Inherit the Wind (1961): Jerome Lawrence’s and Robert Edwin Lee’s 1955 play pits analogues of Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan against each other in a battle over evolution. In Stanley Kramer’s bathetic film adaptation, it’s one Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde against another: Spencer Tracey, who plays the Darrow stand-in, starred in the 1941 version, which paled mightily in comparison to the 1931 classic that scored an Oscar for the man playing the Bryan character, Frederic March. In this case, however, March wins the battle but Tracey wins the war.
Caligula (1979): Because of the eternal popularity of Shakespeare, veterans of his films tend to intermingle, with sometimes amusing results. Two Hamlets (Laurence Olivier, of his own 1948 stab, and Toshiro Mifune, of The Bad Sleep Well) starred in the Moonie-funded disaster Inchon. Two more Hamlets—Kevin Kline, of a 1989 TV version, and Kenneth Branagh, in his own unabridged edition—duked it out in Wild Wild West. And Penthouse ’s pricey porn epic shelled out for two future Prosperos: John Gielgud, of Peter Greenaway’s out-there Prospero’s Books, and Helen Mirren, in drag, from Julie Taymour’s somehow less out-there The Tempest.
Out of Sight (1998): Who was vying for JLo’s affections in Steven Soderbergh’s greatest film? Why, it was two former Batmans: George Clooney and, in a too-brief cameo, Michael Keaton.
The Score (2001): Two Vito Corleones, Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro, united in one film! Huzzah! Except there’s rarely been a snoozier dream teaming in history, save De Niro’s work opposite Al Pacino. At least Brando, in his final role, has fun, vamping and rattling off nonsequiturs about how he’ll “believe that when the pigs eat my brother.”
Notes on a Scandal (2006): One Queen Elizabeth (Judi Dench) against another (Cate Blanchett)! Catfight!
Brighton Rock (2010): Early in this spin on the Graham Greene classic, one actor who played Ian Curtis (Sam Riley, Control) bludgeons another actor who played Ian Curtis (Sean Harris, 24 Hour Party People). Thing is, if we’re talking quality, it should have been Harris snuffing Riley.
Neil Barsky’s "Koch" Keeps It Light