In most cases, when a movie studio hears that another studio is working on a movie with similar premise, it sparks a heated competition, with both studios racing to get their movie in theaters first. Especially now that blockbuster movies typically have budgets in the hundreds of millions and the difference between success and failure could hinder on the audiences perceived originality of the subject matter.
While it’s not uncommon for movies to share similar themes, sometimes the subject matter is so similar that it appears as though one of the movies is a blatant ripoff of the other. This is especially apparent when two movies with very similar premises are released close together and need to compete for an audience that will likely choose to see only one or the other in theaters. When that happens, what you’ve got on your hands is a cinematic duel with the victor largely determined by ticket sales.
Read on to find out who the winners were to some of Hollywood’s biggest box office bouts.
12. Armageddon vs. Deep Impact
Both of these 1998 movies helped to revive the disaster film genre in the late 90s. Each of them are about an asteroid/comet on a collision course with Earth and the brave shuttle crews who try to avert the catastrophe. Deep Impact was the first to hit theaters and offered audiences a cerebral, human-centric drama with some fairly accurate science behind it. Armageddon was a Michael Bay movie that relied heavily on explosions and CGI to sell tickets. Both movies were successful, with Deep Impact being popular with critics as well as audiences. But Armageddon became the second highest grossing film of 1998 despite being mocked by critics for it’s overly cheesy dialogue and highly dubious scientific claims. NASA even likes to use the film for competitions in which employees are tasked with spotting all the instances of scientific error (there are over 130, in case you were wondering). So while critics would surely argue that Deep Impact is the better movie, many people, whether they admit it or not, still have a soft spot for Armageddon.
11. No Strings Attached vs. Friends With Benefits
These 2011 comedies both revolved around couples having a care free attitude when it comes to romps between the sheets. When it comes to box office figures, they performed nearly identically with No Strings Attached earning only slightly less than Friends With Benefits. But in terms of critical reception, Friends with Benefit emerged as the clear favorite with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis displaying great chemistry, making for a fun and breezy rom-com that actually delivers some fairly descent dialogue. By comparison, No Strings Attached starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher seemed a lot more corny, contrived, and conservative. It received mixed reviews and was described by film critic David Edlstein as “a film with a supposedly feminist veneer that never makes the case for the Emma’s (Natalie Portman) point of view.”
10. Despicable Me vs. Megamind
These animated 2010 films are both about classic cartoon supervillains with grandiose plans. But, as it turns out, they’re both actually pretty decent guys at heart who only turned to a life of villany after being good got them nowhere. In the end, they see the folly of their ways and return to the side of good to save the day.
Megamind had a lot star power lending their voices to the characters with Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt, and Tina Fey in the lead roles. But it was Despicable Me that ended up on top thanks to the enormous popularity of its little Twinkie-shaped supporting characters — the Minions. In fact, the Minions were so lovable that when the sequel was released in 2013, they were given a much more prominent role that eventually led to them getting their very own movie in 2015.
9. Volcano vs. Dante’s Peak
Here are another couple of movies from the 90s disaster era. But unlike Armageddon and Deep Impact, these turned out to be somewhat financial disasters.
As you might have guessed from the titles, both of these movies deal with volcanoes. Dante’s Peak is about the eruption of a fictional volcano in the state of Washington, while Volcano is about a cinder cone that suddenly erupts in the middle of Los Angeles. Similar to Armageddon, Volcano featured a lot of big explosions, cheesy acting, and poor science. It’s a fun enough movie but Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche don’t have much on-screen chemistry and the movie loses a lot of steam once the lava starts flowing.
On the other hand, Dante’s Peak was actually praised by volcanologists for general scientific accuracy and for illustrating just how dangerous their job can be. It still has Hollywood’s panache for the dramatic but, unlike most disaster films, it made an honest effort to remain realistic and avoid a lot of classic disaster movie cliches. Though Volcano did do better at the box office, most critics hated it, while Dante’s Peak experienced a good life on the small screen through rentals and syndication, making it much more memorable today than Volcano, which has largely been forgotten.
