It’s a feat few attempt: one actor taking on the challenge of playing identical twins. It’s more common for actors to go the Eddie Murphy route and play multiple characters in the same film or TV show than it is for them to play identical womb mates. And, generally, when one actor does play twins, the results are either wondrous and incredible with performances that marvel — or incredibly awful, with the element of identical twins coming across as more of a gimmick than anything else.
We decided to compile a list of actors from both the big and small screen who have taken on the challenge of portraying twins. The list runs the entire gamut of the talent spectrum, featuring Emmy winners, Razzie winners, and Lindsay Lohan, among others. Whether the almost mythical connection between twins is something real, or something that exists mostly in our minds, we’ve definitely enjoyed the various twin-counters brought to us from the pop culture-verse. On that note, here are 16 Actors Who Have Played Twins.
16. Jean-Claude Van Damme – Double Impact
Fresh from the vault of Van Damme’s early career, Double Impact has the early 1990’s written on every frame, from its hyper-color wardrobe to the sax-infested soundtrack. JCVD plays twins separated at birth, Alex and Chad Wagner. The latter brother grew up in the States and runs a martial arts studio, while Alex grew up in a Hong Kong orphanage and has a career in the underworld (yet both have JCVD’s French accent. Odd.).
Reunited by an old family friend, they decide to seek revenge on the baddies who killed their parents a few decades ago, but not without a little sibling rivalry and literal infighting first. See, Chad is more mellow, has slightly feathered hair, and prefers pink shorts and turquoise shirts, while the aggressive Alex chooses leather, gelled hair, and cigars as accessories — surely they can’t be expected to get along. The film is nostalgic fun if nothing else, and the performance(s) by Van Damme is/are hilariously campy.
15. Sean Young – A Kiss Before Dying
This ’90s noir film was maligned by multiple things, from a predictable plot to uninspired performances. The (very familiar) story goes like this: early ’90s Matt Dillon’s Jonathan woos Sean Young’s Dorothy, a naïve college student (like middle school naïve. She doodles a 7th grade-level portrait of she and Jonathan hugging, complete with hearts and her married name on it). When they stop to get a marriage license and the place is closed for lunch, Jonathan suggests they wait until it reopens up on the roof Dorothy elects to ignore that major red flag and agrees, and, of course, he throws her off the building and walks away with zero remorse, mailing a suicide note he wrote in the building’s lobby.
We then meet Dorothy’s twin Ellen, who doesn’t buy the note, and 20 minutes into the film, she literally solves the mystery of whodunit, telling a detective it must have been Dorothy’s boyfriend. Next, we learn that either early ’90s Matt Dillon was impossible to resist, or Ellen is as dim as her sister, because we see that she, like Dorothy, has fallen for Dillon’s killer con man. The movie is incredibly dull and notoriously bad – Young won Razzies for worst lead actress AND worst supporting actress for her performances, which we think makes this one worth inclusion.
14. Lisa Kudrow – Friends
Lisa Kudrow won an Emmy for her portrayal of Phoebe Buffay, everyone’s favorite dim-yet-lovable Friend. But she also played Phoebe’s twin sister Ursula, who, as we saw when she briefly dated Joey in season one, lacked the tact and kindness of her doppelganger. Both Buffay twins were airy, loopy, and dressed like they were ready for Woodstock, but where Phoebe was kind and courteous, Ursula was blunt and easily annoyed. We never got to see their relationship develop fully, because Ursula didn’t get a great deal of screen time.
When she did show up, however, it was always entertaining to see Kudrow navigate the twin terrain — few have ever been as deft at being daffy. And Ursula wasn’t used simply as a plot devise or an excuse to let the talented Kudrow shine. When she appeared, she had a purpose. Her relationship told us a lot about Phoebe’s feelings for Joey in the first season (Paul Rudd be damned; we’re still bummed Phoebe and Joey never got together), and it was Ursula who told Phoebe that they were actually 31, a year older than Phoebe had originally thought. Though underdeveloped, their relationship always entertained.
