14 Times Two Competing Movies Told The Same Story At The Same Time

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Vote up the characters who were so interesting, they got two movies at once.

Over the years, Hollywood has encountered many dual versions of a similar story within a short period, from Deep Impact and Armageddon in 1998 to No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits in 2011. But sometimes, two movies come out that tell the exact same story. This can happen for various reasons. Fairytales, legends, and historical figures are within the public domain, paving the way for infinite versions of Snow White, Hercules, and Catherine the Great. Copyright for books lapses with time, while biopics can normally be made with or without authorization from the subject’s estate. But despite these permissive laws, there are cases in which legal wrangling is involved. The two Bond movies released in 1983, for example, were the result of decades of lawsuits, while the filmmakers behind one of 1992’s dueling Christopher Columbus movies tried to block the other production from going forward. 

Competing stories face a tricky run at the box office. Viewers who have just seen a Truman Capote biopic or a live-action remake of a classic Disney movie may not have an appetite to see the same thing with different actors. But occasionally, filmmakers have a distinctive enough approach to their subject to justify another visit. Whether you like multiple perspectives on a musical icon or as many Robin Hoods as producers are willing to greenlight, vote up the stories so interesting, they got two movies at once.

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  • Hollywood, like the Wild West, is no stranger to tales of unlikely success. Of the two movies about the renegade lawman Wyatt Earp that came out in the six months between December 1993 and June 1994, Tombstone was the underdog that won at every turn. It was released first, received better reviews, made more money, and became a mainstay on roundups of best Westerns of all time. Wyatt Earp, in contrast, was left floundering in obscurity and financial ruin despite having a famous star and a budget twice the size.

    Both movies tell the story of the lawman’s shootout at the OK Corral with his brothers and fellow gunslinger Doc Holliday, but Wyatt Earp delves into the hero’s extensive backstory, leading to an eye-watering runtime of three hours and 11 minutes. Tombstone was originally written as a vehicle for Kevin Costner, who had helped to revitalize the Western with his 1990 hit Dances With Wolves. But the star wasn’t interested in the ensemble piece that screenwriter Kevin Jarre was envisioning, and turned it down to make his own version with Star Wars and Indiana Jones screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan. Kurt Russell signed on to take his place in Tombstone, and the competition began. 

    Costner reportedly tried to block studios from financing Tombstone, but suffered his own setback when the opposing production claimed all the available period costumes and caused delays for Wyatt Earp. The movies shot at the same time in adjacent states (Arizona and New Mexico), but Tombstone wrapped first despite a chaotic set and multiple directors. It debuted at No. 3 at the box office, but became a sleeper hit, upping its returns by 35 percent in its second week and earning $56 million domestically on a modest $25 million budget. With a punchy script, dynamic action, and a stellar ensemble cast including Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, and Michael Biehn, its status continued to grow long after its unexpected success at the box office. Wyatt Earp flopped. Hard. With a $63 million budget, only $25 million trickled in at the box office. After the roadblocks laid down by Costner and the constraints of a small budget, Jarre and the crew behind Tombstone were uncontested victors.

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  • James Bond is one of the most lucrative franchises of all time. Since Sean Connery prowled onto the screen in 1963’s Dr. No, it’s raked in billions of dollars and developed a mystique that sees each new incarnation of 007 a topic of mainstream debate. While there is no consensus about who the definitive Bond is, most of the actors have been granted their distinct era on-screen to make a case for themselves. But in 1983, Roger Moore’s stint in the title role was challenged by the return of Connery from a 12-year hiatus. The older actor turned his back on the role in 1971 after six movies with the famous line, “Never again.” In strode Moore, a dapper Englishman with a cheeky wit that took the character in a new direction.

    Connery’s brief return was the result of a decades-long legal struggle between Bond creator Ian Fleming and two men who had helped him write the first novel in 1961. Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham fought for the rights to adapt the book themselves, and McClory was eventually made a producer on Thunderball in 1965 with the caveat that he could not make his own adaptation for 10 years. He went to court again, suing Eon Productions, the company behind the movie franchise, and finally prevailed. As a result, he went to Connery with a $3 million offer and paved the way for a “Battle of the Bonds” in '83. 

