The originality battle is lost, if it ever even happened. After all, at their core, all stories are fundamentally the same: characters, plot, conflict, dialogue, etc. If you find a movie without any of that, you are probably looking at a white screen. As the handy TVTropes tells us, writing something without tropes is not only impossible, it is itself a trope.
We live in an era of remakes and sequels and, most recently, "shared universes." Whether we like it or not, Ghostbusters will become a cinematic universe. Let that sink in for a minute. The most recent, unasked-for sequel, Terminator Genisys, made a mess of the timeline to justify its future sequels, TV series, and why a 68-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger could still be a Terminator.
But there are some really egregious examples of films that were not only based on the same material, but released in the same year, in some cases within a few months of each other. Let's hop in a Terminator time machine and make sense of our timeline together.
2012: Who's the Fairest of Them All?
Charlize Theron in Snow White. Roth Films
Mirror Mirror vs. Snow White & the Huntsman
Mirror Mirror is a fluffy, feather-light rendition of the Snow White tale. It has Armie Hammer acting like a dog (a literal dog) and Julia Roberts as the most milquetoast evil stepmother to grace the screen. You know a villain needs work when the extent of their evil is levying taxes. This is a film aimed at kids, but Roberts seems to be more or less playing a single Sarah Palin looking to get some yummy from Prince Hammer. Last but not least, Lily Collins is our heroine, with large, expressive eyes that look like they were painted by Margaret Keane. Her Snow White is likeable, drawing a nice contrast with the other Snow White . . .
Like a bipolar teen, the mood swings drastically on Snow White & the Huntsman. It's so average that it makes you wish it was terrible. At least that would have been entertaining. Someone thought it was a good idea to cast the perpetually-constipated Kristen Stewart as its lead while Chris Hemsworth cashed a paycheck trying to build his franchise cred outside of his Thor role in the Marvel movies. It's the typical use of the "dark and gritty" aesthetic, pioneered by Batman Begins. The only one to come out of this mess unscathed is Charlize Theron, who chews the scenery and spits it out better than before. (Have you seen Mad Max: Fury Road? You need to see Mad Max: Fury Road.)
Lily Collins in Mirror Mirror. Relativity Media
What's shocking is not so much that a follow-up, The Huntsman, is set for release next April, focused entirely on the backstory of Chris Hemsworth's Huntsman character, but that it's attracted some top-notch actresses. Joining returnees Hemsworth and Theron are Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain.
VICTOR:Snow White & the Huntsman
2013: Die Hard in the White House
Olympus Has Fallen vs. White House Down
Die Hard was such a seminal film that it is now a cliché to call its imitators "Die Hard in a [INSERT ENVIRONMENT]." Like the expansion of the universe, the imitations are speeding up, with 2013 seeing the release of two dudes-trapped-in-the-White-House-with-terrorists' flicks. I predict in 2020, we will have four films released about a dude trapped in the Washington Monument with terrorists.
Up to bat first was Olympus Has Fallen, an unrepentantly R-rated film where Gerard Butler stabs North Korean terrorists in the head. What this had over its rival was an acceptance of what it was: a blatantly jingoistic action flick. This is the kind of film best summarized by the aforementioned head-stabbing and the always awesome Melissa Leo reciting the Pledge of Allegiance while being beaten by racist stereotypes. Need I say more?
White House Down, the movie best remembered as a throwaway joke in 22 Jump Street, took the PG-13 route. The studio's reasoning I'm guessing was, post-Magic Mike, Channing Tatum's star power, director Roland Emmerich's disaster film cred, and a prime June release would draw teenagers looking for things going explode-y. Thing is, Emmerich's destructive tendencies were hamstrung to the puny D.C. area, a city he had already destroyed multiple times before in much cooler ways. The film itself couldn't decide whether it wanted to be an action-thriller or a romp.
Tatum and Fox in White House Down Centropolis Entertainment
The lower-budgeted Olympus won the battle, essentially by not flopping (Hollywood, as we know, has really low standards). It has a sequel coming out in January titled London Has Fallen. Its trailer was set to a rendition of "The London Bridge is Falling Down." Also, they brought Melissa Leo back. These filmmakers really know what they're doing.
VICTOR: Olympus Has Fallen
2014: The Rock > Kellan Lutz
The Legend of Hercules vs. Hercules
The Legend of Hercules is a cash-grab of a movie if there ever was one. It's made especially depressing because director Renny Harlin actually made fun movies once, like Die Hard 2 and Deep Blue Sea. However, this pile of cinematic garbage stars Kellan Lutz.
Hercules, meanwhile had The Rock. Of course, when you go the "dark and gritty" route, as this film did, not even putting a hat made from a lion's mane on top of Dwayne Johnson's rippling physique could make up for getting rid of Johnson's legendary charisma.
Neither film did well, although Johnson's international appeal carried Hercules to the finish line.
Bizarro Movie Battles to Come . . .
What about 2015? While, a quick skim of the movie calendar didn't yield any obvious examples, there are still plenty of the adapting, re-adapting, and competing films at work. For instance:
2015:Southpaw vs. Creed
Charlie Rose said recently interviewing was at the heart of drama. I agree with him, but with an amendment: dudes punching the crap out of each other are also at the heart of drama.
On July 24, we got our first taste of boxing in 2015. Southpaw was written by Kurt Sutter as a starring vehicle for rapper Eminem. He chose to instead focus on his music and Jake Gyllenhaal stepped up, got jacked, and here we are. Sutter isn't known for subtlety in his storytelling (i.e. the entirety of Sons of Anarchy) and it's all on display in here.
Boxing films are perennial favorites, going back to Rocky and Raging Bull. Speaking of old Rocky, a quasi-sequel to that franchise hits this year titled Creed, from Fruitvale Station collaborators Ryan Cogler and Michael B. Jordan. Jordan stars as Adonis Johnson, the son of Apollo Creed, Rocky's rival-turned-friend who was killed in the ring by Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in 1984's gloriously campy Rocky IV. Adonis seeks out the retired Rocky (a returning Sylvester Stallone) to teach him to be a fighter.
Gyllenhaal in 'Southpaw' IMDb
The trailer hits many of the same notes as Southpaw, which shows just how the boxing genre is, excuse the pun, boxed in to certain tropes. But raw emotion will always find an audience, if delivered authentically. There's plenty of room for two great boxing underdog stories this year.
2013's Jobs vs. 2015's Steve Jobs
In 2013, we were graced with Jobs, the first biopic on legendary hippie-turned-corporate icon Steve Jobs, played by Ashton Kutcher. And by graced, I mean subjected to. In the most surprising twist since The Sixth Sense, Kutcher actually acts and is not half-bad, even though the film he's in is barely a quarter-good. It bombed on release, probably because it was more a quick, strike-before-his-corpse-was-cold kind of film.
On the other hand, now we have the fall's future Oscar-winning biopic Steve Jobs, written by Oscar-winner Aaron Sorkin, directed by Oscar-winner Danny Boyle and led by future Oscar-winner Michael Fassbender.
I think we can already declare a victor here.