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Today and throughout the week at Moviefone, we're celebrating the unsung, hard-won, I've-maxed-out-my-credit-cards-to-finance-this world of independent filmmaking. We'll publish features that explore, expose, and explain today's independent movies. We call it "Independents Day." Get it? It's clever, right? We thought so. Read on.
Today's definition of independent film has grown hazy. But there are still a number of distinct (and obvious) differences that set it apart from Hollywood blockbusters, such as budgets, concepts, and a focus on character development instead of plot.
Of course, stories are stories, and they can be told in various ways. Mainstream and indie films may produce disparate results, but they both tackle the same ideas, situations, and subjects.
To celebrate this diversity, check out a selection of some of the year's biggest movies, each paired with an independent counterpart from the past. If you love the Hollywood title, then we recommend checking out its indie equivalent.
Gallery | 15 Indie Film Alternatives to 2013 Blockbusters
- ‘Oblivion’ -- ‘Moon’
Moviegoers familiar with Duncan Jones’s 2009 feature debut saw a lot of similarities in Universal’s newer science fiction movie, which stars Tom Cruise as one of two lone leftover humans on Earth. The thing is, it’s hard to go through all the comparisons without spoiling one or both of the films. It is safe to point out, though, that as in “Oblivion,” the main character in “Moon” (played by Sam Rockwell) is tasked with a job that gives him a lot of time for isolated exploration in a desolate environment. (In case the title didn’t give it away, in this one he’s on the moon.)
- ‘World War Z’ -- ‘Night of the Living Dead’
This is another very close and obvious pairing, as these two films have an important connection. Paramount’s Brad Pitt-led “World War Z” is the most epic and costliest zombie movie ever made, while George Romero’s slower, far more confined 1968 classic was a real pioneer of the genre. And although the majority of zombie movies have been indies, “Night of the Living Dead” is one of the most profitable and best regarded independent films of all time of any genre. It’s also a whole lot scarier than the new Pitt blockbuster.
- ‘Iron Man 3’ -- ‘Super’
When it comes to superhero movies, it’s usually the “super” part that requires a lot of money since special powers tend to be presented with costly special effects. However, regular guys who take on the gig of costumed crusader can go either way. Marvel’s “Iron Man” movies includes plenty of CGI spectacle, whereas James Gunn’s “Super” gets by on its character and story. That character is Frank Darbo (Rainn Wilson), who dons a suit as The Crimson Bolt. Like Iron Man alter ego Tony Stark, Darbo is an amusing, antisocial individual who has to battle inner demons in addition to fighting his enemies. Fans of Marvel movies should get familiar with this 2010 indie if only because Gunn is currently directing Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
- ‘Man of Steel’ -- ‘The Brother From Another Planet’
This summer’s Superman movie from Warner Bros. focused on the comic book hero’s identity as an extraterrestrial being from outer space. There are a lot of movies about similar alien stories, but John Sayles’s racially themed 1984 science fiction flick is particularly close to “Man of Steel,” as it follows a fugitive, super-powered humanoid alien (Joe Morton) trying to assimilate with Earthlings. And like Superman, he’s sought by people from his planet who want to do him harm.
- ‘The Wolverine’ -- ‘Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai’
In his latest “X-Men” solo spin-off for 20th Century Fox, the antihero Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) heads to Japan and goes up against a Yukuza gang and a mutant villain called Silver Samurai. Although he doesn’t have healing abilities and metal claws that protrude from his hands, the antihero Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) can perhaps be seen as a distant cousin. In Jim Jarmusch’s 1999 film, we get another Western figure immersed in Japanese culture who takes on a syndicate of gangsters.
- ‘This Is the End’ -- ‘Dogma’
In Sony’s apocalyptic comedy “This Is the End,” an ensemble of young actors play fictionalized versions of themselves during the Rapture and try to find a way into Heaven rather than being cast into Hell. It’s this generation’s “Dogma,” for sure. The controversial 1999 comedy from Kevin Smith doesn’t deal with the apocalypse, and its ensemble of young actors are primarily figures of religious mythology, but they both stay within the domains of God and Satan. Also, both films include a heaping helping of d*ck jokes.
