‘Surf’s Up’ Is Latest Example Of Hollywood Deja Vu (Cartoon Penguins, Anyone?)

When flicks are so alike, there's only room for one at the top of the box office.

On June 8, moviegoers too young for “Ocean’s Thirteen” or too squeamish for “Hostel: Part II” will be lining up to see some animated penguins in “Surf’s Up.” These might be the very same kids and parents who lined up to see that other animated penguin movie (“Happy Feet”) just last year.

(Is this a penguin conspiracy or just a coincidence? Watch right here.)

And this isn’t the first time movie audiences have been treated to a double-dose of fun. In the second half of 2006, we had two movies about magicians (“The Illusionist” and “The Prestige”), and before that there were two animated flicks about zoo animals running amok in New York City (“Madagascar and “The Wild”).

In the strange universe that we call Hollywood there is, in fact, a long tradition of dueling movies — two films with similar (or darn-near identical) subject matter and/or plots that are released within a relatively short period of time. Logic may indicate that the first of the pair to hit theaters would be the box-office champ, but that isn’t always the case. Remember “Babe,” the adorable little piglet whose piggy bank fared extremely well in summer 1995? Betcha don’t remember “Gordy,” the piglet who was not so fortunate three months earlier.

And there’s more: In a 1995 battle between Scottish heroes, Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” bested Liam Neeson’s “Rob Roy,” which was released the month prior. In 1998, Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck saved the world from “Armageddon” and took in over $60 million more domestically than Elijah Wood and Robert Duvall, who did the same thing in “Deep Impact” two months earlier. That same year, Disney/Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life” squashed DreamWorks’ “Antz” even though it was released more than a month behind.

And there are plenty examples of the opposite occurrence: Back in 1994, the Kevin Costner-starring “Wyatt Earp” couldn’t muster up half the box office earnings of Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer in “Tombstone,” which had hit screens in late ’93. Matthew McConaughey’s “Edtv” in 1999 lured a fraction of the audience of Jim Carrey’s “The Truman Show” from the previous year. And last year’s “Infamous” was all but ignored after the acclaim and attention that “Capote” received in 2005. Same subject matter (Truman Capote), same story (the events leading up to his publication of “In Cold Blood”) but very different results at the box office.

Since Hollywood loves the bandwagon (or perhaps it’s just coincidence), these battles will rage on. Variety reported that directors Bryan Singer and Gus Van Sant are both working on projects about slain politician and gay-rights activist Harvey Milk. And “Daybreakers,” the vampires-have-taken-over-the-world thriller set to star Ethan Hawke, sounds suspiciously like Will Smith’s “I Am Legend,” coming to a theater near you this winter.

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