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?
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
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.
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…
Written by Ryan Fujitani, Luke Goodsell, and Tim Ryan