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.
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.
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.
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 1997, involves 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.
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.