Trend: Asteroid-heading-for-earth movies
Films: Deep Impact and Armageddon
If you were the sort of person who regularly worried that an asteroid was going to smash into the earth, then 1998 was probably not a good year for you. Michael Bay's bombastic Armageddon focussed on the macho team of deep-sea oil drillers assigned to land on the asteroid and split it in two, while Mimi Leder's Deep Impact took a more traditional disaster movie approach (while also featuring astronauts attempting to blow up the asteroid). Armageddon triumphed at the box office, leaving Deep Impact to console itself with the respect of astronomers, who praised the film as being more scientifically accurate.
Trend: Volcano movies
Films: Volcano and Dante's Peak
A year before the duelling asteroid movies, studios 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures faced off with a pair of rival volcano movies. Mick Jackson's Volcano arguably had the better hook with volcanic activity erupting under the streets of Los Angeles, while Roger Donaldson's Dante's Peak had its hot lava action engulfing a fictional town. Dante's Peak did fractionally better at the box office, perhaps boosted by the presence of star Pierce Brosnan, hot off the success of his Bond debut Goldeneye two year's previously.
Trend: Terrorists-target-the-White-House movies
Films: Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down
Given that the premise to both films is basically 'Die Hard in the White House', it's a little surprising that no-one thought up the idea earlier, particularly when there was a perfectly decent Die Hard sequel opportunity up for grabs back in 2007. The two films were wildly different in tone, with meat-headed, sadistically violent Gerard Butler proving nastier than the terrorists in Olympus, while Channing Tatum seemed to be positively enjoying himself as he rescued President Jamie Foxx. White House Down won out at the box office but it cost twice as much to make, which explains why Olympus ended up with the sequel.
Trend: Animated evil genius movies (in 3D)
Films: Despicable Me and Megamind
It's tempting to wonder which real-life evil genius [libellous speculation retracted] inspired the trend that lead to competing animated super villain movies in 2010. Despicable Me scored highly in the cute stakes thanks to Steve Carell's Gru reluctantly adopting three adorable children (“IT'S SO FLUFFY!” etc) and duly won out at the box office, though Megamind is arguably the better film, with a much wittier script and note-perfect comic performances from Will Ferrell and Tina Fey. Ironically for films about characters seeking world domination, the pesky yellow Minions from Despicable Me went on to do exactly that – they're everywhere now.
Trend: Truman Capote biopics
Films: Capote and Infamous
Bennett Miller and Douglas McGrath's Truman Capote biopics may have started out as rival productions, but they actually make surprisingly effective companion pieces, since both films focus on the same period in Capote's life, when he was researching and writing In Cold Blood. Miller's film is more straightforward (and duly won a well-overdue Best Actor Oscar for star Philip Seymour Hoffman), while McGrath's takes a slightly different approach, cutting between the main story and perplexed to-camera interviews with Capote's high-society friends back in New York. Released first and boosted by awards attention, Capote trounced Infamous at the box office, but the latter is well worth a look.
Trend: Aliens-attacking-Los Angeles movies
Year: 2010 / 2011
Films: Skyline and Battle: Los Angeles
This is a bit of a sneaky one. The directors of 2010's Skyline (in which aliens attack Los Angeles) had been previously hired by the studio behind Battle: Los Angeles (in which aliens attack Los Angeles) to develop some of the film's special effects, with their film eventually beating their rival into cinemas by four months. A court case was eventually dropped, with the Skyline directors claiming they had neglected to inform the studio of their plans for a rival, similarly themed film. In the event, both films had mixed successes: Skyline was cheaper looking but weirder and more interesting, while Battle: Los Angeles won out at the box-office.
Trend: Animated insect movies
Films: Antz and A Bug's Life
In the same year that Armageddon and Deep Impact were going head-to-head, rival animation studios DreamWorks and Disney / Pixar were embroiled in a very public feud over their competing insect movies Antz and A Bug's Life, not least because DreamWorks head honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg had recently left Disney. However, the films are actually significantly different: Antz is set in an ant-hill and feels, bizarrely, like a Woody Allen comedy, while A Bug's Life is about several different insects coming together, Magnificent 7-style, to fight Kevin Spacey's evil grasshopper. Needless to say, the latter stomped the former at the box-office.
Trend: Robin Hood movies
Films: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Robin Hood
It has become a popular question at film quizzes: name the stars of the other Robin Hood movie that came out in the same year as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The rival production starred Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman (since you asked), but it never really stood a chance against Kevin Costner and Alan Rickman's box-office triumph and promptly disappeared without trace - indeed, it wasn't even granted a theatrical release in the States and aired on the Fox network instead. To be fair, there's a good reason the film is largely forgotten today, as Bergin's Robin Hood is perhaps the dullest on record.
Trend: Illusionist movies
Films: The Prestige and The Illusionist
The fact that The Illusionist and The Prestige both came out in the same year could well be a simple coincidence, as both films were adapted from different literary sources: the former from a short story by Steven Millhauser and the latter from an acclaimed novel by Christopher Priest. The film Christopher Nolan made between Batman movies, The Prestige benefited from a superlative cast (Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman), a genuine sense of mystery and a compellingly twisty script, while The Illusionist (which lost out at the box-office) failed to pull off its central trick and got bogged down in half-hearted romance and dull characterisation.
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