With an all-star cast featuring Idris Elba (Shere Khan), Scarlett Johansson (Kaa), Bill Murray (Baloo) and Christopher Walken (King Louie) it is no surprise that Disney’s upcoming live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book is one of the most anticipated films of 2016. Based on Rudyard Kipling’s story collection, and drawing inspiration from Disney’s 1967 animated take, this film will be director Jon Favreau’s (Iron Man) spin on the man-cub Mowgli’s (Neel Sethi) adventures in the jungle.
An action-packed full length trailer debuted during Superbowl 50, generating a lot of positive buzz among viewers. With a high nostalgia factor, impressive casting as well as state of the art CGI work, this is a film that seems solidly on track for box office success. However it does have one surprising competitor, The Jungle Book: Origins, which is not slated to be released until a year and a half after The Jungle Book hits theaters.
This conspicuously similar film – based on the same source material – will mark English actor Andy Serkis‘ (Lord of the Rings, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) first foray into directing. Best known for his work in performance capture roles, Serkis will take on the duel job of helming the film, while also portraying Mowgli’s furry friend Baloo. Like Disney’s film, The Jungle Book: Origins will technically be live-action, but will also fully utilize Serkis’ expertise in motion-capture for many of the performances.
This pair of adaptations are the most recent in a time-honored tradition of competing studio projects racing to hit theaters first. Typically when situations like these arise it’s a fight to the finish line, with each company vying to get their production to audiences first – capitalizing on the novelty and newness of a concept. Since The Jungle Book has dramatically outpaced Origins, it is arguably poised to come out on top, overshadowing the second take. However, examining the storied history of dueling films, it’s clear that for financial success, timing is only one small factor.
One of the first well publicized instances of this phenomenon was 1998’s Deep Impact, a disaster film about a team working to prevent a comet from hitting Earth and destroying like as we know it. It was released in May and just two months later Michael Bay’s Armageddon hit theaters, capturing audiences with the story of a team also trying to prevent an asteroid from hitting the earth. Impact generated a worldwide gross of $349m but didn’t get close to Armageddon’s $553m and the latter is far more ubiquitous in pop culture.
Studio executives were clearly swapping notes in 1998, as that October also brought Antz, a look into the life of a neurotic colony ant. Just a month later, A Bug’s Life was released and performed far better than the first film, taking in $162m domestically as opposed to the $90m Antz made.
The two thrillers about dueling 19th century magicians also proved that first doesn’t necessarily mean most successful when The Illusionist – which was released in August 2006 – was outperformed by Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, a film that came out not two months later. It was a lesson someone should have told to Relativity Media, who pushed their family friendly take on Snow White’s story Mirror Mirror up in their release schedule to beat out Snow White and the Huntsman, Universal’s darker take on the same theme. The two studios engaged in a back and forth battle to the box office, but the end their release date didn’t matter, as the later Huntsman did far better in total earnings.
Occasionally an R rated film can out perform its more family-friendly doppelganger, as we saw with the action thriller Olympus Has Fallen. This was released in March 2013 and grossed over $160 million worldwide on less than half the production budget of its PG-13 counterpart White House Down, which was released a few months later and failed to break even at the box office.
Of course, all of these movies were released within months of one another and the Jungle Book films have almost a year and a half separating them. This is something saw this play out with Pixar’s Finding Nemo, which was released in May 2003 and the similar Shark Tale, which came much later in October of 2004. Nemo far out-performed Tale, due largely in part to its critical acclaim – generating a 99% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes – and the positive word of mouth that the latter failed to generate.
It’s important to look at the talent attached to the films, as those with the bigger names and more celebrated heartthrobs have a bit of an advantage when audiences are faced with a similar choice in films. Armageddon had Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis, which meant the world in the late 90s. The Prestige had Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, both of whom are arguably a bigger draw than Edward Norton. Huntsman had a post-Thor Chris Hemsworth, who easily eclipsed the equally blond, but less well-known, Armie Hammer.
When looking at a duplicate film’s possible success, there are multiple factors that all contribute to its financial performance: the big names attached to each project, the rating of the film, and the critical acclaim it generates upon release. Timing is a small factor in the overall scheme of things, despite studios often jockeying for the first release date.
With big names like Bale, Cate Blanchett and Benedict Cumberbatch all appearing in the film and the long gap between release dates, The Jungle Book: Origins has all of the components needed to perform just as well – if not better – than the first Jungle Book movie. Of course, none of these attributes can compensate for the biggest predictor of success of them all: positive reviews and word of mouth. As long as both The Jungle Book and The Jungle Book: Origins can impress audiences, there is plenty of space for both movies to succeed.
The Jungle Book will see theatrical release in the U.S. on April 15th, 2016. The Jungle Book: Origins is set for release on October 6, 2017