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Great movies overshadowed by smaller ones

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Similar plots can down some great works before they get a chance to wow audiences says CONSTANTINOS PSILLIDES

Being a movie fan, my YouTube algorithm often suggests movie trailers which keep me up to date. The other day, I got a suggestion for a film called The Last Rifleman starring Pierce Brosnan. Oh cool, I thought, I like Brosnan and it’s nice to see him star in age-appropriate movies. Looking at you Liam Neeson. While watching the trailer I got a nagging feeling that I had seen this story before. Some quick Google magic later I had my answer: The Last Rifleman tells the story of WWII British veteran Bernard Jordan, who broke out of his nursing home at 89 to attend the 70th anniversary celebration of D-Day in France. This is the same story as The Great Escaper, Michael Caine’s last movie before announcing his retirement from acting. Both movies were released at roughly the same time and as was expected, both hurt at the box office because they were practically identical. An almost incredible coincidence?

Here’s the thing though. It’s not. Many great movies were overshadowed because another, similar movie was either released earlier or just had a bigger budget. Movies such as:

 

The Illusionist vs The Prestige

Edward Norton stars as the magician Eisenheim, a poor Austrian peasant who got interested in magic and comes back to exact vengeance on the aristocracy that shunned him and to reclaim his lost love. Also starring Paul Giamatti, The Illusionist is just one of those great movies that if you didn’t watch it when it was in cinemas you’ve probably had forgotten it by now.

Because it got overshadowed by The Prestige by Christopher Nolan. Rags to riches story of a magician with a twist ending? That’s almost the exact plot of both movies but The Illusionist suffered from a lack of star power. Nolan’s movie had a famous director and starred Hugh Jackman at the top of his game, Christian Bale and the legendary Michael Caine. Poor Norton never stood a chance.

 

Deep Impact vs Armageddon

Back in the 90s, when people believed that we would not make it to the 21st century, there was an avalanche of disaster movies set around worldwide catastrophic events. Deep Impact told the story of a meteorite heading towards Earth, ending almost all existence. There was no escaping the meteorite, there was only preparing for the impending doom. Starring Elijah Wood, Robert Duvall and Tea Leoni, Deep Impact is an amazing movie as it focuses on character development happening in the shadow of certain catastrophe. Who would like to spend your last moments with? Would you seek to resolve past grievances? If you were tasked with saving people, who would you pick? The movie did well but is all but forgotten now.

If only it had a sweet song by Aerosmith and the gruffness of Bruce Willis. Armageddon was released the same summer, made almost double the money, and is still fondly remembered by fans. The premise is almost the same: meteorite coming, and everyone on Earth go bye-bye. But where Deep Impact opted for, ehem, deeper meaning and scientific accuracy Armageddon director Michael Bay threw all of that out of the window and instead went for big explosions and catchy one-liners.

It worked.

 

Antz vs A Bug’s Life

While the rest of the movies on this list happened to have similar plots and themes, this one is no accident. A Bug’s Life dealt with the everyday life of ants and was Pixar’s second movie, the pressure was on to replicate the enormous success of A Toy Story. The movie was in production for years when a senior executive in the company left to set up a rival animation studio Dreamworks. Wanting to deal a decisive blow to his former company, he rushed a movie into production about, you guessed it, the everyday life of ants.

While Antz had an atrocious title and questionable animation, it was a good movie. With the voice talent of Woody Allen and Sylvester Stallone among others, it was a lock in to be a success as it was released before A Bug’s Life. The audience then did not know about the drama behind closed doors and to everyone it seemed that Pixar copied Dreamworks. But in the end, it was the Pixar project that drew the most crowds and is now seen as a classic. Antz is all but forgotten.

 

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