Smokin' Aces (2006)
In 2006's Smokin' Aces, Joe Carnahan's ensemble action flick, Ryan Reynolds plays FBI agent Richard Messner, who is assigned to protect federal witness Buddy Israel. By the end of the movie, we learn what's so special about Buddy (nicknamed "Aces," and so the name of the movie literally translates to the act of assassinating him, not the cast of characters who attempt to do so), and it leads Reynolds as the most important figure in the story, as he alone gets to decide what's to become of Buddy.
The theme of identity, which is what Smokin' Aces is all about, ends up playing a big role in Reynolds' later career. Aside his first shot at playing Deadpool in 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which becomes its own meta identity crisis, Reynolds would later explore this idea in 2015's Self/Less as well as in 2016's Deadpool and Criminal. And somehow, no one really seems to have noticed, least of all critics who wrote unfavorably about Criminal, when the trend had become blazingly obvious.
I was always a fan of Smokin' Aces. It has a killer cast (including Chris Pine's best performance to-date), and was the first time I took notice of Reynolds (which turned out to be somewhat ironic, given his part's later significance). I was also a fan of director Tarsem going into Self/Less, which may be why I liked it better than most fans (including critics, who didn't even notice that this whole movie is literally about the second life dilemma, to the point where hardly a scene goes by without an additional layer of second life material being added to the story's rich tapestry). Everyone knew how passionate Reynolds was to get Deadpool made, but few could have guessed that its resulting shape would look so much like Self/Less (much less Smokin' Aces). so when he popped up as the prior life Kevin Costner assumes in Criminal, I kind of had to assume that at this point, it can't possibly be coincidence.
In fact, knowing Deadpool would be covering familiar territory, that was how I found most of my enjoyment from the breakout superhero flick, which has otherwise been hailed as a breath of fresh air in that genre. I thought its noisiness wasn't all that noteworthy, but found it fun to see all the points where it lines right up with Self/Less. While I haven't seen Criminal yet, I imagine there's plenty to enjoy about it in that regard, too.
There are so many people today who take this sort of thing as an insult to storytelling, that if plot points are at all similar, you have to automatically reject the newer story's creative value. I don't agree at all. Every story is different, particularly in movies, where casting so often dictates the results. It's funny that Reynolds is at the center of a convergence like this, but it only makes it that much easier to appreciate how the theme varies in each iteration, how different it looks each time. I mean, who else would even have compared Deadpool with Self/Less, which was a box office bust?
This is how I approach movies, and storytelling in general. Yeah, it's cool to like the popular stuff, whether with audiences or critics, but it takes some greater conviction to look beyond what other people are saying, and simply judge the material for yourself. There's a lot to say about creative vision, no matter how it represents itself, and the ability to appreciate the subtle things that make it resonate.
You could take two or three of these movies, and still enjoy their comparisons. Take all four, and you start to see how far this way of looking at movies, at storytelling, really goes.