    Slyly titled Never Say Never Again, Connery’s version was an attempt to recapture the spirit of his Bond with all its heavy-handed sexual innuendos and sardonic humor. Connery was 52 at the time, and his age showed, both in his toupee and in the way his feline gait had slowed to something more ordinary. The heavy-handedness of the script also seems dated for the '80s. In one scene, Q says, “Things have been awfully dull ‘round here [...] I hope we’re gonna have some gratuitous sex and violence.” The movie delivers on those fronts, but feels like a shadow of Connery’s heyday. Moore fared better, though he was coming to the end of his tenure in the role after appearing in five movies. Octopussy has more action, outrageous disguises, and the benefit of picking up where the previous movie left off. Eon’s promotion of the film dabbled in passive-aggression, beginning the trailers with, “From the producers of all the great James Bond films…” and, “Roger Moore is Ian Fleming’s Bond.”

    Both movies could claim victory upon release. Never Say Never Again received better reviews, but Octopussy pulled in the most money ($187 million worldwide to the former’s $160 million). In the end, Moore would go on to reprise the role two more times, while Connery said never, again.

    312 votes
  • There may have been two Snow White movies released in 2012, but they are so different that they may as well have been completely separate stories. Snow White and the Huntsman is a brooding reimagining of the classic fairytale. Directed by Rupert Sanders, it stars Kristen Stewart in the role of the imperiled princess, an unusually grizzled Chris Hemsworth as the titular huntsman, and Charlize Theron as the evil stepmother, Queen Ravenna. When it was released, many critics pointed to its similarities with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which, it turns out, was the basis of the script. In this retelling, Snow White is a sword-wielding warrior uniting the downtrodden subjects of the kingdom to rise against the evil queen. As the villain, Theron chews and spits out the scenery. Clad in dark robes and chains, she morphs into a cloud of ravens, bathes in gooey milk, and drinks the blood of teenagers to maintain her youth. The setting is equally dark. Twisted forests cloaked in fog conceal dangerous creatures, and the boggy plains are so treacherous that they drive away Snow White’s getaway horse within minutes of escape. Critics noted the movie’s relentlessly bleak tone, with one saying that it “exists in a universe where any visual wonder can occur but not a single character ever cracks a smile.”

    2012’s other retelling of the story could not be more different. Directed by Tarsem Singh, Mirror Mirror is a sugary confection with an eye-popping color palette and a peppy soundtrack, a cross between a Jane Austen romance and The Princess Bride. “From the beginning, the intention was to do a live-action version of an animated film,” producer Kevin Misher explained. "With the marketing we wanted to convey to the audience that this is a movie that's fun for the whole family.” Starring Lily Collins as the effervescent princess, Armie Hammer as the square-jawed prince, and Julia Roberts as the stepmother who is more self-involved than evil, Mirror Mirror falls squarely within the constraints of its PG rating and bears none of the darkness you might expect from a Grimm fairytale. One review described its aesthetic as “visual peacockery,” and dismissed the whole affair as “dull and unbewitching.”

    Neither Snow White movie fared well with critics, but Huntsman earned more than twice the box office revenue as its rival and was even granted a sequel.

    240 votes
  • Truman Capote was a larger-than-life figure known as much for his friendships with high-profile members of New York’s fashionable elite as his writing. In 2005 and 2006, two movies were released that not only follow Capote, but focus on his torturous, years-long process of writing about the murder of a Kansas family. The eventual book, In Cold Blood, became his most critically acclaimed work but remains a notoriously loose journalistic effort that marked the end of his literary career.

    Many biopic rivalries end up with a clear winner, but Capote and Infamous were worthy opponents, making their respective release dates a pivotal factor in how they were received. Writer/director Douglas McGrath had already secured a $13 million budget for Infamous by the time he learned that another production was in the works, but his producers were heartened by reports of the other film's financial struggles and forged ahead. Meanwhile, Bennett Miller’s Capote, which stars Philip Seymour Hoffman in the title role, was counterintuitively strengthened by its $7 million budget, as its 36-day shoot resulted in an earlier release. 

    Capote presents the author as a dangerously charming antagonist whose disarming sweetness and high-pitched voice mask a detached observer who uses his charisma to pull the strings of unsuspecting puppets. Hoffmann said he took the role not because of the opportunity to play Capote, but because of the struggle the character faces between his humanity and his driving ambition. Praise for the actor and the film was almost universal, and it received five Oscar nominations, including a win for Hoffman as best actor.

