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James Cameron Vs. Peter Jackson

Clash of the Moguls: James Cameron Vs. Peter Jackson

By Matt Hoffman     December 14, 2009

Mania Presents James Cameron Vs. Peter Jackson. Who would win?
© Bob Trate


In the field of genre cinema there are only a few filmmakers who have established themselves as both masters of their form and reliable box office draws. James Cameron and Peter Jackson have both achieved this status, earning critical respect for their work while simultaneously making phrases like “I’ll be back” and “My preciousss” into touchstones of global pop culture. The closely-scheduled releases of Cameron’s Avatar and Jackson’s The Lovely Bones have prompted us to ask: Which of these two directors has crafted the greater cinematic legacy?

Cameron Vs. Jackson

James Cameron and Peter Jackson

Round 1: Early Work

The Case for Cameron: The only movie Cameron directed before The Terminator (besides a 10-minute short film called Xenogenesis) was Pirahna II: The Spawning (1981). So, yeah.
The Case for Jackson: Jackson’s first feature, the low-budget gorefest Bad Taste, was riddled with technical limitations but showed enough wit and ingenuity to make it into the 1988 Cannes Film Festival. His next film was 1989’s Meet the Feebles, a super-dark puppet-based comedy that flew mostly under the radar, followed in 1992 by Braindead (a.k.a. Dead Alive), which has become a cult favorite among zombie fans and is often referred to as the goriest movie ever made. He took a more serious approach with the highly-praised Heavenly Creatures (1994), Kate Winslet’s big-screen debut. On the other hand, his last release before the Lord of the Rings trilogy was 1996’s goofy Michael J. Fox horror-comedy The Frighteners.

The Winner: Jackson, by a mile.


James Cameron and Peter Jackson

Round 2: Technical Innovation

The Case for Cameron: Cameron began his Hollywood career doing special effects work on movies like Battle Beyond the Stars and Escape From New York, so it’s not surprising that his films have had a significant impact on effects technology. They were especially important in the rise of computer-generated imagery, which, as we all know, has come to be used for almost all major cinematic special effects. The Abyss (1989) showcased the first-ever use of a 3-D computer-animated water effect, in the form of a sentient extra-terrestrial “pseudopod.” Even that, however, was small potatoes next to Cameron’s next film, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), which, by virtue of its liquid-metal T-1000, represented the first blockbuster film to use extensive, realistic-looking computer animation in a live-action context. This was a watershed moment in the mainstreaming of CGI. Cameron has also been pioneering 3-D filmmaking since before it was cool with his deep-sea documentaries Ghosts of the Abyss (2003) and Aliens of the Deep (2005); he’s even helped to create a new kind of stereoscopic 3-D camera rig.
The Case for Jackson: Jackson is also a special effects wonk, but most of his advances (usually achieved through his collaboration with the New Zealand-based effects company Weta Workshop) have had more to do with the interaction between computer effects and live footage than with the effects themselves. For example, fantastical Lord of the Rings locations such as Helm’s Deep were created mainly through the use of miniature models, with computer animation being used only when absolutely necessary. Actors playing Hobbits could be scaled down by digitally compositing two different shots, or simply by having the actors kneel. The Rings films also made prominent use of motion capture technology, particularly in the case of Andy Serkis’ critically-acclaimed performance as Gollum. Serkis played an even more prominent motion-captured role as the title character in Jackson’s 2005 remake of King Kong.
The Winner: Cameron, for introducing the general public to now-omnipresent CGI.

James Cameron and Peter Jackson

Round 3: Box Office Receipts

The Case for Cameron: First of all, he directed Titanic (1997), which earned almost $2 billion worldwide and is still far and away the highest-grossing movie EVER. It’s also worth noting that T2 is within the 100 top-grossing movies of all time, even when adjusted for inflation.
The Case for Jackson: Each of the Rings movies individually earned about half of Titanic’s total. Cumulatively, they push Jackson’s lifetime gross total ($1.3 billion) above Cameron’s ($1.1 billion).
The Winner: In per-film potential, Cameron. Titanic made more money than God.

