10 great double feature ideas

Double features are almost as old as cinema itself. Before TV came around, a movie would be preceded by an animated short, a live-action short, a newsreel, and then the main feature. During the Great Depression, cinemas began to give customers two movies for the price of one in order to attract more ticket buyers. These presentations initially began with a low-budget film (the B-movie) before an interlude and then the main feature. This allowed studios that specialized in making B-movies, such as Republic, to become successful.

The revenue this generated soon led to major studios making their own B-movie features. This practice continues to thrive today, only nowadays these movies usually go straight to video (or streaming). Thanks to the advent of home video and later the internet, people can now have double features of all kinds in their own homes. Here now (in no particular order) are 10 great double features you can have at home and why I find them ideal.

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Star Wars (1977)/Halloween (1978): These two films respectively rewrote the books on science fiction and horror (for good and bad, according to some) as it didn’t take long for imitators of both movies to flood cinemas in the wake of their successes. As it turns out, the villains in these movies (Darth Vader and Michael Myers) also wear what would become awesome Halloween costumes. Even the musical scores for both movies have become iconic, and rightly so. In addition, the first sequels for each film (The Empire Strikes Back and Halloween II) can make an ideal double feature since they each brought family connections into the narrative, influencing the directions of their respective franchises (again, for good and bad, according to some fans).

Hang ‘Em High (1968)/Night of the Living Dead (1968): By the end of the 1960s, Italian studios were basically churning out westerns and zombie pictures like they were pizzas. While neither of these films were Italian productions, both capitalized on that craze. Hang ‘Em High, Clint Eastwood’s first American-made western after the three he did with Sergio Leone made him a film star, involves a rancher (Eastwood) who survives a lynching and becomes deputized before hunting down the men who tried to kill him. Night of the Living Dead, an inexpensive production made in Pittsburgh, centers on a group of people who become trapped in a deserted house as reanimated corpses begin engulfing the countryside. Both movies have a gritty, harsh tone, and the fact that both premiered just after the shocking murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy may have made both films cathartic, if you will, for viewers.

Jaws (1975)/Taxi Driver (1976): I actually plan to go into more detail about these two movies at a later time. Needless to say, however, Jaws, Steven Spielberg’s classic film of a shark terrorizing an island community, set the bar when it came to blockbusters, while Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese’s classic picture about a loner (Robert De Niro) who ends up committing terrifying acts, did the same for independent films. One could also say they ended up coloring the public’s perceptions of their respective directors.

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High Noon (1952)/Rio Bravo (1959): Two classic westerns released during the genre’s heyday. The former, in which Gary Cooper ends up facing bad guys alone when nobody is willing to assist him, was viewed as a critique of McCarthyism for the manner in which Cooper does the honorable thing. The latter, in which John Wayne fights bad guys with loyal men at his side, was viewed as a counterpoint to that argument, as Wayne’s character doesn’t spend much of the movie asking for assistance. Wayne even called High Noon “un-American”, which is what led to him and director Howard Hawks making Bravo. Regardless of political views, today both movies are rightfully embraced as masterpieces.

The NeverEnding Story (1984)/Labyrinth (1986): Both of these films involve young people who must enter a world they know from a book in order to save lives. NeverEnding Story centers on a lonely boy (Barret Oliver) reading a fantasy book, and as he reaches the end, he realizes that he’s the only one who can save a not-so-fictional land from destruction. Labyrinth stars then-unknown Jennifer Connelly as a fantasy-loving teenager who just wants to live in her own fantasy world and regrets her wish that her infant brother be taken away by the Goblin King (the late, great David Bowie), a character from the play she’s reading. She must then enter that fantasy world to save her brother, dealing with the Goblin King and his minions (created by the late, great Jim Henson). One could also say that both movies make a great argument for why reading is good.

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Ghostbusters (1984)/Beetlejuice (1988): Two comedy classics involving ghosts. Ghostbusters centers on four men (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and the late Harold Ramis) who manage to make a lucrative business out of capturing ghosts. In lesser hands, Beetlejuice could have been just a Ghostbusters knock-off, but Tim Burton stirs things up with his film by making ghosts the main characters. In that film, a couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) have recently died and soon enlist the aid of the title character (Michael Keaton) to rid their home of its new owners, an act that they come to regret, as he has a reputation for wrecking havoc among both the living and the dead. Add the fact that both of these movies are hilarious and you have a great double feature.

