Similar movies released within a year or so of each other

What is the deal with eerily similar movies coming out within a year of each other?

This has been discussed here before (1, 2), but it’s been a few years and I’d like to give a fuller treatment. I am sure that some examples are simply coincidental, I’m sure some are the result of zeitgeist, and I’m sure some have to do with insider knowledge and “riding coattails” economics within Hollywood. In any case I’ve always thought it was a really bizarre phenomenon; not because I don’t understand it necessarily (although I would like to understand it better) but because it is sometimes so in your face without any openly admitted explanation.

First I want to give a few particularly in your face examples, and then I will provide a longer list that I have compiled.

A few examples:

Dante’s Peak (1997)
Volcano (1997)
Comment: two major-studio, A-list actor ensemble volcano-disaster thrillers came out within a few months of each other. At the time only a handful of volcano-disaster movies had ever been produced.

Capote (2005)
Infamous (2006)
Comment: two non-current movies about the same person, and with the exact same plot, come out within a month of each other. No movie had ever previously been made about him, even though he died in 1984, was most famous in the 1960’s, and the story depicted took place before 1966.

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009)
Coco Before Chanel (2009)
Coco Chanel (2008)
Comment: yet another non-current biopic (she died in 1971). Only one movie had previously been made about her.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
The Day the Earth Stopped (2008)
Comment: I didn’t see the straight-to-DVD rip-off one, but apparently it has the same plot, as well as the nearly identical name. Released 3 days apart!

And many computer-animated kids movies:
AntZ (1998)
A Bug’s Life (1998)
Comment: the second and third computer-animated films ever to be made in the US happen to both be about ants, of all things (and with very similar plots).

The other computer-animated examples aren’t so surprising in isolation, but together seem statistically significant:
Shark Tale (2004)
Finding Nemo (2003)
Comment: you’ve got your sea creatures…

Madagascar (2005)
The Wild (2006)
Comment: then you’ve got your african wildlife…

Space Chimps (2008)

Fly Me to the Moon (2008)
Comment: then you’ve got animal astronauts…

Longer list:
Note: I have ignored examples with an obvious cause (for example 9/11, the lambada craze in the 80’s, …). I have also ignored examples where the similarity is both superficial and probable (for example three closely-spaced teen sex comedies or films about the vietnam war). I have left in examples where even though the similarity is superficial, it is nonetheless a strange coincidence (two animated films about bugs; the second and third CGI films ever to be made in the US). Sometimes the similarly is compelling but vague, based on some subjective criteria like mood/aesthetic/sensibility/palette/surreality. Most of these I have left out, but a couple I left in (for example: Existenz/The Matrix/The Thirteenth Floor/Dark City).

Armageddon (1998)
Deep Impact (1998)
[Both asteroid-impact thrillers]

Dante’s Peak (1997)
Volcano (film) (1997)
[Both volcano-disaster thrillers]

Tornado! (1996)
Twister (1996)
[Both tornado-hunting thrillers]

Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
Valmont (1989)
[Aristocrats in Rococo France play high-stakes games of passion and betrayal]

Capote (2005)
Infamous (2006)
[Same plot, same person]

The Poseidon Adventure (2005)
Poseidon (2005)
[Remakes of the same book/film]

Terminal Velocity (1994)
Drop Zone (1994)
Freefall (1994)
[All skydiving action films]

Air Force One (1997)
Turbulence (1997)
[Both involve hijacking a 747, and a hidden hero on board who outwits them]

Cloverfield (2008)
Diary of the Dead. (2007)
Quarantine (2008)
[Stories “told” through shaky first-person camera]

Wyatt Earp (1994)
Tombstone (1993)
[Both about Earp and the Wild West]

Helen of Troy (2003)
Troy (2004).
[Self explanatory]

Robin Hood (1991)
Robin hood: Rrince of Thieves (1991)
[Self explanatory]

Shark Tale (2004)
Finding Nemo (2003)
[Both CGI-animations about sea-creatures]

AntZ (1998)
A Bug’s Life (1998)
[Both childrens CGI-animations about bugs]

Madagascar (2005)
The Wild (2006)
[Another CGI-animation, this time it’s African anaimals]

