You may have noticed that occasionally two films are released in close proximity of each other that share the same premise. Its almost as if two separate production teams were given the same idea to work from. This is called the Twin film phenomenon are there are several reasons it occurs.
- Stolen ideas – Although ideas are stolen and copied it isn’t the most common reason behind the creation of twin films as many people assume.
- Fast tracking – A studio may have a film on standby, ready to begin production and learns that a separate studio has started work on a similar film. The first studio fast tracks the production on their film so it matches the release date of it’s rival and steals viewers.
- Multiple discoveries or “an idea that’s time has come” – This is when an idea has so much potential energy it crosses into the social consciousness of the general public and multiple people discover the idea at the same time. For example think of Thomas Edison, Nicola Tesla and the light bulb.
Whatever the reasons, twin films are a very interesting topic and today I’m looking at five twinned films and their production history.
1) Antz and A Bug’s Life
You should be familiar with the two animation studios Pixar and Dreamworks. They’ve released countless films that you’ve either seen as a child or taken a child to see. There’s a fearsome rivalry between the two studios and many of their films can be twinned together.
Shrek and Monsters, Inc are both about protagonists that are monsters that have to save the day.
Finding Nemo and Shark’s Tale are both films that explore the dynamic between father and son. Both films are also set in the ocean.
Ratatouille and Flushed Away are both about anthropomorphic rats in environments they don’t belong in.
The example I’m going to be talking about is the first twinned films to be made between the two companies and the most controversial. Antz and A Bug’s Life.
Jeffrey Katzenberg worked at the Disney Animation Studios in the early 1990’s and completely transformed the animation landscape. Although Disney have a great catalogue of animated films now (Frozen, for example) at the time its animation department was suffering. Katzenberg helped the development of animated Disney classics such as Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Aladdin and many others. However Katzenberg left Disney on bad terms when his boss, John Lasseter, passed him over for a promotion. Katzenberg decided to start up his own animation studio called DreamWorks but he kept in touch with many of his old work colleagues.
At the time the Pixar company was part of Disney and Lasseter was working on the film Toy Story. He was very excited with the project and was telling all his friends in the industry, including Katzenberg, about the project’s potential success. Lasseter has been quoted as saying “If this hits, it’s going to be like space movies after Star Wars.” Lasseter also spoke about the next film on the Pixar production line, A Bug’s Life. He explained that the film was about a quirky ant that goes against the social norms of his colony but managed to save the day. A short time later Lasseter and the rest of the Pixar team saw in the news that Dreamworks was starting work on a film called Antz which had exactly the same premise as A Bug’s Life.
The exact details of what happened next are unclear. We know that Lasseter rang Katzenberg and had an argument with him on the phone. Katzenberg first claimed that he had been pitched the idea for Antz by an independent artist before eventually admitting that he had stolen the idea from Pixar. However Katzenberg claimed to the press that he was the victim of a conspiracy theory created by Disney to discredit him. He revealed that the reason he left Disney was because not only had he been passed over for promotion but they had refused to pay him his yearly bonus. He also claimed that the Disney agenda was against him and he was being turned into a villain. Lasseter, out of anger, moved the production date of A Bug’s Life forward so it would be released the same date as Dreamwork’s first film, The Prince of Egypt. To counter this, Katzenberg swapped The Prince of Egypt’s release date with Antz so Antz would face A Bug’s Life in the box office.
It’s difficult to decide which film is better. In terms of profit A Bug’s Life turned over $363 million which is almost double the turnover of Antz which only earned $171 million. Antz got a better review from critics but only just and the general public preferred A Bug’s Life to Antz. I personally preferred A Bug’s Life because it’s one of the first films I remember watching when I was a child.
2) The is the End and The World’s End
Not all twinned films have to be rivals. This is the End is a comedy film directed by Seth Rogen (of Family Guy fame) and is about a group of celebrities who witnesses the apocalypse at the end of the world. The main hook of the film is that the celebrity actors are playing themselves. Seth Rogen plays Seth Rogen. Emma Watson plays Emma Watson.
The World’s End is the final film in the Cornetto trilogy. The Cornetto trilogy are a collection of three comedy films led by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. The first film, Shaun of the Dead is about two friends defending their home, family and local pub, from a zombie invasion. The second film Hot Fuzz is about a policeman from London moving into a countryside village and unmasking a conspiracy. The final film, and the film we will be talking about today is The World’s End which is about old school friends reuniting to finish a pub crawl they started in their youth and fighting off an alien invasion.
