Alright so I preface this list by admitting that it’s one of the biggest cliché lists I’ve posted to date, but this weekend’s release of “Happy Death Day” compelled me so to put this top 10 together. It’s no secret Hollywood has been pulling ideas from the bottom of the barrel in recent years and thus we’ve seen many films remade or film ideas cloned in that time. However sometimes film clones, or copycat films, are released in the same exact year to either try to capitalize on a previous film’s foreseen success, beat said film to the punch, or out of pure coincidence. Why is this relevant to “Happy Death Day”? Well that’s because it’s actually the second theatrical time loop film of 2017, preceded by “Before I Fall” which included a similar premise minus the horror element. So I decided to use this moment to get this cliché out of the way and provide my personal list of the Top 10 Copycat Films.
For this list I looked at movies with similar premises or stories that were released in the same year. I’m talking the same calendar year, not within 365 days of each other like other lists of this kind tend to include. Pretty much anything that didn’t have some form of major theatrical release was excluded from this list because there are many times where movies on the big screen and the small screen copy each other as well. For this list I looked at films as a pair, not just one film in the duo. I graded these entries based on my personal opinions of the pairs of movies with those that were more blatant copycats being placed higher on the list closer to #1 and those that were more unintentional and coincidental copycats more towards the higher numbers.
The point of this list is to shine light on blatant attempts to cash in on the same premise in the same year and whether one or both of these films are good is irrelevant, it’s the intent that matters here. Since this list has been done to DEATH by the film fan community I’m sure many of these entries will be pretty predictable but I wanted to put my own two cents into the fad.
ALSO I did not include “Before I Fall” and “Happy Death Day” in this list for two reasons: one is the later film has yet to hit theaters as of this posting and the second is these films were clearly not meant to copy each other and their similar premises was more pure coincidence than any other pairing on this list. Still the coincidence was a great excuse for me to get this list in the books so here we go!
What are your favorite copycat movies? Let me know in the comments below and enjoy the list!
10. “Mirror Mirror” and “Snow White and the Huntsman” (2012)
Both inspired by the classic Brothers Grimm tale, and contrary to belief neither produced or released through Disney, “Snow White and the Huntsman” and “Mirror Mirror” both told varying tales of the famous fictional princess Snow White and her rebellion against an evil queen to reclaim her family’s thrown. Seemingly released unintentionally on the same year, “Mirror Mirror” was released first, in March of 2012, and presented a more delightfully colorful and family friendly take on the story which caused many to mistake it as a Disney film before remaking their animated features to live action was a real common thing. The second film, “Snow White and the Huntsman”, was grittier and darker with a more violent image of the fairy tale and Snow White presented a more of a warrior than a delicate princess. Both films surpassed their respective budgets, although the later proved to be much more profitable having been released in May around blockbuster season. What’s interesting is they were both equally divisive, each gaining 49% approval on Rotten Tomatoes. Both films also received Academy Award nominations for costume design, but “Snow White and the Huntsman” proved to be a much larger crowd favorite spawning many more awards, both good and bad as it earned a Golden Raspberry, and an unneeded sequel. In my opinion “Mirror Mirror” was a dull and predictably upbeat version of the tale that borrowed its substance from previous incarnations of the characters. “Snow White and the Huntsman” was at least relatively unique and was a more entertaining film overall despite its bland acting and dark atmosphere.
9. “The Illusionist” and “The Prestige” (2006)
Another pairing that seemed more coincidental that anything, “The Prestige” and “The Illusionist” are a famous pairing of copycat films that both focused on the world of magic. In both stories the protagonist tries to prove his worth and talent by utilizing his magic skills. However one was decidedly better while the other has been lost with time. “The Illusionist” was released first in 2006 during the month of August and was based on a popular Steven Millhauser novel. The film was a critical and commercial success after expanding to wide release in September and was even featured at several film festivals before its theatrical release. However it would be overshadowed two months later in October with the release of “The Prestige”, a more fun and mysterious take on the magician trope that made only a few million dollars less than its predecessor in gross return (thanks to a much larger budget) and was also a critical success. Also based on a novel, “The Prestige” helped define the growing career of director Christopher Nolan and thus has established more longevity with time. These two films were among three to explore the world of magic in 2017, and while “The Illusionist” has its moments and its fans it’s “The Prestige” that stands out as the more memorable of the two and the higher quality film with a more complex story and a legacy that has been long lasting while its predecessor faded not long after its theatrical run was through.