- ‘42’ -- ‘The Jackie Robinson Story’
Here’s another really obvious pairing. Baseball legend Jackie Robinson recently received the Hollywood biopic treatment from Warner Bros. It arrived 63 years after an independently produced biopic was released starring the color-barrier-breaking athlete himself. Both films only cover the story up until his 1947 pennant win with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The reason “The Jackie Robinson Story” wasn’t made at one of the major Hollywood studios is because they all insisted that Robinson merely support a white star playing a fictional character who mentors the African American player, and fortunately the filmmakers had better sense than to go that offensive route.
- ‘The Heat’ -- ‘Close to Home’
Kudos to 20th Century Fox for giving us a rare female take on the buddy cop genre (it’s not quite the first if we consider the 1988 Warner Bros. comedy “Feds”). While America’s independent filmmakers haven’t been as bold, there is a great Israeli film from 2005 about a pair of female soldiers whose personalities clash when they’re partnered up during their compulsory military service. It’s a drama, but otherwise its premise fits the buddy-cop conventions.
- ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ -- ‘Wild at Heart’
There have been a lot of movies directly based on L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” stories, with most of the notable examples being Hollywood productions like Disney’s “Oz the Great and Powerful.” One of the interesting indirect screen takes on Baum’s world, though, is David Lynch’s 1990 road movie, “Wild at Heart,” which is also based on a novel of the same name by Barry Gifford. Lynch’s added allusions to “The Wizard of Oz” are plenty and even blatantly stated in dialogue such as “Seems we sort of broke down on the yellow brick road.” At one point Nicolas Cage is even visited by Glinda the Good Witch in her bubble.
- ‘Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters’ -- ‘Freeway II: Confessions of a Trickbaby’
Paramount’s “Hansel and Gretel” movie updated the Grimm fairy tale as an action flick. However, it wasn’t the first time the story was reworked, as you can see in Matthew Bright’s second “Freeway” film, which offers a modern twist on the classic. Here the main characters are unfaithfully altered even more, with Gretel as a teen prostitute and Hansel as a female murderer.
- ‘The Great Gatsby’ -- ‘Friends With Money’
Take away the 1920s setting, lavish parties, stylish 3D visuals, soapy plot, and anachronistic hip-hop music and the new Warner Bros. adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel is just a movie about a rich guy hanging out with rich friends. Change the gender of the main character and you’ve got Nicole Holofcener’s 2006 indie starring Jennifer Aniston. Both stories comment on wealth, though their themes are quite different.
- ‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’ -- ‘The Great Buck Howard’
When it comes to egotistical magician characters who are past their prime, Steve Carell’s title performer from New Line Cinema’s “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is probably the funniest. But John Malkovich's performance as a dated mentalist who is still very much full of himself is just as enjoyable. Sean McGinley’s “The Great Buck Howard” also co-stars the real-life magician-turned-actor Ricky Jay, who appears in most great films on this subject matter. Plus, both “Wonderstone” and “Howard” feature major tricks that involve putting audiences to sleep.
- ‘Now You See Me’ -- ‘The Usual Suspects’
More magicians can be found in Summit Entertainment’s recent caper, “Now You See Me,” in which four strangers are brought together by an unknown mastermind to pull off a major crime. While they aren’t magical characters, the criminals in Bryan Singer’s “The Usual Suspects” also initially don’t know one another and are also eventually working together for a man of mythic proportions whom they’ve never met.
- ‘Fast & Furious 6’ -- ‘Bellflower’
Universal’s “Fast and Furious” franchise is no longer just about cool cars, yet the latest sequel featured some noteworthy vehicles that seemed straight out of “The Road Warrior.” Another recent film that paid homage to the “Mad Max” movies is Evan Glodell’s “Bellflower," where the true star is Medusa, a custom made Buick Skylark that shoots flames. While “Bellflower” doesn't have a heist or ridiculous chase scene involving a tank, it does include its share of characters who turn out to be disloyal.
- ‘After Earth’ -- ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’
Columbia Pictures’s “After Earth” deals with the story of a father and son (Will Smith and real-life son Jaden Smith) who crash land on a post-apocalyptic Earth that’s been severely changed due to global warming. Benh Zeitlin’s indie sensation of last year, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” is also a story of a father and child (here, a daughter), as the kid has to fend for herself because the parent is sick. The film also features strange creatures and a world being ravaged by climate change.
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