTRL, as it reminded me that I really need to see both of those films (as well as get around to watching the rest of Malick's filmography, as the only film I've seen from him is Badlands).

    1. Another recent one is The American and Drive. They're both slow-burn character studies with brooding protagonists that were advertised as action-thrillers, and were disliked by general audiences because of this. They're also both directed by European filmmakers.

    2. Thanks for these comments. Interesting picks. Millers/Goodfellas is interesting, because they were released so close, but I'm unaware if Goodfellas impacted Miller's in a negative way.

      The World's End/This is the End, and your spy films... those don't really count for me. I don't think the release of Spy negative/positively impacted the release of Rogue Nation, or vice versa. Same with The American/Drive. I do wish The American had a bigger release though. I really admire that film.

  11. I feel like not using the term "Evil Twin" at all in this post is a bit of a missed opportunity...

    But, I digress.

    As for twin movies, ever have one of those moments where you get confused and forget they're different movies? That used to be me, when I was a kid, with Antz/A Bug's Life and The Lost World: Jurassic Park/Godzilla 1998.

    Weirdly, now that I think about it, there were a bunch of Denzel Washington thrillers in the mid-2000s that just kind of blended in with each other, but to choose a pair, I'd say Man on Fire/Out of Time(/Deja Vu) or perhaps more fittingly, The Taking of Pelham 123/Unstoppable. They even had the same director!

    I think another really good example would be This is the End and The World's End. When it came out, everybody was talking about the former's meta-humor, but I remember feeling pretty underwhelmed by it. The World's End, however, had a pretty quiet theatrical run, but I thought it was hysterical. It also has one of my favorite moments in editing, with the scene where they order beers and Nick Frost orders water. That's how to shoot/edit comedy the RIGHT way. However, The World's End seems to be picking up more steam in the time since, and now appears to be a cult favorite while hardly anyone talks about This is the End.

    Boy, looking at Anthony Hopkins in that Alfred Hitchcock makeup is really creeping me out. Also, anyone else notice Toby Jones is on this list twice. He's also in Morgan, which is a pretty obvious twin movie of Ex Machina. What's up with that? Also, Ex Machina is a pretty clear winner there.

    Another Twin Movie pair I can think of is Avatar/District 9. Two acclaimed Best Picture-nominated movies from 2009 that were about how crappy humans treat aliens. Avatar's probably the more objective "winner" seeing as how it made all the moneys, but as far the actual quality goes, I'd say District 9 was the better. Avatar was just computer generated eh with visual effects that don't hold up very well. District 9, on the other hand, had a more engaging story, better acting, and more seamless CGI.

    1. Oh man, the Denzel action thriller confusion is so real. I enjoy a lot of those movies, but they definitely blend together. Part of that is because Tony Scott had such a distinct way of shooting, but that distinction was hard to identify between his own movies.

      Hmm, you and Braden agree on This is the End/The World’s End. I guess those fell off my radar when they were released. I don’t remember anyone talking about that whole “twin movie” thing there. I must have missed it!

      Avatar/District 9 is interesting. Yeah, I don’t think anyone who saw District 9 WASN’T going to see Avatar because of District 9, but they are definitely similarly themed. I far prefer District 9, but yup, Avatar made the moneys.

    2. You gotta see The World's End! It's probably Edgar Wright's best film so far.

      Funny, in 2009, everyone was talking about The Hurt Locker vs Avatar for best of the year, when I was obsessing over a different war movie/sci-fi movie combo: Inglourious Basterds vs. District 9. I did really like The Hurt Locker, though.

      Avatar. Christ, Avatar. Cameron's apparently filming 3 sequels simultaneously. If that first film's the best he could do with 10 years prep, I'm scared of what's to come.

    3. Oh I've seen it, I just meant the twin movie thing fell off my radar. I think it's a hilarious flick!

    4. Dangerous Liasons vs Valmont

      Both base on the same novel, Dangerous Liasons (dir. Stephen Frears) came out first, made a good profit, and was widely hailed as a masterpiece. Then when Milos Forman took a stab at it the next year with Valmont, it bombed at the box office and critics tore it apart for not being as good as Dangerous Liasons.

    5. Wow, I've never even heard of Valmont. That is definitely a cursed twin movie right there.

  12. Saving Private Ryan Vs. The Thin Red Line. SPR is a definite winner for me. As far as war movies go, the best one in my eyes is Come and See.

    The Illusionist and the Prestige is another good one. Prestige easily comes out on top.

    1. The Great War movie debate lives on. Love it. Both are great films, but TTRL will always win out for me.

  13. Happy New Year, Alex!

    Great topic for a post. Throwing out the box office aspect, my winners for the twins I've seen both "versions":

    Tombstone over Wyatt Earp - I enjoyed both, to be honest, but Tombstone is far superior.

    Showgirls over Striptease - This might sound odd considering the content, but Striptease is the blander, watered down version of Showgirls. Who wants bland and watered down?

    Deep Impact over Armageddon - Armageddon is just so so bad. Ugh.

    The Truman Show over EdTV - The Truman Show is superior on every level.

    A Bug's Life over Antz - I don't hate Antz, but it's not A Bug's Life.

    The Prestige over The Illusionist - I'm not really a fan of either, but The Prestige is clearly better.

    Snow White and the Huntsman over Mirror Mirror - I'll admit to like SW&tH, but I hated every minute of Mirror Mirror.

    White House Down over Olympus Has Fallen - WHD was bad in a really enjoyable way while OHF was just bad.

    Steve Jobs over Jobs - I'm not as enamored with Steve Jobs like everyone else seems to be, but it is better than Jobs.

    Some others that weren't mentioned:

    Oblivion over After Earth (both in 2013)
    A.I. ('01) over Bicentennial Man ('99) (is two years too big a gap?)
    Finding Nemo ('03) over Shark Tale ('04)
    Happy Feet ('06) over Surf's Up ('07) (though both suck)
    Madagascar ('05) over The Wild ('06)
    Turner & Hooch over K-9 (both 1989)


    Megamind over Despicable Me (both in 2010). This is the toughest call for me. I like Megamind better as a movie, so it gets my vote. However, DM is close enough in quality and become a much bigger property.

    Again, great topic!

    1. Happy new year buddy! Thanks for the comment!

      Ohhh this is interesting – picking “winners” based on personal preference.

      So true about Showgirls/Striptease! Armageddon is a shit show. So so bad haha. I like your additional picks. I think the biggest one I missed was Nemo/Shark Tale. That’s a good one there.

  14. This post is quite interesting. I don't know why this always happen, it's such an odd funny thing. I haven't seen Captain Phillips but I was actually planning to watch A Hijacking soon 'cause I've just watched Krigen (from the same director and same leading actor) and I loved it. If you haven't seen it, I think you'll like it. I'd love to see The Girl too, I didn't know about it.

    1. I haven't even heard of Krigen! So I'll have to check that one out soon. Glad you liked this list!