The Avengers isn’t just the title of this weekend’s hotly-anticipated superhero extravaganza, it’s also the name of a critically panned adaptation of a 1960s TV show starring Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman. This isn’t the first time multiple movies have shared a title, of course — last week’s action thriller Safe shared a title with a Todd Haynes drama. But noticing the latest example on the release schedule got us thinking — and by the time we’d finished thinking, we had ourselves yet another list. From Oscar nominees to infamous duds, here are 25 movies with only a dozen titles between them. It’s time for Total Recall!
Any film fan worth his salt has probably seen a few jokers on Twitter and Facebook pretending to think this weekend’s Avengers is an adaptation of the old TV spy series. But not so long ago, that actually happened: 1998’s The Avengers drew inspiration from the show, and boasted a terrific cast that included Sean Connery, Ralph Fiennes, and Uma Thurman — but still died a horrible death in theaters, where its theatrical run was marked by brutal reviews and disappointing grosses. Even before its American debut, the 2012 Avengers already has the critical and commercial edge, as well as a pretty impressive cast of its own. It’s no contest — when choosing between these two cinematic crimefighting teams, we’ll take Marvel’s superheroes every time.
Like most right-minded film fans, when we read Black Sheep, we think of the 1996 Chris Farley/David Spade comedy about… well, it doesn’t really matter what the plot is about, does it? It’s about a big guy and a smaller guy on some outlandishly goofy comedic adventures, and even if it isn’t as funny as Tommy Boy, the Farley/Spade pairing always had enough juice to make up for some of the less egregious flaws in the scripts they were given. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that the Tomatometer champion in the Black Sheep wars is a 2006 horror-comedy hybrid about a flock of genetically engineered sheep who go on a killing spree across the New Zealand countryside. As hard as it is for us to disrespect one of the preeminent comedy teams of the early ’90s, we’re forced to give the nod to the ’06 Sheep here — you’ve got your pick of movies with a fat guy in a little coat, but how many times do you get to see killer sheep?
The differences between Stephen Hopkins’ bomb squad actioner and the Corey-powered erotic thriller are about as stark as their respective interpretations of the title they share. One stars Jeff Bridges as a Boston cop terrorized by an escaped bomber (Tommy Lee Jones) he once called a friend; the other stars notable teen duo Corey Feldman and Corey Haim as half-brothers who are swept into a murder plot when one of them (Haim) falls for a seductive femme fatale (Baywatch‘s Nicole Eggert). Unfortunately, neither film really blew anyone away, as the novelty of “The Two Coreys” had already begun to wane by 1992, and despite the star power of Bridges and Jones, the 1994 film suffered from comparisons to the similarly-themed Speed, which hit theaters just a month before it. Leave it to two movies called Blown Away to bomb, both critically and commercially.
Like a few others on this list, Crossroads is a generic enough title that several films have adopted it, though we’ll be focusing on the two that have Tomatometers. Specifically, this means comparing two road movies heavily informed by music: 1986’s Crossroads, directed by Walter Hill and starring Ralph Macchio as a young guitarist in search of a lost song by legendary blues man Robert Johnson; and 2002’s Crossroads, starring Britney Spears, Taryn Manning, and Zoe Saldana as three estranged childhood friends who reunite on the night of their high school graduation and embark on a road trip from Louisiana to California. Spears’ pop icon status was still fully intact when her film opened, but that didn’t stop Crossroads from being terribly silly and clichéd, with a few bizarrely dark moments. Hill’s film, on the other hand, not only demonstrated an affection for its subject matter, it featured a climactic guitar battle between The Karate Kid and Steve Vai as the Devil’s minion. There is no contest here.
The Fast and the Furious
They’re separated by nearly 50 years and millions of budget dollars, but it should come as no surprise that our two The Fast and the Furiouses have plenty in common — specifically, they both revolve around morally complex men forced into bad behavior by tricky legal situations. In the 1954 version, it’s John Ireland who, as ex-con Frank Webster, kidnaps a woman (Dorothy Malone) and poses as a road rally driver in order to escape the law long enough to reach the border. The second time around, we saw Paul Walker as a cop going undercover in a racing gang led by Vin Diesel and finding himself drawn to the man he’s sworn to bring to justice — not to mention his sister (Jordana Brewster). In terms of box office clout, the more recent Furious clearly boasts higher octane, but the original was produced by a young Roger Corman. Call it a draw?
Buster Keaton’s silent classic and John Boorman’s gritty biopic are similar in exactly two ways: they’re both called The General, and they’re both in black and white. While Keaton’s film was a flop in its time, it’s subsequently been heralded as one of silent cinema’s greatest achievements; a deft mix of comedy and romance that features some of the most death-defying stunts ever captured on celluloid, the 1927 General is the story of a Civil War-era railroad engineer who rescues his girlfriend with the help of his beloved locomotive. In terms of historical import, Boorman’s film doesn’t measure up, but it’s still a remarkable portrait of Martin Cahill, a notorious Irish crime lord who became a modern folk hero; as played by Brendan Gleeson, Cahill maintains a roguish charm despite his propensity for violence, theft, and womanizing.
