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The strange phenomenon of twin films

From BBC - April 1, 2018

Sometimes a story is so good, you just have to tell it twice.

This seems to be particularly true in Hollywood, the landscape of which is littered with examples of "twin films" - two movies that are not only about the same thing, but are often released around the same time.

The Mercy, which came out in February and starred Colin Firth, told the true story of Donald Crowhurst, an amateur British sailor who joined a round-the-world yacht race in 1968.

Literally out of his depth, he attempted to cheat using falsified navigation logs before mysteriously disappearing from his vessel.

The story was so extraordinary that two different directors - James Marsh and Simon Rumley - thought it worth making a film about. So both did.

StudioCanal, who already had Firth's film in development, avoided a slightly awkward situation by buying the rights to the other one as well.

"It's a bit of a unique situation," said Mike Riley, producer of Rumley's Crowhurst. "There's two films - two very different films - about the same thing."

Except it's not unique at all. In fact, it happens surprisingly frequently.

Keith Simanton, senior film editor at IMDb, says that twin films often come about because of genuine coincidence.

"I bet if you went out right now you could find two, three or more scripts which are about the same thing and have not been made," he tells BBC News.

"For example, we went a long stretch without any movies about Dunkirk. Yet in 2017 we had two major features about it - Darkest Hour and Dunkirk.

"Then there are instances where creative types get put together and they click, and even though the exact movie they coalesced for does not get made, they stick together and make something vaguely familiar.

"For example, Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell were brought together for the action-buddy cop flick that eventually became Cop Out. They ended up not starring in that film but moved on to a different studio with a different script, but with the same feeling, called The Other Guys."

According to Simanton, though, one of the most frequent reasons for the twin film phenomenon is what he calls "first to market".

"For example, a studio knows Dwayne Johnson is making a Hercules movie, and they go 'Hey, we have the rights to this other script to another Hercules movie, and the legend of Hercules is in the public domain.'

"'Would not it be great if we could get ours out before they do?'"

Ironically, though, being last to market with an idea is sometimes the best bet. This happened in the late 1980s when a plethora of films about age-switching were released.

"First there was Like Father Like Son, starring Dudley Moore, then Vice Versa with Judge Reinhold, and then 18 Again with George Burns," Simanton says.

"The last to come out was Big, starring Tom Hanks. And that's the one that made over $100m [71m] at the box office, and Penny Marshall became the first woman director to achieve that milestone.

"Theoretically, Big should not have made any money. There had been three others that had come out before it with basically the same idea, but the last one was the best."

Here are some few more examples of so-called "twin films" that came out eerily close to each other.

Olympus Has Fallen & White House Down

Storyline: Action thrillers that see the US president's safety at risk from terrorists attacking the White House.

Stars: Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart in Olympus Has Fallen; Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx in White House Down.

Release dates: March 2013 for Olympus, followed by White House Down three months later.

Box office: $170m (120m) for Olympus Has Fallen; $205m (146m) for White House Down.

Trivia: Despite White House Down being more successful at the box office, it was Olympus Has Fallen that sparked not one but two sequels.

Butler and Eckhart reprised their roles in 2016's London Has Fallen, while a third instalment, Angel Has Fallen, is due to be released next year.

No Strings Attached & Friends With Benefits

Storyline: Two friends, both single, hook up for casual sex without the complications of an actual relationship.

Release dates: January 2011 for Strings, with Benefits coming out the following July.

Stars: Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman in No Strings Attached; Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis in Friends With Benefits.

Box office: Incredibly, both took almost exactly the same amount - around $149m (106m).

Trivia: The two film's female stars appeared with each other in Black Swan the year before these two films were released.

Antz & A Bug's Life

Storyline: Computer-animated children's films that focus on the lives and ecosystems of tiny insects.

Stars: The voices of Woody Allen and Sharon Stone in Antz; the voices of Kevin Spacey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in A Bug's Life.

Marguerite & Florence Foster Jenkins

Deep Impact & Armageddon

Capote & Infamous

Dante's Peak & Volcano

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