From Mav: To me, one of the most fascinating things that happens in Hollywood is when two different movies with essentially the same plot come out at roughly the same time. I don’t mean one movie that is a remake of another movie. I mean when two studios come up with essentially the idea as another, in vacuum, separate from each other, and they come out so close to each other that one couldn’t possibly inform the other. Sometimes they’re even in theaters at the same time.
Probably the most famous example of this, is Armageddon and Deep Impact, two movies about runaway asteroids about to destroy the Earth, both of which came out in 1998. Armageddon is probably the more famous film; it actually came out second, on July 1. Despite having a catchy Aerosmith theme song and a … uhhh… “really sexy love scene” with animal crackers (I don’t judge other people’s kinks), it’s really fucking dumb. For one, it relies on the absolutely ridiculous conceit that it is somehow WAY easier to quickly train oil rig drillers to be astronauts than it is to train astronauts to drill. Not that I have a problem with either profession, but this is really dumb… and the movie tries to get away with this by having characters address the issue and simply come to the conclusion that the opposite approach is stupid “for reasons.” According to the commentary track, star Ben Affleck tried to point out that this didn’t make any sense on set and director Michael Bay simply told him to shut up. Because Michael Bay. Deep Impact is the far superior film, even though it made way less money. For starters, there’s no runaway asteroid… that’s a popular misconception. It’s actually a comet. WAY cooler. Even better, the comet wins! Hell yeah!!! Also, it was the first movie to give the world Morgan Freeman as President of the United States, and if that’s not something we all want, I don’t know what is.
But those weren’t the movies that first got me fascinated in the concept of parallel film development. No, for me that was actually Tombstone (December 25, 1993) and Wyatt Earp (June 24, 1994). To be fair, this one wasn’t just a coincidental happy accident. Kevin Costner was actually supposed to star in Tombstone, but he felt that filmmakers were making a mistake by focusing on sensationalizing just one incident in Earp’s life, the events that led to the gunfight at the O.K. Coral, and instead it would be better to do an extensive and much more accurate biopic of Earp’s entire life, so he left the project and started his own competing one. Kevin Costner was wrong… very wrong. His film cost more than twice as much to make, grossed less than half the money, is an hour longer is oh so very boring! Tombstone may be one of my favorite movies of all time. Wyatt Earp… is very much not.
There’s lots of reasons this happens. And I want to talk about that a bit. Sometimes, like with Tombstone and Wyatt Earp, it really is a competition, but often it’s just that something is in the cultural mindscape at the time and multiple artists want to address the issue. Right before the asteroid movies came out in 1998, there really were a lot of think pieces in the news where scientists really were theorizing just what we would do if an asteroid was hurtling towards the earth. They went viral, the anxiety about it caught on and Hollywood wanted to address it.
But beyond that, I also want to think a bit about what happens once these parallel films do come out. We can’t help comparing two very similar stories. How do we decide which one is better? And what was happening at that cultural moment that caused differing groups to experiment with that same topic?
I can think of a lot of examples here that we might address on the show. Definitely a lot of films:
- Tombstone/Wyatt Earp Story (1993/4)
- Showgirls/Striptease (1995/6)
- Volcano/Dante’s Peak (1997)
- Deep Impact/Armageddon (1998)
- A Bug’s Life/Antz (1998)
- 54/Last Days of Disco (1998)
- Truman Show/EdTV (1998/9)
- Mission to Mars/Red Planet (2000)
- Chasing Liberty/First Daughter (2004)
- No Strings Attached/Friends with Benefits (2011 — also Love and Other Drugs came out around the same time too… the trailers make it look like the same premise, but it’s actually very different)
- Olympus Has Fallen/White House Down (2013 — I love that rather than even pretending, there’s a DVD set that just contains both movies)
- Dunkirk/Darkest Hour/Churchill(2017)
- Goodbye Christopher Robin/Christopher Robin(2017/8)
But it also happens in comic books (most notably, X-Men/Doom Patrol both from 1963 and Swamp Thing/Man-Thing both from 1971) and to an extent with TV shows, though that’s a little different to my mind, for reasons that maybe we’ll go into on the show. I feel like there must be some good examples with novels and plays too, but I’ve been thinking about this for the last week and I haven’t been able to come up with any (other than things that are obviously responding to the same HUGE cultural moment, like there were a lot of novels about dealing with the trauma of 9/11 in years immediately following).
So what do you think? I’m interested both in examples you can come up with of good parallel development twin narratives, but also WHY do you think that particular cultural moment begged for two or more stories about that incident. Which one is better and why? And how do you think we should judge two pieces of media that are doing this? How do we compare them?