After so many years of telling stories on the big screen, it’s hard to find a narrative that is 100 percent truly original. Even acclaimed films like Inception will take inspiration from previously produced works to create its own mythos. That’s not inherently a bad thing, however, since when in the right hands an adaptation or a spin on a classic trope can feel fresh and exciting.
Then, there are the instances where Hollywood hits rock bottom creatively where two different studios green light movies with extremely similar (or identical) plots around the same time. This happens more often than one would think, and it’s probably not going to end anytime soon. Here are 10 Movies That Stole Their Stories From Other Films.
Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down
We never got to see John McClane in his prime protect the U.S. president and battle an army of terrorists in the White House, so the studios overcompensated for that in 2013. These dueling action films both featured a lone hero fighting off enemies during an attack on Washington, D.C. The biggest difference between the two was that Olympus went all the way for the throwback R-rating, while White House Down settled for the more market-friendly PG-13. Ironically, it was Olympus that benefitted the most.
Antonine Fuqua’s film was the clear “winner” of the two, as it was better received critically (though neither was hailed as an action masterpiece) and ended up becoming more profitable at the box office, making $161 million worldwide against a $70 million production budget. In contrast, Roland Emmerich’s White House Down grossed $205.3 million globally from a budget of $150 million. It really underperformed in the States, bringing in just $73.1 million despite an A-list cast headlined by Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx. Olympus was the one that earned itself a sequel.
Antz and A Bug’s Life
Pixar’s second offering, A Bug’s Life, is not nearly as revered as some of their classics from the 2000s, but it’s still a very good movie in its own right thanks to its powerful message and beautiful visuals. That said, the premise was not as unique as some of the studio’s better-known films. Beating Pixar to theaters by a month, DreamWorks released Antz in 1998, which also dealt with a freethinking ant who falls for a princess and fights to save his colony. The two ended up being so similar, that Pixar’s John Lasseter and Steve Jobs accused DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeff Katzenberg of stealing the idea.
In the end, it’s difficult to say which one of the two emerged from the messy feud victoriously. Both were better-received critically, though A Bug’s Life proved to be more successful commercially, outgrossing Antz $162.7 million to $90.7 million. Still, in the pantheon of animation classics from the two studios, these insect-driven projects are largely forgotten, forever in the shadow of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Shrek, and How to Train Your Dragon.
Deep Impact and Armageddon
If there’s one thing Hollywood likes to do, it’s blow stuff up. Worldwide destruction is a staple of the action genre, but there are only so many ways filmmakers can cause damage to Earth. That point became very evident when Deep Impact and Armageddon were released two months apart from each other. The two movies feature a large space object hurtling towards our planet, and it’s up to a team of unlikely heroes to stop it before it’s too late. There are coincidences, and then there’s the plot of these films.
Armageddon had Michael Bay and an all-star cast behind it (plus that Aerosmith song), giving it levels of hype that Deep Impact couldn’t reach. Bay’s film, though riddled by scientific inaccuracies, posted higher box office totals, making $201.5 million domestically during its run. However, Deep Impact is considered by some to be the better film of the two, as viewers believed that was more genuine emotional and sentiment behind it. On the other hand, Armageddon was just brainless Bayhem fun that didn’t offer much substance.
Ed TV and The Truman Show
Released in 1998, The Truman Show ended up being eerily prophetic, painting a society that is obsessed with reality TV and insta-celebrity schemes. But maybe it reached that status because it simply executed its premise just a tad better than the similar Ed TV, which came out in 1999. The two movies explored the oddity of having cameras record your daily life for millions of people to see and the emotional toll that it takes on the subject matter. And if we’re choosing winners in these instances, this one is crystal clear.
The Truman Show was one of the leading Oscar contenders in 1998, with nominations including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. In addition to the universally positive reviews, the film was also gold at the box office thanks to Jim Carrey’s popularity. Ed TV was a financial dud that got a mixed reception critically, and was most likely seen as a Truman Show ripoff since there was a little bit of time between the two. It became an afterthought well before its run was over.
The Prestige and The Illusionist
Everyone is captivated by the magic of movies, but what about movies that deal with magic? Hollywood double-dipped in this genre in 2006, as The Prestige and The Illusionist both came out. The two movies were coincidentally period pieces that featured supernatural magic in deadly magician rivalries. Each one received positive reviews, had modest box office numbers, and were even nominated for the same Oscar (Best Cinematography). That’s about as neck-and-neck as you can get.
In the end, however, The Prestige seems to have gained the upper hand. That’s not to say The Illusionist isn’t without its merits, but director Christopher Nolan’s touch and a killer cast featuring Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, and Scarlett Johansson ensured that the audience would always be watching closely. That combination grabbed the audience from the start and never let go the entire time. Still, The Illusionist was very well-crafted in its own right and had its own big names like Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and Jessica Biel. Hard one to call.
Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line
In 1998, Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan was one of the defining films of the year, grossing an astonishing (for a near 3-hour R-rated war drama) $216.5 million and earned 11 Oscar nominations, winning Spielberg his second Best Director trophy. Part of why the movie was so memorable was due to its emotional, heart-wrenching story that dealt with the morals of undergoing a dangerous mission that read foolish on paper, and the bravery the soldiers displayed while following their orders. That seemed to be the go-to setup for World War II films during that time, as Terrence Mallick’s The Thin Red Line featured similar themes, albeit taking inspiration from an autobiographical book.
Red Line was no slouch, critically speaking, as it was nominated for seven Oscars of its own (including Best Picture). However, it – somewhat understandably – could not replicate Spielberg’s incredible success at the box office, making only $36.3 million for its entire domestic run. It certainly has its supporters, but Thin Red Line was very much overshadowed by Saving Private Ryan. The latter went on to have an enduring legacy as one of the greatest war films ever made and revolutionized the genre. Thin Red Line didn’t have that kind of impact.
No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits
For the most part, rom-coms are usually clichéd and follow some kind of formula, so one can only imagine how moviegoers must have felt when No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits were released just months apart from each other. As the titles would suggest, they both revolved around a pair of attractive friends who decide to pursue a non-committal sexual relationship with one another, before the “will they or won’t they?” question takes over. Even the most devout movie buffs had trouble keeping these two straight.
It didn’t help matters that they were both seen as middling offerings that didn’t do much to stand out from the crowd. No Strings did make a little bit more at the box office, but was hardly a runaway success. Still, with their charming leads, either one would make for harmless, breezy fun on date night – even if nothing new is being brought to the table.
Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman
Whenever something as recognizable as Snow White is in the public domain, the various studios are going to be fighting each other to make their own take on the property. In 2012, we got Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, which both used the classic fairy tale as inspiration. However, the similarities largely stop there. Each film has its own distinct tone, with Mirror, Mirror going for a light-hearted, family friendly vibe, and Huntsman trying to capture a fantasy epic feel by using the dark blockbuster as a template.
Even though there was a Snow White adaptation for everyone, neither film could become very memorable. Thanks to leading man Chris Hemsworth, Huntsman fared far better at the box office, but both movies managed mixed reviews. It’s true that Hemsworth will lead a followup called The Huntsman in 2016, but there’s not a lot of buzz or excitement surrounding the project. Fairy tale fans will have to stick with Walt Disney’s animated version for an entertaining Snow White film; not that we’re complaining.
The Legend of Hercules and Hercules
Similar to Snow White, Greek god Hercules is another icon in the public domain, and Hollywood double downed on him in 2014. Both The Legend of Hercules and Hercules came out just months apart from each other, and the results were hardly impressive. Legend was an outright box office bomb, grossing a meager $18.8 million for its entire run in the U.S. While the Dwayne Johnson fronted Hercules managed a figure much better than that, neither film blew critics away with their interpretation of the famous mythology.
If there is a winner here, it’s arguably the Brett Ratner helmed Hercules, which threw in enough narrative twists to keep viewers guessing to a certain extend. Legend of Hercules went for a straight forward origin story format and removed some aspects of the history that might have made the movie a little more interesting. Plus, it’s simply hard to go against The Rock in an action role, since he oozes charisma and charm regardless of who he’s playing.
Dante’s Peak and Volcano
One look at all the similarities between these two volcano disaster flicks, you’d find it incredulous to discover that they were actually different movies with completely separate creative teams behind them. They both feature experienced, but troubled heroes tasked with rescuing their loved ones before a volcano erupts and destroys their hometown. Both even end the same way as (spoiler) the volcano is determined to be an active, on-going threat. It’s almost like the screenwriters compared notes and perhaps collaborated on the scripts before they went into production.
Unfortunately for action junkies, neither flick could pull off this admittedly easy movie premies. The two suffered similar fates of being critically-panned, box office duds that failed to push the needle in the genre. If you are interested in watching one of them, at least Dante’s Peak (which is a cooler title) has an intriguing pairing of Pierce Brosnan and Linda Hamilton, two icons of action cinema. So there’s that.
It may seem crazy, but two studios green lighting “different” movies that share one too many elements in common is a frequent practice in the industry, and the idea of “twin” films won’t be going away any time soon. Long before he became the new Batman, Ben Affleck was developing his own Whitey Bulger biopic with Matt Damon despite the existence of Black Mass. And in just a few week’s time, Universal will put out the second Steve Jobs film, following the one that came out in 2013. Some stories are just too good to be told once, apparently.
Of course, our list is not meant to be all-inclusive, so be sure to share some of your favorite instances of this phenomenon in the comments below. And subscribe to our channel for more fun videos like this one!