The first time I saw a double feature done perfectly was when I saw Grave of the Fireflies and My Neighbour Totoro back-to-back. The two movies could not be more different from each other: one is the gruelling tale of a pair of orphaned children trying not to starve to death in ’40s Japan while the other features a bus that is also a cat. When these movies were released in Japan they were shown as a double, and it works. Fireflies is such a grim, real movie full of cruelty and horrors that you need the lightness and fun that comes from Totoro, and you need it immediately. Before the tears have dried, before you’ve lingered too much on what you’ve seen, press play on Totoro and move on.
So that is one kind of double feature which I’ll call “Movies that Need Each Other”. These don’t have to be movies that cheer you up after making you sad. I would say that Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi fall into this category. You can’t watch Empire and then not watch Jedi to see what happens to Han. That would be crazy. However, in this article I will be avoiding talking about double features that are just two films in the same series as those seem obvious.
Another category of Double Feature is the Unofficial Sequel. The first one of these to jump into my head is Shaft (1971) and Shaft (2000) as both feature Richard Roundtree playing a character called John Shaft so, if you were inclined to, you could watch ’71 Shaft and then straight after it ’00 Shaft to see how Shaft Snr (or Uncle John) is doing thirty years later. A much better one is if you consider Enemy of the State to be a sequel to The Conversation (and it feels like the filmmakers were hoping you would) then it’s cool to see Gene Hackman’s Harry Caul (albeit with a different character name) back in action helping out hapless Will Smith as he tries to evade the kind of government eavesdroppers that Hackman hung out with in The Conversation.
There are also double features that work because they have the same plot…sort of. With this category the game is to find two movies that share a one-sentence synopsis. For example, a lone hero must battle against invaders within a building. For this double feature you watch Home Alone and Die Hard. Or a group of children encounter extra-terrestrial life could lead to one of my favourite double feature ideas of watching ET and then Attack the Block. Or a young woman is pursued by a seemingly unstoppable force leads you to watch The Terminator and It Follows in one night (which is good as at least they’re both awesome and closer to the same genre).
Finally, there are just movies that work together. A recent double feature I had was Zombeavers and WolfCop. Two horror comedies with their tongue firmly in their cheek and lots of excessive violence and nudity. I feel as though as soon as you decide to do this double feature a pizza and a six pack of beer should instantly arrive on your doorstep with no explanation, and none needed.