Movie trends are interesting. Every couple of years there are two movies released within months of each other and they pretty much have the exact same content. But why are so many similar movies released at the same time? There are a number of reasons. Below are just a few examples of why movie executives choose to shamelessly greenlight twin movies.
5 – Espionage
The 90’s were a crazy time for twin movies. There were a few copycat movies every single year. 1998 was especially bad. In that decade, Dreamworks was relatively new to the studio scene and relied heavily on Steven Spielberg to find great projects. Having previously worked with director Mimi Leder, he tapped her to work on a new script about an asteroid falling to earth. Not long after the project was announced, Touchstone Pictures announced they were hiring Michael Bay to direct Armageddon. So even though Deep Impact started production first, Armageddon was finished well before it. Spielberg threatened a lawsuit against Touchstone, but it didn’t go much farther than that. The two movies were released within 2 months of each other in the Summer of 98.
This happens because a writer may shop out a screenplay to a number of studios. The execs smile and nod, but never buy it. Even if they do, the movie goes into “Development Hell.” So when another studio wants to take a stab at the screenplay, the first studio finds out about it in duplicitous ways, or remembers when they were pitched the idea. So the first studio quickly gets a project off the ground to get their cut and not miss out on any of the box office dollars.
4 – Saving Advertising Money (Playing on Moviegoers’ Ignorance)
Dante’s Peak was released in February 1997 and Volcano was released in April that same year. I guess that volcanoes were “in” during that time. Often, a twin movie will wait a few months until a very similar movie is released and has gone through its advertising cycle. This will save the producers quite a bit of money. For example, if you saw one of these movies in early 1997 and wanted to recommend it to your friends, you might say, “I just saw that volcano movie and it was the greatest disaster movie yet…” (I hope you never say that). Then your friends will take your word for it and go buy seats for “Volcano.”
This also is a big factor for those knock-off Asylum movies that you see in Redbox. A child may ask their mom to watch Disney’s Planes, but the mom will see a knock-off movie called Wings and justify that her kid will be happy enough to watch it because it’s similar.
3 – Focus Groups
This almost puts the blame in our hands. Well, not “our” exactly, because Hollywood execs typically hold focus groups and very early special screenings around Los Angeles. They believe that area is representative of the nation. While polling these audiences, they may ask what they’d like to see more of in the theaters. If a certain genre has really taken the public by storm, you can almost guarantee that a similar project will crop up soon. Such is the case with fairy tale movies and TV right now. Both Once Upon a Time and Grimm have gained moderate success, as have reworked classic fairy tales like Snow White, Hansel & Gretel and the upcoming Cinderella.
2 – Coincidence
Believe it or not, not everything in Hollywood is a cash grab or a ploy to beat the other guy at the box office. Sometimes writers just happen to be working on movies at the same time with little to no knowledge of similar projects.
The Illusionist and The Prestige are not very similar movies, but they do suffer that stereotype because they’re about stage magicians and happened to be released near the end of 2006. Apparently Christopher and Jonathan Nolan had been working on the screenplay for years and finally finished it in time for the Fall movie season. Whereas, The Illusionist won over crowds in early 2006 at Sundance and was bought for release which coincidentally happened two months before the Prestige.
1 – Piracy
This one gets a little dicey because there is a lot of history in this example. Jeffrey Katzenberg was at Disney during its animation heyday with Aladdin, Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. He angrily left Disney over problems with then CEO Eisner. Though he stayed in touch with John Lasseter, who he worked with on Toy Story. Lasseter continued to talk to Katzenberg on the phone using him as a sounding board for a new idea he had about ants called A Bug’s Life. The problem with that is, Katzenberg had jumped ship to Spielberg’s new production company, Dreamworks SKG. While A Bug’s Life was in development, all of a sudden Antz came out of nowhere and managed to not blow anyone away. But it did take some of Bug’s thunder. The twin movie battle between Disney and Dreamworks continues to this day with Madagascar vs The Wild and Shark Tale vs Finding Nemo.