Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Hollywood's Rule of Two

by Jian Farhoumand.

Does nobody else find it strange that quite often two separate films come out at the same time, produced by two rival studios, that are pretty much exactly the same? Surely I’m not the only one to have noticed this? Anyway, I’ve decided to coin a new term for this outrageous phenomenon: Hollywood’s Rule of Two.

Exhibit A: In 1998 Armageddon (Touchstone Pictures) and Deep Impact (Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks) were released. I remember being really surprised at how similar these two films were. I mean, really, someone should have got sued.

I don’t know which studio/scriptwriter came up with the idea first, but both films (spoiler alert for the entirety of this article) are about a giant asteroid heading straight for Earth at such speed that mankind has to rush up a crew of brave Americans (obviously) to plant a nuclear bomb on the thing and blow it up pronto. Cue loud explosions and noise; throw in a love story; some humans die; mankind as a species survives; cue credits. Total rip-offs of each other. (Willis was the nuts though.)

Also in 1998: A Bug’s Life (Pixar) and Antz (DreamWorks)  now, I mean, did I hit my head? Two computer-animated stories about ants. Ants. Ri-i-i-ight. Other insects do get a look-in but both stories predominantly revolve around a single, heroic ant. So, basically, exactly the same story churned out by two equally unimaginative studios. Or, at least, one of them was unimaginative. Someone should’ve got sued.

1999: The Matrix and The Thirteenth Floor – in both films the protagonist is a computer programmer who realises he's caught up in an illusory reality composed of gobbledygook code and glittery, green lines. What ensues? Murder, love story, sci-fi twist – snap, snap, snap!

Now, I can get how maybe a cultural zeitgeist floating around at any one time might (perhaps) somehow inspire different studios to make films of a similar theme. Fair enough. So, as computer technology improved throughout the '90s and the notion of virtual reality took off, films about that could be expected to come out. Okay.

Similarly, throughout the '90s we became more aware (and therefore afraid) of a potential asteroid collision with Earth, due to the Hubble Telescope having been thrust into orbit and regularly beaming back images that were forever being discussed in the news. So there was a general, growing fear about asteroids in our collective mind's eye. I get it.

But I'm not talking about a few films that are just 'sort of similar', I'm talking about separate studios going head to head each summer with rival blockbusters that are total rip-offs of each other.

Here are some other outrageous double-whammies in chronological order:

2000: Mission to Mars and Red Planet – shiz gets cray on Mars. Humans die.

2006: The Cave and The Descent – creepy behaviour underground. Humans die.

2006: The Prestige and The Illusionist – a magician does some tricks. Humans die.

2009: Observe and Report and Mall Cop – a fat person is employed as a security guard. These two films are so ridiculously similar that I went into the wrong one at the cinema after seeing the trailer for the other one on TV. Pffft! Halfway through I was like, “Wait, where’s Seth Rogen?” then realised the deception.

2011: Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached – a couple of friends have sex. Even the poster for No Strings Attached contained the tag line: “Friendship has its benefits”. Someone should’ve got sued.

2012: Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror, Mirror – the Snow White fairy tale gets a revamp. Well, two revamps. Charlize Theron’s evil queen is way fitter than Julia Roberts’ though. Julia Roberts’ makeup artist should’ve got sued.

2013: White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen  baddies attack the White House and threaten the President’s life. Humans die. Even both titles contain a three-word phrase that denotes physical collapse. I mean, come on, how is no-one noticing this? Someone’s whole legal department should’ve got sued.

Also in 2013: Oblivion and Elysium – two films about a future Earth where the most superior humans remaining get to live off-planet on a floating sci-fi mothership. One good man (Tom Cruise/Matt Damon – delete as applicable) attempts to save humanity: explosions and violence ensue; humans die.

I could go on, there are so many more examples of Hollywood’s Rule of Two. If you can think of them, please write them in the comments section below and maybe we can finally collate the internet’s most complete evidence cabinet/shrine to Hollywood hypocrisy.


  1. Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves and Robin Hood?

  2. 1997: Volcano / Dante's Peak

  3. apote and Infamous 05/06. I think films can be based on different books on the same story also, so that is why there are 2 versions. In this case Capote is based on a biography of the same name by Gerald Clarke and Infamous is based on Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career by George Plimpton. Essentially both tell the same story about the writing of In Cold Blood about Capote's relationship with Perry White, who is on death row for the crimes that the book is based on. This is on Wikipedia and IMDb I think.

  4. *Capote at beginning