what's in a name?

Let’s Name the Phenomenon For When Two Similar Movies Come Out Around The Same Time

Photo: Maya Robinson

There are currently three movies about Lance Armstrong in development (Jay Roach’s, J.J. Abrams’s, and Stephen Frears’s). Earlier in the year, there were two movies about bad guys taking over the White House (Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down), and this past weekend’s Winnie Mandela, starring Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard as Winnie and Nelson, is the first of two fall movies about the couple (the Idris Elba and Naomie Harris–starring Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is out in November). This isn’t a new phenomenon, but it is a persistent one. We think it needs a proper name — a short, punchy one that we all agree means “movies of very similar subjects that get released around the same time.” But what should that name be?

Let’s quickly run through some famous examples of this phenomenon: Dante’s Peak and Volcano (1997), Antz and A Bug’s Life (1998), Armageddon and Deep Impact (1998), Capote and Infamous (2006), The Prestige and The Illusionist (2006), No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits (2011), Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Hitchcock and The Girl (2012). There isn’t a specific reason why they happen so often. Excluding the aforementioned Lance Armstrong movies, there aren’t usually obvious reasons — there wasn’t a giant volcano explosion in the nineties, for example, nor a magic boom in the mid-aughts. One could argue that these movies are just another symbol of Hollywood’s creative deficiency, but that’s overly cynical. Not to mention the fact that several of the aforementioned films are quite good. Though some accusations of foul play get thrown around (maybe most famously between Pixar and DreamWorks over their bug movies), it usually seems to be good ol’ parallel thinking* and that’s not going to stop anytime soon.

That being the case, let’s try to name this thing once and for all. Wikipedia has them called “Twins films.” But that is (1) confusing and (2) boring. What if you were talking about movies starring twins or a film in the style of the DeVito-Schwarzenegger tour de farce Twins? Not to mention that “twin films” has also been used to describe two movies that tell the same story from different points of view (i.e. Flags of Our Fathers, and Letters From Iwo Jima). To kick off this brainstorm, we came up with three ideas. Read them and then offer your suggestions below. We’ll crack this unnamed nut together.

This is our favorite, as it is a tribute to the fine British actor Toby Jones. Jones has appeared in three of these movies — Snow White and the Huntsman, The Girl, and Infamous — and as Alfred Hitchcock and Truman Capote, was the face of the duplication in the latter two. Despite giving very good performances, especially as Capote in Infamous, he was unfortunately seen as the other guy in both cases. So giving these movies the name Toby or Tobies is our way of honoring his legacy. Also, it’s fun to say: “White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen are such Tobies, that I can’t remember which was the Channing Tatum one and which had Gerard Butler.”

Mirror Movies
This is a simple one. Obviously, it’s a reference to the film Mirror Mirror, which was one of last year’s two Snow White reimaginings. However, it also refers to the fact that these movies can often appear identical. Bonus points for alliteration. 

Portmanteaus are all the rage these days, so we wanted to offer a portmanteau option for all the portmaniacs out there. It’s a smushing together of Deep Impact and Armageddon, arguably the most famous examples of this phenomenon (released two months apart, they each made over $300 million worldwide — $349 and $550 million, respectively). It captures the fact that near-simultaneous releases don’t have to be the death knell for either picture. It also captures the power of people joining together to complete a mission, like preventing Earth’s destruction or naming a film phenomenon. It might look like a mouthful, but say it out loud a few times.

Okay, so what are your ideas?

* There’s a story about how when the writer of Infamous finished his screenplay, he called an executive friend of his to tell him. The executive said he knew already, as he had it on his desk. He had the script for Capote.

Let’s Name the Two Similar Movies Phenomenon