    When Infamous hit theaters a year later, there was little appetite for another rendition. A would-be producer of the film called Hoffman’s performance “definitive,” and questioned whether Toby Jones’s portrayal could justify its existence. McGrath’s film focuses more on Capote’s social life in New York, drawing on performances from Sigourney Weaver, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Hope Davis to illustrate the author’s glittering social circle. Jones’s interpretation is more camp and flamboyant than Hoffman’s, but Infamous could not outshine the surprise smash of Capote, and only managed to pull in $1 million at the domestic box office (compared to its predecessor’s $28 million). Critics were divided. Some argued that it was “more than a Capote clone,” while others stated that it would have been poorly received even without Capote as a comparison.

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  • Of all the characters that filmmakers find endlessly adaptable, Robin Hood may edge out the competition. Since the silent era, there have been at least 70 screen versions of the original merry man, from a talking fox to Russell Crowe. With a timeless brand ("steal from the rich, give to the poor" will never go out of style) and no copyright, he’s a character who keeps on giving to studios looking for a decent bet at the box office. It was only a matter of time before adaptations of his story collided, and 1991 was the year. One was a star-studded Hollywood production with a $50 million budget led by one of the biggest names in the industry. The other was a British production without household names and a budget of $15 million. Despite plenty of buildup in the press about battling productions, there was a surprisingly collaborative spirit between them, with the visual effects department and stunt performers traveling back and forth between UK sets. When the movies were released, however, Kevin Costner wasn’t sharing any of the box office receipts.

    Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves stars Costner in the title role, with Morgan Freeman, Alan Rickman, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio playing supporting parts. Costner was riding high on his best picture win at the Oscars for Dances with Wolves, which made his film the frontrunner in the clash of the Robins. Prince of Thieves is darker than many of the previous iterations of the story, with a vicious (and iconic) performance from Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham, severed limbs, and a dejected, humorless take on the supposedly merry outlaw from Costner. Critics were not kind to the film, pointing to its atrocious English accents (and lack thereof) and unnecessarily downtrodden tone. But audiences flocked to theaters, turning it into the second-highest grossing movie of the year.

    With this competition, John Irvin's Robin Hood had no chance. Starring Irish actor Patrick Bergin as a sardonic version of the English hero and a pre-fame Uma Thurman as Maid Marion, it made ample use of the damp, Welsh countryside and limited budget to create a more realistic portrait of Medieval England. Although it was originally set to go head-to-head with Prince of Thieves at the box office, its distributor bowed out shortly before it was set to go to theaters, dooming it to a straight-to-TV release.

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  • Kung fu grandmaster Ip Man was known to Westerners as the man who trained Bruce Lee, but starting with Wilson Yip’s 2008 biopic Ip Man, he became the subject of multiple movies that put his life front and center. In 2013, “Ipsploitation” came to a head when two unrelated movies were released, Herman Yau’s Ip Man: The Final Fight (the second of a two-part series), and acclaimed Chinese director Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster. The flurry of biopics during this period was has been attributed to multiple factors. First, many filmmakers were prevented from producing movies about Bruce Lee due to his family’s tight control of his image, making Ip Man a logical alternative for anyone wishing to portray a master of the Wing Chun discipline. Another reason is the personal and historical arc of the grandmaster’s life. Born in China in 1893, he witnessed a period of upheaval and change in the country’s history and had a rags-to-riches-to-rags story of his own that made his life practically tailor-made for cinematic interpretations. 

    Ip Man: The Final Fight features Anthony Wong as an aging version of the grandmaster during the 1950s and 1960s. Man is no longer the powerful kung fu master that he was in his earlier years. Yau explained that he wanted to emphasize Man’s humanity rather than his physical power, showing the former grandmaster suffering from gastric pain and grappling with his wife's passing. This led to less action than one might expect from a martial arts movie, but critics praised Wong’s “magnificent” performance. 

    Wong Kar-wai had been developing The Grandmaster since 2002, but took 11 years to get it to the big screen. For fans of Wong’s previous international hit In the Mood for Love, there is a surprising amount of romance. The story follows Man (Tony Leung) during the 1940s and '50s when the previous grandmaster retires. Man finds himself in competition with the older man’s daughter, and a passionate rivalry develops that intensifies to forbidden romance. A fight in the rainy streets of Hong Kong is the movie’s most memorable scene, but Wong’s elegant style of “lush impressionism” is on full display throughout, compensating for an occasionally convoluted storyline.

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