The Terminator (1984)/Back to the Future (1985): Two time travel stories released in consecutive years. The first, which involves a murderous cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger) sent back through time to change history by killing a woman (Linda Hamilton) before she can give birth to the man who will save humanity, was a nerve-jolting thriller, while the second, in which a teenager (Michael J. Fox) accidentally goes back in time thanks to a DeLorean his scientist friend (Christopher Lloyd) has modified, was a comedy. Both films also end up giving nice messages about the importance of believing in yourself and creating your own destiny.

Escape from New York (1981)/Blade Runner (1982): Both of these are science fiction films which show a near future with a dark, apocalyptic outlook that continues to influence the science fiction genre to this day. Escape from New York, which takes place in 1997involves a criminal (Kurt Russell) being drafted into rescuing the President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) by going into the title city (which is now a maximum security prison), where Air Force One crashed and the president was kidnapped by the dangerous criminals who now inhabit the city. Blade Runner involves a police detective (Harrison Ford) who must go through 2019 Los Angeles to terminate dangerous androids (Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah, Joanna Cassidy, and Brion James) who have arrived on Earth (where androids are banned) after violently escaping from an outer space colony (three more years to go as of this writing—let’s see if those colonies come about by then). Another interesting contrast is that Escape contains criticism of police and police actions (one of the characters in the film refers to the U.S. as a fascist state), while Ford’s character in Blade Runner spends much of the movie questioning himself and his actions, especially when he realizes his opponents aren’t as evil as society and his superiors have made them out to be.

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Ray (2004)/Walk the Line (2005): Two biopics about music legends. Ray depicts the rise of Ray Charles (a brilliant, Oscar-winning Jamie Foxx) while Walk the Line does the same with music duo Johnny and June Carter Cash (Joaquin Phoenix and a brilliant, Oscar-winning Reese Witherspoon). Both movies do a fine job illustrating the trials and tribulations these artists went through (some of which were of their own making) as they fulfilled their dreams of making music, and thus, ensuring their places in history. Interestingly, both Charles and the Cashes passed away shortly before these films premiered, although both movies received their blessing.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)/Clue (1985): Rocky Horror (which, I must confess, I never really liked, but can understand why many do) is a musical-science fiction-comedy with not-so-subtle nods to Frankenstein, while Clue is a mystery-comedy based on the Parker Brothers board game of the same name. However, both films not only take place in mansions on dark and stormy nights, but both also feature memorable roles for Tim Curry. In Rocky Horror, he plays the doctor who was once described by Us magazine as “a bi-sexual Beetlejuice”, while in Clue, he plays a butler who ends up setting an evening of murder into motion after he invites several people over for dinner. In addition, both movies didn’t get much initial notice when they were released, but today have huge followings as well as midnight showings with audience members performing the action as it plays on screen.

HONORABLE MENTION: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)/Garfield’s Halloween Adventure (1985): As it’s Halloween, it seems appropriate to mention these two animated specials, which may be the most famous of all Halloween cartoons. In the first, Linus waits for the arrival of the Santa Claus-esque Great Pumpkin, while Charlie Brown ends up getting only rocks while trick-or-treating and Snoopy hunts for the Red Baron. In the second, Garfield enlists his dog sidekick Odie to go trick-or-treating with him (both dress up as pirates) in order to get more candy for himself, only for both to get caught up in a genuine ghost story (involving—what else?—pirates, which today reminds me a little of the setting of John Carpenter’s The Fog). The Garfield special actually bests Great Pumpkin in terms of having moments that make you jump, but both specials have a great deal of heart, making them the perfect Halloween treats for all ages.

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  • William Wehrs

    “One could also say that both movies make a great argument for why reading is good.” You are more correct than you possibly realize. In my opinion, the the Neverending Story book blows the film out of the water, and honestly makes the film seem pretty bad.