James Cameron and Peter Jackson

Round 4: Academy Awards

The Case for Cameron: Most of Cameron’s films received very little attention at the Oscars, partly because the Academy isn’t too fond of science fiction and prefers to encourage clearly superior works like The ReaderTitanic, however, cleaned up at the 1997 ceremonies, winning eleven awards (including Best Picture and Best Director)—more than any other movie besides Ben-Hur
The Case for Jackson:…That is, until The Return of the King, which in 2003 also won 11 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. The first two Lord of the Rings movies won a total of six Academy Awards.
The Winner: We’ll call this one a tie.

James Cameron and Peter Jackson

Round 5: Critical Acclaim

The Case for Cameron: Cameron’s oeuvre tends to be more bloated and action-oriented than standard critical tastes are comfortable with, but most professional commentators still respect his storytelling abilities; for example, New York Times writer Janet Maslin called T2 “swift [and] exciting” and said that it “thoroughly justifies its vast expense.” Ironically, Titanic received slightly more mixed reviews than some of Cameron’s genre pieces, with a few critics calling it overlong or melodramatic.
The Case for Jackson: Jackson’s early horror-comedies were, not surprisingly, a tough sell for mainstream critics, but Heavenly Creatures, which Roger Ebert called “enthralling and frightening,” earned the director a lot of goodwill. The Lord of the Rings series was almost universally applauded; The Two Towers is rated at 100 percent on the Top Critics section of RottenTomatoes.com, lacking even one negative review. King Kong didn’t fare as well, and was referred to by many as excessive and indulgent. However, most critics enjoyed this summer’s District 9 (which was produced and “presented” but not written or directed by Jackson).
The Winner: Jackson. His best work earns more unqualified praise than Cameron has yet received.

James Cameron and Peter Jackson

The Overall Champion: James Cameron

This is a tough call, since Jackson has probably done more to legitimize and elevate genre entertainment. However, Cameron has had a huge influence on film technology and on Hollywood as a whole. Nevertheless, neither of these directors has retired yet. Fortunately for us, each one will have more chances to prove himself the Lord of the Biz.




See Other Director Brawls: Spielberg Vs. Lucas  Raimi Vs. Nolan

See Superhero Fights: Superman Vs. Hulk & Batman Vs. Spider-Man

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Showing items 1 - 10 of 34
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Wiseguy 12/14/2009 2:56:50 AM

Just like the Lucas vs Spielberg piece I only judge based on who's films I like more. I don't care about awards, too political voted on by old farts that rarely appreciate anything other than straight up dramas and so on

LOTR best trilogy ever bar none IMO. King Kong was very very good but it still didn't surpass the 1933 original IMHO except of course for the f/x. None of Jackson's other stuff stands out for me. I liked Dead Alive in its time and The Frighteners was ok

But Cameron's 2 Terminators, Aliens, The Abyss and even True Lies were so damn amazing that they top Jackson's accomplishments. I'm not even mentioning Titanic.

I've always said how Cameron isn't a very prolific director but when you measure the quality by frame output NO ONE (ok Spielberg maybe) matches Cameron. Once you start throwing quantity then and only then you can have maybe a couple of directors that may top him.

My opinion is solely based on what I consider "genre" cause that's pretty muych all I care about. I don't compare him to directors like Scorsese for example cause they don't rate in this genre

Chopsaki 12/14/2009 3:22:51 AM

Matt Hoffman: "the Academy isn’t too fond of science fiction and prefers to encourage clearly superior works like The Reader."

Nice little jab there I must say. He shoots, he scores! As for this debate I'm a fan of both directors but this round is The Lovely Bones vs Avatar. Cameron wins this battle, I guess time will tell who wins the war.

JarrodSarafin 12/14/2009 4:06:32 AM

Peter Jackson's King Kong also won three more Oscars...I'd say Jackson wins the Oscar race and it's not so much a tie after all. But I understand it being a tie if you consider LOTR film vs. Titantic.

For me, it's about rewatchability between the directors. I'd say Cameron wins there because where as I need to be in the mood to watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy (can't just watch one since they all go together), I find myself watching Aliens, The Terminator, True Lies and The Abyss any time I come across them.

If I'm bored and I run across them on the satelite, I'll stick with them for sheer amusement. Where as the only Peter Jackson I do the same for is The Frighteners. Love that movie! The rest of Jackson's films, though, I have to be ready for a 9 hour trilogy quest or a 3 hour Kong fest.