8. “Gordy” and “Babe” (1995)
You’ll notice somewhat of a theme so far on this list. The first film seems to be inferior to the second. This theme continues with “Gordy” and “Babe”, both films based on the misadventures of a talking pig. One is famous and the other infamous and for good reason. “Gordy” is legendarily bad and was released first in May of 1995. This story told of a country pig trying to find his family, who have been shipped off to a slaughterhouse, and along the way he gains notoriety and fame by befriending the grandson of a company billionaire. The more humble alternate was “Babe”, released in August of the same year, which brought in over $250 million to “Gordy’s” $3 million and was much more beloved by critics and fans alike. “Babe’ was based on a classic book and told the story of a young pig who is trained to be a sheeping animal by the other animals on his new owners farm. While both movies were charming in their own way there’s no competition here. “Babe” was an Academy Award contender while “Gordy” became more popular on video release and became known as “the pig movie that copied ‘Babe’” even though “Gordy” came first. While it was never confirmed that both films were released the same year for the sake of competition, the lower quality of “Gordy” has led many to believe it was rushed and created for the specific purpose of cashing in on the hype surrounding the yet-to-be-released “Babe” movie. In the end the better movie won out and “Babe” became a legend and “Gordy” became a legendary joke (although I have to admit as a child I preferred “Gordy” so I guess it depends on where you are in life which one is more entertaining).
7. “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” and “Observe and Report” (2009)
It’s kind of awkward when two films blatantly copy each other…and yet they both kind of suck. “Observe and Report” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” each starred some of the biggest comedic stars of the time but failed to really shine in any way in terms of quality or substance. Both featured mall security guards taking the law into their own hands to impress the girl of their dreams and, yeah they both pretty much followed the exact same premise with different tones being the major dividing factor here. “Paul Blart” was released first, in January of 2009, and was a financial success with Kevin James playing the titular hero. It’s 33% Rotten Tomatoes score was predictable for a Happy Madison production but the film garnered enough of a following to bring about a sequel a few years later. In April of 2009 “Observe and Report” was released and earned MUCH less money but received better reviews at 50% approval on Rotten Tomatoes with Seth Rogan at the helm. What makes this pairing a legendary duo of copycat films is the writers knew they were copying each other. Rogen even admitted it in an interview to GQ but argued that both films were very different. And that they were, in tone at least. “Paul Blart” leaned heavily on tired slapstick humor and Kevin James fitting body type while “Observe and Report” was more violent and dubbed a black comedy. In my opinion “Observe and Report” is the better and more enjoyable movie because of its ability to blend serious and comical situations. “Paul Blart” is just annoying and shamelessly simple so once again, in my opinion at least, the later film to be released is superior even if both films aren’t worth writing home about.
6. “Despicable Me’ and “Megamind” (2010)
I’m in a minority with this one, but I’ll spoil it and say once again I preferred the film that came out later in the year. Seriously, that’s a totally unintentional theme of this list so far. “Despicable Me” and “Megamind” were both released in 2010 by two growing competitors to Pixar, Illumination and Dreamworks respectively. Both took aim at hero tropes by making the villain a heroic figure in their premise and in the end “Despicable Me” proved to be much more popular. “Despicable Me” was released during blockbuster season in June of 2010 and saw a notable villain, Gru, try to steal the moon, adopting three little girls to help him in his plans that eventually make him change his ways. Megamind was a Halloween holiday release that year and featured the titular villain who finally defeats his heroic foe and finds his life to be meaningless without someone to fight. He creates a new rival who soon becomes a villain, forcing Megamind to become the hero he never expected to be. Both movies were actually successful critically and commercially, “Despicable Me” more so. The Illumination property went on to become legendary, spawning two sequels and a spinoff starring the series’ Minions. “Megamind” however was a one off with no sequel in sight. While “Despicable Me” was fun and deserves credit for its massive fan base and legacy, I prefer “Megamind” which is a more solid story about identity and challenging ones determined place in the world around them. Both are great movies though, as blatant copycats as they were of each other.
5. “Dante’s Peak” and “Volcano” (1997)
Back in the 90s and early 2000s filmmakers seemed to turn to everything that could create a dire survival situation for their films. For whatever reason part of the fascination involved volcanos and in 1997 duel disaster films were released involving the fascinating geological phenomenon. “Dante’s Peak” was released in February while “Volcano” hit theaters in April. “Dante’s Peak” was a mild box office success but a critical failure while “Volcano” was both financially successful and more beloved by critics. The difference here is quality of the actual volcanic activity. Both films shows the destruction that a volcano could have if it erupted on the west coast of the United States, but while “Volcano” was a more effective and beloved popcorn thriller “Dante’s Peak” became the staple of realism in its depiction of the eruption and even today is celebrated for its scientific accuracy. While I personally think “Volcano” is the more enjoyable overall movie experience and more re-watchable film I can respect the appreciation for “Dante’s Peak” and it’s more realistic take on the subject matter. Even though these are both films clearly meant to pander to the same crowd, it’s worth noting they took two very different directions so if you did or didn’t enjoy one that doesn’t mean you would or wouldn’t enjoy the other…as long as you’re looking for a volcano disaster experience one of these should fit the bill.