8. Olympus Has Fallen vs. White House Down
Olympus Has Fallen was already in the works when Sony spent $3 million on the White House Down screenplay from James Vanderbilt. Gerard Butler was set to star in Olympus, and director Antoine Fuqua would sign up shortly after. Thus Olympus Has Fallen had a head start on production, and was fast-tracked when White House Down appeared on the radar. Olympus also had less than half the budget of White House Down, having been made for a modest $70 million, so it was important that it made it to theaters first — which it did, arriving in the early spring of 2013 and quickly gaining success and recognition as an old-school, hard-edged action flick.
White Hose Down, starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, followed it up with a summer 2013 release and, while it took in more money at the worldwide box office, its actual profit was less due to its higher production cost. It did manage to get slightly more favorable reviews than Olympus though so, in the end, you could probably call this one a draw.
7. Mission to Mars vs. Red Planet
Backed by Disney, Mission to Mars hit theaters in March of 2000 featuring a cast that was led by Tim Robins and Gary Sinise. Though it was actually quite well received in France, it was disliked pretty much everywhere else and only made about $10 million after accounting for production costs. Many critics cited it as being a large departure from the mostly excellent films that director Brian De Palma worked on in the past and harped on it for getting too much into the mystic space mumbo-jumbo.
Red Planet didn’t fare any better. The film’s production was hampered by friction between two of its stars — Tom Sizemore and Val Kilmer. Apparently it got so bad that the two couldn’t stand being on set together with Kilmer even going so far as to refuse to utter the name of Sizemore’s character. In the end the movie only made $8.7 million and received almost entirely negative reviews with one New York Times critic calling it “a leaden, skimpily plotted space-age Outward Bound adventure with vague allegorical aspirations that remain entirely unrealized.”
6. Tombstone vs. Wyatt Earp
For a long time Kevin Costner chased the idea of bringing the story of Wyatt Earp to the big screen, With his career arguably at its peak in the early 90s, Warner Bros. agreed to foot the bill. That said, Costner was already attached to the project that we now know as Tombstone. However, Costner felt that the character of Wyatt Earp (and not Doc Holliday) should be the main focus of the picture and soon left the production, leaving Val Kilmer to take his place.
According to reports, Tombstone had a very rocky production but still managed to hit theaters before Wyatt Earp and grossed $56 million in the U.S. by the end of 1993, despite Costner’s alleged attempts to shut down all avenues for the film’s release. Perhaps he should have been devoted more of his efforts to his own picture, since many audiences and critics felt Wyatt Earp was long-winded biopic that didn’t give enough attention to key historical moments like the gunfight at the OK Corral. In the end, Wyatt Earp didn’t even make half as much money as Tombstone did at the box office.
5. Paul Blart: Mall Cop vs. Observe and Report
Considering neither of these movies had much buzz going for them at the time of their release, this was more of a low-key dust up rather than an all-out box office brawl. Both films were comedies sporting the same premise, about a doughy security guard trying to keep his local shopping centers free of crime. But that’s actually where the similarities end. The lighter, more family-friendly Paul Blart: Mall Cop starred Kevin James, and was a surprise hit in 2009, earning $183 million worldwide against a production budget of only $26 million. Meanwhile, Observe and Report turned out to be a much darker picture with Seth Rogen playing a manic depressive security guard who doesn’t like it when the police are called in to take charge of situations at his mall. It was made on an even smaller budget than Paul Blart but didn’t have much success at the box office grossing only $27 million.
Oddly enough, these two projects actually never butted heads during production. In an interview with GQ, Seth Rogan admitted that both he and Kevin James knew of the other project all along. “We’re friends with those guys, so we would literally send each other pictures of the wardrobe, just to make sure we weren’t stepping on each other’s toes. They’re totally different movies.” he said.