13. Christian Bale – The Prestige
Spoiler alert: in order to explain Bale’s role in this 2006 Christopher Nolan tale about magicians and their vast array of tricks, we have to reveal the film’s ending. In The Prestige, Bale plays Alfred Borden, who has both a professional and a personal rivalry with Hugh Jackman’s Robert Angier. Not only does the latter magician blame the former for a water tank trick gone wrong that killed Angier’s wife, but he also harbors a professional jealousy over Borden’s ‘Transported Man’ trick, which involves the magician teleporting across the length of the stage. Angier covets the trick, and goes to ridiculous lengths to discover Borden’s secret — which, as it turns out, had more to do with genetics (he has a twin brother!) than teleportation.
Technically, the audience doesn’t see this central twist of the film play out until the last 10-15 minutes, so we never see Bale play opposite himself in the movie, save for a few quickie scenes at the end when we learn that both brothers would swap in and out of magic tricks, while pretending to be each other throughout. Some saw the twist coming early on, others were left feeling fully satisfied, and some of us just wished we had gotten to see Christian Bale play twins for longer than a few paltry minutes.
12. Bette Davis – Dead Ringer
Bette Davis also played twins in A Stolen Life, but the camp factor is quite a bit lower in that one. With a plot like a soap opera on steroids, Dead Ringer is a lot more fun: Margaret’s (Davis) husband just died, and her twin sister Edith comes to the funeral. We quickly learn that Edith and Margaret’s deceased husband Frank used to be with the dowdy Edith, but he had an affair with Margaret, who then lied about being pregnant to get him to marry her. Things take an even darker turn when Edith invites Margaret over to her apartment under false pretenses and murders her. Talk about a sibling rivalry!
Edith, driven by jealousy, revenge, and a desire to live the affluent life her sister has been living, then takes over Margaret’s life and identity. She may have gotten away with it, too, had she not been dating a detective (Karl Malden) prior to all the killing and identity swapping. The film is a bit of a departure for the legendary Davis, who camps it up enough for the audience to laugh along despite the dark plot lines.
11. Lindsay Lohan – The Parent Trap
This might be the quintessential twins film on the list, considering two different versions have been made (the original starred Hayley Mills in 1961). In the 1998 version, Lohan plays Annie and Hallie, twins separated post-divorce by their parents (Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson) when they were very young. Annie was raised in London by her mother, while Hallie grew up in California with her father.
They meet one summer when they’re both enrolled in the same camp, Camp Walden. After removing their helmets while finishing a fencing exercise, they see each other for the first time, which both shocks and ignites a brief rivalry between them. The rivalry leads to the girls getting a ‘time out’ of sorts, where they learn they have the same birthday, and that each possesses one half of the same photo — a photo of their parents. Naturally, the girls spend the rest of the film plotting ways to reunite them, to great effect. The film is a cute, fun romp, and, along with Mean Girls, features one of LiLo’s best performances.
10. Jeffrey Tambor – Arrested Development
The Bluth brothers may be the most different (and hilarious) set of twins on this list. As played by Tambor, George Bluth Sr. and his identical twin brother Oscar are easily told apart — George is bald and Oscar has a wild mane — and the differences don’t end there. While both men have demonstrated a weakness for Lucille (Jessica Walter), Oscar is a free loading, pot smoking, easygoing loafer. George Sr., meanwhile, made his fortune in real estate before being busted for using stolen money to build houses for Saddam Hussein.
While George Sr. spent the bulk of the show either on the lam or incarcerated, Oscar romanced Lucille and tried to bond with his secret son Buster. The Bluths’ banter was often wildly entertaining (George Sr. was not above doing things like shaving his brother’s head to fool the police into thinking Oscar was him), and their dynamic was one of the show’s most fun and original elements, which is saying something. We look forward to any part either brother has to play in the series’ upcoming season 5.
9. Paul Dano – There Will be Blood
In Paul Thomas Anderson’s bone-chilling 2007 masterpiece, There Will Be Blood, Paul Dano pulls double duty as twin brothers Paul and Eli Sunday. We see Paul only very briefly; he approaches Daniel Day Lewis’ character Daniel Plainview early on in the film, explaining that his family has discovered oil on their property, and they’d like to sell it. Paul pretty much disappears after that, but we meet his identical twin brother Eli, an Evangelical preacher with a dark side and a flair for drama, who goes on to become Plainview’s primary antagonist.