At first glance, the two films here that share the title Hero could hardly be more different: one is a dramedy about an unassuming good Samaritan (Dustin Hoffman) who rescues several survivors from a crashed plane and promptly disappears back into anonymity, while the other is a period martial arts epic about an assassination plot against China’s first emperor. Digging a little deeper, however, reveals both movies were helmed by very good directors (Stephen Frears in 1992, Zhang Yimou in 2002), powered by very talented stars (Hoffman, Geena Davis, and Andy Garcia in 1992; Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Maggie Cheung, and Tony Leung in 2002), and effective in subverting traditional notions of heroism. That said, while Frears’ Hero was a moderate critical and commercial success, Zhang’s Hero is a triumph, with stunning action sequences, sumptuous cinematography, and a gripping story based on historical events.
Believe it or not, Alfred Hitchcock and Christopher Wallace have a lot in common. Both had multiple nicknames (Wallace rapped as both the Notorious B.I.G and Biggie Smalls; Hitchcock was called Hitch and the Master of Suspense). Both were known for their corpulent bodies. Both were involved in famous beefs (Biggie with 2Pac, Hitch with David O. Selznick). Both used art to reflect on the dark allure of crime and punishment. And though Hitch died before Biggie rose to fame, the rapper gave the great director a shout-out on “What’s Beef”: “This rap Alfred Hitchcock/ drop top notch playa hating won’t stop.” However, in the cinematic battle between Hitch’s espionage thriller and the Biggie biopic — both titled Notorious — the portly Englishman takes the top prize. While the latter received respectful to lukewarm notices, the former is one of Hitchcock’s greatest achievements — Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman burn up the screen as lovers on a mission to infiltrate a Nazi spy ring. And if you don’t know, now you know.
It’s not really fair to compare 1985’s The Protector to the film of the same name that came out 21 years later. We know that. Sure, it’s got the built-in headline power of “Jackie Chan vs. Tony Jaa,” but that’s more than a little disingenuous. When Chan starred in the earlier Protector, a self-serious thriller about an NYC cop (Chan) investigating a kidnapping, he was still virtually unknown to American audiences, so his signature stuntwork and comic energy is nowhere to be found in the film. By contrast, when 2002’s Protector opened, audiences were still feeling the incredible rush from Jaa’s explosive debut, Ong Bak; all eyes were on him to deliver another knockout, and deliver he did. One particular sequence involves a fantastic, brutal, unbroken long take following Jaa as he ascends several flights of stairs and beats up baddies, and that sequence alone trumps all of Chan’s Protector.
Two movies called Red are also two movies about old folks getting their respective mojos back. In the final installment of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy, Valentine (Irene Jacob) meets Joseph (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a reclusive retired judge, after she accidently runs over his dog. Joseph’s a pretty cynical old guy, but he eventually opens up to Valentine, who learns that he’s been secretly eavesdropping on his neighbors’ phone conversations. The folks in 2010’s Red are also getting up there in age, and they also know a thing or two about spycraft. Frank (Bruce Willis), Joe (Morgan Freeman), Marvin (John Malkovich), and Victoria (Helen Mirren) are retired CIA operatives whose extensive institutional knowledge makes them dangerous to the agency. Though the more recent Red might not have garnered the critical praise of the 1994 film, it has lots more explosions. Like, lots more.
The 1948 film Road House is bereft of the most compelling elements of its 1989 namesake — there are no nationally-famous bouncers, monster trucks, or early morning tai chi sessions to be found here. Instead, the O.G. Road House features a disturbing performance from Richard Widmark as Jeffy Robbins, the psychotic owner of a gritty tavern on the Canadian border. Jeffy is in love with lounge singer Lily Stevens (Ida Lupino), but she’s fallen for Jeffy’s Road House manager Pete Morgan (Cornel Wilde); frame-ups, double-crosses, and shootings ensue. This grim noir has a better Tomatometer than Rowdy Herrington’s magnum opus, but for campy fun, few films equal the 1989 film, which features Patrick Swayze at his most brutal and philosophical. Let it roll, baby, roll.
Running Scared is a fairly generic title, but this three-way battle’s plain surface masks some intriguing acting matchups — the 1979 version stars Ken Wahl and Judge Reinhold as Army vets who find themselves at the center of a spy thriller after unwittingly taking a picture of a secret military installation, the 1986 entry stars Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines as a couple of bumbling Chicago cops embroiled in a crime war with Jimmy Smits, and the 2005 Scared stars Paul Walker as a low-level Mafia grunt who’s told to dispose of a gun but ends up having to hunt it down after it’s “borrowed” and used to commit a crime. It’s definitely tough to pick a winner here — Walker is a repeat performer on this week’s list, and it’s hard to go against Judge Reinhold. But we have to go with the 1986 Running Scared, if for no other reason than the fact that the soundtrack’s Top 10 hit, “Sweet Freedom,” came with a video starring singer/ex-Doobie Brother/noted ’80s beard enthusiast Michael McDonald in a Hawaiian print shirt. Shine, sweet freedom… Shine your light on me…