4. Top Gun vs. Iron Eagle
Although the plots of these two movies are actually quite different, in the end all anyone really cares about are the fighter jets and the dogfights, so they were seen as practically identical by audiences. During the Reagan era, military spending was reaching new heights and both movies even served as unofficial recruiting films that showed just how cool it was to be a fighter pilot.
Iron Eagle played out a lot like your typical 80s action film — a young man and a colonel swipe a couple of F-16s to save the young man’s father, who was shot down and taken hostage in some Middle Eastern nation. Meanwhile, Top Gun was mostly about training, military relationships, and some of the best damn shirtless volleyball ever seen on screen. However, it also had a pretty great dogfight at the end that helped it become a smash hit and secured Tom Cruise’s place as movie mega star.
3. 1492: Conquest of Paradise vs. Christopher Columbus: The Discovery
Aiming to cash in on the controversial exploits of Christopher Columbus, both of these 1992 movies about the famous explorer received less than favorable reviews. Conquest Of Paradise was a massive undertaking for Ridley Scott, who set out to make the be-all-end-all portrayal of Columbus. Unfortunately, he blatantly neglected to address the most heated issue surrounding the movie — Native American genocide. The native voice is unheard in Scott’s story and their culture is disregarded. Conquest of Paradise is the typical consenting celebration of Columbus’ voyage, and it triggered a firestorm of literary criticisms that addressed the controversy surrounding the traditional Columbus myth. That said, it was still a fair bit better than Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, which starred Marlon Brando, who gave a dismal performance that had a lot of critics slamming the film solely on the basis of bad acting.
Both movies had production costs of roughly $46 million, and both movies failed to recoup those costs at the box office. However, since Christopher Columbus: The Discovery only made a paltry $8 million and has Rotten Tomatoes rating of seven-percent, it was clearly the bigger loser in this bout.
2. The Truman Show vs. EDtv
Released in the late 90s, both of these movies are about a man who has his entire life broadcast on live TV 24-hours a day. The main difference is that in The Truman Show, it’s a staged environment where the main “character” is totally unaware that everything he does is being watched by millions, while EDtv uses a regular guy who agrees to have his entire life broadcast to the masses.
The Truman Show has its comedic moments, but ultimately it’s more of a drama and marked Jim Carey’s first major attempt to break free from all the wacky comedies (The Mask, Ace Ventura) he had done up until them. Both critics and audiences agreed that he gave a excellent performance, supported by a great cast, that helped make the movie an enormous success. It was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Director (Peter Weir), Best Supporting Actor (Ed Harris), and Best Original Screenplay.
By contrast, Edtv is was more or less your standard romantic comedy, though it did seem to give us a glimpse of the future state of television. Back in 1998, the notion of having a person’s life broadcast on TV seemed quite novel. But just a few years later reality television became all the rage, and today there are entire networks and talk shows devoted solely to various “reality TV” programs and their stars.
1. Antz vs. A Bug’s Life
When these two films clashed in 1998 it sparked a long standing rivalry between DreamWorks Animation and Disney Pixar. Both movies are about a neurotic ant trying to break out of colony conformity, and both feature an insect antagonist that’s out to destroy them.
Having caught wind of Pixar’s project, DreamWorks didn’t want to be second to market and decided to drastically move up the release of Antzm thinking that Pixar wouldn’t follow suit. Antz was DreamWorks Animation’s first fully 3-D movie and they wanted to do everything to ensure it was a success, calling on the talents of many big-name celebrities to do the voice work, including Woody Allen, Christopher Walken, Gene Hackman, Sylvester Stallone, and Jennifer Lopez. A Bug’s Life was Pixar’s second full-length feature after Toy Story and toned it down a little, using familiar actors but not quite as many big names.
Since 3-D animation was still brand new and seen as quite a novelty at the time, both movies were largely successful. However, A Bug’s Life had better marketing and included those delightful outtakes at the end which ultimately helped it win the battle over Antz.