‘Good news, I finished my script!’
‘I know, I’ve got it on my desk!’
‘Uh, no you don’t, because I have it on my desk.’
‘No, it’s right here, Capote by Dan – ‘
– A conversation between Infamous screenwriter Douglas McGrath and film producer Bingham Ray regarding the mix-up between McGrath’s screenplay and Dan Futterman’s Capote screenplay. (although it doesn’t really sound like an conversation real people would have and my source was Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt)
Until recently, I had no idea there was even a term for it. ‘Twin Films’ are films of similar plot released by different studios at around the same time. There are a number of reasons something like this might happen; an ideas drought, scripts being sent to multiple studios, filmmakers moving studios, zeitgeist and my personal favourite – industrial espionage. I struggle to recall whether volcanos were much of an issue back in 1997, a year in which both Pierce Brosnan and Tommy Lee Jones braved the lava spurting devils, but perhaps they were. There are more Twin Films than you might suspect, which a quick Wikipedia check can confirm, although the relationships span from ridiculously familiar to tenuous. Sometimes the production of Twin Films can result in the withdrawal of one of the parties. Back in 2003 Baz Luhrmann had been planning an Alexander the Great biopic, with Leonardi DiCaprio in mind to star as the formidable Macedonian, until Oliver Stone’s production of Alexander (2004) forced Luhrmann to rethink his plans. Other times, when both productions hold fast, it can result in a race to be first released. First in best dressed, why would audiences see the same film twice? Either way, we at ReelGood are happy Twin Films exist. Here are some of our favourites.
GORDY (1995) versus BABE (1995)
Gordy?? I wonder if there are many people who think of Gordy when that family film about the fun-loving pig from the mid-nineties is mentioned. Film-wise, pigs generally don’t get much of a look-in, but it seems when it rains it pours. 1995 was the year of the Pig. I think it’s quite telling that the only time I’ve ever seen a copy of Gordy was in a rundown pirated DVD shop in Sri Lanka, and the person who pointed it out brought it to my attention by saying ‘Who the hell is Gordy?’ The top comment on the trailer for Gordy on YouTube states that it is a ‘a very underrated movie.’
Verdict: Gordy. Obviously that was a joke. Who are you, Gordy? The winner is Babe.
FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS (2011) versus NO STRINGS ATTACHED (2011)
Essentially identical and released within an absurdly close proximity of one another, it’s hard to imagine how Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached didn’t start out life as the same film. Two friends decide to enjoy the physical benefits of a relationship but leave all the emotional stuff out of it, before eventually realising they love each other. One of them was unexpectedly entertaining with some decent chemistry between the romantic leads, the other was Friends with Benefits.
Verdict: No Strings Attached, which I found myself enjoying despite myself. While we’re on the subject, I’ve always taken issue with the term ‘friends with benefits.’ All friends have benefits; such is the nature of friendship. One of my good friends Hughy is a fantastic cook, which often benefits me. Like the time he made lemon meringue pie.
KUNDUN (1997) versus SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET (1997)
I actually remember seeing both these films as a kid. There was an ad for the Free Tibet campaign that preceded them (Harrison Ford is the only thing I remember about the ad although what Harrison Ford has to do with Tibet, I don’t recollect). To a ten-year-old kid it seemed like Hollywood churned out films about Tibet every second day. Turns out it was just our old friend Twin Films coming up to bite us all right on the ass.
Verdict: Kundun. I’m not about to denounce Martin Scorsese and throw in my lot with Brad Pitt’s terrible German accent.
ANTZ (1998) versus A BUG’S LIFE (1998)
These were the films that drew my attention to the existence of Twin Films. Even to a young lad, it seemed odd that there were two ostensibly identical computer-animated films being released more or less at the same time. Perhaps the association was more noticeable as it was a time when CG animation was still something of a rarity. I saw Antz at the cinemas, but only got around to checking out A Bug’s Life about a year ago. I found something incredibly off-putting about that fat German slug thing.
Verdict: I’m an Antz man and I stand by that decision.
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998) versus THE THIN RED LINE (1998)
Steven Spielberg and Terrence Malick are exceedingly different filmmakers, and these films are really only associated by their focus on the Second World War. For every shot of a man being torn in half in Spielberg’s film, there’s undoubtedly five minutes of grass blowing in the wind in Malick’s. Spielberg picked up the Academy Award for Best Director. Malick obviously believes it was because he hadn’t put enough contemplation in The Thin Red Line, because he’s upped the ante in every film since. Both films have some resounding positives, and several glaring negatives.
Verdict: Saving Private Ryan. I’d love to go with The Thin Red Line, but Terrence Malick’s fall from grace into gratuitous pondering should never be condoned.
