5 Times the Big Budget Hollywood Movie was Better than the Small Independent Film
by Jason Koenigsberg
I spend a lot of time here at panandslam.com ripping apart the Hollywood studios and how they butcher directors visions. They dumb movies down for simple minded audiences, and play it safe to not offend or upset anybody. Well every so often there are examples of the big studio machine cranking out not only a great picture but one that surpasses a low budget independent film with identical or very similar characters, themes and narratives.
Here are five examples of moments where the big budget studio product was better than the more independent version. This is not meant to be just a list of remakes so you will not see anything like John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) or David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) on here and read praises about how much better they are than their original versions. These are simply films that dealt with similar ideas, just everything worked out well with the big budget version, thus making them more entertaining and satisfying.
I came very close to putting two Christopher Nolan films on here, his independent break out modern noir classic Memento (2001) and his big budget masterwork Inception (2010). Both are outstanding and deal with similar concepts, however short term memory loss and delving literally into someone’s dreams are very different on screen. Plus, I do not honestly think I can say Memento is a superior film to Inception, they are both outstanding in totally different ways.
Without any further ado… in no particular order here are Pan and Slam’s 5 Times The Big Budget Hollywood Production was better than the indie film:
The Matrix (1999) is better than Existenz (1999)
This is the first one that popped into my head. After I saw the new Americanized version of Ghost in the Shell last week I immediately thought of how vastly superior the original anime import was and how it influenced the Wachowski siblings when they made The Matrix. Then I began thinking how The Matrix influenced the visual effects and set design of the new Ghost in the Shell. The relationship is symbiotic, and I started thinking how amazing The Matrix was when it was first released in the spring of 1999. It was a game changer for the action and science fiction genres, making a lot of films in those genres simply look like clones of The Matrix. But then I remembered that about a month after The Matrix exploded onto movie screens, David Cronenberg, one of the best horror and sci-fi directors of the past thirty-plus years released his film Existenz about a video game programmer getting sucked into a virtual reality world and on the run from mysterious assassins. The problem was that Cronenberg’s smaller scale body-horror thriller could not have been released at a more inopportune time. On the heels of one of the most popular and acclaimed futuristic thrillers of the decade, Existenz just felt like leftovers and a poor mans Matrix.
Desperado (1995) is better than El Mariachi (1992)
I am not sure if Desperado was meant to be a sequel to or remake of El Mariachi, or both for that matter. What I am certain of is that Desperado succeeds in ways that El Mariachi‘s tiny budget could not. It is amazing what Robert Rodriguez was able to accomplish with only $7,000 in the pre-digital era of motion pictures and it is all well documented in his book Rebel Without a Crew. However, it still feels like a $7,000 movie or a glorified student film. Desperado is basically the same movie, with big stars, and a production value in the millions. Robert Rodriguez brought the same intensity on his first big studio picture. Desperado featured outstanding visuals, music complimenting what we saw on screen perfectly, and action choreography making it immensely more re-watchable and is still one of the best films from it’s director and stars Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) is better than Mad Max (1979)
My love for George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road should be obvious for anyone who follows this site. But believe it or not, I was never crazy about his original dystopian vision that introduced the world to Mel Gibson and his post-apocalyptic renegade loner Max Rockatansky. This sort of falls into the same category as the Robert Rodriguez movies mentioned above. In fact Rodriguez even mentions in his memoirs how Mad Max influenced him with El Mariachi. Their plots are almost identical, our hero witnesses the death of his girlfriend and sets off on a violent path of revenge in a self-destructing world while simultaneously becoming more self-destructive himself. The budget limitations of the first Mad Max held it back from being as re-watchable as it’s sequels. However Mad Max: Fury Road had a huge budget of $150 million and the result was an international hit that won six Academy Awards and is the best of all of George Miller’s Mad Max films. Fury Road is practically flawless and it works great as a sequel to the original films starring Mel Gibson or as a remake with Tom Hardy perfectly filling in Mel Gibson’s shoes.
The Departed (2006) is better than Infernal Affairs (2002)
This is the only one on the list that counts as a remake of the inferior film. However, they are different enough and qualify as two completely separate films both good on their own, but the big budget Hollywood film is superior because of the talent in front of and behind the camera. Andrew Lau’s original Infernal Affairs is a good movie about an undercover police officer and a mole in the police department trying to aid his crime boss as the cop and crook switch places and play a deadly game of cat and mouse trying to find out who is the mole and who is the real cop. Luckily for all of us, Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest directors of all time and is a huge fan of Asian cinema and jumped at the chance to remake Infernal Affairs. Not only did he remake it, he redefined the limitations of that film and reinvented it as The Departed, one of the best films of the 21st century and the only Scorsese film to earn the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and finally get Scorsese the coveted Best Director Oscar. It fits right in with the finest films of his career. Plus, as good as the acting was in the original Hong Kong film, they are no match to the big names of Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg. Those are some of the best actors of their era and they all deliver outstanding performances and the big recognizable stars helped make it easier to follow the intricate chase between the blurred lines of cops and criminals. Rarely has a director used such big stars in an ensemble to such great effect.
Face/Off (1997) is better than Gattaca (1997)
This one is maybe the loosest take on the “poor mans” version of the big budget blockbuster. But hear me out, they both involve men swapping identities, one a willing participant and the other unbeknownst to him. They both involve genetic manipulation and both have science fiction elements. Face/Off was originally conceived to take place in the future but after many re-writes they scrapped that and the only sci-fi element that remained was the top secret prison with the magnetic boots in the second act. Plus, they both came out in 1997. When I walked out of Gattaca I was underwhelmed to say the least but mostly because it felt like a lower budget and inferior take on Face/Off. John Woo was finally given free range on his third American film and he delivered his biggest and best Hollywood studio hit this side of the Pacific Ocean with Face/Off. It had all of his signature trademarks, the doves, the slow motion, the operatic action scenes that feel more like ballet than violence and the dramatic dialogue. On top of all that, he had John Travolta and Nicolas Cage at the height of their action star powers delivering some very over-the-top yet appropriate performances. It was the best action movie released during the summer of 1997. Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca felt like Face/Off‘s leftovers. Sure it had great ideas and a lot of boring science talk about DNA and molecular biology, but none of the pizazz and fun escapism of Face/Off. The budgetary restraints were noticeable and after the kinetic action and eye candy spectacle of Face/Off, Gattaca did not stand a chance once I found the similarities between the two films released only four months apart.