This weekend sees the release of The Legend of Hercules — and then later this year, we'll see a second Hercules movie. This seems to happen a lot: everybody gets the same bright idea at the same time, and competing films are rushed into production. Here are a ton of cases where weirdly similar films did battle.
This list focuses on science fiction and fantasy films, natch, so feel free to name your favorite non-genre "dueling movies" below. (Including Olympus Has Fallen/White House Down or Top Gun/Iron Eagle.)
The titles pretty much say it all — especially since a ninja is basically a kind of assassin, making the second film a redundantly named copy of the second. Ninja came about a month before Ninja Assassin, but it went straight to video and couldn't compete with Ninja Assassin, which actually came out in theaters.
Even though Ultraviolet ended up downplaying its vampiric roots, that doesn't change the fact that it's about a badass vampire-chick waging war against an entity that is inherently at odds with her people. Replace the Archministry with werewolves, strip off some of the futuristic elements, and you have Underworld: Evolution. That's probably why Screen Gems (which distributed both movies) downplayed the vampire stuff during the month and a half between movie releases.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen/Van Helsing
Though the movies were released almost a year apart, they were both all about crossing classic literary works with each other. The League brings together the likes of Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, Rodney Skiner, Dr. Jekyll, Dorian Gray, James Moriarty and others in a bit of a messy combination. Van Helsing is a little thinner when it comes to heroes, but it does bring together Dracula, werewolves, and Frankenstein's monster as enemies.
Robin Hood/Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
These two movies came down to budget. While the first Robin Hood came out a month earlier and sported Uma Thurman, it went straight to TV when it came stateside — but that decision was made to avoid further competition. Prince of Thieves, which started Kevin Costner (who at the time was actually someone people wanted to see) and had a much larger budget, did much better.
A Bug's Life/Antz
This was the first time Pixar and Dreamworks squared off, but it wasn't the last. Both movies did well, but A Bug's Life was marketed better and brought in way more money. Antz suffered from not finding the right line, as it was too mature to draw kids away from A Bug's Life. Kids may have been shocked that Antz had a pretty intense war scene, and included someone saying the word "Damn."
Finding Nemo/Shark Tale
The second time Pixar and Dreamworks went at it, you'd think that the later would win since their movie brought together a crazy cast for an animated flick. Not that Nemo was filled with nobodies, but it was hard to compete with Will Smith, Jack Black, Robert De Niro, and Angelina Jolie in 2004. Dreamworks' problem came down to the story, because a father searching for his missing son resonated far better than the story of a shark who doesn't want to kill. After all, Nemo had that element too — and those sharks had Australian accents.
Titan A.E./Treasure Planet
These movies have the biggest time-gap between them, but the second Disney/Bluth face-off (after Oliver and Company and All Dogs Go to Heaven) has too many similarities to ignore. They're basically the same movie, even. Both star a kid with daddy issues living in a post-Earth, interstellar community where a space voyage with weird alien people looks to change their lives. Each crew has a potent betrayal which threatens to screw everything up, but the villains all redeem themselves at the last minute with a "take my hand" moment. Oh, and both main characters were also the only people who could read a special map to some giant, faux-planet macguffin. Both films tanked in theaters, but have since been redeemed after the fact. Image via Blip.TV.
Steve Carell had a decent lead on Will Ferrell when it came to releases, but that wasn't the only reason the former comedy about an evil-genius-turned-good outperformed the latter. It came down to the three little girls Gru adopts, infusing the movie with a dose of adorableness and heart that Megamind lacked.
These three children's animated horror films dealt with young kids in supernatural situations. All three came out within a month of each other and fatigued each other. Somehow only Adam Sandler's Hotel Transylvania succeeded commercially, even though the other two were better received by critics.
This is the End/The World's End
In classic United States-vs.-United Kingdom fashion, these two end-of-the-world comedies duked it out over the summer. But when Seth Rogen's crew squared off against Simon Pegg's, the real winner was the audience. Both movies were hilarious, but Rogen's film did make a way larger amount of money stateside.
The apocalypse came twice in 1998 — both times courtesy of a comet. Deep Impact was considered the better movie, sporting the likes of Morgan Freeman, Robert Duvall, and Elijah Wood, but Armageddon made more money. It also had a larger comet. 7 miles is large enough to do considerable damage to the Earth, but Armageddon threw out one the size of Texas. They might as well have had the Earth facing an impact with Jupiter.
The late '90s were a bad time for planet Earth, because the year before two comets threatened things, two volcanos decimated continental America in these movies. Dante's Peak did make an effort to be scientifically accurate though, and that earned it more money. Despite this, Volcano gets more attention on cable these days.
The Matrix/eXistenZ/The Thirteenth Floor
In 1999, there were famously three movies that featured computer-generated worlds and a protagonist who questions the meaning of reality. David Cronenberg's eXistenZ has gone on to be a cult classic, with its strange biomechanical imagery and bone-gun. The Thirteenth Floor just sort of sank without trace. But The Matrix became one of the year's biggest movies and spawned a trilogy, handily winning this showdown.
