Twin Films

A Bug's Life

Twin films are films with the same, or very similar, plot produced or released at the same time by two different film studios. The phenomenon can result from two or more production companies investing in similar scripts around the same time, resulting in a race to distribute the films to audiences.

Some attribute twin films to industrial espionage, the movement of staff between studios, or that the same screenplays are sent to several film studios before being accepted. Another possible explanation is if the films deal with topical issues, such as volcanic eruptions, reality television, terrorist attacks or significant anniversaries, resulting in multiple discovery of the concept.

Screenwriter Terry Rossio notes that there are always multiple film projects with similar subjects being developed in multiple studios while usually only one of them makes it into production in a given period of time, and therefore twin films are better regarded as exceptions. In one case, for the 1974 film ‘The Towering Inferno,’ the fear of having competing action thrillers, both set in a burning skyscraper, convinced two Hollywood studios to merge their productions into one (all-star) film.

While twin films usually are big budget films, a ‘mockbuster’ (a movie created to exploit the publicity of another major motion picture) can be made with a low budget, with similar titles, aesthetics and/or theme as blockbuster films. Mockbusters are usually given more limited release and marketing, intending to piggy-back on the public interest in the topic driven by the major film.

Producer Bingham Ray recalls a conversation where the screenwriter of the 2006 Truman Capote biopic Infamous phoned to announce that his script had been finished. Ray said ‘I know, I’ve got it on my desk!’ before realizing that he actually had the screenplay to’ Capote,’ a biopic by a different writer.

One of the earliest examples of twin films are ‘Jezebel’ in 1938 and ‘Gone with the Wind’ in 1939. William Wyler’s ‘Jezebel’ was reportedly created for Bette Davis when she failed to win the highly coveted role of Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone with the Wind.’ Both films were about feisty, independent Southern belles during the American Civil War.

‘Tombstone,’ a film about Wyatt Earp, was released in 1993, a year before ‘Wyatt Earp,’ starring Kevin Costner. 1997 had two competing, big budget volcano movies, ‘Dante’s Peak’ and ‘Volcano.’ In 1998, Disney and Dreamworks both released computer animated films about ants, ‘A Bug’s Life’ and ‘Antz.’ Also that year, two blockbusters about a meteor or asteroid headed for the Earth competed directly (‘Deep Impact’ and ‘Armageddon’).

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