Hollywood has become all about the safe bets. Unless you have a lot of weight or money, it’s impossible to get a project green lit that doesn’t have some sort of marquee name value behind it (see Battleship). Just because you’ve heard of the name before, doesn’t ensure that it’s any good (again, Battleship). This is a horrible trick movie producers are playing on audiences. Not nearly as bad as concept confusion.
Trademarks and copyrights can be a good thing. Eventually they expire though, becoming public domain. Which is why in 2012, months apart, Mirror Mirror and Snow White & the Huntsman was released. Both about Snow White, and neither particularly good (Huntsman had Kristen Stewart, ’nuff said). Why did this happen? Competition. Studios need to declare their production slate years in advance for numerous reasons. Scripts, along with synopsis, must be registered in the Writers Guilde. Anyone can look up the potential movies in production, which is why there have been countless movies released within a few months of each other that are remarkable similar.
With the exception of the above example being a quick cash-in on both studios parts, most of these ideas are labors of love. Someone else sees the concept and quickly tries to mimic it, poorly, and often times quicker and cheaper to nab some box office by confusing the audience. The first time I caught wind of this was with Armageddon and Deep Impact in 1998. Armageddon was a new blockbuster from Michael Bay while Deep Impact was it’s imitator. I remember seeing the trailers for both and wondering why they existed at the same time. Now I know it’s mostly to ride off the marketing of the other. Impact was released 2 months before Armageddon, while the latter was the superior of the two. In hindsight, they were both pretty bad, but teenage me loved Armageddon.
A more recent example from this year is Oblivion and After Earth, both taking place in a post apocalyptic era. I’m not sure which was capitalizing off of which, but they were both pretty bad. Adding to the double dose of awful this year is White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen. I’m starting to notice that Morgan Freeman is the running them here (Impact, Olympus, Oblivion).
One of my favorite examples was The Illusionist and The Prestige. The Prestige was created by Christopher Nolan between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. An idea that he worked on cultivating for years, The Prestige is an amazing movie that keeps you guessing until the very end. The Illusionist is something a studio farted out two months before to compete. I love Edward Norton, but this was pretty bad.
Mostly it’s easy to tell which is the real movie and which is the imitator. Here’s a guessing game you can play at home: Truman Show vs Ed TV; A Bug’s Life vs. Antz; Volcano vs. Dante’s Peak; Finding Nemo vs. Shark Tale; Red Planet vs. Mission to Mars (trick question, they were both bad). There are too many to name. Even recently, an atrocious direct to DVD sci-fi was nearly released in December 2012 called The Hobbit. Only after a court injunction were they forced to change the title once it was proven that this did confuse audiences.
Audience confusion annoys me. People vote with their dollars, and being tricked into seeing bad movies means they will continue being produced. It’s gone on for nearly 3 decades, I guarantee it will continue as long as people see crap like Olympus Has Fallen.
Why do people fall for this?