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Copycats: If a movie idea is good, do it twice

Dennis King Published: August 22, 2013
This Is The End (2013)
L-r, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and Danny McBride
This Is The End (2013) L-r, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and Danny McBride

In Hollywood, copycats are ubiquitous.

Anyone who looks askance at the close proximity and suspicious thematic parallels of two pairs of 2013 summer movies (the comic apocalypses of “This Is the End” and “The World’s End,” plus the exploding Washington, D.C.’s of “Olympus Has Fallen” and “White House Down”) is overlooking many similar cosmic convergences that have occurred in multiplexes in recent years.

In the movie biz, some ideas seem so good they just bear repeating, almost immediately.

A look back over the last two decades shows many instances of dueling movies, released within weeks or months of one another, that had the same styles, ideas, themes, even storylines.

As far back as 1993, Hollywood minds were in synch with a fixation on Western gunslinger Wyatt Earp. First came Hollywood Pictures “Tombstone,” with a giant handlebar moustache and Kurt Russell portraying Earp, followed in 1994 by Warner Bros.’ “Wyatt Earp,” featuring Kevin Costner in Earp’s badge and funereal garb.

Simon Pegg and mates
Simon Pegg and mates

In 1995, Universal unleashed its cuddly talking pig saga, “Babe,” to wide acclaim and Oscar accolades (for visual effects). It followed close on the heels of Disney’s surprisingly similar but less beloved talking porker, “Gordy.”

Then in 1996, lightning (or at least big winds) struck twice in theaters with Warner Bros.’ big-budget disaster flick “Twister,” which closely coincided with a low-budget indie called “Tornado!” (the exclamation point being its best special effect).

Later in the ‘90s, the duplication continued apace: 1997 saw dueling lava eruptions on screen with Universal’s “Dante’s Peak” and 20th Century Fox’s “Volcano.”

And 1998 was a rich year for movie dupes, as giant asteroids threatened to snuff out planet Earth in Paramount’s “Deep Impact,” followed by Touchstone Pictures’ “Armageddon,” and big studios duked it out in court over the animated insect supremacy of DreamWorks’ “Antz” and Pixar/Disney’s “A Bug’s Life.”

The creepy, insidious intrusion of media on our private lives inspired two pretty smart satires in 1998-99 that, true to fashion, raced into theaters neck-and-neck. First came Paramount’s “The Truman Show,” followed closely by Universal’s “Edtv.”

More recent back-to-back facsimiles: 2009’s dueling security guard comedies “Observe and Report” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” 2011’s sex-without-commitment larks “No Strings Attached” and “Friends With Benefits” and last year’s faceoff of fairy tale heroines “Mirror, Mirror” and “Snow White and the Huntsman.”

- Dennis King