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Seeing double: Near-identical films that came out at the same time

In 1998, animated insects skittered onto movie screens in <em>A Bug's Life </em>and<em> Antz. </em>
AJ Pics/Alamy
In 1998, animated insects skittered onto movie screens in A Bug's Life and Antz.

They are showdowns that didn't need to happen — rival studios staring each other down, refusing to blink.

In 1998, Earth-snuffing asteroids got blown up in the nick of time by nuclear warheads, not once but twice, in Armageddon and Deep Impact. That same year, animated insects skittered onto movie screens in Antz and A Bug's Life — and just a year earlier, dueling lava flows erupted in Dante's Peak and Volcano.

And in 2013, Jesse Eisenberg starred in The Double, and Jake Gyllenhaal in Enemy, each as a man tormented by his doppelganger (and wouldn't you know that Enemy was based on a novel called...wait for it... The Double.)

Hollywood is not a big town. Everyone knows what everyone else is doing, and movies that cost millions of dollars require many people and many months of development. Yet they still ended up in '87/'88 with four body-switching comedies: George Burns turned 18 Again!; fathers Judge Reinhold and Dudley Moore each switched places with sons in Vice Versa and Like Father Like Son, respectively; and in Big, an amusement park wish turned a little boy into Tom Hanks.

This is not, from a business standpoint, smart. One film will inevitably come out on top (only Big attracted substantial crowds in that mid-'80s body-switching smackdown) and arguably nobody emerges unscathed.

And yet....

Here's a (far-from-definitive) list of 50 conceptual twins that went head-to-head for no discernible reason.

Golden age identi-films

Tom Hanks in <em>Turner & Hooch</em> and Jim Belushi in<em> K-9</em>.
/ PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive and Everett Collection, Inc./Alamy
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PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive and Everett Collection, Inc./Alamy
Tom Hanks in Turner & Hooch and Jim Belushi in K-9.

The Scarlet Empress and The Rise of Catherine the Great (1934) — dueling Catherines Garbo and Dietrich

Jezebel and Gone With The Wind (1938/39) – antebellum hellions

Young Mr. Lincoln and Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1939/40) — Abes-in-training

Oscar Wilde and The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960) – where the Wilde things were

Dr. Strangelove and Fail-Safe (1964) – atomic bombs away

Harlow and Harlow (1965) – blonde bombshell bio-pics

Yours, Mine & Ours and With Six You Get Eggroll (1968) — widowed parents marry and combine families

Bloody Mama and The Grissom Gang (1970/71) — Ma Barker, meet Ma Barker

Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) – the greatest story ever told to music

Corvette Summer and Stingray (1978) — drove my Chevy to the levee

The Warriors and The Wanderers (1979) – teen NYC gangs

The Howling, Wolfen and An American Werewolf in London (1981) — Owoooo!

Weird Science, Real Genius and My Science Project (1985) – teen geek comedies

Back to the Future and Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) – teen time travel

Turner & Hooch and K-9 (1989) — police officers and their pooches

The Abyss and Leviathan (1989) — underwater horror

Dangerous Liaisons and Valmont (1988/89) – based on the same epistolary novel

Twice told tales in the '90s

Robin Hood and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991) – Sherwood forestry competition

1492: Conquest of Paradise and Christopher Columbus: The Discovery (1992) - 500th anniversaries don't come often

Tombstone and Wyatt Earp (1994) – gunfight at the same OK Corral

Priscilla Queen of the Desert and To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Love Julie Newmar (1994/95) — drag queen road trips

Babe and Gordy (1995) — talking, live-action piglets

Powder and Phenomenon (1995/96) – Extra-Sensory Perception at work?

Striptease and Showgirls (1995/96) – dirty (pole) dancing

Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet (1997) – in-a-Dalai-Lama-da-vida

Volcano and Dante's Peak (1997) — eruptive dysfunction

Armageddon and Deep Impact (1998) – great balls of fire

Antz and A Bug's Life (1998) — animated insects

The Truman Show and EDtv (1998/99) – reality TV, but for real

The Matrix, eXistenz and The Thirteenth Floor (1999) — reality as computer simulation

Doubling down for the new millennium

<em>Mission to Mars</em> and <em>Red Planet</em> both premiered in 2000.
/ AJ Pics/Alamy
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AJ Pics/Alamy
Mission to Mars and Red Planet both premiered in 2000.

Red Planet and Mission to Mars (2000) – dueling Martian chronicles

Chasing Liberty and First Daughter (2004) – teen White House romances

Capote and Infamous (2005/06) — Truman Capote bio-pics

The Prestige and The Illusionist (2006) — 19th Century magician tricksters

Happy Feet and Surf's Up (2006/07) — animated penguins

27 Dresses and Made of Honor (2008) — bridesmaid romances

Observe and Report and Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009) — overweight mall-cop comedies

Despicable Me and Megamind (2010) — animated supervillains

Friends With Benefits and No Strings Attached (2011) — flings gone right

Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) — live-action Snow Whites

Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer (2012) – aged Abes

The Double and Enemy (2013) — a man tormented by his own doppelganger

Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down (2013) – terrorism at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

<em>Girls Trip</em> and <em>Rough Night</em> both came out in 2017.
/ Collection Christophel and PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive/Alamy
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Collection Christophel and PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive/Alamy
Girls Trip and Rough Night both came out in 2017.

After Earth and Oblivion (2013) – apocalypse soon

This Is the End, The World's End and Rapture-Palooza (2013) — apocalypses for laughs

Marguerite and Florence Foster Jenkins (2015/16) – cluelessly terrible opera singers

Barry and Southside With You (2016) — young Barack Obama

Rough Night and Girls Trip (2017) — girlfriends carousing

RBG and On the Basis of Sex (2018) — Ruth Bader Ginsburg origin stories

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) — multiple multiverses

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<em>Doctor Strange</em> <em>in the Multiverse of Madness</em> and <em>Everything Everywhere All at Once </em>both centered around multiverses.
/ Marvel Studios and A24
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Marvel Studios and A24
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Everything Everywhere All at Once both centered around multiverses.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.