Weekend Roundtable: Sibling Rivalry

As both brothers and enemies, Thor and Loki have a complicated relationship. So it goes with many siblings, though perhaps not often to that extreme. In honor of ‘The Dark World’ opening this weekend, today’s Roundtable explores other fictional sibling relationships, across any media from movies to TV, books, comics, videogames and more.

Luke Hickman

My pick is a major spoiler, but considering that the film is 16-years-old, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. One of my all-time favorite sci-fi flicks is ‘Gattaca‘. I once wrote a huge (20+ page) paper dissecting and analyzing the film. While the plot may revolve around secret identities, genetic manipulation and the broken system in which it all resides, at its core, the story’s climax explores a sibling rivalry – only you’d never guess that was coming because it isn’t revealed until the finale. I love the brotherly dynamic that anyone with a sibling can relate to. When I was a child, I cannot tell you how many times I felt like the underdog, the one who would never live up to his brothers. On the flipside, I also cannot tell you how many times I felt like I was so much better than my other brothers. Both sides of the ‘Gattaca’ story ring true for me.

Michael Spike Steinbacher

The Royal Tenenbaums‘ just oozes with sibling rivalry, and is one of my favorite Wes Anderson movies. Royal (Gene Hackman) and Etheline (Anjelica Huston) have three gifted children: Richie (Luke Wilson) is a tennis pro and an artist; adopted Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a famous playwright; and Chas (Ben Stiller) is a wealthy genius in the world of international finance. Each competes fiercely for love, respect and attention from their parents and one another throughout their lives, especially after Royal leaves them early in life and they all struggle with their lives and careers subsequently. Some people accuse Anderson of being too ironic, twee and precious. I suppose he is all of these things, but I adore his style and love everything he does. This movie is the most “Wes Anderson” of all the Wes Anderson movies, and the performances are all extraordinary.

Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)

With ‘Ender’s Game‘ now in theaters, it’s worth mentioning that Andrew “Ender” Wiggin’s contentious relationship with his brother Peter helped to define him and to make him the great military commander he needed to become. With Peter rejected from candidacy for Battle School, he takes out his frustration on young Ender, who still has a shot at making the program. Having been on the wrong side of Peter’s fury, Ender sees how destructive it can be. Athough Peter gets little screen time (a bit more in the book than in the film), his influence on Ender is significant. It’s Peter’s propensity toward violence that Ender loathes and struggles to keep in check within himself.

Another recent example of how sibling rivalry builds a character is ‘The Fighter‘. Mark Wahlberg’s Micky Ward spends the early part of his life living in the shadow of his half-brother and successful local boxer, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). But when Dicky struggles in the ring, and turns to drugs and crime, it’s little brother Micky whose gloves get hot as his star begins to rise. As Micky’s sparring partner and coach, Dicky is a bit miffed when Micky wants to do things his own way in the ring, instead of blindly following Dicky’s guidance. In the end (unlike what we usually see in the real world), the brothers come to terms and agree to work together, and it all works out for the best. I have to imagine that the real interaction of these true life brothers was a bit less clear-cut, but such is often the case with bio-pics.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

Oh, if only I were writing this a week earlier…! Laurie Strode and Michael Myers from the ‘Halloween‘ franchise somehow manage to rank near both the top and bottom of my list of cinematic sibling rivalries. John Carpenter’s original Halloween is a film I find unnervingly intense and suspenseful no matter how many times I see it, and much of that is drawn from the purity of Strode and Myers alike. One is pure innocence while the other is pure, soulless evil – two sides of the same coin. On the other hand, the retroactive decision to have the two be brother and sister has always rubbed me the wrong way. The original ‘Halloween’ is so disturbing because there’s no reason for Michael Myers to be stalking this entirely random teenaged girl. The lack of any apparent motive makes Myers’ cruelty so much more horrifying, furthering a sense that “This could happen to me” that’s diminished in the sequels that follow.

