Will “Vs.” Movies Be the Next Trend and Will They All Just Be the Same?

By  · Published on October 9th, 2014

Universal Pictures/Toho

Some things should be left to the message boards. Or at least to the comic books. The question of “Who would win in a fight between…” probably goes back millennia. Prehistoric man would look at two different beloved cave drawings and ponder a battle between a bear on one wall and a lion from another. Maybe an early storyteller came up with the tale of this match, concluding the narrative with the animals teaming up and going after a common enemy: humans. Or, because they were man’s villains, the story probably went the other way, with the bear and the lion being manipulated by their prey to fight each other, the result being a draw where they both lose.

The latter is basically updated in the movie Freddy vs. Jason. The former story is more apt for one in which two heroes are pit against each other. The upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is assumed to be that sort. The title characters are expected to fight – unless there’s a bait-and-switch a la Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever – and then of course wind up joining forces to at least form the Justice League. One of the most anticipated parts of Avengers: Age of Ultron, meanwhile, is the promise of an Iron Man vs. Hulk scene, which will have to be a brief obstacle for these characters before they reunited as Avengers and go after Ultron.

Thanks in part to the shared universe craze right now, “vs.” movies, whether in title or not, are sure to be a continuing side effect. Universal’s resurrection of its Monsters crossovers will likely be more along the lines of Frankenstein vs. the Wolf Man than the 1940s version, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. “Meets” just doesn’t have a connotation of the action sought by today’s moviegoers (imagine the reception to titles like Freddy Meets Jason, Alien Meets Predator, Batman Meets Superman). And with studios rumored to be making deals for franchise crossovers, like Spider-Man/Avengers, we can look forward to more and more hero-on-hero battles. And they’ll all be the same.

In the past week, two notable Hollywood talents (neither of whom have enough power to make this too significant) have been quoted on the idea of having certain characters brought together for crossover movies. The first was Don Mancini, creator of the Child’s Play series, who told USA Today, “I am hoping that at some future point we have Annabelle and Chucky team up.” By team up, of course, he has to mean that the two killer dolls would try to kill each other first before teaming up. The clash of similar (both were actually based on the same “true” story) characters fighting is the whole appeal there. Otherwise it’s just a movie about toys immediately becoming friends, which is cute, but even Toy Story didn’t play it that soft.

The second proposal came from Jeremy Renner, who told Crave Online about his “fanboy” wish for a movie pulling his Bourne Legacy character back into the fold of the main franchise. “I think you pit them against each other,” he said when asked about what would happen when Aaron Cross and Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) meet, “and then they go together against the bad guy. We realize that we’re not the enemy.” So, yes, basically Renner is as boring as we’ve always believed. Even if his input could be counted here, the other problem with the idea is that moviegoers really like Jason Bourne, but they don’t care about Aaron Cross. It might take a few more movies, if even that would help.

Renner doesn’t pretend his idea is terribly original (“I mean, I think a thousand people can come up with that scenario”) but he does think it would be interesting. But would it be? As far as what the concept can offer in terms of comic book splash pages and cool movie action sequences, yes the idea is of great interest. As far as storytelling goes, not really. Comics have long been able to get away with letting the narrative aspect of the crossover battle take a backseat. Movies are bigger, more expensive, more of a special occasion than a comic book issue, and must provide more substance – I’m not saying that they always do, just that they ought to.

We are in an age where Hollywood increasingly shows signs of trying to give fans what they want. “Batman vs. Superman” has been a movie in demand for years, and now Warner Bros. is supplying that. Now people are clamoring for another King Kong vs. Godzilla movie, and the guess is that there are plans for that in connection with the current development of a Skull Island feature made by the same people who gave us this year’s Godzilla reboot. Will the title monsters be thrown together and then be united to fight another, scarier giant creature? The 1962 version had Kong seem to win, though it was more like a draw. But now each is beloved enough that there can’t be one who is victorious over the other.

In movies where both sides have their respective supporters, neither group should be disappointed. Therefore Hollywood is going to always have to end things in a tie – whether it’s to have them team up or have them both die or have them anticlimactically just walk away from each other. But here’s a crazy option inspired by the old King Kong vs. Godzilla: shoot and release various endings. That movie didn’t actually do this – the circulated piece of trivia that Japan’s cut had Godzilla as the winner is a myth (and I guess based on the thinking that Kong won in the cut here) – but it’d be pretty cool if Legendary Pictures did do a remake and did actually have two different outcomes randomly sent out to theaters. Like Clue, but I imagine it’s easier and cheaper now with digital “prints.”

Of course, such an idea doesn’t necessarily solve the storytelling issue. That movie would be all about a fight and conclude with a winner and loser and little else. All action, no substance. Moviegoers wouldn’t care if the action is entertaining. They’d even prefer it, I bet, to something with a story that’s unoriginal and badly written. Even two hours of Batman and Superman beating on each other would be more appreciated than something formulaic and trite.

Let’s not count on DC’s universe to bring us that first attempt, though. Maybe the can’t-lose Marvel Studios needs to take this original leap, spend a lot of money to borrow from Fox and put out a movie that’s 100% Hulk vs. Wolverine until they both fall down. No team up, no common enemy, no winner or loser. You’d all see that movie, right?

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.