All that said, if there would have been another Round on likeability, it would have went to Peter Jackson hands down. I love James Cameron's contribution to cinematic history but he strikes me as having a serious God-complex. Where as Del Toro seems much more down to Planet Earth.

ThemanG01 12/14/2009 4:08:11 AM

The Lord of the Rings was "unfilmable".  Jackson filmed it.  No, he nailed it.  It's easily my favorite movie (in three parts) of all time.  I know it's not PJ's story, but he obviously treated it with alot of care and it showed.

I can't say that Cameron doesn't have a great amount of ability, but outside of the Terminator franchise I just don't tend to care about his body of work.  It's good, but doesn't really wow me.

It's not a fair comparrison for me because PJ is behind probably the most important peice of cinema to me personally.  Nobody is going to beat PJ in this fight when I'm judging it.

Darkknight2280 12/14/2009 4:46:13 AM

To me this is like comparing Apples to hamburgers...there is no comparison in my opinion. Cameron is King of the big movie..the box office and innovation speaks for itself. Jackson has made 3 good movies in my opinion; LOTR triology. King kong sucked HARD!Havent heard of most of his early work. As far as Cameron's early work yeah pirana 2 was garbage..but how can you not say Terminator and Aliens wasnt part of his early work? Terminator was 1984 and Aliens was 1986..how can you say they werent apart of his early work? Pirana 2 was in 1981 only 3 years before Terminator. I dunno in my opinion this is a non contest match up. Sure Peter Jackso can be a good director. But he basically made 1 very long movie cut up into 3 pieces...and then he made a giant turd called KING KONG..what has he done since then besides discover a good director in the guy that did District 9? Nothing really...Cameron took a 10 year break and is going to totally make up for it on the 18th!! :)

hanso 12/14/2009 4:47:44 AM

I would just like to add that James Cameron didn’t have final cut of Pirahna 2 and wasn’t allowed to edit his own movie. The film’s producer was constantly interfering with him and there is even some doubt today if Cameron actually got to film most of it. So Cameron’s true first film is The Terminator.

Oh and Jarrod I think you meant Jackson at the end of your post and not Del Toro. 

goldeneyez 12/14/2009 4:56:31 AM

Jarrod, I had no idea Peter Jackson did The Frighteners.  I love that movie too!  I miss those Michael J. Fox movies from Teen Wolf to the Back to the Future trilogy.  The Frighteners fits with those to me.  Looking at IMDB it looks like Robert Zemekis produced it too.

monkeyfoot 12/14/2009 6:46:52 AM

Love them both. Didn't and wouldn't even have considered doing a "versus article" between the two.

I do tend to re-watch Cameron's movies more often simply because they pop up on TV frequently. Other than LOTR and King Kong I've never really watched any of Jackson's other works. But I will start watching LOTR whereever I happened to drop into it when it pops up on TNT.

A better comparison article I see is the LOTR trilogy and the Star Wars prequels. For a brief moment they were coming out the same year and I was comparing them in my mind. Both were epic fantasy dealing with the battle of good vs. evil. Both had heavy FX battle sequences. Both had main characters dealing with an internal battle with their dark sides and both had major characters who were toally CG. 

Though I love me some Lucas and everything he has done for film. And I know what he was trying to do with the prequels, LOTR wins that war hands down.

Darkknight2280 12/14/2009 6:51:35 AM

yeah I forgot about frightners..it was good but that wouldnt change my above opinion on Cameron OWNING Jackson :)

I'm totally with you Goldeneyez! i miss back to the future aand teen wolf things like that. They should do a Back to the future 4 and have MJ Fox in it and his son finds another time machine left by doc brown or something like that. That way MJF doesnt have to be a huge part of it but still be in it (since he has parkinsons and all) I dunno i want more BTTF but i dont really want a remake...Unless maybe if Zemekis came back and did it. Speaking of him Robert Zemekis is a good director too not many if any of his movies i didnt like.

twomcs 12/14/2009 8:21:24 AM

I would definitely go with Cameron!  LOTR and The Frighteners are the only Jackson films I like.  You just can't match the repeat viewing power of the first 2 Terminators, Aliens, and eve True Lies and The Abyss! 

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