Now clearly The World’s End and This is the End have very similar premises and titles and it was feared this would cause confusion among cinema goers. During production of This is the End, then titled The End of the World Simon Pegg phoned Seth Rogen and asked if he wouldn’t mind changing the title of his film. In Pegg’s film, The World’s End was a key location and taking away that plot element would mean rewriting the whole movie. Fortunately for everyone involved Seth Rogen was more than willing to change the name of his film and both films were released to good reviews in 2013.
3) Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice vs Captain America: Civil War
You can’t have failed to notice the boom in superhero films in recent years. Although there have been other superhero films from third party companies such as Bird Man and The Incredibles generally speaking two companies have dominated the box office. Marvel and DC. Their rivalry reached a new level of intensity in 2016 when Batman vs Superman and Captain America: Civil War both reached the box office.
The conflict between the two companies is rather interesting. Marvel started the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the MCU) with their film Iron Man in 2009. Over the years they released more superhero films until eventually the cast of all the films came together for a team up movie in 2012, titled The Avengers. The Avengers earned over a billon dollars, was nominated for seventy two awards and won twenty one of them. DC were inspired by this success to create their own film franchise. They started their own cinematic universe (the DCU) with Man of Steel, a retelling of how Superman arrived on modern day earth. This film received mix reviews from critics but had enough success for DC to feel confident in announcing their next project, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. This film served several purposes. It had be a sequel to Man of Steel, a Batman solo film, a launch pad for the remaining DC films including the then upcoming Wonder Woman, Flash and Cyborg films, introduce the concept the Justice League and finally the film had to compete with Marvel’s latest film, Captain America: Civil War. While DC had been kick starting their own universe, Marvel had been progressing their own franchise. By 2016 Marvel had already had its second superhero team up and was now working on Captain America: Civil War which would feature most of the main characters from the previous films.
There were also many plot similarities between the two films.
- Both films were focused on superheroes fighting each other while being manipulated by a super villain.
- Both films started with innocent people being killed in African countries.
- Both films addressed the question of superheroes facing the consequences of their actions that resulted in civilian casualties
- Both films examined what would happen if there were Superheroes working against the Government and leaders of the world.
Captain America: Civil War had a warmer reception that Batman vs Superman. The MCU had thirteen films established in their universe whereas Batman vs Superman only had one. The plot of the Marvel film was also more widely enjoyed because it expanded on the plot threads of previous films whereas the logic for Batman and Superman’s fight was described by critics as “paper thin”. Finally the Captain America film was based off one source material the Marvel comic, Civil War. Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice collected the plot of six different comic books and mashed them together.
4) Spector vs. Mission Impossible 5 Rogue Nation
James Bond is a cinematic juggernaut. His film franchise is the fourth most lucrative in the box office (behind The MCU, Harry Potter and Star Wars) and he is the stereotypical super spy. Although the series has taken a nosedive recently, Spector vastly underperformed at the box office when compared to Skyfall and the recent accusations of James Bond’s toxic masculinity plus and Daniel Craig’s unwillingness to continue the role, it is hard to deny that James Bond films are successful.
Mission Impossible is the twentieth best selling film franchise of all time which is very impressive when you consider it is only six films long at time of writing. Although the plot and cast of the films vary it usually involves a team lead by Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) saving the world from a terrorist threat. The films are most well known for their clever gadgets, high octane stunts of which Tom Cruise performs all of his own and its theme music.
In 2015 Spector and Mission Impossible five were set to release within the same month. Aside from both being the same genre, the films shared plot points. Both films follow a secret agent who’s agency is shutting down and both films feature the agents traveling to Austria, Morocco and London. Paramount, the studio behind Mission Impossible felt they couldn’t compete against Spector and pushed their release date forward to avoid competition.
5) Churchill/Darkest hour/Dunkirk/Churchill’s Secret
We’ll be ending this post on a quadruplet entry!
Winston Churchill is a national hero of England and his life has been documented and dramatised countless times. Over the past two years it seemed that Churchill was always on our screens in one way or another. In 2016 the TV series Churchill’s secret was broadcast which followed the life of the former Prime Minster during his final years. The film Churchill follow Churchill’s life and movements shortly before the D Day Landings. Dunkirk, obviously, tells the story of the Dunkirk evacuation at the start of the Second World War and Darkest Hour also touches on this story although it mostly focuses on Churchill uniting England and the British Government against the Nazi threat.
Although Churchill and Churchill’s Secret received good reviews and Churchill’s Secret starting Michael Gambon in the leading role they were overshadowed by the success of Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan and Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman. Dunkirk was dominated for a staggering 163 awards and won 39 where as Gary Oldman won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill and Darkest Hour is my favourite film of last year.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed and I’ll see you next time.