Antoine Fuqua’s new film Olympus Has Fallen stars Gerard Butler as a Secret Service agent trying to single-handedly defeat a gang of terrorists who have taken over the White House. A few months later, Roland Emmerich’s White House Down hits theaters. In it, Channing Tatum stars as a Secret Service agent trying to single-handedly defeat a gang of terrorist who have taken over the White House.
If you have a feeling of Deja Vu, don’t worry. It’s only because you read virtually the same paragraph twice. You may be asking yourself, “Why would studios develop two movies with virtually identical plots and then have them come out within mere months of each other?”
It’s really not all that uncommon – in fact, you can probably think of a few right off the top of your head. To celebrate this interesting Hollywood phenomena, we’ve chosen 10 of our favorite copycat movies for a good old-fashioned face-off.
Deep Impact – May 8, 1998
Armageddon – July 1, 1998
The spring and summer of 1998 was a bad time to live on planet Earth. Not one, but two giant meteors were threatening to wipe out all of life as we know it! Fortunately, both Deep Impact and Armageddon focused on one team’s efforts to protect the planet from meteors.
Neither film fared all that well with critics – Deep Impact has a middling 47% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while Armageddon earned an unimpressive 39%. However, both movies were pretty successful financially, with Deep Impact earning about $350 million and Armageddon raking in a whopping $550 million.
So who wins? While Deep Impact is probably the more scientifically accurate movie, Armageddon was a bigger hit and has had more of a cultural impact (plus Bruce Willis), so we’re calling this one for Armageddon.
Winner = Armageddon.
Antz – October 2, 1998
A Bug’s Life – November 25, 1998
Many copycat movies are a product of pure coincidence – two studios just happen to be working on similar stories. However, that’s not the case with the animated films Antz and A Bug’s Life. The similarity of the two films – which each tell the story of an ant bucking the expectations of his colony to choose his own path – led to a well-documented falling out between Dreamworks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg and Pixar’s John Lasseter – with the latter accusing the former of idea theft (Katzenberg had left Disney a few years prior).
Despite the acrimony between Dreamworks and Disney, both films actually fared well with both critics and audiences. A Bug’s Life was the bigger box office success, earning over $360 million to Antz‘ $170 million. However, Antz earned a slightly higher Rotten Tomatoes score (95% vs. A Bug’s Life‘s 92%).
While they tell similar stories, Antz and A Bug’s Life are light years apart when it comes to tone. Personally, I like the sharper, satirical humor of Antz to the more kid-friendly A Bug’s Life. However, if we’re going based on critical and financial success, the winner has to be Pixar.
Winner = A Bug’s Life.
Dante’s Peak – February 7, 1997
Volcano – April 25, 1997
Movies about natural disasters are always popular territory for filmmakers, so it was no surprise when two different studios developed big-budget movies about volcanoes. Dante’s Peak, starring Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton, tells the story of a volcano going off in a small Washington mountain town. Volcano, starring Anne Heche and Tommy Lee Jones, focuses on an underground volcano erupting in Los Angeles following an earthquake.
While both movies were passable entertainment, Dante’s Peak did better business at the box office, earning $178 million against a $116 million budget. Volcano cost less ($90 million) but also had a lower gross ($122 million). Critically speaking, Dante’s Peak was a flop, earning a 29% fresh rating while Volcano was marginally better, earning a 44% rating.
As much fun as it is to watch Tommy Lee Jones doing his grumpy man-in-charge routine, Dante’s Peak takes the edge for being a bigger box office hit and for being a fun (albeit mindless) popcorn flick.
Winner = Dante’s Peak.
The Illusionist – August 18, 2006
The Prestige – October 20, 2006;
The Prestige and The Illusionist are both period dramas about magicians with two-word titles that start with “the.” Besides that though, they actually don’t share much in common. The former film focuses on the bitter rivalry between two magicians, while the latter film focuses on a forbidden romance and the resulting political intrigue it causes.
Both movies were very well-received at the box office. The Prestige, which was directed by Christopher Nolan, managed to make nearly $110 million on a budget of only $40 million. The Illusionist was even more successful relative to its size, earning $87 million against a $17 million budget. Critically, The Prestige earned a 76% fresh rating, while The Illusionist earned a nearly comparable 74% fresh rating.
In this case, picking a winner is pretty subjective. Both movies did well financially and critically, so it comes down to simple preference, which is why The Prestige is our winner. The way the movie unfolds like a magic trick, keeping you guessing the whole time, is a perfect example of the kind of complex and crafty narratives that Christopher Nolan does best.
Winner = The Prestige.
Tornado! – May 7, 1996
Twister – May 17, 1996
As we discussed with Dante’s Peak and Volcano, natural disasters are always a ripe subject for filmmakers, which is why these types of movies are often developed simultaneously. Sometimes though, it’s obvious when one movie is cashing in on another. Such is the case with Tornado! and Twister. The former film, which is actually a Made-For-TV movie starring Bruce Campbell, came out a scant 10 days before Jan De Bont’s blockbuster, perhaps as an attempt to cash in on the storm chaser craze.
Given that it was a TV movie, however, there’s really no way it could compete on any level with Twister. The Helen Hunt-Bill Paxton film was a huge hit with audiences, earning nearly $500 million worldwide, and was a moderate hit with critics, almost earning a fresh rating with a 58% score. Tornado! on the other hand is well…a Hallmark movie. Needless to say, Twister is the winner.
Winner = Twister.
There’s really no mystery to why similar movies get made. The bottom line is that movie studios are in the business of making money and the best way they can do that is to buy great scripts. Typically, great scripts start with a great concept. Both Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down just happen to have the same killer concept – “Die Hard in the White House.” When they go to determine the release dates for the film, the studios will jockey for the best position to win over audiences, hoping that their movie will win out.
There are plenty of other copycat movies out there, so feel free to keep the debate going in the comments. In the meantime, let us know what you think of our winners and losers, and tell us what White House movie you’re more excited to see.