Saturday, June 29, 2013

Is the first or the second better?

You've probably read a hundred posts discussing the phenomenon of two movies on the same subject coming out within six months of each other. Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down are only the most recent of what is coming to be dozens of examples. In fact, I was even scheduled to write such a post for a different blog when Snow White and the Huntsman came out last year (on the heels of Mirror Mirror), except that I was moving that same week so I had to bow out.

One thing you might not have read: an examination of which one tends to be better, the one that reaches theaters first, or the one that marinates for a little while longer before hitting the multiplexes.

So in conjunction with the release of the second movie since March where the president gets taken hostage in the White
House, I figured I would do just that. Besides, I've already got a big collection of images just collecting dust, since I prepared the images for the post I never wrote last year. (I actually told the guy I would write it this year for Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. Oops.)

Anecdotally, I'm arriving at the conclusion that the first film is actually better in most cases, which is somewhat counterintuitive. You'd think the first film was rushed, leaving them more time to do the second one right. This is an oversimplification, of course, because it suggests that both films were conceived and sent into production at the exact same moment, which is of course not true. However, the phenomenon does certainly involve an awareness by the two projects of each other's existence, which does mean that an artificial increase in production speed is a possible reaction to that competition. This race to be first might be important; another reason why we might think the first one is better is because indeed, it did get there first, and by the time the second one comes out, we've already seen this movie.

Before we start, though, I thought it would be worth pointing out one more trend I see in these dueling movies that come out within a few months of each other. It seems in almost all cases, the first movie that comes out has a sort of abstract title (Olympus Has Fallen), while the second has a title that tells you much more overtly what the movie is about (White House Down). It's kind of uncanny, as I'll explore as we go along.

Needless to say, I'll only be discussing those where I've seen both movies. So, I can't actually discuss Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, because I never caught up with the latter. (Though I can say that the title phenomenon is present here too -- Mirror Mirror is at least somewhat abstract, while Snow White and the Huntsman lets you know immediately it's a Snow White movie.) 

Okay, in no particular order:

Release dates: Dante's Peak (dir. Roger Donaldson) - February 7, 1997; Volcano (dir. Mick Jackson) - April 25, 1997
Title phenomenon? Yes indeed. You could not get more on-the-nose than calling a movie about a volcano Volcano.
Which one's better? Dante's Peak by a long shot. I remember feeling several moments of real fear for the characters, whereas a slow flow of lava advancing on Los Angeles (as happens in Volcano) is a comparative snooze.
First film is better.

Release dates: Deep Impact (dir. Mimi Leder) - May 8, 1998; Armageddon (dir. Michael Bay) - July 1, 1998
Title phenomenon? Not as much. However, I would say that Deep Impact is more poetic while Armageddon is fairly in-your-face. So one is definitely less subtle than the other.
Which one's better? Deep Impact, and again it's not even close. I was surprisingly moved by Mimi Leder's film, and to verify that the feeling was legitimate, I watched it again two years ago. Armageddon is directed by Michael Bay. Nuff said.
First film is better. 

Release dates: Tombstone (dir. George P. Cosmatos) - December 24, 1993; Wyatt Earp (dir. Lawrence Kasdan) - June 24, 1994
Title phenomenon? Totally. One is the town where the action takes place, one is just the name of the main character.
Which one's better? Tombstone. Although I liked some aspects of the painstaking realism Costner and company brought to Wyatt Earp, it's not an exciting movie, unlike the rousing Tombstone. Also, it's like six hours long.
First film is better.

Release dates: Mission to Mars (dir. Brian De Palma) - March 10, 2000; Red Planet (dir. Antony Hoffman) - November 10, 2000
Title phenomenon? Nope. The first movie has the actual name of the planet in the title, the second movie refers to it abstractly.
Which one's better? Red Planet, just barely. Although I think Mission to Mars has more standout moments, overall it's a lot goofier and less "scientific," I would say. Neither film is a masterpiece, that's for sure.
Second film is better.

Release dates: No Strings Attached (dir. Ivan Reitman) - January 21, 2011; Friends with Benefits (dir. Will Gluck) - July 22, 2011
Title phenomenon? Absolutely. No Strings Attached could be about anything; Friends with Benefits could be about nothing else but fuck buddies.
Which one's better? Friends with Benefits, though both movies are bad. For me, Benefits benefits from (sorry, that was bad) more appealing stars -- Ashton Kutcher is going to sink almost anything for me. However, Strings' script is actively not good, while Benefits is sort of just lame.
Second film is better.

