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Copycat movies that battled at the box office

Copycat movies: Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down both saw terrorist plots in Washington. (Millennium/Sony Pictures)
Copycat movies: Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down both saw terrorist plots in Washington. (Millennium/Sony Pictures)

As the 1998 copycat movie battle of Deep Impact and Armageddon celebrates its 25th birthday, it's worth remembering that this sort of thing happens more often than you might expect.

We are so used to being told that the Hollywood studio machine is a meticulous and micromanaged industry. So, when things go wrong, it feels as though somebody at very the top might have dropped the ball with some catastrophic consequences.

Despite months of crowd-testing, rewrites and rehearsals, sometimes two or more studios find themselves in the impossible position of having unwittingly greenlit and even completed rival films with the exact same subject.

Read more: Deep Impact vs. Armageddon: 1998's box office space race

Here are just a few examples of times where this has happen.

Infamous (2006) vs Capote (2005)

TOBY JONES, INFAMOUS, 2006
Toby Jones as Truman Capote is 2006's Infamous. (Alamy)

Rumour has it that, while filming the life of Truman Capote for Infamous, its director Douglas McGrath and his star-studded cast (including British actor Toby Jones as Capote, and Daniel Craig as murder Perry Smith) were dimly aware of another Capote biopic in the works.

Yet it would be Bennett Miller’s less starry, more constrained Capote — released a few months before Infamous and featuring a career-defining turn by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman — which would be more successful.

Capote  Year: 2005 - Canada / USA Philip Seymour Hoffman  Director: Bennett Miller
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote in 2005's Capote. (Alamy)

Hoffman went on to take home the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role as well as the Bafta in a similar category. Capote was not just a critical hit; it recouped its $7m budget seven times over at the box office, while Infamous failed to make a profit.

Winner: Capote

No Strings Attached vs Friends with Benefits (both 2011)

PORTMAN,KUTCHER, NO STRINGS ATTACHED, 2011
Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher in 2011's No Strings Attached. (Alamy)

Over twenty years after Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally (1989), our society was still supposedly wondering, in 2011, if two best friends of opposite sexes could still be friends, even after doing the deed. Which must be why we were graced — for our sins — with two seemingly identical films released within months of each other.

Famously, the working title of the quirky romcom No Strings Attached – starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher – was ‘Friends with Benefits’ but director Ivan Reitman was soon forced to change that, because of Will Gluck’s Friends with Benefits, with the always likeable (and future 'Mrs' Kutcher) Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake.

Friends with Benefits Year : 2011 USA Director : Will Gluck Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis
Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis in 2011's Friends with Benefits. (Alamy)

Both films made nearly $150m, but Gluck’s film was received more favourably by critics.

Winner: Friends with Benefits

Armageddon vs Deep Impact (both 1998)

USA. Liv Tyler and Ben Affleck  in a scene from the (C)Buena Vista Pictures film : Armageddon (1998).  Plot: After discovering that an asteroid the size of Texas will impact Earth in less than a month, NASA recruits a misfit team of deep-core drillers to save the planet. Director: Michael Bay  Ref: LMK110-J8205-050822 Supplied by LMKMEDIA. Editorial Only. Landmark Media is not the copyright owner of these Film or TV stills but provides a service only for recognised Media outlets. pictures@lmkmedia.com
Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler in 1998's Armageddon. (Alamy)

In the face-off between these two disaster movies with similar themes, it’s no secret that Michael Bay’s Armageddon has had the most enduring popularity. Both films ask the same question: what would happen if we suddenly discovered that a giant asteroid is hurtling towards Earth?

DEEP IMPACT (1998) ELIJAH WOOD, MORGAN FREEMAN DPIM 044
Elijah Wood and Morgan Freeman in 1998's Deep Impact. (Alamy)

Armageddon’s rival, Deep Impact – directed by Mimi Leder and starring Elijah Wood – scores less favourably on Rotten Tomatoes, but feels more sedate.

While both films were profitable, Bay’s is undeniably the more entertaining of the two.

