Olympus Has Fallen opened this weekend to so-so reviews and mediocre box office sales, no doubt blunted by the extravaganza known as March Madness. For those of you who did see the Antoine Fuqua directed flick but didn’t find it all that engaging, don’t worry. Hollywood took another bite at the ‘White House gets taken over’ apple and has another movie coming out with basically the same plot, White House Down, in June.
In the White House Down version, Channing Tatum is swapped in for Gerard Butler as the leading heroic warrior, Jamie Foxx replaces Aaron Eckhart as POTUS, and Richard Jenkins takes over for Morgan Freeman as the Speaker of the House. Directed by Roland ‘Independence Day’ Emmerich, this movie might be more your cup of tea. Me, I lean towards Olympus Has Fallen: it’s got a better title, I’d choose Aaron Eckhart as my president over Jamie Foxx any day, and Morgan Freeman makes anything and everything just a little better. Although I feel for the Secret Service… two movies where they get their butts handed to them on their own turf in less than a year? They probably haven’t been this annoyed by their Hollywood portrayals since season six of 24 when the White House was breeched via an underwater passage through the Potomac River.
Now, I know a lot of you out there are rolling your eyes at yet another example of what’s wrong with Hollywood: everyone copying each other and not taking the brave step in breaking from the pack. Believe me, I hear you. The money spent on just one of these movies could fund dozens of less expensive, more original fare. Instead of pushing the angle that their movie is better, one of the studios should’ve just blinked and conceded defeat.
But as we know, Hollywood egos don’t allow for concession. And as past twin movie battles have shown executives, there is often one clear cut winner (at least box office-wise) that makes the push towards the release of dueling properties worth it.
Exhibit A: The Battle of the Snow Whites: Just last year we had the colorful, comedic Mirror, Mirror open on March 30th while the more serious, gothic, Snow White and the Huntsman opened on June 1st. The box office winner was SWatH with over double the take of Mirror, Mirror and the potential for more money with a whole new post-Twilight franchise for Kristen Stewart. Meanwhile Mirror, Mirror appears to be a one and done. Winner: Snow White and the Huntsman (and me, for being introduced to the cuteness that is Sam Claflin who played William, the bow and arrow shooting ‘other guy’ after Snow White’s heart.)
Exhibit B: The Battle of the Super Volcanoes: Waaaay back in the late 90’s, 1997 to be exact, there was a fascination with the Super Volcano and so this became the hot new disaster flick to bring to the masses. The result? The ‘hot off his James Bond debut’ Pierce Bronsnan led Dante’s Peak and still surging Tommy Lee Jones headlined the simply named Volcano. Reviews were mixed: box office, eh, solid for opening in February ($178 Million for Dante’s Peak) and April ($122 Million for Volcano). Neither, however, spawned a franchise nor any memorable one liners to lodge itself in the pop culture lexicon.
Winner: Draw. Although, an honorable mention goes to Volcano for its snicker-inducing poster tagline (made better if you imagine Tommy Lee Jones saying it): It’s Hotter Than Hell!’
Exhibit C: The Battle of Earth Colliding Asteroids/Comets. The year was 1998. For some reason earth colliding asteroids were the new disaster movie du jour (and could be again after last month’s Chelyabinsk asteroid-turned-meteor crashed down in Russia) and so Hollywood churned out two very different killer-asteroids-hit-Earth movies: the character driven Mimi Leder directed Deep Impact (technically, this was a comet and not an asteroid but you get the point) and the balls to the wall Michael Bay directed Armageddon. Do I even have to say which movie won? The interesting thing is had Deep Impact been the only game in town that year, it would’ve been a mammoth hit at a $349 million take, but not even the Morgan Freeman as President factor could stop Armageddon from clomping DI with $557 million. Not when you had Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, amazing space shots, LOTS of Michael Bay explosions, earth kicking the asteroid’s butt (not so in Deep Impact; downer of an ending) and a Steven Tyler caterwauling number one hit song, ‘Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’.
Winner: Armageddon and Aerosmith. Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ was one of their biggest hits.
So, taking in the evidence, and the potentially hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, you can see why studios have no problem playing copycat. More often than not you’re going to have people curious enough to check out at least one if not both films and/or one film is just going to have the cast and marketing behind it that creates a bigger buzz and separates it from the ‘loser’. It’s a win-win or win-break even for them. The only losers are those of us in the audience experiencing déjà vu all over again.
Unless both movies happen to be good. In that rare case, everybody wins!
President Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman) in Deep Impact
President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) in White House Down
President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) in Olympus Has Fallen
President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) in Independence Day