Similar films — Matching plots are fueling the latest movie deals
If it’s true that great minds think alike, then Hollywood must be crawling with geniuses. Studios are currently girding for battle with a lineup of look-alike projects: two big-budget volcano movies; two films about the late runner Steve Prefontaine; two projects about the adventures of the Dalai Lama; and two weirdly similar condom movies.
Of course, in any duel, someone has to lose. Not even Kevin Costner’s star wattage could save 1994’s box office dud Wyatt Earp after 1993’s profitable Tombstone shot up the franchise. However, says veteran producer Jack Brodsky (Romancing the Stone), ”it’s a game of chicken. In a business with these kinds of egos, you’re always going to have somebody saying ‘It’s not anything like my picture.”’ Meet the chickens:
Volcanic eruptions: Universal’s Dante’s Peak, the $70 million tale of a volcanologist (Pierce Brosnan) in the Pacific Northwest, starts shooting June 3. But across town, Fox is drafting Bill Pullman to star in Volcano, in which an eruption takes place in the middle of L.A. Fox exec Tom Sherak insists, ”Ours is [disaster maestro] Irwin Allenish. That makes it a little more accessible.” Replies Peak producer Joe Singer, ”I think only one volcano movie will get made, and we were lucky enough to get there first. There’s room here to tell a good story — the Fox project is just about a lot of lava coming down Wilshire Boulevard.”
Olympic trials: Writer-director Robert Towne (Chinatown) has discovered a compelling story in Steve Prefontaine, the Eugene, Ore., runner who narrowly missed winning a medal in the 1972 Olympics and died in a car crash just before the 1976 heats. ”It’s hard to find a hero who’s likable and plausible — and he’s both,” says Towne. Pre will shoot in June, with Tom Cruise producing and Billy Crudup (Sleepers) starring. Meanwhile Disney has planned its own version — also called Pre — to be written and directed by Steve James and Peter Gilbert (Hoop Dreams). But producer Irby Smith admits, ” They’re running — we’re crawling.”
Hello, Dalai: Brad Pitt will star in TriStar’s Seven Years in Tibet as an Austrian mountaineer who befriends the young Dalai Lama during World War II, while at Disney Martin Scorsese is planning his own biopic, Kundun. It’s pure coincidence, says Tibet executive producer Michael Besman. ”Nobody said, ‘The Dalai Lama is going to be really big in ’97.”’
Burning rubbers: Not all the competition is so high-minded. The frantic quest for a condom is the very basic premise of Columbia’s black-cast Booty Call, which Jeff Pollack (Above the Rim) will begin filming in June, and Warner’s white-cast Trojan War, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt (Party of Five) and directed by George Huang (Swimming With Sharks). ”Booty Call was written before I’d even heard of Trojan War,” says one of Call‘s writers, Takashi Bufford. ”Sometimes these things just bubble up from the zeitgeist.”
One big reason studios are reluctant to back out of a duel is Big, the 1988 Tom Hanks comedy about a boy in a man’s body, which earned $113 million even though it followed two body-swapping losers, 18 Again and Like Father, Like Son. Recalls Sherak, who released Big, ”Were we worried about the other movies? No question. But people will go to see movies that are like other movies as long as the story works.” Just last week, in fact, Universal mustered enough confidence in the story of King Kong to announce a remake, even though Disney’s big-budget ape movie, Mighty Joe Young, is already in the works. Ticket buyers will have to decide whose is Big-er.