Top Ten: Movie Rivalries

With the release next week of Rush and its brilliant portrayal of the rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda it seems the perfect time to look at some of the greatest rivalries in cinema history. Here’s my top ten in order of when the films were released.

1. Dorothy/Wicked Witch of the West – The Wizard of Oz (1939)

A proper good versus evil battle here as sweet Kansas girl Dorothy is transported to Oz and finds herself sent to kill the Wicked Witch of the West – who looks suspiciously like the vile Miss Gulch who wants to kill Dorothy’s little dog Toto. Well, I say sweet but Dorothy throws a bucket of acid over the only person standing up to a fraudulent dictator….

it's a wonderful life2. George Bailey/Mr Potter – It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

For years wicked old Henry Potter has ruled the small town of Bedford Falls through financial rule over the majority of the area’s working class residents. Only the kind, generous George Bailey stands up to him but Potter sets out to ruin Bailey one Christmas. It’s a sweet film to be sure but Potter is dark, dark, dark. He’s happy to drive a young family man to suicide at Christmas just to maintain his position of power. Thank God for Clarence the Angel.

west side story3. The Jets/The Sharks – West Side Story (1961)

Not individual rivalries here but two gangs in New York competing for a small patch of their neighbourhood to call their own. The rivalry extends to low level fights and face-offs at the local gym but when Puerto Rican Maria falls in love with Polish-American Tony the gangs erupt into deadly violence. Accompanied by song and dance. (see also The Montagues and The Capulets)

babyjane4. Baby Jane/Blanche – Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962)

Ooooh, sibling rivalry brings us a whole new level of creepy in this psychological horror film about a grotesque faded child star and her disabled sister. There are a couple of genuinely horrible moments in here such as Jane serving Blanche her parakeet for lunch. The fun is multiplied when you find out that stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford hated each other – rumours abound about the tricks each played on the other to make the filming painful.

star wars5. Luke Skywalker/Darth Vadar – Star Wars (1977)

This could very possibly be the ultimate movie rivalry as good farmboy Luke battles the evil Vader, the Emperor’s minion. This rivalry tales on a completely new twist when (spoiler alert!) Vader reveals that he is in fact Luke’s father. Couple that with Luke and Leia’s kiss and Christmas in the Skywalker household is pretty damn uncomfortable.

6. Superman/Lex Luthor – Superman (1978)

Any great superhero needs a great supervillain and in Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor is one of the greatest supervillains in movie history. Ever-so-slightly camp but debonair and surprisingly cruel at times, I have always loved Luthor. He shakes his head ruefully when his girlfriend points out that his missiles will kill her mother and gleefully pushes a police officer under a train. This is a rivalry which has run, and will run, on and on.

amadeus7. Antonio Salieri/Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Amadeus (1984)

If sibling jealousies, the search for parental approval and love across class and social boundaries fuel rivalries so too does jealousy of a younger, more successful colleague. Salieri was a great composer, much loved in Viennese society but he becomes aware of his mediocrity when faced with Mozart’s genius. The rivalry may exist merely in Salieri’s mind but it’s damaging enough to leave him in an insane asylum.

8. Maverick/Iceman – Top Gun (1986)

Top Gun is one of the seminal 80s action movies, testosterone-charged with a soft rock backed romance playing second fiddle to the manliness of it all. And there’s nothing more manly than two ace fighter pilots battling it out to be the manliest man of all the men (the volleyball match is very manly). We root for Tom Cruise’s Maverick but probably deep down we know that if war was to come we’d actually want Iceman (Val Kilmer) in the lead, he’d care more about shooting down the bad guys than buzzing the control tower.

9. Maximus/Commodus – Gladiator (2000)

There’s no greater reason for rivalry than seeking the approval of a parent. Poor Commodus – all he wants is father to love him and name him his heir but Marcus Aurelius passes his vain, cruel son over in favour of brave Maximus Decimus Meridius. Commodus is very unhappy about this and kills his father, has Maximus’s wife and son murdered and tries to have Maximus killed. Small wonder that when Maximus returns to Rome he’s slightly peeved, Russell Crowe gives one of cinema’s great speeches as he finally faces the evil Emperor.

rush 201310. Niki Lauda/James Hunt – Rush (2013)

A dramatic retelling of a dramatic rivalry Ron Howard’s Rush looks at the relationship between Hunt and Lauda, one a louche English playboy who ran on emotion and the other a cool, calculating Austrian. The film focuses on the competition for the 1976 World Championship and the dramatic aftermath of Lauda’s crash at the Nürburgring. Unlike other great cinematic rivalries there is no good guy or bad guy here.

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