Lookalike movie competitions are business as usual

Published: Thursday, April 4 2013 3:15 p.m. MDT

We can thank director Roland Emmerich for the indelible image of the White House being blown to smithereens in the hugely popular sci-fi action picture “Independence Day.”

That computer-animated event is stuck in the minds of many filmgoers not just because they went to the movie but also because the explosion was repeated endlessly in previews shown throughout primetime television during the weeks leading up to its July 1996 release.

But you can’t blow up the Oval Office too many times. Emmerich is poised to do it again in June with the big-budget summer flick “White House Down,” which stars Channing Tatum as Bruce Willis. That is to say, the film appears to be a sort of “Die Hard at the White House” with Tatum as the one man who can save the day when a paramilitary group invades the nation’s capital.

Of course, if you have seen the current “Olympus Has Fallen” or its trailers, you know that in that film the White House is also nearly leveled, in this case with Gerard Butler playing Bruce Willis.

You will be forgiven for thinking they were the same movie.

If that’s not enough, there’s now “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” which also features Tatum, along with Dwayne Johnson — and, in the Bruce Willis role, um, Bruce Willis. In this one the White House remains standing, the takeover by a paramilitary group is more stealth in nature and saving the day is more of a team effort. But in general it is not a dissimilar picture.

With “Olympus Has Fallen” and “White House Down” opening within three months of each other, you might well wonder: What the heck is that about? Shouldn’t one of the filmmakers been put off by the other and perhaps waited a few years?

Ah, the Hollywood standoff. It’s an old story. Hollywood has been competing with itself this way on and off dating back to 1964 when “Dr. Strangelove” opened in January, followed in October by “Fail-Safe.” Although “Strangelove” is a dark satire and “Fail-Safe” is a serious thriller, both have essentially the same plot about the U.S. president trying to stop nuclear bombs headed for Russia, the former caused by a mad general and the latter by a technical glitch.

Despite excellent reviews, “Fail-Safe” flopped, and the thinking at the time was that moviegoers didn’t want to see a serious, downbeat version of a comedy they had made a huge hit just 10 months earlier.

The very next year, two biographical films about early sound star Jean Harlow — the platinum-blonde, sex-symbol predecessor (by two decades) of Marilyn Monroe — were released by competing studios, each trying to be the first in theaters. And both were titled “Harlow”!

But Paramount Pictures’ big-budget, widescreen, Technicolor version starring Carroll Baker could not hope to get there before the low-budget quickie starring Carol Lynley, which was shot in the speedy, black-and-white, videotape Electronovision process and looked like a TV-show kinescope.

Still, it was just five weeks after the Lynley film opened that Baker’s was on the big screen. Not that it mattered in the end; both films flopped. (Tom Lisanti’s book “Dueling Harlows: Race to the Silver Screen” chronicles the backstage battles that accompanied the films’ tumultuous productions.)

Since then there have been many similar films released in theaters within months of each other, including:

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