Winner: Armageddon

Antz vs A Bug's Life (both 1998)

Kino. Antz, Antz, Antz, Antz, Prinzessin Bala und Z-4195 Als sich Z in die schoene Prinzessin Bala verliebt, aendert sich sein Leben., 1998. (Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images)
1998's Antz. (United Archives via Getty Images)

Or a head-to-head battle between, respectively, DreamWorks and Pixar. The plots of both Eric Darnell’s Antz and John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton’s A Bug’s Life centred around a colony of ants that must fight to protect itself from invaders.

Flik & Princess Atta Film: A Bug'S Life (USA 1998)   Director: John Lasseter & Andrew Stanton 14 November 1998   **WARNING** This Photograph is for editorial use only and is the copyright of DISNEYPIXAR and/or the Photographer assigned by the Film or Production Company and can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the above Film. A Mandatory Credit To DISNEYPIXAR is required. The Photographer should also be credited when known. No commercial use can be granted without written authority from the Film Company.
1998's A Bug's Life. (Alamy)

Yet even though their releases took place within a month of each other, both productions somehow managed to find their own audiences and were equally feted by critics.

Winner: Draw

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio (2022) vs Disney’s live action Pinocchio (2022) vs Pinocchio: A True Story (2021)

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio - (Pictured) Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann). Cr: Netflix © 2022
Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio - Pinocchio (voiced by Gregory Mann). (Netflix)

Although impressive that Pinocchio — a story written in 1883 — is still able to garner such interest in the 21st century, nobody could have predicted that Carlo Collodi’s classic novel would be adapted for the screen by three different productions within 12 months.

If Robert Zemeckis’ live action adaptation starring Tom Hanks proved to be the most accessible thanks to its family-friendly Disney+ release, it is del Toro’s incredibly intricate interpretation for Netflix, using stop motion animation, that has been the most critically acclaimed.

(L-R): Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), Tom Hanks as Geppetto, and Figaro in Disney's live-action PINOCCHIO, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Pinocchio (voiced by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth), Tom Hanks as Geppetto in Disney's live action Pinocchio. (Disney+)

The award-winning director spent 11 painstaking years perfecting his craft and has given us the story’s greatest adaptation yet, winning the Best Animation Oscar in 2023.

Read more: Del Toro's Pinocchio 'not for small children' warns star

Meanwhile, despite the help of the voices of Hollywood actors like Jon Heder and Pauly Shore, the Russian-produced adaptation Pinocchio: A True Story went straight to DVD and has so far sadly failed to amount to much, either theatrically or critically.

Winner: Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio

Olympus Has Fallen vs White House Down (both 2013)

New York, USA. Gerard Butler in the ©FilmDistrict new movie: Olympus Has Fallen (2013). PLOT: Disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning finds himself trapped inside the White House in the wake of a terrorist attack; using his inside knowledge, Banning works with national security to rescue the President from his kidnappers.  Ref:LMK106-43106-220213 Supplied by LMKMEDIA. Editorial Only. Landmark Media is not the copyright owner of these Film or TV stills but provides a service only for recognised Media outlets. pictures@lmkmedia.com
Gerard Butler as Mike Banning in 2013's Olympus Has Fallen. (Alamy)

Roland Emmerich never does things by halves. The king of the preposterously, overinflated action-filled drama spent over $150m on White House Down, relying on an increasingly cliché-laden style.

But it was outdone and outclassed by Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, starring Gerard Butler, not least because Fuqua’s film – also about an attack on the White House by foreign forces – was just more fun.

Channing Tatum in White House Down. (Sony Pictures)
Channing Tatum in White House Down. (Sony Pictures)

In the end Olympus Has Fallen more than tripled its budget, while White House Down barely made its money back.

Winner: Olympus Has Fallen

Zodiac vs Curse of the Zodiac (both 2007)

ZODIAC (2007) MARK RUFFALO, JAKE GYLLENHAAL ZOD 001-07
Mark Ruffalo and Jake Gyllenhaal in 2007's Zodiac. (Alamy)

Ask any self-respecting cinephile their favourite movie about a serial killer, and David Fincher’s Zodiac will come on top each time. It took time for the film to take its rightful place in the cinematic canon as an all-time great, but it broke even at the box office, and has amassed praise from critics and audiences alike.

And it fared far better than Ulli Lommel's Curse of the Zodiac which went straight to DVD, never to be heard from again.

Winner: Zodiac