Release dates: Prefontaine (dir. Will Gluck) - January 24, 1997; Without Limits (dir. Robert Towne) - September 11, 1998
Title phenomenon? One is highly abstract, the other highly specific, but it's the second one that's abstract instead of the first one.
Which one's better? This is a weird one, because I was almost positive that Prefontaine was released second. In fact, it preceded Without Limits by a year-and-a-half. I blame this perception I had on the fact that I saw Prefontaine only last year for the first time. If Prefontaine had been released second, it would perfectly fit my theory, as Without Limits is slightly better (though neither is a memorable film) and has the more abstract title.
Second film is better.

Release dates: Antz (dir. Eric Darnell & Tim Johnson) - October 2, 1998; A Bug's Life (dir. John Lasseter) - November 25, 1998
Title phenomenon? They are both specific in their own ways about slightly different things. Antz gets points for abstraction by having a Z in its title.
Which one's better? I'm a fan of Antz, and I'm not a fan of A Bug's Life. Pretty simple. A Bug's Life is Pixar's biggest misstep until last year's Brave
First film is better.

Release dates: Weird Science (dir. John Hughes) - August 2, 1985; My Science Project (dir. Jonathan R. Beteul) - August 9, 1985
Title phenomenon? They're both pretty specific, but My Science Project is slightly more so.
Which one's better? Going way back for this one. These films have the closest proximity of any two we're discussing, as they came out only a week apart. There are light years of difference in their quality, however. Weird Science is the vastly superior effort, one of the classics of my childhood.
First film is better.

Release dates: Chasing Liberty (dir. Andy Cadiff) - January 9, 2004; First Daughter (dir. Forest Whitaker) - September 24, 2004
Title phenomenon? This is another absolute one. Chasing Liberty could be about anything; First Daughter could only be about the daughter of the president. (Or, I suppose, the oldest female child in a family.) 
Which one's better? Neither film is as bad as you might expect, and I actually kind of like Chasing Liberty, which means it's the better one. Surprisingly, First Daughter is directed by Forest Whitaker. Yes, that Forest Whitaker. Who knew?
First film is better.

Release dates: The Illusionist (dir. Neil Burger) - August 18, 2006; The Prestige (dir. Christopher Nolan) - October 20, 2006
Title phenomenon? The titles are similarly structured, but most people actually knew what an illusionist was before seeing the movie.
Which one's better? The Prestige is leaps and bounds the superior film. I must have really seen The Illusionist at the wrong time, because I had no idea why anyone liked it. I'd say I should probably see it again, but really, it's not that important to me. 
Second film is better.

Release dates: The Truman Show (dir. Peter Weir) - June 5, 1998; EdTV (dir. Ron Howard) - March 26, 1999
Title phenomenon? Both titles are fairly specific, but EdTV is a bit more in-your-face (and not just because of this poster). 
Which one's better? The Truman Show, plain and simple. I don't think EdTV is bad, though I think I remember liking it more than I should have. It's probably bad.  
First film is better.

Release dates: Paul Blart: Mall Cop (dir. Steve Carr) - January 16, 2009; Observe and Report (dir. Jody Hill) - April 10, 2009
Title phenomenon? The earlier film is the more specific in this case.
Which one's better? Probably the worst pairing of movies you will find on this list. However, there were some things I liked about Observe and Report. I cannot say the same for Paul Blart.   
Second film is better.

That's a dozen, and that's probably a good place to stop. 

So it appears I've reached no scientifically significant conclusion whatsoever. The first film of the pair is better only seven times out of 12. Barely above 50 percent.

I do think the thing about the titles is interesting, though. It's almost like the two warring studios came up with an agreement that one would go abstract with the title and one would go just the opposite. One thing I can say is that the more abstract title is usually better. Out of the ones where one title was clearly more abstract than the other, only Friends With Benefits is better than its cohort. In all other cases, the more abstract title is better.

Useful conclusions or no, I hope you enjoyed reading this. I enjoyed compiling it.

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