I’ve wanted to address this issue somehow for a long time but not really had any medium on which to do it. It involves Hollywood films which are very similar in terms of plot and released at roughly the same time (say within a year of each other). The list isn’t nearly as extensive as I thought it was but there are nonetheless quite a few movies released at roughly the same time with either very similar or identical plots. I’ve listed some of the movies which I think are most obvious first followed by some that are less obvious / perhaps not that similar followed by some suggestions from forums about movies where I haven’t seen either one or both of the films in question. The reason for their similarities? Well I’ve heard a few explanations, one being the collective unconscious twigging onto similar ideas at the same time. My own theory is that competing Hollywood directors work from a similar concept and aim to make a superior film to the other. A sort of bragging rights competition. On the other hand it may just be that ideas float around tinsel town at the same time and their being made into films at similar times is purely coincidental. Whatever the explanation for this phenomenon, I’ve decided to list as many as I could come up with.
So here they all are:
Déjà vu (2006) Vs Next (2007)
The plot of both films involves the FBI use of time travel or time manipulation in one form or another to prevent a terrorist attack. Both protagonists meet the girl of their dreams in the process and both films try to inject some of the complexities and absurdities of time travel into the film during the process. Whilst Déjà vu has a slightly higher rating on IMDB – 7.0 vs 6.1 for Next, I don’t personally think that either film is significantly better than the other. They were both pretty entertaining although for me Next edges it just because it stars Jessica Biel. Similarity rating: 9/10
The Road (2009) Vs The Book of Eli (2010)
Another Two Sci-Fi films that seem very similar to me. A lot of people probably wouldn’t list these two as twin films but in my opinion they are very much variants on the same theme. Both are set after the apocalypse and depict a dystopian future where virtually all hope has been lost. Whilst the catastrophe in the Book of Eli was evidently some kind of nuclear war, the catastrophe in The Road is left vague and undefined. Both films feature cannibalism on the part of many of the survivors and both films remind me of the Fallout 3 computer game to varying degrees. But despite the similarities in the general theme of the films, the plot of both is somewhat different. The Book of Eli is somewhat religious in nature, has an evident direction and some semblance of civilisation and life has survived. The Road on the other hand is probably one of the darkest, bleakest, most depressing dystopian tales ever to grace the big screen. Whatever nightmare happened before the beginning of this film has destroyed literally everything including all life save for a few wandering humans. There is no real plot to the film other than the following of the father and son in their desperate struggle to survive in a world that has literally died before them. The ending is very ambiguous as well, is it a happy ending? Difficult to say really.
As for their ratings, well the book of Eli is rated 6.9 on IMDB whilst the Road is rated 7.4. Both are pretty enjoyable films but The Book of Eli is really a disposable action flick whilst the Road is more artistic and from my point of view, a far superior film. Similarity Rating 7/10
Deep Impact (1998) Vs Armageddon (1998)
Two films in the same year about an asteroid heading for Earth and the imminent extinction of the human race which must be thwarted by a team of astronauts who need to detonate nuclear weapons inside the thing to destroy it. Both feature numerous similarities including unprecedented cooperation between America and Russia, a sickeningly sentimental view of how humanity is going to become extinct and a cheesier than average love story that just makes you want to throw up. Whilst both are disposable popcorn flicks, in my opinion the superior film is clearly Deep Impact. Not because it was significantly better by any stretch of the imagination but because it was significantly less stupid. In Armageddon we have to send up a team of redneck oil miners into space and teach them to be astronauts because drilling for oil is clearly a more complicated job than piloting a space shuttle. Then we have the idea that drilling 800ft into an asteroid the size of Texas will be sufficiently near the centre to split it completely in two. Then we have Peter Stormare playing the Russian on board Mir and the film portrays him as a stereotypical drunk Russian because obviously there’s a plentiful supply of vodka on Mir. Meanwhile Michael Clarke Duncan reprises his role as John Coffey from the Green Mile and Bruce Willis reprises his role as John McClane. I suppose I can forgive Hollywood for having a sense of humour, the film was pretty funny in places and not taken too seriously I guess it’s reasonably entertaining. Deep Impact on the other hand doesn’t seem to contain as many glaring inaccuracies; they are still there for sure but the film gets a few things right at least. More thought has obviously gone into it and the film addresses such things such as government secrecy, budgetary considerations, journalistic integrity etc etc. It was even prescient enough to make the president a black man. It’s much darker in tone, less humorous and there is at least some emotional connection with the characters. It just feels like a better film.
