Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.
Today I’d like to talk to you all about a little something called “Copycat Movies.” These are films that are released around the same time, and that have extremely similar plots and/or premises. Some examples of this kind of cinema would be Deep Impact and Armageddon–both came out in 1998 , and were about giant asteroids smashing into the Earth–Babe and Gordy–both came out in 1995, and told the stories of talking pigs–and most recently, White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen–both were released in 2013, and explored what would happen if a group of terrorist took over the White House.
Now, in nearly every instance of copycat films, one picture ends up being more critically and/or financially successful than the other. With Babe and Gordy, for instance, one ended up taking home an Oscar and spawning a sequel, while the other, after flopping with critics and bombing at the box office, was quickly forgotten by the movie-going community. (Gee, I wonder which one was which). Anyway, since these copycat films are virtually identical, I can’t help but ask why one always does better than the other. To find out, I’ve decided to compare two of them–White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen.
As I stated earlier, both these films deal with the White House getting taken over by terrorists. Both are violent, and both are far from what you might call sophisticated or profound. Even so, both movies were very financially successful at the time of their release, with Olympus Has Fallen even getting a sequel, London Has Fallen, which will come out this October. However, as with every instance of copycat cinema, one of these films did end up doing better with critics and audiences. Which one, you ask? Well, with Olympus Has Fallen getting a sequel and all, you might be tempted to think that that was the more successful of the two. In reality, White House Down made more money and did slightly better with critics. Whereas Olympus Has Fallen only grossed $161 million when it came out, White House Down grossed over $200 million. Similarly, while Olympus Has Fallen got mixed to negative reviews from critics, currently holding a mere 48% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, White House Down just got mixed reviews, with its current approval rating standing at 51%. Why, though? What accounts for one brainless action flicks slightly higher level of success?
Well, part of it could have to do with audience expectation. See, when filmmakers reach a certain level of success, they start branding products with their names. The hope is that, in so doing, they’ll bring in an already-established audience, and thus make at least a minimum amount of money. In many cases, this actually works. Phrases like “a film by Martin Scorsese” or “from Steven Spielberg” almost always get throngs of people into theaters. In other cases, as with the notorious M Night Shyamalan, a director’s name can actually work against a movie. Either way, when a filmmaker’s been around for long enough, people come to know what to expect from him or her, and they thus respond accordingly. It’s perfectly possible that this had something to do with White House Down’s slightly higher level of success than Olympus Has Fallen. The directors of both these films–Roland Emmerich and Antoine Fuqua–have been working in the entertainment industry for a long time now, and both have very loyal fan bases. However, the director of White House Down, Roland Emmerich, tends, overall, to make movies that are slightly more appealing to the general public. Why, you ask, are they more appealing? Well, for starters, they’re a lot of fun. Emmerich is known for making these very grand, very spectacular disaster films, like Independence Day, 2012, and The Day After Tomorrow. These movies are never profound, or critically acclaimed, but they are highly enjoyable. They’ve got some great explosions, and some genuinely funny moments in them. Lines like “Welcome to Earth,” and “Hello boys! I’m back!” from Independence Day are just a few of the iconic moments he’s helped bring to the big screen. In addition to this, Emmerich is very much an advocate for a lot of good causes in his movies. He’s openly gay, and he tends to include gay characters in his films. He’s a former smoker who wants to discourage people from acquiring the habit, and oftentimes in his movies he shows individuals trying to quit. In addition to this, he’s also someone hugely invested in spreading the word about Climate Change, and his film The Day After Tomorrow is literally all about that. In short, he makes fun movies, but fun movies that aren’t offensive, and that have some good messages in them. Basically, his name is a brand that audiences can trust. This is as opposed to Antoine Fuqua, director of Olympus Has Fallen. His name carries a slightly different connotation. See, Fuqua is famous for making the crime-thriller Training Day, and, well, nothing else. Yes, he’s directed other films–The Equalizer, Brooklyn’s Finest, King Arthur–but they were all either critically panned or didn’t make much money. So, when the tagline for your movie is “from a guy who made one good thing 15 years ago, and nothing good since,” it’s not exactly like you’re going to draw throngs of people into the theaters. On top of this, anyone who’s seen Fuqua’s films knows that they tend to be EXTREMELY violent. And not in an over-the-top, cartoonish, Quentin Tarantino-type way. Oh no! His movies are violent in a very gritty, very visceral sense. In his latest film,The Equalizer, for instance, there’s one sequence towards the end where the main character lures a group of Russian gangsters to a Home Depot and then, one by one, dismembers and disembowels them using all the tools at his disposal. Yikes! I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like the type of thing I’d want to go see on a first date. But, alas, I’m getting sidetracked. My point here is that, if you’re a filmmaker whose got a reputation like Antoine Fuqua, and you brand a picture with your name, you can’t really expect to get that many people into theaters to see it. And perhaps this is what caused Fuqua’s movie, Olympus Has Fallen, to do slightly worse than its doppelgänger, White House Down.