M. Enois Duarte

When it comes to sibling rivalries, I immediately think of the hilarious brotherly feud between Wyatt and Chet from John Hughes’ ‘Weird Science‘. Next to his performance in ‘Aliens’, this is one of Bill Paxton’s most memorable roles – the abusive ROTC jerk with the manners of a toad who treats his younger brother like garbage. My favorite scene is the moment when Wyatt accidentally bumps into Chet in the kitchen while wearing Kelly LeBrock’s blue panties. Paxton’s reaction is priceless, made all the better when he pulls off his own towel to give to Wyatt. And just to show how much of a jerk he can be, he’s equally mean and abusive to Wyatt’s best bud Gary and their two girlfriends. Chet’s comeuppance is absolutely lovely and quite fitting to his personality, making him one of my favorite a-hole big brothers.

Brian Hoss

The ‘Metal Gear‘ universe is no simple construct. While Big Boss has arisen to become the series’ rightful star, ‘Metal Gear Solid’, ‘Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty’, and ‘Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots’ all play out the hyper-complicated rivalry and relationship of his three sons: Solid Snake, Liquid Snake and Solidus.

Solidus had his heyday in ‘MGS2’, where he impersonated Solid Snake to almost destroy New York City and eliminate the world-controlling Patriots, only to be foiled by the Liquid-controlled Ocelot. The rivalry between Liquid and Solid Snake survived Liquid Snake’s death at Shadow Moses. Liquid lived on in the transplanted arm of Ocelot and was only ultimately stopped by a saga-spanning fight with Solid Snake in ‘MGS 4′. Yet the three sons’ story is by no means concluded, and may become key in ‘Metal Gear Solid V’ and the eventual ‘Metal Gear Solid 6’.

Gordon Miller

One of the all-time classic stories about sibling rivalry is William Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III‘, which tells how Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, gained the throne of England through his villainous machinations. As the play opens, Richard’s brother is crowned Edward IV, but he is not Richard’s only impediment to becoming king. Their other brother George, the Duke of Clarence, is next in succession and must be dealt with as well. Richard informs the viewer he is “determined to prove a villain” and does just that as the story unfolds. ‘Richard III’ has been adapted to film many times. Two of the most notable versions are Laurence Olivier’s 1955 version and the 1995 version starring Ian McKellan, which is set in an alternative 1930s England.

Shannon Nutt

My favorite sibling rivalry comes from the world of television and takes place deep in the heart of Texas. From 1978 until 1991 (and then again for the past couple of years), there was no better brother-versus-brother feud on TV than the one between J.R. (Larry Hagman) and Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) on ‘Dallas‘. One of my favorite storylines over those seasons took place in the aftermath of their father’s death. As part of Jock Ewing’s will, instead of dividing Ewing Oil up among the brothers, he had them compete for it over a year’s time. This resulted in a full season of wheelin’, dealin’ and backstabbin’ where the younger, “good” brother (Bobby) often found he’d have to get down in the mud if he wanted to take out ol’ J.R. Sadly, Hagman’s passing early this year means we’ll no longer see this great rivalry on screen, but the memories (and DVDs) remain.

Jack Lilburn

No question, for me it’s ‘Adaptation‘. “Good” Nicolas Cage turns in two of the best performances of his life as twin brothers Charlie and Donald Kaufmann. It’s simultaneously hysterical, heartbreaking and endearing to watch the brothers’ relationship develop throughout a plot riddled with redneck flower thieves, Hollywood phonies, New York intellectuals, a legendary screenwriting guru and killer alligators. I’ll also never forget Donald’s wonderful line: “You are what you love, not what loves you.” If you’ve never seen it, watch it right now. If you’ve already seen it, do so again.

