It's a horror story that any movie fan can relate to, Twi-Hard or not: You're watching TV and you see the name of your favorite movie listed on your channel guide, only to flip over and discover that the "Twilight" they're showing doesn't have Edward and Jacob battling for the love of Bella — but instead Gene Hackman and Paul Newman fighting over Susan Sarandon.
You were just punked by Same Name Syndrome. (Hey, at least it also includes a topless Reese Witherspoon.)
It happens often. In fact, just this week, "The Butler" hits theaters ... except it's officially titled "Lee Daniels' The Butler," 'cause the rights to the title "The Butler" belong to a 1916 silent short film that no one's ever seen (yes, really). Read all about that silly saga here.
Anyway, here's our guide on How to Differentiate Movies With the Same Title (That Are NOT Remakes).
'Savages' (2012) vs. 'The Savages' (2007)
Most people probably consider their own family to be a bunch of complete savages, so in that sense the 2007 indie family dramedy "The Savages" is fairly similar to the Oliver Stone film about drug pushers fighting each other to the death. But there are a few subtle differences:
• Oliver Stone's version features Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch occasionally wearing Mexican luche libre wrestling masks. At no point does Philip Seymour Hoffman don one of these in "The Savages."
• Similarly, "Savages" hinges on the fact that Johnson and Kitsch have a shared girlfriend in the form of Blake Lively. As much as we'd like to say Laura Linney has a crazy threesome in "The Savages," well, that would be a lie. But a hot one.
• "Savages" has Benicio Del Toro sporting a cool mustache and acting like a d-bag. If you see this, then a) you are watching "Savages" and not "The Savages;" and b) run.
'Project X' (2012) vs. 'Project X' (1987)
This is very important folks, because getting these two mixed up could seriously ruin your entertainment plans, not to mention make you look like a total chump (or is that chimp?) in front of your friends. Pay close attention:
• In the original "Project X," Matthew Broderick (you know, Ferris Bueller) is a military type put in charge of a bunch of chimps being experimented on by the government.
• In the 2012 edition, a bunch of teenagers throw a raging, out of control party, all of which is presented to the audience via found footage.
• Oddly enough, they still kind of sound like the same movie, so here's the key difference to watch out for: Helen Hunt is in the 1987 version and she is not in the 2012 version. This is known as the "'Project X' Helen Hunt Rule." Know it, love it, embrace it. Your social life may depend on your ability to remember this detail.
'The Deep Blue Sea' (2012) vs. 'Deep Blue Sea' (1999)
One is a romance. One features giant killer sharks eating everybody in sight. But other than that, they're just about the same, so here are a couple other key differences to help you figure out which one you're watching:
• "The Deep Blue Sea" stars Rachel Weisz as a British lady who begins an extra-marital affair with Tom Hiddleston's ex-Royal Air Force pilot in the days after World War II. If you see people wearing overcoats and fedoras, you know you're watching this version.
• The 1999 version — which is called "Deep Blue Sea," as sharks apparently ate the "The" — is a cult classic mainly due to one of the most memorable death sequences ever, namely Samuel L. Jackson being devoured in the middle of a rousing inspirational speech.
• Oh, one other thing: The sharks in the 1999 version were mutated by an experimental cure for Alzheimer's. Strangely, the film was still not introduced as evidence during the Supreme Court's recent health care debate.
'Bully' (2012) vs. 'Bully' (2001)
Bullying is a major issue facing the youth of America today. Fittingly, both of these movies are actually about bullying, but one of them is a documentary and the other is a sad cautionary tale of Hollywood excess. Let's go to the tape:
• One clear giveaway that you're watching the 2012 documentary version of "Bully" is the fact that it's unrated; after the MPAA slapped it with an R rating due to swearing, the Weinstein Company told them to take a flying leap. Good show.
• The 2001 version of "Bully" also features real life drama, but behind the scenes; the star of the film, Brad Renfro, died of a drug overdose in 2008, making the film particularly unsettling to watch now.
• Renfro's character in the 2001 "Bully" is based on a real person who was sentenced to life in prison back in the '90s for murdering a bully. Here's hoping that the "Bully" documentary helps prevent just that sort of thing in the future.
'Fair Game' (2010) vs. 'Fair Game' (1995)
OK, so it's hard to imagine anyone would confuse Sean Penn for William Baldwin. But just to make sure, here are other things to look for when trying to figure out which "Fair Game" you're about to watch:
• The 2010 version is based on the true story of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame, whose cover was blown by Washington politicians trying to exact revenge on her husband.
• The 1995 version actually features Baldwin as a detective trying to protect Crawford from KGB hit men, meaning it at least shares the whole black ops theme. So that could get confusing.
• While the 2010 "Fair Game" didn't score any significant awards nominations, the 1995 version certainly did: it was nominated for three Razzie Awards, including Worst Screen Couple.
'Twilight' (2008) vs. 'Twilight' (1998)
Man, remember the '90s, way back before vampires sparkled? That's like not having smart phones or gasoline. It's practically primitive. Still, the 1998 "Twilight" isn't totally without merit; here are some major differences:
• The 2008 version of "Twilight" features some of the hottest young talents in Hollywood, including the film's breakout star, Robert Pattinson's hair.
• On the other hand, the 1998 "Twilight" starred some of the oldest talents in Tinseltown, with Paul Newman playing a gumshoe and Gene Hackman playing, well, an old actor. Talk about being typecast.
