It’s no secret that the movie industry is extremely competitive. At any given moment, there are a few comedies, dramas, action movies, and kid’s movies out in theaters competing for audiences. Likewise, every year a few big budget films will compete to be the year’s big blockbuster, and/or Academy Award winner.
While all genres of movies often share similar themes, sometimes the subject manner is a little too similar. When the movies come out at around the same time, audiences quickly make the connection and the two films are immediately, and often forever, linked together as “those two movies about that thing.” Here are some famous examples of dueling movies.
10. Top Gun and Iron Eagle
These 1986 movies have rather different plots, but nobody remembers them anyway, because, you know, jets! The theme of “America kicks ass!” was prevalent in both films. Remember, this was during the Reagan era, when military spending was at an unprecedented point. Both movies even served as unofficial recruiting films because: Look how awesome fighter pilots are!
Iron Eagle was more a of a straightforward action film, where a young man and a colonel “borrow” a couple of F-16s to save the young man’s father, who was shot down and taken hostage in a stereotypical Middle Eastern nation. Top Gun, meanwhile, is really just a love story with a few minutes of really cool dogfight sequences, a shirtless volleyball match, and a dead Goose. However, it was also an enormous hit and secured Tom Cruise’s place as a superstar. As of publishing there is a planned sequel, but no details have been released yet.
9. Deep Impact and Armageddon
Both 1998 films were part of the late ’90s revival of the disaster movie genre. Both are about a comet on a collision course with earth, and attempts by space shuttle crews to destroy them with nuclear bombs.
Deep Impact, despite being a good title for a porno, was a more cerebral and character driven drama, but had some good action and ’90s era CGI as well. Armageddon was a Michael Bay movie (need we say more?) which relied heavily on action, special effects, and of course; explosions.
Both movies were successful, with Deep Impact being popular with critics as well as audiences. But Armageddon was the second highest grossing movie of 1998 despite being hated by critics, and even being used by NASA employees for competitions to spot all the scientific errors (at last count there were over 130). Still, it has that “so bad it’s good” vibe to it, with its awesome special effects and often cheesy dialogue.
So while most would agree that Deep Impact is the better movie, it’s hard to say the second highest grosser of the year would be anything but the winner. Despite the inclusion of some ridiculous subplot about Steve Buscemi’s “space dementia.”
8. Antz and A Bug’s Life
These two 1998 films were among the first 3-D animated movies. They were also the first two in the long rivalry between DreamWorks Animation and Disney Pixar.
Both movies are about a neurotic ant in a colony who wants to make his mark and not just be one of masses. Both colonies are terrorized by another insect that wants to destroy them. In A Bug’s Life it’s a grasshopper but in Antz, it’s the General of the Army ants that wants to destroy his own colony.
Since this was DreamWorks’ first major animation project, they went all out and had an all-star cast including Woody Allen, Christopher Walken, Gene Hackman, Sylvester Stallone, and Jennifer Lopez, among others. 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 big names.
One familiar theme you might notice about the cast of Antz is that none of them are known for kid’s movies. This one really was no exception, as the humor was rather sophisticated, and at times the movie was even a little bit scary. A Bug’s Life had some scary elements to it as well, but was much more typical Disney fair and much lighter than its competitor.
Since 3-D animation was brand new and quite a novelty at the time, both movies were a huge success. However, with the names Disney and Pixar attached to it, A Bug’s Life has stood the test of time well while Antz has largely faded away.
7. Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove
Both movies are about a B-52 being inadvertently sent to bomb a target in the Soviet Union. Both have the US collaborating with the Soviets to stop them as a key plot point. Both are filmed in black and white, well after color had become the norm. Both were released in 1964, shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis and one of the tensest periods of the Cold War. And both movies have (spoiler alert) downer endings.
One minor difference is that in Fail Safe, the false orders were the result of a computer malfunction. In Dr. Strangelove, they were sent by a power-mad, crazy General. But the major difference between the two is that Fail Safe is a very serious drama while Dr. Strangelove is a dark, satirical comedy. Stanley Kubrick, who directed Dr. Strangelove, recognized that the two movies were in direct competition and lobbied very hard with Columbia, who produced both films, to release his first.
The strategy worked for Kubrick, as the movie was a hit and is regarded as a classic today. After the silly nature of Dr. Strangelove audiences simply couldn’t take the very dark tone of Fail Safe as seriously, and it bombed (pun intended) at the box office. However, it gained a great deal of respect with time and syndication, even spawning a made-for-TV, all-star cast, live remake in 2000. Today it is considered a classic.
Both films are highly regarded today, but with Dr. Strangelove being a hit at the time, and many considering it Kubrick’s best work (which says a lot), Dr. Strangelove would have to be considered the winner.
6. Runaway and The Terminator
Both of these 1984 films deal with robots causing havoc for humans. Terminator – as if we even need to explain to you – is about a cyborg sent back in time to kill the unsuspecting mother of the future leader of the human resistance. Runaway is about a shortly-in-the-future society that depends heavily on robots for labor. They become manipulated by an evil genius, who uses them for crime and to kill his enemies.
This one is not really even a competition, as The Terminator was a smash hit that spawned a successful franchise and made superstars out of Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron, while Runaway was a quickly forgotten box office bomb.