IMDB rating for Armageddon – 6.1, rating for Deep Impact – 6.0. I don’t care Deep Impact is a better film by a mile but Armageddon works better on retards who like big bangs. Similarity rating 10/10
The Illusionist (2006) Vs The Prestige (2006)
Another two that seem like a write off competition. Both films are about magicians, both are set in the Victorian era, both are set in Europe (for the most part) and both feature magic that seems supernatural but actually isn’t although the explanations as to why differ. So the only real question is which is the better film? Can’t decide it on women because whilst the Illusionist might win by starring Jesscia Biel, the Prestige stars Scarlet Johansson which cancels what could have been a winning factor out completely. While both films are very good but I think the Prestige is better and here’s why. The plot twists and turns and ultimately the final twist I just really didn’t see coming. It’s fucking obvious the second time you see the film but the first time I saw it, just didn’t have a clue. It’s Christopher Nolan’s seemingly innate ability to make good films that wins this one. This combined with his brother’s talent for writing excellent screenplays makes the Prestige a clear winner.
IMDB Rating for the Illusionist – 7.7, rating for the Prestige 8.4. Similarity rating 9/10.
Mission to Mars (2000) Vs Red Planet (2000)
Two films released in 2000 that were about a mission to Mars set in the relatively near future. The inspiration for going there varies between the two movies, one is a rescue mission, the other is to discover what went wrong with a terraforming project. Both are cheesy and neither is a particularly great film. Quite honestly I enjoyed both despite them both being terrible films. I will get slated for this but I preferred Mission to Mars and here’s why. Mission to Mars builds to an ending that is quite existential and even profound whilst Red Planet comes off as environmentally preachy and falls into the sentimentalism trap. The cast of Mission to Mars especially Gary Senise elicit some sympathy from the audience and even carry a certain power whilst the cast of Red Planet come off as a bunch of assholes. I am certain that if the soundtrack to Mission to Mars had been a lot lot better and a few other aspects of the film had been tweaked such as the annoying computer voice and a few of Jerry O’Connell’s cringe worthy scenes that this film could have been regarded as vastly superior to what it is. Disappointing really, it was ALMOST a great film. Red Planet is a standard popcorn flick.
IMDB Rating: Mission to Mars – 5.2, Red Planet – 5.4
Mission to Mars missed the bullseye but is still a better film by far. Similarity rating 8/10
Volcano (1997) Vs Dantes Peak (1997)
Two 1997 films about volcanoes, both having a hero who must save the local inhabitants from the ensuing destruction. So which is better based on the similar premise? Well given that I can barely remember Volcano, it obviously didn’t make that much of an impression. In fact all I really remember about it is that Tommy Lee Jones was chasing a guy called Richard Kimble or something or other. No I actually don’t remember anything about this film other than him coming up with some kind of inventive plan to divert the flow of lava to the ocean. It is simply forgettable. Dante’s Peak I think is a criminally underrated film; it’s realistic, scientific and actually made me want to become a seismologist. It’s not overly sentimental but does have a fairly sentimental plot, has humour in the appropriate places and characters that you genuinely care for. Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton do a great job of leading of what is really quite a slow film that builds to a spectacular ending all the while dropping in bits of science that would interest just about anyone with an interest in the subject.
IMDB Rating: Volcano – 5.2, Dantes Peak 5.7
Dante’s Peak is better, no contest. Similarity rating 7/10
Matrix (1999) Vs The Thirteenth Floor (1999)
Not too many people realise the Matrix has a twin but it surely does. Released in 1999, this film similarly involves an artificial world created by computers although humans are in charge of those computers and not vice versa. The film involves people entering this artificial world and interacting with characters that are essentially programs. I don’t think anyone would really say the Thirteenth Floor is a better film, the Matrix was pretty much the seminal science fiction film of the decade but is the Thirteenth Floor a good film. Yes it is, it’s a nice little sci-fi gem that not too many people know about. The plot has some interesting twists and raises some of the same questions about the nature of reality that the Matrix does. It doesn’t have the level of action, special effects or general panache of the Matrix but it does have a gripping storyline and deserves to be more widely known than it is. Additionally Gretchen Mol trumps Carrie Anne-Moss on the attractiveness of the female lead front, she kind of reminds me of Samantha Mathis in Super Mario Brothers in many ways.
There are also another two films released around this time that question the nature of reality or lack thereof that are worth mentioning – Existenz (1999) and Dark City (1998) - also both decent films in their own right.
IMDB Rating: The Matrix – 8.7, The Thirteenth Floor – 6.8
The Matrix is better no contest, but the Thirteenth Floor is more of a worthy contender than many realise. Similarity rating 7/10
Platoon (1986) Vs Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Two movies set during the Vietnam War, both featuring lead characters who face a crisis of conscience and morality and both about the horrors of war and the duality of man. Both feature characters that have mental meltdowns as a result of their experiences. I can’t say that either one is better than the other, Oliver Stone nailed Platoon and Stanley Kubrick nailed Full Metal Jacket. Both had good scripts and the direction was excellent. The monologues of Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket are priceless.
IMDB Rating: Platoon – 8.2, Full Metal Jacket – 8.4
Verdict: Tie – both are amazing films. Similarity rating 7/10
PART 2 COMING SOON!