Hollywood does "original" about as well as it does "geography of the Midwest." Thus, year after year we're treated to films with plots and themes so similar that if the movie business were college, at least a few screenwriters would be taking a trip to the Dean's office. Here are twelve of the most ridiculously similar movies ever to be released within a year of each other, as well as our scientific analysis of which ones sucked, and which ones sucked even worse.
Pitch: Getting America's most famous cowboy gunfight at the O.K. Corral up on screen is worth hours of stultifying plot to get there.
Crucial Differences: One's a faithful recounting of historical events, stars Kevin Costner, and is approximately two hundred and forty-seven hours long. The other stops just short of including a robot sidekick in terms of historical accuracy, stars Kurt Russell weighed down by a ten-pound mustache, and is pretty much wall-to-wall catchphrases and gun fights. Guess which one you'd rent if you were writing an essay about Wyatt Earp, proper gun maintenance or frontier-era tax laws? Now guess which one won't put you into a coma?
Winner: Tombstone'll be our Huckleberry, whatever the hell that means. Actually, this Doc Holliday catchphrase about sums up Tombstone in a nutshell: it doesn't actually make an ounce of goddamn sense if you think about it at all, but sounds totally badass if you don't.
Pitch: Volcanoes are pretty damn scary, especially if they threaten beautiful rich people.
Crucial Differences: Both plots are equally inane, although Volcano scores extra ludicrous points for having the lava blaster erupt right in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. It really comes down to taste in leading men. Do you like 'em for grizzled and bitter, a la Tommy Lee Jones in Volcano, or does Pierce Brosnan's boyish good looks just leave you all weak in the knees?
Winner: Dante's Peak. While Volcano definitely maxes out the unintentional hilarity quotient, God help us, we just love us some Remington Steele.
Pitch: According to our latest market research, the average American wants more movies about athletes of marginal historical importance who died over two decades ago.
Crucial Differences: We don't know which smack-addicted distant cousin of the famous runner suddenly freed up the rights to Prefontaine's story and permitted this duo of biopics, but the public was bound to ignore one of the pair. Would the independently produced Prefontaine, with its earlier release date, manage to break through? Or would Without Limits, with its bigger budget and cameo by former Pink Ranger Amy Jo Johnson, win the box office race?
Winner: Trick question! Both movies bombed. The only people who actually saw Prefontaine were the director's parents and a creepy old man who just really wanted to see Jared Leto in running shorts. Still, it was better than the turnout for Without Limits, which consisted solely of a guy who had just woken up from a twenty-one-year coma and wanted to know what he'd missed. (And he got in by giving the guy at the ticket booth a ham sandwich.)
Pitch: An ant with dreams of individualism must overcome his own neuroses and insecurities to save his colony from impending doom. Lessons are learned all around.
Crucial Differences: Bug's Life, with its Pixar pedigree, does feature the spiffier animation. The producers of Antz, however, were apparently present with camera in hand at the bi-annual A-List Celebrity Donkey Punch and Tax Evasion Extravaganza, as they somehow blackmailed half of Hollywood into doing voices for their flick, at least three years before it was fashionable to do so.
Winner: Antz. You can't go wrong with Woody Allen angst and spoon-fed political satire. We'd call Dave Foley (the star of A Bug's Life) a poor man's Woody Allen, but it'd probably be less insulting to poor people if we just went back to setting them on fire.
Pitch: World War II movies win Oscars.
Crucial Differences: We think it was Sean Connery in Highlander who famously quipped, "This town ain't big enough for the two of us." However, in the race between Academy Award-nominated war movies with unnecessarily large ensemble casts, Spielberg managed to edge one out on Terrence Malick, grabbing the gold statue and subsequently using it to beat Line into oblivion.
Winner: Saving Private Ryan. Sorry, Terrence, but try making a movie more than once every decade, and see what happens.
Pitch: Man, sure sucks that asteroids are coming to destroy the world.
Crucial Differences: Deep Impact is a story of love, hope, and survival in the face of natural disaster. Armageddon is about EXPLOSIONS! (There's also a subplot about how the laws of physics are stupid.) Strangely enough, though, it's the former that makes good on its promise of having an asteroid (comet, whatever) actually hit Earth.
Winner: Deep Impact. Although Armageddon has the right cast and more blockbuster appeal, we can't honestly recommend any movie that willingly unleashed Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" on middle school dances everywhere.
Pitch: Reality TV is evil!
Crucial Differences: The star of The Truman Show (Jim Carrey) doesn't know he' on TV, whereas the star of EdTV (Matthew McConaughey) does know he' on TV. You can tell Truman is unaware of the fact that he' being watched because he' played by Jim Carrey, and yet doesn't talk through his ass once throughout the entire film. In fact, he doesn't do much of anything. Sound boring? It is! Just like the show the movie' about! How' that for realistic filmmaking?
Winner: While Truman Show is a little self-serious, we're not sure that anyone even saw EdTV-which is sort of problematic when the whole point of your movie is "Americans are so stupid, they'll watch anything." Apparently that depends on whether or not it stars Matthew McConaughey.
Pitch: B-list celebrities with a need to fund expensive sex addictions become stranded on Mars.
Crucial Differences: One's got Jerry O'Connell as a rocket scientist; the other has Tom Sizemore as an experimental geneticist. Take your pick.
Winner: Honestly, in 2000, we couldn't pick one crappy Mars movie to be marginally better than the other crappy Mars movie, so we just went and saw Gladiator for the sixth time.
Pitch: Caves! They're like big, underground haunted houses!
Crucial Differences: Pretend you are the director of The Cave. You convinced your cast to spend four months freezing their ass off in a hole in the middle of Romania to get that "authentic cave vibe." How to explain, then, why your sets and effects still look cheesy compared to that other movie's, whose actors spent five weeks on a heated back-lot soundstage?
Winner: The Descent is a layered, engaging horror film. The Cave has an actual cave. It's your call.
Pitch: Turning thirty is depressing. Time to go back home, listen to pop rock, and get a quirky love interest played by a well-known Hollywood starlet.
Crucial Difference: See, in one, Zach Braff's mother dies, while in the other, it's Orlando Bloom's father"¦ Never mind. Finer plot details aside, check out the balls on Braff for writing a movie in which Natalie Portman wants him to bone her. On the contrary, in a world where Zach Braff has a Grammy for scoring a movie with his favorite mix-tape, do we really need to worry about global warming?
Winner: As much as it hurts us to endorse JD from Scrubs over the guy who made Almost Famous, Garden State is still the better film.
Pitch: Let's invent a premise so unique, there's no way our competition will come out with something similar! I'm thinking a movie about obsession and love between lifetime rivals, set against the backdrop of Victorian era magic! Let's see them copy th- they're making what now?
Crucial Differences: Despite each being billed as "that other magician movie," only the Hugh Jackman/Christian Bale vehicle The Prestige is really about magic. The Illusionist just uses magic as a draw to trick you into watching a period romance, which in turn ends up just being an exercise in exactly how creepy Ed Norton looks next to Jessica Biel.
Winner: Clearly The Prestige, or as we like to call it, Batman vs. Wolverine (With Magic!)