We live in strange times. Elon Musk runs Twitter like it is his own personal blog. Actors and writers are striking against unfair working conditions to an uncaring, streaming-obsessed studio system. And the phenomenon known as “Barbenheimer” is finally upon us, threatening to overtake all of social media and pop culture as we know it.
Barbenheimer is the result of two movies, Greta Gerwig’s feminist comedy Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s somber nuclear war drama Oppenheimer, completely different in subject matter, style, and tone, being released on the same day. While the fever pitch of Barbenheimer is a first, the concept of counterprogramming is, of course, nothing new in Hollywood. The following list is a compilation of two wildly different movies released at the same time that make great double features to watch as well. These five movie duos, from superheroes and musically-inclined wedding parties to animated ape-men and post-modern techno-thrillers, are noteworthy antecedents to Barbenheimer and also a great way to pass the time.
The Dark Knight and Mamma Mia! (July 18, 2008)
Before Barbenheimer, there was ABBA Batman. Two movies can’t be more dissimilar than The Dark Knight and Mamma Mia!, and like Barbie and Oppenheimer after it, that’s part of the appeal of watching them back-to-back. Enough has been written about The Dark Knight to fill a small library. Let’s just say the Christopher Nolan movie still holds up after all these years, particularly in its depiction of a city on the verge of chaos thanks to one individual, Heath Ledger’s Joker, who is willing to call out the moral hypocrisies of the powers that be that keep it running.
Time has been kind to Mamma Mia! as well. When it was first released, it was seen as something of a joke. Who wants to see Meryl Streep singing ABBA tunes in a small Greek village? Yet the sheer silliness of Mamma Mia!‘s plot, and indeed its very existence, is a large part of its charm. It doesn’t matter that half the cast can’t dance or sing. (Poor Pierce Brosnan is a wonderful James Bond, but can’t carry a tune at all.) What does matter is that everyone is having a blast, and the feeling is infectious. Whereas The Dark Knight forced people to confront their fears and anxieties, Mamma Mia! is pure, sunny escapism, and a necessary come-down from the Batman sequel’s unrelenting intensity.
Superman Returns and The Devil Wears Prada (June 28, 2006)
Another superhero-and-Meryl Streep combo, although this time, it’s Meryl’s movie that’s more intense and alarming, especially for those who’ve endured bad bosses in their careers. Yes, I’m actually recommending you watch The Devil Wears Prada first; sure, it’s fun and frothy, but its comedic take on the boss-from-hell trope still warrants the top slot. Prada is probably the most effortless movie ever made; it hums along, and never gets too old even on the 20th rewatch. (And yes, I’ve watched it that many times.)
Also, you can secretly replace Kevin Spacey with Meryl as Superman villain Lex Luthor when you watch the deeply flawed Superman Returns. That movie, one of DC’s many, many, many failed feature attempts to replicate comic book magic, is still worth watching, if only for Brandon Routh’s gentle portrayal of the Man of Steel and Parker Posey’s looney evil sidekick Kitty Kowalski. Both movies together represent a Hollywood that doesn’t really exist anymore, one that didn’t always focus on building cinematic worlds, stuffing gratuitous cameos in bad films, or male-centric movies.
Mad Max: Fury Road and Pitch Perfect 2 (May 15, 2015)
War boys and glee club fans were united for the first and last time on May 15, 2015, when Warner Bros. released one of the best action movies ever made, Mad Max: Fury Road, with Universal’s superior sequel in their acapella franchise, Pitch Perfect 2. Fury Road‘s legend is such that an oral history about its creation, Blood, Sweat, & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road, was released last year, and reminded everyone just how awesome it is. I don’t need to repeat all of its merits here, except to say Charlize Theron gave one of the best action movie performances since Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, and she’ll forever have a place in cinematic Valhalla for her fierce Furiosa.
As for Pitch Perfect 2, it does what sequels should do: doubles down on what made the original so good but with a bigger budget and more confidence from its cast and crew. Actress Elizabeth Banks made her directorial debut with this sequel, and it’s led her to make more diverse and interesting films like this year’s Cocaine Bear. After roughing it in a post-apocalyptic landscape for a couple of hours, it’s good to spend some time with Pitch Perfect 2‘s warring singing groups who care more about winning a competition rather than staying alive in a remote desert like Fury Road‘s characters.
Tarzan and Run Lola Run (June 16, 1999)
1999 was a great year for movies of all kinds, and that includes Disney animated movies and independent foreign films about the fickle nature of life and destiny. Tarzan isn’t as well-known as other ’90s Disney favorites like The Lion King or even Mulan, but it’s just as good as them. The movie features classic Disney elements like an orphaned hero, a charming romance, a wicked villain, and a great pop score by Phil Collins, who crafted the Oscar-winning song You’ll Be In My Heart. Is it corny? Yes. But Tarzan still represents a period when Disney could do no wrong and remains a thrilling adventure that captures the breathless beauty of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s original story.
Run Lola Run is live-action, but it has the look, feel, and fearlessness of an animated movie; you feel like it could break the laws of physics with its dynamic, virtuoso filmmaking. The movie’s story is simple: Lola’s boyfriend is in trouble, and she’s the only one that can bail him out of it. Yet the hook here is that the choices Lola makes change the outcome of her story; in three separate sections, we see all the big and small decisions that, if changed, can alter her life, and the lives of everyone around her, forever. Run Lola Run may seem like an odd pairing with a Disney movie, but both leave you feeling rushed and intoxicated and what more can you ask from a double feature like that?
Editor’s note: Run Lola Run’s release date is the United States commercial release date. It premiered on August 20, 1998 in Germany.
Sleepless in Seattle and What’s Love Got To Do With It (May 25, 1993)
1993 was the second coming of the summer of love, both romantic and toxic, with the release of Sleepless in Seattle and What’s Love Got to Go With It, two movies that, while targeting the same female demographic, couldn’t be any more different from each other. Start with Sleepless in Seattle; nothing about it has dated except maybe Tom Hanks’ hair. The rom-com is truly romantic and funny, with great supporting work from Rosie O’Donnell, Rob Reiner, Rita Wilson, and Bill Pullman, and flawless star turns from Hanks and Meg Ryan. It’s a movie that will make you believe in the power of love at first sight and frequent flyer miles.
What’s Love Got to Do With It, on the other hand, is a wake-up call, and a warning. In telling the true story of Tina Turner’s abusive marriage to Ike Turner, the movie doesn’t sugarcoat the harsh realities Tina had to go through to win her freedom and accomplish one of the greatest musical comebacks in history. What’s Love Got to Do With It is tough to take, as it should be, but it’s ultimately a triumphant and life-affirming movie that gave Angela Bassett the best role of her impressive career. Both movies stand the test of time for different reasons, and both are great to watch both paired or separately at any time of the year.