What’s noteworthy is that it was supposed to be the other way around. Runaway starred Tom Selleck (and his mustache) at the height of his Magnum P.I. fame. It was directed by well-established science fiction writer and director Michael Crichton. It also features KISS star Gene Simmons as the villain, and a just-before-Cheers Kirstie Alley as his girlfriend.
Before Terminator, James Cameron was completely unknown, and his only directing credit was for Piranha Part Two. Main characters Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn were also completely unknown, and Schwarzenegger was only slightly familiar from the two Conan movies. But the movie was a smash sleeper hit, earning a huge profit, and vaulted all four into stardom.
5. Oblivion and After Earth
Both movies were released within about two months of each other in 2013. Both are about the remnants of a post-apocalyptic Earth many years after a catastrophic event.
Oblivion stars Tom Cruise as a soldier left with the task of cleaning up remnants of the aliens who invaded Earth and left it uninhabitable as the survivors flee to another planet.
After Earth stars Will and Jaden Smith, who appropriately enough play a father and son returning to Earth for colonization many years after a massive disaster left it uninhabitable. Many believed Oblivion was full of subliminal Scientology references, of which Tom Cruise is a follower. Audiences also saw After Earth as nothing more than a cheesy attempt by Will Smith to make his son a star.
Both films were panned by critics and failed to find an audience in the US. However, both were fairly popular overseas and eventually made a profit as a result.
4. 127 Hours and Soul Surfer
The film 127 Hours was released in 2010, while Soul Surfer came out in 2011. Both are true stories about a young person who lost an arm doing what they love most.
Soul Surfer is about Bethany Hamilton, a 13 year old surfer who had her arm bitten off by a shark in 2003. The movie spends very little time on the attack and attempts to save her life and mainly focuses on her recovery and desire to get back to a normal life and go surfing again.
127 hours is about Aron Ralston, whose arm got trapped under a boulder while hiking in Utah in 2003. Eventually, he was forced to do the unthinkable and cut off his own arm in order to free himself. The movie focuses mainly on the trauma he went through and is a series of flashbacks on his life and everything he feels he has to live for.
It should be noted that Bethany Hamilton and her family are all devout Christians, and the movie focuses strongly on her faith as part of the healing process. As a result, the movie was a big hit with Christians in America, but did not do particularly well overseas.
On the flip side, 127 hours was not well marketed in America, and despite earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, it did not do well at the box office. However, it was a huge hit overseas. Since both movies are inspirational (and fact-based) stories, it’s disingenuous to say they were competing. Likewise, both movies had a nearly equal amount of critical and financial success.
3. Dante’s Peak and Volcano
These two films are also from the ’90s disaster era, although unlike Deep Impact and Armageddon they were also both financial disasters. Both 1997 movies deal with volcanoes (as if the title of the latter hadn’t made that obvious). Dante’s Peak deals with the eruption of a fictional volcano in the Cascade Range, while Volcano is about a cinder cone suddenly forming in the middle of Los Angeles.
Volcano starred Tommy Lee Jones at the height of his fame, along with Anne Heche during her short period of relevancy. Like Armageddon it’s entertaining, but incredibly cheesy and has very poor science.
Dante’s Peak starred Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton while both were very well known for being James Bond and Sarah Conner. It was actually praised by volcanologists for its relative scientific accuracy, and for demonstrating just how dangerous their job truly is. They even filmed several scenes on Mount St. Helens. That’s not to say a few liberties weren’t taken on occasion for dramatic purposes, but unlike most disaster films efforts were made to be relatively accurate and to break many disaster movie cliches.
Volcano did do better at the box office, but was hated by critics. Dante’s Peak did not do well, but did have a good life with rentals and syndication, and is much easier to find to today while Volcano is largely forgotten. Hard to pick a winner with this one.
2. The Truman Show and EDtv
Like so many on this list these movies were both released in the late ’90s. The studios must have really had it in for each other at that time.
Both are about a man who has his entire life broadcast on TV 24/7. The key difference is that in The Truman Show, it’s a staged environment where the main “character” (Truman) is not aware everything he does is being broadcast, while EDtv takes an ordinary guy (Ed) who agrees to have his entire life put on TV.
The Truman Show is more of a drama with some comic moments. It was Jim Carey’s first major attempt to break away from wacky comedies, and critics and audiences both agreed that he did a great job. The movie was an enormous success as a result.
EDtv is basically a romantic comedy, and was mildly successful, but would probably be long forgotten today were it not so prophetic about what TV was to become. At the time, the notion of having a person’s life broadcast on TV seemed novel and far-fetched. Just a few years later, “reality” television (yes, that is in quotations marks for a reason) would become all the rage, and what seemed like a fad appears to be here to stay.
1. Megamind and Despicable Me
Both of these animated films were released in 2010, and both are about a Bond-like supervillain with grand schemes. Both are decent guys at heart and turned to villainy only after finding that being good got them nowhere. In the end, they change their ways and save the day.
Despicable Me stars Steve Carrell and Russell Brand. However, both were overshadowed by the very popular supporting characters, the Minions – so much so that when the sequel was released in 2013, the Minions were given a much more prominent role and eventually their own hit movie in 2015.
Megamind was more star driven, with Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt, Tina Fey, and several other big names in the lead roles. David Cross also plays a prominent role as Megamind’s loyal sidekick, a fish named…Minion.
Both movies were quite successful. However, Despicable Me nearly doubled Megamind at the box office and has spawned two even more successful sequels, so it would have to be declared the winner.