Amazingly, there were two movies about a talking pig in 1995 — Babe, of course, features a pig learning to herd sheep in a touching story that included James Cromwell's singing. Gordy was a critically panned movie whose advertising featured a pig wearing sunglasses. In the end, Babe crushed his rival with one trotter tied behind his back.
Abyss/Leviathan/Deep Star Six
Three different undersea adventure movies came out around the same time in 1989. Leviathan was basically Alien under the water, with the crew being hunted by a dangerous mutation. In Deep Star Six, a crew of an undersea military base battles against a giant monster. But neither of these films could hold a tentacle to a new James Cameron film — despite being possibly Cameron's least successful movie, Abyss still gave the competition the bends.
The Prestige/The Illusionist
One was Christopher Nolan's lavish adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Christopher Priest. The other was a strange saga of an illusionist trying to win a woman far above his station, using his magic skills, based on a story by Steven Millhauser, starring Ed Norton. Both movies did insanely well, but The Prestige was the bigger hit of the two.
The Truman Show/EdTV
These movies were a year apart, in 1998 and 1999, but they both focused on a guy who's under constant surveillance and whose fake life is a long-running reality TV show. Despite being based on a 1994 Canadian film, Ron Howard's EdTV probably seemed too derivative of the hit Truman Show, leading to it becoming a giant bomb.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button/The Time Traveler's Wife
Here we have two love stories involving men who got the short end of the stick when it comes to the fourth dimension. It's hard to say whose ailment is crueler, though. Benjamin is born as a frail old man and grew up (down?) into a baby, which turns out to be far sadder than aging the normal way. Henry DeTamble, however, uncontrollably bounces around time, but finds a way back to his love. While it's not for us to say who had a tougher life, Button did far better as a movie.
Both of these movies tried to define '80s era fantasy with a huge budget dedicated to cutting-edge special effects (at the time), hammy acting, and otherworldly settings. In fact, the similarities could be attributed to sharing a cinematographer — Alex Thompson. If both studios hadn't caught on in time, these movies might have even been more similar. Neither did very well in the box office, but Labyrinth has become legend for giving the world more shots of David Bowe's crotch than anyone ever asked for.
The Descent/The Cave
Spooky caves with dangerous monsters were apparently in during the summer of 2005, because both of these decided to be about the same thing. When a group stages an expedition into a mysterious series of caves, creatures emerge and start slaughtering everyone. Panic ensues and nobody really wins. But if you were looking for a fun horror film to keep your friends from going spelunking, you probably want to go with the Descent.
Paranormal Activity/The Fourth Kind
Back when Paranormal Activity was in its infancy (and was still something to get excited about), it almost had some competition from The Fourth Kind. Sure, one was about ghosts and the other was about aliens, but they were both spooky/scary mockumentaries. Still, you never saw a Fifth or Sixth Kind, so the winner is clear.
An American Werewolf in London/The Howling
Both of these movies broke ground in 1981 by being the first to show the actual transformation from man to werewolf — but neither ever became more than a cult classic.
Dracula/Nosferatu the Vampyre
There were at half a dozen vampire movies before the genre exploded this past millennium, but only these two managed to compete in a noteworthy way. But after Dracula getting all the love for so many years, his movies had grown kind of stale. This time it was Nosferatu who came out on top, and the late Roger Ebert had it on his greatest movie list.
Mission to Mars/Red Planet
The new millennium saw a bit of extra interest in Mars, with two movies showing different takes on what the planet might offer. The first and more successful movie had a much more positive vibe, with humanity turning out to be descendants of Martians with the hope of joining their creator. The latter is a bit of a horror film where everything goes wrong on the mission and Martian insects and a crazy robot kills a lot of people. Because people like a happy ending, the first one did better, breaking even at the box office.
Remember when Delgo, an animated movie about one species learning to live like another, lit up the big screen and wowed critics everywhere? Oh, of course you didn't — because hardly anyone knows that Delgo is even a thing. A good reason for that is thanks to poor marketing techniques, but the rest is because Avatar took up all the attention. That'll happen when you go up against what ends up being the highest grossing movie of all time.
Battle Los Angeles/Skyline
These films were similar for a reason — the directors of Skyline worked on the VFX for Battle Los Angeles and arguably used similar effects in their own movie. The similarities between these two alien-invasion movies set in LA, which came out a few months apart, were worrisome enough that Sony took the Skyline directors, the Strause brothers, to court.
The Earth was probably pretty lonely last year, what with getting abandoned in both of these 2013 flicks. Both were visually gorgeous movies, but regardless of how good Oblivion was, After Earth was a Shyamalan film, coming on the heels of Last Airbender. You can imagine how little Oblivion had to do to win the upper hand.
Back in 2008, Iron Man and The Dark Knight both tried to own the summer, with The Dark Knight triumphing handily. A few years later, Marvel and DC did battle again — with two CG-heavy tales about alien societies that protect the human race. The main difference between them is that Thor was good and the Green Lantern was awful. Thor probably didn't even need the month-long head-start it got because it won by a wide margin.
Mirror, Mirror/Snow White and The Huntsman
Why the hell was Snow White worth two movies in 2012? At least there was some diversity, since Mirror was a comedy while The Huntsman was a straight-action. Both did ok commercially — but The Huntsman managed to win, partly because of a bigger budget.