• The 2008 version of "Twilight" took it on the chin from critics but was a cultural sensation, while the 1998 "Twilight" was a critical favorite and completely bombed at the box office. Draw your own conclusions.
'Crash' (2005) vs. 'Crash' (1996)
This is one of the most inexplicable duplicate names, as the original, from auteur David Cronenberg, remains very well known to this day. Cronenberg has been vocal about his displeasure with the name "Crash" being used again, but the copycat title didn't stop the new one from winning Best Picture at the Oscars. Some differences:
• Honestly, once you've seen even a couple minutes of the original "Crash," you can't possibly mistake it for anything else: The story is about people who have a sexual fetish for car crashes.
• The 2005 version of "Crash" does not at any point feature people sexually fantasizing about car crashes while they are still trapped in the car crash.
'Nine' (2009) vs. '9' (2009) vs. 'District 9' (2009)
Nines were wild back in '09, as everyone in Hollywood went crazy for the number. No explanation yet why this year hasn't been bombarded with films called "Twelve," but here's a rundown of 2009's Nine-ball:
• "Nine" is an adaptation of the 1982 stage musical "Nine," which itself was an adaptation of the classic arthouse film "8 1/2." We're not sure where they found the other 1/2 from, but they used it to sign actresses: the movie starred Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Fergie, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman and Sophia Loren, among others.
• "9," meanwhile, is about a bunch of weird burlap stuffed dolls who come to life in a horribly dystopian nightmare future and fight their way to freedom, all animated through stop-motion under the auspices of Tim Burton. So, in other words, it's nearly identical to '"Nine."
• And "District 9" is a sci-fi story about aliens living in a South African slum and a poor schlub who accidentally has his worldview altered when he slowly but surely starts to transform into one of them.
'Red' (2010) vs. 'Red' (1994)
Red is actually a pretty popular name for movies; besides these two films, there was also a 2008 flick called "Red" starring Brian Cox, not to mention the 1981 Warren Beatty epic "Reds," about the beginning of the Soviet Union. But we're going to limit our discussion to the geriatric action flick (that somehow spawned a "Red 2") and the 1994 arthouse masterpiece from director Krzysztof Kieslowski:
• The 1994 edition of "Red" was the third and final film in Kieslowski's "Three Colors" trilogy, being preceded by "White" and "Blue." Those happen to be the colors of the French flag, so you can guess that this was a series filled with artistic symbolism.
• The symbolism in the 2010 version of "Red" is a little more obvious, as it mainly consists of Helen Mirren firing a machine gun. This film was based on a comic book by provocateur Warren Ellis and featured fellow over-the-kill ass-kickers Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich as ex-black ops teammates out on one final (-ish) mission.
'Public Enemy' (1931) vs. 'Public Enemies' (2009)
While some of these names are picked through coincidence or ignorance, 2009's "Public Enemies" was neither; instead, Michael Mann was making a clear and obvious reference to the 1931 version:
• The 1931 film, less commonly called by its full title of "The Public Enemy," is easily distinguishable from the 2009 version by the simple fact that it was filmed in black and white.
• While 1931's "Public Enemy" deals with the rise of a fictional mobster during Prohibition, "Public Enemies" tells the story of a real-life mobster during Prohibition, bank robber John Dillinger.
'Gladiator' (2000) vs. 'Gladiator' (1992)
"Are you not entertained?!" The answer to that question may depend on which version of "Gladiator" you are watching: one of them won the Oscar for Best Picture and the other one starred Cuba Gooding Jr.
• OK, we're just kidding, the Cuba Gooding Jr. version from 1992 is entertaining, too, but it's not literally about gladiators: Gooding stars alongside James Marshall as underground boxers. Kind of like a fight club, only for money. And with the star of "Snow Dogs" in it.
• The 2000 version, meanwhile, pretty much swept the Academy Awards thanks to some innovative action sequences by director Ridley Scott and a superstar turn from Russell Crowe as a Roman general who becomes an enslaved gladiator.
'Notorious' (2009) vs. 'Notorious' (1946)
There really wasn't anything else the 2009 biopic of legendary rap icon Notorious B.I.G. could have been called, so we don't even mind that the film shares a title with an all-time classic Alfred Hitchcock film:
• The original "Notorious" is in black-and-white, so sussing out which is which shouldn't take a Mensa member. The 1946 movie also features a story about Nazis escaping to South America to avoid war crimes trials at the end of World War II, so again, that's a pretty big clue to which movie you're looking at.
• The 2009 version, meanwhile, also features something the other version couldn't possibly have in it: an original rap soundtrack from Biggie Smalls himself. Since rap didn't exist in 1946, this is a dead giveaway.
'Killers' (2010) vs. 'The Killers' (1946) vs. 'The Killing' (1956)
Strangely, none of these films have anything to do with the indie rock band called The Killers. Here are the vitals for each of these very different films:
• The 1946 version of "The Killers," which starred Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner, was the first big-screen adaptation of the classic Ernest Hemingway short story of the same name, but not the last: remakes followed in 1956 and 1964.
• 1956's film noir "The Killing," meanwhile, is one of the first movies directed by Stanley Kubrick; its tale of shady business at a horse track earned Kubrick his first major award nomination, in this case a BAFTA, which is British for "Oscar."
• And the 2010 edition, "Killers," features Twitter legend Ashton Kutcher in one of his acting side-projects, this time as a secret agent who is so secret his wife doesn't know about his secrets. Katherine Heigl played the wife in another attempt to convince the world she's a star.
Originally published Nov. 9, 2010.