To celebrate this week's release of Batman v Superman, Chris Newbould looks at some of cinema's most monstrous and memorable stand-offs.
Alien vs Predator (2004)
In its heyday, the Alien franchise was surely one of the greatest sci-fi series of all time, with the first two instalments, 1979's Ridley Scott-directed Alien and James Cameron's 1986 sequel Aliens, marking genuine benchmarks in cinema history. Sadly, by 2004, Alien's heyday was long behind it. By the time 1997's Alien: Resurrection came around, the series hadn't become truly terrible, but it seemed to be recycling the same ideas, and even the same shots.
Predator was never in the same league, but it was passable sci-fi/horror fare in its first, 1987, incarnation. So what better way to jump start the two franchises than squaring their baddies off against each other? Possibly several, judging by the end result. The script is silly (featuring the formerly bloodthirsty Predators forming an unlikely alliance with humans to save the earth from the aliens), the dialogue wooden and half of the film seems to take place in pitch blackness, leaving audiences befuddled and disappointed. It still spawned the 2007 sequel AVP: Requiem.
Freddy vs Jason (2003)
By the time of this ill-advised ensemble effort, Friday the 13th had spawned 10 films since Jason Voorhees first put on his hockey mask in 1980, while Freddy Krueger had been giving nightmares to the kids of Elm Street in seven movies since 1984.
As is so often the case, what began as interesting films, albeit of niche appeal, had become pastiches of themselves – maybe that's why the two psychopathic teen slashers were pitted against each other. The premise in Freddy vs Jason is that Freddy is trapped in hell, powerless to haunt teenagers' dreams because they've all forgotten about him, so he resurrects Jason and sends him on a killing spree in the hope their fear will reignite his powers. It does, but now Jason and Freddy are fighting for the same teen prey, resulting in a predictably violent stand-off. The San Francisco Chronicle captured the essence of the movie perfectly in its 2003 review: "Take a wretched premise. Imagine the worst picture that could be made from it. Then imagine something even worse." Yes, it is that bad.
Mothra vs Godzilla (1964)
This is the fourth movie in Toho Productions classic Godzilla franchise – and the first to bring in monsters from other Toho movies in the form of Mothra. A quick internet scan of Japanese Kaiju-monster-movie fans reveals that I'm in the minority in selecting this one as my favourite – Godzilla vs Megalon seems to have that honour – but I'm going with Mothra, not just because it is the first of its kind, but also because [spoiler alert] radioactive dino-sea monster Godzilla fights and defeats a giant moth before being pursued by two of his victim's giant larvae, aggressively wrapped in silk and thrown into the sea.
It’s gloriously silly fun, while at the same time being steeped in the understandable nuclear paranoia of post-war Japan. And did I mention that three of the main protagonists are a giant moth and its two larvae? What’s not to like?
Billy the Kid vs Dracula (1966)
Yes, this really happened. Not only that, but it was released in some cinemas as a double bill with Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter. The fact that both films were shot in eight days could give some indication of the quality. John Carradine, the patriarch of the Carradine acting dynasty, takes the role of the vampire Count Dracula, in keeping with his bizarre legacy of appearing mostly in B-movie horror/Westerns or Shakespearean theatre, while his foe Billy the Kid is played by the since-largely-forgotten Chuck Courtney (a small role in Stephen King's Pet Sematary is among his limited later work).
Amorous as ever, Dracula takes a shine to Billy's fiancée and determines to make her his vampire bride; a vampire vs gunslinger combat ensues. This was the final film by prolific director William Beaudine, who made almost 200 movies between 1922's Watch Your Step and this one. Beaudine remained healthy until his unexpected death in 1970, and it is unconfirmed whether watching the final cut of this film was the horror that forced him out of the director's chair for the final four years of his life.
Kramer vs Kramer (1979)
Finally, a film on this list that features no monsters and, perhaps as a result, is the only one to ever get near an Oscar (it won five in 1980, including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Screenplay). Meryl Streep’s Joanna Kramer abandons her husband Ted (Dustin Hoffman) and their young son Billy. After 15 months, during which we see some tear-jerking father/son resentment, reconciliation and bonding, Joanna returns to fight a savage custody battle. There may be no monsters, vampires or aliens, but it’s the sort of film you can watch with your mum if you need to make amends for forgetting Mother’s Day. Just make sure you have a box of tissues handy.