DANTE’S PEAK (1997) versus VOLCANO (1997)
Dante’s Peak was a favourite of mine growing up, but Volcano has a bit of sass about it, which you have to admire. If you take The Fugitive but swap Harrison Ford for a volcano that bursts out of the middle of downtown L.A., then you’ve got yourself Volcano. There are moments in Volcano when you can really sense the personal tension between Jones and the lava. Then again, Dante’s Peak has the annoying grandmother (and her subsequent grisly death), Pierce Brosnan’s bone sticking out of his arm and that fat guy who yells ‘THANKYOU NASA! THANKYOU NASA! THANKYOU NASA!”. Tough one to call.
Verdict: A tie, and I’m going purely on nostalgia. I loved Dante’s Peak as a kid, my girlfriend loved Volcano. Calling this a tie is her birthday present for the next few years.
THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998) versus EDTV (1999)
There was a time when reality TV was new, and nobody had realised yet how detrimental to society the beast would become. These two films were released around then. I have a soft spot for EdTV. It’s the kind of film that if it’s on television in the room I’m in, I’ll probably turn and look at it for a moment. And Woody Harrelson is in it, which is good I guess. But The Truman Show is a great film, made by a great filmmaker with a fantastic performance from a man who previously made a career out of turning around, bending down and pretending to talk out of his ass.
Verdict: The Truman Show
JURASSIC PARK (1993) versus CARNOSAUR (1993)
If only Steven Spielberg had known the unstoppable juggernaut that was international money-maker Carnosaur was being released just two weeks before his massive flop Jurassic Park came out, he might have pulled the plug on the project completely. There’s something nice about Carnosaur existing, especially since Jurassic Park went on to become the highest grossing film of all time while my first knowledge of Carnosaur arrived about a day ago when I started writing this article. I’m awaiting the re-release of Carnosaur in 3-D with baited breath.
Verdict: Carnosaur, because sometimes the Gordy’s of this world need to catch a break
PLATOON (1986) versus FULL METAL JACKET (1987)
There are some killer Vietnam flicks out there, headlined by Francis Ford Coppola’s immortal Apocalypse Now, which coincidently came out one year after Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter. Both Platoon and The Deer Hunter approach the Vietnam War in a fairly realistic fashion while Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket have a grander sense of style. After Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick wouldn’t make another film until Eyes Wide Shut, twelve years later.
Sidenote: I’m currently watching The West Wing. Three Seasons deep and still struggling to come to terms with Willard as the President of the United States.
Verdict: “I am….in a world…..of shit!” Full Metal Jacket
MIRROR MIRROR (2012) versus SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012)
We can all thank our lucky stars Tim Burton’s atrocious Alice In Wonderland made over one billion dollars at the international box office (you read that correctly), because now we have enough updated 3-D bullshit fairytale films to last us a lifetime. Burton, ya done it again you old scallywag! I can’t say whether there was a massive demand for Snow White “re-imaginings”, but I can say with confidence now that Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman have been released, that demand would have diminished significantly. Also, why were there eight dwarves in Snow White and the Huntsman?
Verdict: Whoever wins, we lose
THE ILLUSIONIST (2006) versus THE PRESTIGE (2006)
I must have been distracted when magic tricks became interesting. Either way in 2006 we got two films focusing on magicians, lucky us. I know I’m in the minority when I say I think The Prestige is a silly (albeit watchable) film masquerading as something far more interesting than it actually is. On the other hand, The Illusionist is so forgettable I’ve completely forgotten it.
Verdict: A tie, in the most ‘meh’ of fashions
CAPOTE (2005) versus INFAMOUS (2006)
Poor old Infamous, the unsung Truman Capote biopic. I would have thought the chances of two films about Truman Capote being released around the same time were exceptionally low, but there you have it. Capote got the drop on Infamous and was released first, receiving glowing reviews and a bunch of Oscar nominations. Infamous is a decent film in its own right, but by the time it came out nobody cared.
Verdict: Sorry Infamous, I’m going with Capote
TOMBSTONE (1993) versus WYATT EARP (1994)
Hollywood’s misunderstanding and consequential rejection of the Western over the past half century is something I’ve often lamented. Admittedly there have been a handful of worthy entries into the genre since the heyday of the Italian Spaghetti Western, but on the whole the Wild West has lost its filmic spark. After Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven got handed a whole bunch of Academy Awards, there was a flurry within Hollywood to pump out as many Westerns as possible. Unfortunately for each other, Tombstone and Wyatt Earp both focused on lawman Wyatt Earp. Unfortunately for Wyatt Earp, Tombstone is a much better film.
Verdict: Tombstone, if only because Wyatt Earp is already very silly name for a person and therefore should never be the title of a film
ARMAGEDDON (1998) versus DEEP IMPACT (1998)
One of the great injustices of the world is how rich and successful Michael Bay is. Armageddon is a terrible, terrible film. Deep Impact pioneered (and I haven’t checked my facts on that at all) the whole ‘big wave crashing into everything’ scenario, which would pop up in a whole bunch of subsequent disaster films like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. Armageddon has that strange scene with Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler and a box of animal crackers. Deep Impact has Frodo. At the end of the day they’re both crappy, but Armageddon is stupendously crappy.
Verdict: Deep Impact. Armageddon has zero redeeming features.
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