4. “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon” (1998)
Now we’re getting to the cream of the crop, movies that were actually made to compete with each other. One of two controversial copycat pairs from 1998, “Deep Impact” writer Bruce Joel Rubin actually accused a production president at Disney of taking notes on everything he said during a discussion about the script which, in his eyes, led to Disney producing its own apocalyptic film about an meteor headed towards earth. Both films were released during blockbuster season, with “Deep Impact” in early May and “Armageddon” in early July, and were notable purposeful competitors against each other, one produced by DreamWorks and the other by Disney subsidiary Touchstone. “Deep Impact” was slightly better received by critics and was a financial success, but “Armageddon”, possibly fueled by the success of “Deep Impact”, became the highest grossing film of 1998 and is infinitely more legendary as a movie on its own than its predecessor. Both contained heavy star power and “Armageddon” was even produced with the intent of being released in the same year as “Deep Impact” while Steven Spielberg was sidelined as director of “Deep Impact” to make way for a more available director to keep that movie in line as the two raced to reach the big screen. This epic story of competition makes this one of the most iconic instances of copycat filmmaking in cinematic history. As for which one I prefer, “Armageddon” is the more memorable film for me although both movies have their faults worth pointing out.
3. “Olympus Has Fallen” and “White House Down” (2013)
These were the films that made lists like this a cliché. In 2013 movie reviewers and bloggers like myself jumped at the chance to draw attention to copycat movies as a new pair of copycat films were gearing up to take center stage. Released in March and June respectively, “Olympus Has Fallen” and “White House Down” both focused on attacks on the White House and a talented officer intervening to save the president. While there are disputed reports that one studio stole the idea from the other, it IS indisputable that these films were made to compete with each other. Both Millennium Films (“Olympus Has Fallen”) and Sony (”White House Down”) actually competed for casting to get their movies completed faster and with the better actors and actresses in place. In the end “White House Down” became a bigger financial draw, but had a bigger budget making for a smaller gross take at the box office than “Olympus Has Fallen” which earned $100 million over its initial budget when all was said and done and earned a sequel, “London Has Fallen” with a third film on the way. “White House Down” was also more critically beloved, although not by much with a 50% approval on Rotten Tomatoes versus “Olympus Has Fallen’s” 48%. Personally I wasn’t too crazy about either movie, but “Olympus Has Fallen” proved to be more memorable for me and so I give it an edge personally…and that’s the first time on this list that I chose to first movie over the second…how ‘bout that?!
2. “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Captain America: Civil War” (2016)
A more recent example of copycat filmmaking, last year saw the rivalry between DC and Marvel come to a head in a big way as DC officially launched its extended universe to directly compete with Marvels Cinematic Universe. In what has been widely criticized as an attempt to play quick catch up in their universe building, DC brought the long awaited battle between its two most famous heroes, Batman and Superman, to life presenting a much darker and grittier superhero epic than its more colorful rival. “Civil War” however was conceived almost a year after it was revealed that Batman and Superman would meet onscreen in a “Man of Steel” sequel (at the time the versus concept had yet to be official) and over the next year it became clear these two films would each pit their individual franchises most popular heroes against each other within their own universes. “Dawn of Justice” came first in early 2016 to, we’ll say mixed reviews at best and scored massive returns at the box office. Not to be deterred “Civil War” was even more epic, kicking off the blockbuster season in style with over a billion dollars at the box office and rave reviews. Both went on the be in the top ten most successful movies of the year financially, but it was “Civil War” that was named the highest grossing film of 2016 and kick started the third phase of the MCU while the DCEU continued to struggle with “Suicide Squad” in the same year, only gaining steam earlier this year with the release of “Wonder Woman”. Both movies were epic showdowns fans had waited to see for generations on the big screen, but “Civil War” was the much better established and better made film that is still among the best in the MCU while “Dawn of Justice” is quickly fading into obscurity as higher quality DCEU projects come to pass.
1. “Antz” and “A Bug’s Life” (1998)
It seems 1998 was a big year for copycat movies, but when it comes to cases of copycat filmmaking this is by far the most legendary, controversial, and iconic of them all and today is still a blemish on the otherwise noble record of both Disney’s Pixar and DreamWorks. At the time Pixar was its own entity and was riding off the success of “Toy Story” a few years earlier. DreamWorks was also making the jump to animation at the time with its first feature length animated movie “Antz” in the works. Controversy arose when Pixar, who was already developing “A Bug’s Life”, learned that DreamWorks had a similar film in mind with higher ups at Pixar believing the idea was stolen. Long story short this created a legendary feud between the soon-to-be animation giants when it was confirmed both movies would feature a quirky out-of-place male ant who works to save his colony from an evil power hungry figure. This feud only grew when Pixar seemingly purposefully scheduled “A Bug’s Life” to compete directly with DreamWorks second animated movie of 1998, “The Prince of Egypt”, in November. In the end the two movies were starkly different but also quite similar, following different concepts of similar power struggles with “Antz” being much darker and more adult friendly while “A Bug’s Life” was more family oriented. Both movies were critical darlings but it was “A Bug’s Life” that grossed more in the end by a wide margin, fueled by Pixar’s reputation and it’s placement on a holiday weekend. While many have argued that neither film is a bright spot in either company’s records when considering later productions, both “Antz” and “A Bug’s Life” were enjoyable animated features and still hold up today. I’m not going to choose which one of these I prefer because at the end of the day, despite the controversies, both served as credible high quality and very watchable products that put their respective studios on the map.