  • Deneb T. Hall

    While of course any one movie can be put in multiple different pairings, I personally think a better one for ‘Rocky Horror’ to be paired with would be ‘Phantom of the Paradise’. They’re both cult musicals that came out around the same time, and while ‘Rocky Horror’ may outdo ‘Phantom’ in sheer craziness, ‘Phantom’ does a better job in drawing you in and investing you in its story and characters. Also, there’s a good contrast in tones – after your skull has been set a-buzzing with ‘Rocky Horror’s lunatic energy, ‘Phantom’ eases you into a mellower (albeit still oddball) mood, and wraps up the evening with you still feeling pleasantly nutty, but with not so much of the dazed, ‘what the HELL did I just watch’ feeling that ‘Rocky Horror’ specializes in. (Or so I would imagine; I’ve never actually watched the two back-to-back, but I’m pretty familiar with both of them.)

    • Spuddie

      Very good call.

      Phantom holds up much better in a home watching experience than Rocky Horror and (engaging in blasphemy by many) has a consistently better soundtrack. There are motifs that run through it which are not obvious the first time you see it, but become really cool callbacks musically on repeat viewings.

      Pacing is also much better in Phantom. Rocky Horror loses much of its energy about 1/3rd in and is a bit of a slog by the end. Phantom really builds up getting progressively more interesting as the film goes on it.

      • Deneb T. Hall

        Thanks!

        Agreed about the soundtrack. If anything, it’s almost entirely designed around the callbacks, since practically the whole thing consists of either direct samples from or distorted versions of this Faustian cantata that Winslow’s supposed to have written. All of the songs are still good on their own, but they’re meant to be experienced as part of a whole.

        Yeah, I really do think Rocky Horror wouldn’t be anywhere near as popular as it is today if it weren’t for the ‘midnight movies’ business that has grown up around it. I’ve never been to one of those screenings, so I can’t say for sure, but I’d imagine that you wind up kind of ‘surfing’ to the end on the energy of the crowd. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t say it’s a BAD movie; anything with that much manic weirdness in it is worth seeing, but there’s no denying that there’s just not much to the thing outside of the songs, whereas with Phantom, it’d still be a good movie even without its soundtrack (albeit a substantially different one, of course).

        • Spuddie

          I saw Rocky Horror at a time when “Midnight Movies” were pretty much in their last gasp. It was a unique film going experience because audience participation was just not the thing which was encouraged. By the last half hour, even the volunteer cast is kinda out of it and limping by. for the life of me I can’t remember a single song in the show after Meat Loaf’s Hot Patootie. Its worth seeing, but it also dates itself quite bit.

          Funny thing is its unofficial sequel “Shock Treatment” although ignored by most of the public holds up even better now than it did back then. The not-so-subtle commentary about the media, celebrity and mindless consumerism. That and like Phantom of the Paradise, features Jessica Harper. [She only did a few films and almost all of them had some kind of cult cachet to them]

          • Deneb T. Hall

            Huh – I thought they were still going on. That’s too bad – I mean, say what you will about the movie itself, but it’s a pretty unique and participatory fandom to be part of.

            Yeah, I keep hearing about ‘Shock Treatment’, and it’s inevitably described as underrated. I should really check it out one of these days; I guess subconsciously I’ve just been going ‘one Rocky Horror was enough, thank you.’

          • Spuddie

            I stand happily corrected. It is still going on and aided by the internet’
            http://www.rockyhorror.com/participation/showtimes.php

          • 333: SC

            It shouldn’t be that big a surprise that Phantom is a generally more competent film than Rocky- it was made by Brian de Palma who was at least a decent filmmaker even if he never quite lived up to the hype.

          • Deneb T. Hall

            Yeah, I thought as much. I was thinking ‘surely the Rocky Horror events have been going on so long, if they’d ended I would have heard about it somehow’.

  • K

    “The Quatermass Xperiment” (a.k.a. “The Creeping Unknown”) and “Dr. Who and the Daleks”: both are good early examples of the now-more common practice of adapting TV shows to the big screen. Both also feature good attempts at boiling down multi-part stories into approx. 90 minute movies, while keeping the respective stories’ spirits intact and coherent, and opening the stories from their TV studio-bound origins to a wider, more cinematic look. They also provide a good contrast to each other, with the darker, more horror-oriented approach of “Quatermass” (led by Brian Donlevy’s “my way or no way” performance as the professor) and the lighter, brighter, more humorous aspect of “Dr. Who” (led by Peter Cushing’s warmer and friendlier interpretation on the Doctor).