Josh Zyber

This is an odd topic for me. Both Mrs. Z and myself were only children, so neither of us can relate to the experiences of a sibling relationship. Everything I know about brothers and sisters I learned from the distorted view of movies and TV. I doubt many real families were like ‘The Brady Bunch’. This is something I will need to rectify.

I have twins on the brain, and it’s a shame that the actual movie called ‘Twins’ (that dumb comedy with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny De Vito) was such a dud. What does that leave me with? ‘The Parent Trap’? The Wonder Twins from ‘Superfriends’? ‘G.I. Joe’ villains Tomax and Xamot?

Nah, I’ve got it. The Mantle twins in David Cronenberg’s ‘Dead Ringers‘ have one of the most perversely fascinating relationships in all of cinema. Jeremy Irons plays both brothers, Elliot and Beverly Mantle, identical gynecologists who share more than just a business practice. The suave Elliot seduces women who come to their clinic, and when he’s done with them, he passes them onto the meek Beverly, with the women being none the wiser that they’ve changed hands. Things get complicated when an actress (Genevieve Bujold) seeks their help for infertility treatments, and winds up being a catalyst that drives them apart and changes both of their lives, ultimately for the worse. Famous for his grotesque horror movies such as ‘Videodrome’ and ‘The Fly’, this was Cronenberg’s first “straight” drama of any significance, though it certainly has its horrific elements. The brothers’ codependent relationship turns incredibly twisted and bizarre in ways that only Cronenberg could imagine. At least, I hope real twins aren’t like this!

Tell us about your favorite fictional siblings in the Comments below.


  1. GOB and Michael Bluth in Arrested Development. Also George and Oscar Bluth from Arrested Development. Also Donnie and Andy Richter from Arrested Development. Also the twin tie-breakers in Season 4 of Arrested Development.

  2. JM

    ‘Your Sister’s Sister,’ ‘Hannah and Her Sisters,’ ‘The Dreamers.’

    ‘Adaptation,’ ‘Please Give,’ ’10 Things I Hate About You.’

    ‘A History Of Violence,’ ‘The Godfather II,’ Kurosawa’s ‘Ran.’

    I’m curious about Ridley Scott’s white-actors-only/atheist take on ‘Exodus.’

  3. Neal

    Lion in Winter

    “King, king, king. Two of you shall have to learn to live with disappointment.”

    Perfect film for the holidays: “The hot wine steams, the yule log roars, and we’re the fat that’s on the fire.”

  4. William Henley

    I think some of the best actually come from real-life, and all have to do with the British royal line.

    The King’s Speech is an excellent example of sibling rivalry (actually, it is even a better movie about bullying, when you get down to it).

    You also have Prince John and King Richard in any Robin Hood story.

    If we can stretch this to cousins, I love Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots in the Elizabeth movies.

    You also have Anne and Mary Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl – two sisters both striving to be the favorite mistress of a king.

    Going into fiction, I love The Weasleys from the Harry Potter books. You have Percy who decides to put his love for the government and his belief that the government can do no wrong above his loyalty to his own family. You also have Ron who is constantly trying to distinguish himself from his five older brothers

    You also gotta love The Brady Bunch. It is kinda sappy that any issue gets resolved by the end of the show, but there does seem to be ongoing rivalry between the kids trying to stand out from each other and fighting for space.

    Of course, you also have the 90s reboot, Step By Step. Throw together six kids who LOATHE each other who are not just fighting with their step-brothers and sisters, but also fighting with their step-parents to get the attention and affection of their biological parent.

    Getting into the cartoon world, you have a rivalry between Kermit, Gonzo and Piggy in Muppet Babies with the little love triangle that is going on there. This really disturbed me as a kid, though – were they all friends? If so, why did they never go home? Bunson and Beaker live next door, so they go home from time to time, but the others never do. They seem to even sleep together at night. So does that make them all brothers and sisters? That’s gross! And what a horrible Nanny they have, who comes in once every half hour to make sure they are not killing each other, and then parents who are never in the picture!

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