Eli makes several demands of Daniel because of this land deal, including insisting some of his money go towards the church. And, after an accident during oil production, the young preacher suggests that the well must be blessed in order for it to continue to be used. Plainview ignores his request, which infuriates Eli. Dano’s time playing twins onscreen was very brief (where DID Paul Sunday go, anyway?!), but his portrayal as the alternately powerful and powerless preacher still gives us chills.
8. Adam Sandler – Jack and Jill
The only fraternal twins on the list, we thought Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill deserved a spot because of how notoriously bad the results were onscreen. In a first for the Razzies, Sandler won both worst lead actor and worst lead actress in this oft-panned 2011 flick. The driving narrative of the film is that Jill finds endless ways to sabotage her brother and any attempts he has at success, which (and we can’t stress this enough) is zero fun to watch unfold.
Sandler’s performance as Jill is head-shakingly bad. Perhaps if the film had employed the same makeup department who worked on Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, we might find his performance more tolerable, or believable. As is, it doesn’t look like anyone involved with the film tried to create a convincing or genuine female character with Jill at all. Jack and Jill is only watchable if you’re obsessed with Adam Sandler, or if you enjoy the so-bad-they’re-good movies (a category we can’t really say this falls under). It won more Razzies than Battlefield Earth, after all!
7. Armie Hammer – The Social Network
Ahh, the Winklevi. Armie Hammer wasn’t a household name until The Social Network, where he turned in not one but two performances so impressive, many wondered who the real-life Wonder Twins were playing the film’s twin brothers. Turns out, it was just one guy, and he managed to stand out in a cast that included Justin Timberlake and Andrew Garfield. Hammer plays Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the athletic and articulate rowers jilted by Jesse Eisenberg’s Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg,
The brothers Winklevoss don’t have many discerning differences — they’re both preppy, easily agitated jocks who also ooze intelligence and reason — but it’s these onscreen similarities that are so entertaining and engaging to watch. Hammer perfectly captures the rapport of brothers so alike, it’s eerie. Watch their banter in the rowboat during practice, for example, or the panicked and uncertain looks they exchange when they’re being told their intellectual property is no longer theirs. All in all, it’s quite an incredible feat, and it’s a joy to watch.
6. Leonardo DiCaprio – The Man in the Iron Mask
Set in 1662 Paris, this re-telling of Alexandre Dumas’ classic tale was Leonardo DiCaprio’s first post-Titanic role. Leo plays French King Louis XIV, a careless womanizer who basks in self-indulgence while his less fortunate countrymen are forced to literally eat garbage. The Three (technically four) Musketeers (Aramis, Athos, Porthos, and D’Artagnan) have long since retired, save for D’Artagnan, who is their reigning captain. After learning Louis had his son sent into battle and subsequently killed, Athos (John Malkovich) goes into hiding and begins plotting to usurp him.
With the help of the other Musketeers, Athos frees a young man trapped in a Bastille prison—Louis’ twin brother, Phillippe—aka the man in the iron mask. Phillippe is the polar opposite of his brother. He is kind, courteous, and loyal, and upon seeing these qualities, the Musketeers try to pull a little switcheroo, making him the new king, while imprisoning the wretched Louis. The film is predictable and a little bland, but it features a great cast, and while it’s not one of his greatest performances, ’90s Leo is always fun for nostalgic purposes.
5. Tatiana Maslany – Orphan Black
Yes, the majority of the characters on Orphan Black are clones, but Tatiana Maslany’s Sarah and Helena are twin “sestras,” and their relationship is one of the most complex and emotion elements of the brainy BBC thriller. Sarah is the show’s moral core, a flawed hero who doesn’t always make the best decisions, but tries hard anyway. We see her trying to be a good mother, friend, and sister to an ever-growing list of clones and Felix (Jordan Gavaris) alike.
Helena is murderous, rabid, and tenderhearted all at once. In season three’s “Insolvent Phantom of Tomorrow,” Helena takes offense to a drug lord threatening her other sestra/clone Alison’s kids, utters five words (“You should not threaten babies“) and promptly enters the warehouse unarmed before shutting the door. When she exits covered in blood that’s not hers, we’re reminded just how deadly she can be.
