Chris Hicks: Lookalike movie competitions are business as usual

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

“Iron Eagle” (January 1986) and “Top Gun” (May 1986). Though they diverge in terms of plot, both focus on cocky, rebellious young pilots and are filmed in a sort of videogame style to engage the audience. “Iron Eagle” became “Top Gun’s” warm-up act, the latter winning the box-office sweepstakes by a wide margin and rocketing Tom Cruise into superstar status. But “Iron Eagle” did pretty well, fostering no less than three sequels.

“Like Father, Like Son” (October 1987) and “Vice Versa” (March 1988) and “18 Again!” (April 1988). The “Freaky Friday” farcical body-switch plot was quite the rage in the late 1980s. All three of these have teenage boys switching bodies with adults, the first two with their fathers and the third with his grandfather. These three were closely followed by the similar “Big” in June 1988, though that one is a “wish,” not a “switch,” comedy, but is easily the biggest box-office hit and most fondly remembered of this group.

“Dangerous Liaisons” (February 1988) and “Valmont” (November 1989). These are adaptations of the 1782 French novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” (though the first is by way of Christopher Hampton’s play, which was taken from the novel) about a pair of manipulators in pre-Revolutionary France playing games with people’s lives, thereby destroying them. The first film, starring Glenn Close, was successful, but Johnny-come-lately “Valmont,” headlined by Annette Bening, was a notorious failure.

“K-9” (April 1989) and “Turner and Hooch” (July 1989); “DeepStar Six” (January 1989) and “Leviathan” (April 1989). The first two are cops and canine comedies and the second pair are underwater horror films that essentially rip off “Alien.” “The Abyss,” which opened in August 1989 and is by far the best loved of these, is often lumped with the latter two because of the underwater setting, but it’s not a horror movie.

“Christopher Columbus: The Discovery” (August 1992) and “1492: Conquest of Paradise” (October 1992). Big-budget, all-star, epic stories of events leading up to and following Columbus’ discovery of the New World, both of which were critical and box-office fiascos

Among others you may recall are the Westerns “Tombstone” (December 1993) and “Wyatt Earp” (June 1994), both about events leading up to the O.K. Corral gunfight; the eruption-disaster flicks “Dante’s Peak” (February 1997) and “Volcano” (April 1997); two sci-fi thrillers about speeding objects in space on a trajectory to destroy Earth, “Deep Impact” (May 1998) and “Armageddon” (July 1998); “EdTV” (June 1998) and “The Truman Show” (March 1999), comedies about ordinary men being followed by reality-TV cameras 24/7; “Antz” (October 1998) and “A Bug’s Life” (November 1998), computer-animated features about misfits becoming heroes to their ant colonies; “Chasing Liberty” (January 2004) and “First Daughter” (September 2004), about the U.S. president’s teenage daughter breaking free of the oppressive Secret Service, unaware that the guy helping her is also a Secret Service agent; “Capote” (September 2005) and “Infamous” (October 2006), chronicling Truman Capote’s research and writing of “In Cold Blood” … and too many others to list.

An interesting footnote to all this competitiveness is the 1974 all-star box-office smash “The Towering Inferno,” which was based on two novels, “The Tower,” purchased by Warner Bros., and “The Glass Inferno,” owned by Twentieth Century Fox.

After the enormous success of 1972’s “The Poseidon Adventure” (and before that, 1970’s “Airport”), Hollywood studios were looking around for more disaster epics, and Warner and Fox discovered they were developing similar projects. But rather than create competing films the two studios collaborated, allowing them to split production costs and profits.

This was the first time two major studios co-produced a movie, although it is now common practice (“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” being the latest, from Paramount and MGM).

Maybe Congress could take a lesson from that.

E-MAIL: hicks@desnews.com

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