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Smackdown! Battle of the first daughter movies

When similar movies go head-to-head, someone's got to lose. By Sarah D. Bunting

Everyone likes a success story — especially Hollywood executives, and especially when it's a success story they can copy profitably.  "Trends" in film and television usually consist of bandwagon-jumping that's so enthusiastic, it's likely to show up on the Richter scale — think back to the mid-’90s, all those "Friends" clones and Tarantinoids spawned by the successes of the Rachel ’do and "Pulp Fiction."  So, when you see a movement in movies, it's usually in the direction of the nearest Xerox machine.

But not always.  Sometimes, two films featuring very similar plots or concepts come out at roughly the same time, and when that happens, it's not just a trend — it's a cage match!  The next title bout on the fight card is between two movies about the trials of first-daughterhood: "Chasing Liberty," starring perennial tween favorite Mandy Moore, and the aptly named "First Daughter," starring critical darling and "Dawson's Creek" refugee Katie Holmes.

Which movie will win, leaving the other motionless and bleeding on the floor of the ring?  Before the betting begins, a quick review of other similar-movie clashes is in order.

Battle of the Comets Destroying The Earth:
"Armageddon" (1998) vs. "Deep Impact" (1998)
It's tempting to give the advantage to "Deep Impact" just for casting Morgan Freeman as the President, but "Armageddon" had a happier ending, a more familiar feel — Bruce Willis doing the "Die Hard In Space" thing — and a tie-in Aerosmith video in near-constant rotation on MTV.  It sucked more, but it also grossed more.Advantage: "Armageddon"

Battle of the One-Man Reality Shows:
"The Truman Show" (1998) vs. "Ed TV"
Jim Carrey forayed into Serious Actor territory in "The Truman Show," which started out as a comedy before trying to delve into the issues surrounding the reality genre (and nabbed Oscar nominations for writing, directing, Ed Harris, and Ed Harris' beret).  It's a flawed movie, but a thoughtful one.  "Ed TV," on the other hand, started out as slapstick before trying to make Jenna Elfman likeable — and failing.  Neither Matthew McConaughey nor his bongo drums got nominated for anything.Advantage: "The Truman Show"

Battle of the French Court Intrigues:
"Dangerous Liaisons" (1988) vs. "Valmont" (1989)
"Valmont" is marginally truer to the original epistolary novel on which both movies are based, but Colin Firth as Valmont, while yummy, can't touch the wicked sexy cruelty of John Malkovich in the same role; Annette Bening is good, but she's overmatched by complexity of the role of Merteuil.  Plus, only one of the films features Uma Thurman's breasts, and it ain't "Valmont."Advantage: "Dangerous Liaisons"

Battle of the Body-Switching Movies:
"Like Father, Like Son" (1987) vs. "Vice Versa" (1988)
Recent release "Freaky Friday" blows both these films out of the water — actually, so does the original "Freaky Friday" — but can either one blow the other out of the water?  Well, neither film is good, in the sense that neither film is even tolerable for more than 10 minutes, but "Like Father, Like Son's" lead pairing of Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron is almost unbelievably annoying, whereas Judge Reinhold is just kind of pathetic and rubbery."Advantage": "Vice Versa"

Battle of the Chick-Lit On Celluloid:
"Bridget Jones's Diary" (2000) vs. "Someone Like You" (2001)
In spite of all the irritating publicity surrounding the weight gain and the accent coaching, Renee Zellweger turned in a fun, charming performance as titular heroine Bridget Jones — and Colin Firth makes a far better Mark Darcy than he does a Valmont.  Plus, Hugh Grant, not stammering!  "Someone Like You," based on a more obscure book that it didn't remain faithful to, covers the eye-candy angle in the form of Hugh Jackman, but isn't as sympathetic or interesting.Advantage: "Bridget Jones's Diary"

Battle of the High-Seas Dramas:
"Pirates of the Caribbean" (2003) vs. "Master and Commander: Far Side of the World" (2003)
Another face-off comes down to personal preference — camp, or brawn?  Johnny Depp's baroquely fey performance, or the muscular grunting of Russell Crowe?  Okay, all these two movies have in common is sea spray and puffy shirts — so why choose?Advantage: Neither

Battle of the…well, Battle of the Battles:
"The Thin Red Line" (1998) vs. "Saving Private Ryan" (1998)
Probably the two most prestigious of the World War II projects released in the last seven or eight years, the films have the same subject matter, but then diverge — "The Thin Red Line" focuses on a company's trials in a larger battle, "Ryan" on a company's trials in the service of one man's story.  Spielberg's direction is more formulaic, but the Academy and the public responded more strongly to it, which — along with the Tom Hanks imprimatur — gives his movie the edge over Terrence Malick's.Advantage: "Saving Private Ryan"

The list could go on and on … Battle of the Self-Aware Horror-Genre Rejuvenators ("Scream" in 1996 vs. "I Know What You Did Last Summer" in 1997), or Battle of the Warhols in Supporting Roles (Jared Harris in "I Shot Andy Warhol" vs. David Bowie in "Basquiat," both in 1996).  You could even include the dueling Janis Joplin bio-pics, both still gestating.  But what allows one movie to succeed where another, similar one fails?

The unsatisfying answer: it depends.  Sometimes it's the film that's released first, or released on a holiday weekend; sometimes it's the one that garners more, or more favorable, publicity.  Sometimes it's the director; in a battle between Milos Forman and Stephen Frears, you'd probably put your money on Forman — but his "Valmont" came out later, and now it's the overlooked one in the pair.  It's almost never the cast.  "The Thin Red Line" brought just as much star power as "Saving Private Ryan," but it's the one moviegoers skipped.  Sometimes there isn't a reason.

In the Battle of the First Daughter Movies, "Chasing Liberty" has the unquestionable advantage of coming out first (after a scuffle over who "had dibs" on January 9, Fox delayed the release of "First Daughter" indefinitely), not to mention Mandy Moore's fan base in its back pocket — but "First Daughter" lead Katie Holmes is considered the better actress.  "First Daughter" also features a more believable President in the person of Michael Keaton (vs. "Liberty's" Mark Harmon), and a name actor as the suitor (Mark Blucas, late of "Buffy"), and it's directed by Forest Whitaker.  "Chasing Liberty" … isn't, and the plot is a little too close to that of "Roman Holiday" for comfort, but "Chasing Liberty" does have cult fave Jeremy Piven in a supporting role, which usually bodes well. 

By virtue of the release-date pole position, and the demonstrated spending preferences of pre-pubescent girls, it looks like "Chasing Liberty" already has this fight won, unless "First Daughter" is the "Clueless" of 2004 — or "Chasing Liberty" is the "Glitter."  But until both movies have premiered, it's tough to call.  Not as tough as if each one starred a different Olsen twin, but still tough.

Sarah D. Bunting is the co-creator and co-editor-in-chief of She lives in Manhattan.