Sarah and Helena’s relationship has had continuous ups and downs, but their bond is undeniable (both have endangered/almost killed and alternately saved the other multiple times). Maslany’s performance alone makes this show a marvel at times — she won a much-deserved Emmy for the role(s) in 2016 — and it makes her well worth including on this list.
4. Nicholas Cage – Adaptation
This is arguably one of Cage’s finest and craziest performances. He plays twin brothers Charlie and Donald Kaufman, and it’s to Cage’s credit that each brother feels like a fully original creation. Each is a complete and whole person, with distinct laughs, movements, and mannerisms. Charlie is a screenwriter who is struggling to adapt a book about flowers (Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief), and the title of the film refers to both Darwinian adaptation as well as the script he struggles to write throughout. The voice over narration throughout the film is Charlie’s, and listening to his inner monologue, we can relate to his numerous neuroses, insecurities, and annoyances.
Donald is definitely not as insecure — he’s more outgoing with women than Charlie is, and he has no problems with self-promotion. At one point, much to his brother’s dismay, Donald tells Charlie that he wants to be a screenwriter too, which sets off a hilarious rivalry between them. The film is fantastic (it also stars Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper in unforgettable performances), and it showcases powerhouse work by Cage. It’s a wild ride, but you’ll likely not regret it.
3. Jeremy Irons – Dead Ringers
This movie is creepy and out there and still gives us nightmares. Irons plays Elliot and Beverly Mantle, identical twin brothers who run a gynecology practice together. As if that weren’t weird enough, they also have the habit of seducing and sharing their female clientele, all while pretending to be the other brother when it suits them. Elliot, who is more outgoing and flirtatious than his brother, seduces the women initially, and when he grows bored with them, he basically hands them off to Beverly, unbeknownst to the women.
Things get complicated when they both fall for Claire (Genevieve Bujold), an actress who is dealing with infertility issues. Claire also has a bad pill habit that Beverly soon adopts. When she leaves to shoot a movie, he spirals out of control and ends up losing the practice in a grotesque sequence we’d sooner forget than ever relive in any way ever again. Irons is extraordinary in the film, despite not getting a seemingly well-deserved Oscar nod. We won’t spoil the ending, other than to say it is one of the most disturbing, tragic, and sad conclusions to any ’80s film we’ve seen.
2. Edward Norton – Leaves of Grass
Norton’s performance is THE highlight of Leaves of Grass. He plays brothers Bill and Brady Kincaid, both of whom are brilliant, just in very different ways. Bill is a professor of philosophy at Brown University. Brady, who claims to have built the “Taj Mahal of hydroponics” in Oklahoma, looks like he just walked off the set of Justified. With an accent thicker than mud pies and a philosophy of his own behind his illegal trades (“I ain’t gonna blow my house up mixin’ anti-histamine into dynamite,” he says, explaining why he hates meth and prefers marijuana), Brady and the straight-laced Bill couldn’t be more different.
Early on, Brady demonstrates his tendency to go to the extreme, as he decides to lure Bill home by sending news that he has died. Bill returns to find Brady very much alive, and he learns why he was summoned: Brady needs someone to physically stay in Oklahoma to serve as an alibi while he goes to ominously “take care of” a rival drug dealer. This movie gets a bit bizarre in its second and third acts, complete with crazed gunmen galore, but Norton’s performance is nothing short of brilliant.
1. Tom Hardy – Legend
One of the most versatile actors of our time, Hardy gave audiences a double dose of his trademark versatility in 2015’s Legend. Playing brothers Reggie and Ron Kray, he frightened audiences with forceful and intense displays of each brother’s mean streak. Reggie is a former pugilist prone to random acts of brutality – but he’s nowhere near as violent as his bespectacled twin, Ron.
When the movie opens, Ron is in a psychiatric hospital, and he’s only released when Reggie threatens the hospital staff. The brothers become leaders of their own underground criminal enterprise, which gets a wrench thrown into it when Reggie gets thrown in jail. Ron runs into some issues taking care of things, and when Reggie returns from prison, the two duke it out in a fight scene that is both an impressive feat of choreography and acting by Hardy. The film falters at times, and suffers from its lengthiness, but Hardy’s performance, like many on this list, is the best thing about the movie. It’s definitely worth a watch.
What other actors out there have played twins onscreen? Which of these performances was your favorite? Let us know in the comments.
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