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Twin films: Ten times Hollywood studios have released 'lookalike' movies on the same subject

From Deep Impact and Armageddon to No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits, cinema has an odd habit of putting out mirror-image releases in quick succession

Joe Sommerlad
Thursday 05 July 2018 15:49 BST
Armageddon official trailer

One of the weirdest aspects of the Hollywood movie industry is the phenomenon of “twin films”.

The term refers to the release of two features extremely close in subject matter within weeks of one another, despite the studios presumably having a good idea what their rivals currently have in the pipeline.

Executives certainly socialise and production schedules are an open secret, with teaser trailers posted online at the earliest opportunity in order to kick-start the hype generator.

And yet Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson seems to release the same movie several times a year while the awards season just gone saw the arrival of Dunkirk and Darkest Hour, both addressing Britain’s dramatic rescue of troops from the French coast in May 1940.

Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster recreated the logistical feat of the endeavour, capturing the perspective of the men on the beaches, boats crossing the Channel and Spitfire pilots engaged in battle in the air, while Joe Wright’s film concentrated on Sir Winston Churchill’s decision-making in the corridors of power beneath Whitehall.

Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk 

The two were sufficiently different to justify separate projects but that is not always the case.

Like two friends arriving at a house party in the same shirt, the situation invites mockery. More seriously, it also risks splitting the vote at the box office.

Here are some of the most egregious examples of twin films.

Tombstone (1993) and Wyatt Earp (1994)

The famous tale of lawman Wyatt Earp and gambler Doc Holliday teaming up to battle the Clantons in Arizona in 1879 had already been extensively covered in several Westerns, at least two of which are bona fide classics: John Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946) and John Sturges’ Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957).

Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer had a go in Tombstone, with Kevin Costner and Dennis Quaid’s project following soon after.

Tombstone, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Kurt Russell and Bill Paxton in Tombstone

Both were inspired by the revival of interest in the genre sparked by the success of Clint Eastwood’s 1992 masterpiece Unforgiven, but neither attained the same heights.

Dante’s Peak and Volcano (both 1997)

A particularly common phenomenon among late 1990s blockbusters, Volcano went head-to-head with its doppleganger Dante’s Peak at the box office – both concerning communities placed in peril by sudden eruptions.

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The latter, directed by Roger Donaldson and starring Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton, narrowly came out on top but both were overwhelmed in a strong summer for blockbusters, losing out to The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Starship Troopers and the all-conquering Titanic.

Deep Impact and Armageddon (both 1998)

Another example was this brace of asteroid thrillers in both of which astronauts are dispatched to tackle comets on a collision cause with Earth and promising mass extinction.

Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck in Armageddon

Deep Impact centred around Morgan Freeman’s president and his plans to minimise the disaster while Armageddon followed Bruce Willis’s crew saving the day.

Astronomers felt the former was more scientifically plausible but audiences preferred Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer’s bombastic approach – the latter a worldwide smash, as was Aerosmith’s tie-in ballad “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”.

Deep Impact trailer

One director, Roland Emmerich, has made variations on this premise several times, plotting the planet’s destruction in Independence Day (1996), The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and 2012 (2009).

Antz and A Bug’s Life (both 1998)

Born of a feud between executives Steve Jobs, John Lasseter and Jeffrey Katzenberg, Dreamworks and Disney Pixar’s rival CGI insect animations both performed well at the box office, although the latter eventually squashed its competition.

Sharon Stone and Woody Allen voiced the leads in Antz

The more unusual of the two, Antz featured a rare vocal performance from Woody Allen while A Bug’s Life featured Kevin Spacey, neither of whom are much in demand at the moment.

Mission to Mars (2000) and Red Planet (both 2000)

Mars has fascinated filmmakers since Georges Melies but neither first time director Anthony Hoffman nor veteran Brian De Palma managed to capture the public imagination to the same degree as Ridley Scott’s The Martian in 2015.

The Prestige and The Illusionist (both 2006)

Nolan’s atmospheric tale of rival 19th century stage magicians in Victorian London starred Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale and featured an inspired cameo from David Bowie as the inventor Nikola Tesla.

Neil Burger’s film, featuring Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and Jessica Biel, was slightly less fancied but equally interesting, recounting the royal intrigue surrounding Viennese conjuror Eisenheim and his forbidden love for the Duchess Sophie von Teschen.

Capote (2005) and Infamous (2006)

Both of these biopics focused on New York writer and socialite Truman Capote and document the time he spent in Kansas in 1959 interviewing Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, two ex-convicts accused of murdering four members of the Clutter family in Holcomb County, the basis for his true crime novel In Cold Blood (1966).

Philip Seymour Hoffman in his Oscar-winning Capote role (Sony)

Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Oscar and Bafta Best Actor prizes for his impersonation of the author in Capote while Toby Jones was later awarded the London Film Critics Circle gong for his portrayal. The two were inevitably compared by reviewers, with the former generally agreed to have come out on top, certainly having the advantage by securing the earlier release.

Hollywood producer Bingham Ray later told The New Yorker he remembered taking a phone call from Douglas McGrath, director and screenwriter of Infamous, telling him he had completed the script. “I know, I’ve got it on my desk!” the executive replied, before realising he was looking at Dan Futterman’s Capote instead.

No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits (both 2011)

Two single pals – variously Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman and Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis – attempt to introduce casual sex into the dynamic without jeopardising their friendship.

No Strings Attached official trailer

An idea Jerry and Elaine already tried and abandoned in Seinfeld in 1991, both romantic comedies nevertheless made precisely the same amount of cash at the box office: $149m (£106m).

White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen (both 2013)

Two action blockbusters about a terrorist attack on the White House in the same year? It happened.

In the former, directed by explosion specialist Emmerich, Channing Tatum’s buff DC police officer came to the aid of Jamie Foxx. In the latter, made by Antoine Fuqua, Gerard Butler’s grizzled Secret Service man rescued Aaron Eckhart.

Olympus Has Fallen 

The premise of both owed a debt to 1990s action thrillers like Independence Day and Air Force One (1997), in which the president proved himself a hero. Both were made in Barack Obama’s second term. If they were made today, loyalty to the president might not necessarily be taken for granted.

Despite there being little to choose between them, Olympus is the one that has spawned sequels: the crashingly insensitive London Has Fallen arriving in 2016 and a third entry in the series, Angel Has Fallen, currently in development.

Marguerite (2015) and Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

Stephen Frears’ film was a straight biopic of the notorious American socialite and would-be soprano, winning rave notices and an Oscar nomination for Meryl Streep and featuring a gloriously roguish turn from Hugh Grant as her husband, St Clair Bayfield.

Meryl Streep with Hugh Grant in Florence Foster Jenkins (20th Century Fox)

French drama Marguerite, released in the UK two months earlier, also took inspiration from the same source but failed to find a mainstream audience, despite critics admiring Catherine Frot in the lead.

“One month before the shooting of Marguerite, I heard about [Florence Foster Jenkins]... For me, it was terrible,” recalled director Xavier Giannoli.

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