[Editor's Note: March kicks off a season of big-time showdowns, grudge matches and maybe a few team-ups. Infamous as the month when Brutus betrayed Caesar, March will get even more epic because Batman will take on Superman on the big screen, Daredevil will get company in Hell's Kitchen in the form of The Punisher on Netflix, and The Flash shall race on over to CBS to meet Supergirl. And, of course, just a few weeks after this kickoff, we'll see a breakdown in the friendship between Captain America and Iron Man in Marvel's Civil War movie. Because we love seeing a good battle between titans, we've dedicated March to versus. Over the next four weeks, check this space for stories on title fights in superhero stories, horror, science and more!]
With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice just around the corner, and Captain America: Civil War looming on the horizon, the lust for battle is all around us. These two films will offer up superhero clashes like we've probably never seen before in terms of modern effects and sheer spectacle, but the idea of bringing two opposing genre creations together in head-to-head combat is certainly nothing new.
Going back to the Universal Horror era, setting up bouts between two or more iconic characters has been an on-and-off staple of sci-fi and horror movies for decades. Some of them come off as world class prizefights; others no better than a grimy back alley brawl. But we are always drawn to them, because there's nothing like seeing two or more geeky favorites duke it out. Here are nine that come to mind:
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
Yes, it was Universal Studios that pioneered not just the shared universe for its classic monster characters but also the "vs." scenario. This film is part of both the Frankenstein series and a sequel to The Wolf Man, with Lon Chaney Jr. reprising the role of the latter and Bela Lugosi finally giving in and playing Dr. Frankenstein's creature years after he first refused the part. Although their battle is relegated to the very ending of the movie -- no doubt to build audience anticipation -- it deserves special mention for being the first time two such characters were pitted against each other in an ensemble film, setting a template for later entries like House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein.
King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
This Japanese classic actually began life as a movie idea, pitched by legendary stop-motion animator Willis O'Brien, in which King Kong would battle a giant version of Frankenstein's monster. The idea eventually made its way to Toho Studios, who were interested in doing a King Kong movie (and purchased the rights to the character from RKO) but decided to replace the Frankenstein monster with their own homegrown beast, Godzilla. The result is certainly not one of the best kaiju (giant creature) movies ever made, but still among the most entertaining, and the fights between the giant ape and the mammoth lizard are worth the price of admission. Incidentally, it was said for a long time that two endings were shot: one for America in which Kong won and one for Japan in which Godzilla prevailed. But that is merely a myth: Kong's triumphant swim home was the only finale filmed.
Destroy All Monsters (1968)
We're going to stick with Toho a little longer, since the studio really took the ball and ran with it when it came to monster battle movies. There are too many to list here without swamping the rest of the article, which is why we're utilizing Destroy All Monsters to represent them all. And why shouldn't it? This is the ultimate ensemble movie, collecting 11 Toho monsters (Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, Anguirus, King Ghidorah, etc.), and not only was it the studio's 20th kaiju movie, but it was also meant to be the final Godzilla entry until the box office earnings began rolling in. Like King Kong vs. Godzilla, the movie is silly but vastly entertaining as Godzilla and other Earth monsters team up to fight invaders from space. Get through the rather humdrum human aspect of that storyline and you'll have a good time when the monsters start kicking major butt.
Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)
Weirdly enough, three movies came out using the title Dracula vs. Frankenstein within two years, two of which emanated from Spain. But while none of them are very good, the American one is probably the most notorious. The director was Al Adamson, who was sort of the Ed Wood of the late '60s and '70s, and the story concerned an attempt by Dracula (Roger Engel a.k.a. Zandor Vorkov) to get a descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein (J. Carroll Naish) to revive the dormant creature (John Bloom). Lon Chaney Jr. appeared in this as well, in what was sadly his last horror film, and the movie also includes Russ Tamblyn (Twin Peaks) and a cameo from Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J. Ackerman. But none of that can save this no-budget mess, which was originally a movie called The Blood Seekers until Adamson and the producer added Dracula and Frankenstein in new footage. We're still waiting for a real brawl between these two.
Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
The teaming of two of modern horror's most famous serial killers was a long time coming and when it did arrive, it was a pretty sizable hit. The script is nonsense, but director Ronny Yu somehow keeps it moving and the movie has a sense of fun that makes it considerably more entertaining than the last few Jason films before it (although it does not best Freddy's previous movie, Wes Craven's New Nightmare). Watching these two get into a tussle evoked a bit of nostalgia for those of us who had caught the old Universal monster battles, and it was also great to see Robert Englund in his last performance to date as Freddy. Now if only they had followed up with that Michael Myers vs. Pinhead movie like they were supposed to...
Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys (2004)
Full Moon Pictures was a Z-grade production company that nonetheless spawned a long line of popular direct-to-video franchises, including Dollman, Puppet Master and Demonic Toys. Full Moon itself crossed Dollman and Demonic Toys over in one less-than-memorable 1993 cut-and-paste job, but the latter Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys -- which was not made by Full Moon and not considered official "canon" by the company -- ended up premiering on Syfy during the 2004 Christmas season. The truth? You could do a lot worse when it comes to cheesy entertainment, and if you go in with the right attitude (and some spiked egg nog), Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys is probably a lot of fun to sit through. And it kept both fabled (cough) franchises alive after the Full Moon empire (double cough) folded. What's not to love?
Alien vs. Predator (2004)
Almost as anticipated as Freddy vs. Jason, Alien vs. Predator was an idea that had been percolating for a long time at 20th Century Fox and was of course the subject of a well-received comic book first published in 1989. Writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson (the man behind the Resident Evil movies) conceived of a story in which Predators came to Earth every 100 years and used ancient, remote pyramids as hunting grounds for Aliens as a rite of passage. The problem with a plot like this is figuring out how to sandwich some human characters into it, but Anderson manages to do so in a way that makes some semblance of sense and doesn't upend the continuity of either franchise. Alien vs. Predator is a fairly fun movie on its own terms, with solid production design and special effects and a few good battles between our monster squads...just don't watch the loathsome sequel, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem.
Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda (2014)
The legendary Roger Corman produced this sequel to Sharktopus, perhaps inspired by the earlier Mega Shark franchise, and as with the original movie, upped the stakes by not just making his monsters extra-large but turning them into "hybrids" as well. A shark crossed with an octopus fighting a barracuda mixed with a pterodactyl? Who wouldn't want to watch that? This was another Syfy premiere (okay, the ratings were great, what do you want from us?) and -- like Mega Shark and others of its ilk -- a lot of fun if you were in the right frame of mind. And besides, where else can you see Conan O'Brien make his acting debut and have his severed head used as a volleyball?
Sadako vs. Kayako (2016)
The great monster showdown tradition is continuing to this day with this crossover of Japanese horror's two signature franchises. The Ring (aka Ringu) and The Grudge (aka Ju-on) were two of the most popular titles to break out during the initial J-horror wave of the late '90s and early '00s, spawning 19 homegrown and American films between them, and what started last year as an April Fools' Day joke is now a real movie being released in Japan this June. The plot? Sadako, the unsettling long-haired ghost girl from The Ring, will somehow face off against Kayako, the other unsettling long-haired ghost girl from The Grudge. That's all we know for now, but if its gets distribution in the U.S., you can bet we'll be first in line.