Another factor that could have contributed to White House Down‘s slightly higher level of success is the cast. There are plenty of movies out there that were really only successful because they had hot stars in them, and I believe that this is what happened with these two films. White House Down had two A-list actors in it–Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx–and Olympus Has Fallen had Gerard Butler. Yeah. Enough Said. Now, don’t get me wrong, Gerard Butler has been in good films–300, How To Train Your Dragon–but these movies are more the exception than the rule of his career. Most of his other projects–Movie 43, The Bounty Hunter, Machine Gun Preacher–have either tanked at the box office or been panned by critics. Foxx and Tatum, by contrast, have had several recent hits–Django Unchained and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 for Foxx, and Foxcatcher, 21 Jump Street, and Magic Mike for Tatum. Basically, audiences have come to expect a slightly higher level of quality from these men’s films, and, thus, they tend to go see them more often. The fact that White House Down had both of them together could, very well, have been part of the reason why the movie was so successful.
But perhaps the greatest reason why White House Down did better than Olympus Has Fallen is the way it told its story. As I stated earlier, both these films deal with the White House getting taken over by terrorists. However, the tone, themes and execution of these two movies could not be more dissimilar. Olympus Has Fallen is basically just a Die Hard movie. A group of North Korean terrorists take the building by force, and then Gerard Butler, a former secret service agent, kills them off–one by one–and saves the President. It’s very violent, and very jingoistic. For those of you who don’t know what that last term means, jingoism refers to a kind of extreme patriotism that takes the form of aggressive foreign policy. Jingoism advocates the use of force, or the threat thereof, to protect what a country perceives to be its national interests. Basically, it’s the perfect way to describe the climate in the US immediately following 9/11. This, of course, is a somewhat controversial stance to take in your movie these days. After all, the Cold War is over, and the fear of terrorism is considerably less than what it was in the early 2000s. Nowadays, most Americans don’t want to see a movie that paints the rest of the world as evil and dangerous, and makes them look like absolute angels. Movies that do this–American Sniper, Red Dawn–are oftentimes written off as little more than Fascist propaganda. And in many cases, the fact that the villains in these films are usually ethnically or racially different from the White heroes elicits accusations of xenophobia and racism. So, yeah, when you make a right-wing, pro-American action movie like Olympus Has Fallen, you’re bound to turn some people away. If, on the other hand, you make a more light-hearted buddy action comedy that’s critical of American militarism, like White House Down, you might stand a chance of winning over audiences. See, whereas Olympus Has Fallen is about a single, brave American man killing off a horde of foreigners to save the president, White House Down tells the story of the Commander in Chief (Jame Foxx) teaming up with a wannabe secret service agent (Channing Tatum) to take down the former head of the Presidential detail (James Woods) who’s gone rogue. Both of the heroes are rather bumbling, so there’s a lot more room for humor in this film, and the villain is an American who wants to launch a nuclear strike against Iran, so there’s also space for a critical look at American xenophobia and militarism as well. Basically, this movie’s tone, characters, and humor are more approachable to the general public, and this is likely why it did better than its mirror image, Olympus Has Fallen.
So, just to recap, audience expectation, cast, and most importantly, the manner in which it told its story, are three possible reasons why White House Down did better than its carbon copy, Olympus Has Fallen, and could also account for why, in nearly every instance of copycat cinema, one film does better than the other. These are, of course, not the only factors that can play a part in the success of such pictures, and if you all would like to point them out to me, or disagree with the claims I’ve made here, by all means, do so! I’d love to hear them!
I hope you all are enjoying your summers, and have a great day!