Dragnet vs The Untouchables

(Welcome to Seeing Double, a series where two strangely similar films released around the same time are put head-to-head. This week: 1987’s Dragnet and 1987’s The Untouchables.)

Hollywood is a land of mystery. Who killed the Black Dahlia? Was Marisa Tomei the real winner of 1993’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar? Why is Jai Courtney still a thing?

One of the less salacious and controversial mysteries to come out of Hollywood though involves the occasional appearance of “movie doubles” – films from rival studios with highly similar plots/subjects that are released in close proximity to each other. Think Volcano and Dante’s Peak or Deep Impact and Armageddon. There’s little upside to both studios sticking to their guns and moving forward with the production as history shows that more often than not one of the pair falls by the wayside at the box-office, so why even head into production on a film you know another studio has already begun? Are original ideas that hard to come by in Hollywood? (This is a rhetorical question.)

This month is the 30th anniversary of both Dragnet and The Untouchables, and while at first glance they might not seem like another pair of duplicates, I’d argue to the contrary. Both films are big screen adaptations of popular ’50s/’60s television cop shows that at some point starred Harry Morgan, both feature lead actors who were known entities but still a year or three away from their biggest success, and they were released just three weeks apart in June of 1987. The films take wildly opposing approaches to the material itself, and their fates both at the box-office and in the critical eye may have differed because of it.

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