Turner & Hooch (1989)
K-9 (1989)
[Detective must adopt dog to help solve case]

Vice Versa (1988)
Like Father Like Son (1987)
[Two of many body-switching movies around the time. These two were particularly similar]

Edtv (1999)
The Truman Show (1998)
[Someones life is filmed as part of a tv show]

The Zodiac (2005)
Zodiac (2007)
[Both are about the detectives trying to solve the mystery of the Zodiac killer]

H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (2005)
War of the Worlds (2005)

The Illusionist (2006)
The Prestige (2006)
[Both about magicians at the turn of the century]

Leviathan (1989)
DeepStar Six (1989)
The Abyss (1989)
[Ultra-deep-sea divers discover some crazy shit]

Aeon Flux (2005)
Ultraviolet (2006)
[Similar aesthetic, about a special woman killer saving a dystopian society]

Angels in the Outfield (1994)
Little Big League (1994)
Rookie of the Year (1993)
[Kids play in the big leagues]

Existenz (1999)
The Matrix (1999)
Dark City (1998)
The Thirteenth Floor (1999)
[All have a similar surrealist, mind-fuck sort of angle]

Mission to Mars (2000)
Red Planet (2000)
[First manned mission to mars goes horribly wrong, you get the picture]

The House on Haunted Hill (1999)
The Haunting (1999)
[A group of people are paid to spend a night in a haunted house. You can imagine what happens]

Night of the Headless Horseman (1999)
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
[Headless horsemen…]

Flightplan (2005)

Red Eye (2005)
[Different plots, but a similar sort of tense thriller mostly all aboard a plane]

Space Chimps (2008)

Fly Me to the Moon (2008)
[CGI animal astronauts]

The Descent (2005)
The Cave (2005)
[Bloodthirsty creatures attack lost cavers]

Chasing Liberty (2004)
First Daughter (2004)
[Basically exact same plot involving same-aged First Daughter of POTUS]

Dead Man on Campus (1998)
Dead Man’s Curve (1998)
[College students kill roommate]

Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009)
Observe & Report (2009)
[Mall cops try to rise above their idiocy in a call to action]

Kundun (1997)
Seven Years in Tibet (1997)
[Tibet and the 14th dalai Lama]

Mystery Men (1999)
The Specials (2000)
[Inept 2nd-rate superheroes try to save the day]

Sky High (2005)
Zoom: Academy for Superheroes (2006)
[Superhero kids go to superhero school]

Despicable Me (2010)
Megamind (2010)
[Haven’t seen it, but looks remarkably similar]

Top Gun (1986)
Iron Eagle (1986)
['Nuff said]

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009)
Coco Before Chanel (2009)
Coco Chanel (2008)
[Again, 'nuff said]

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
The Day the Earth Stopped (2008)
[same plot, nearly identical name., released 3 days apart]

Harlow (1965)
Harlow (1965)
[Same-named biographies of Jean Harlow]

Showgirls (1995)
Striptease (1996)
[Two terrible soft-core striptease movies with a mainstream actress]

It makes me wonder if someone was shopping one of the ideas around to several studios (does it work that way?) and after rejecting it, the studio head is suddenly “inspired” to produce pretty much the same movie, but they can claim it as their own?

I dunno. It’s just what came to mind as I read thru this list.

Coco Before Chanel and Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky are about completely different times in her life.

That’s a really impressive list!

I believe there was controversy over Antz/Bug’s Life and maybe some other Dreamworks/Disney pairs . . .
ah here we go:


Prefontaine (1997)
Without Limits (1998)

Why on Earth would you need two films about 70s track star Steve Prefontaine?
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Thin Red Line (1998)

Both WWII films
Platoon (1986)
Full Fetal Jacket (1997)

Hadn’t been too many films about the 'Nam before that.

Runaway (1984)
The Terminator (1984)

Both films about out of control robots. Interestingly, although it seems silly now, Runaway, starting Tom Selleck, Gene Simmons and directed by Michael Crichton was supposed to be the major blockbuster. it was overshadowed by a low-budget feature, starring B-list actors, and written and directed by an unknown named James Cameron.

Angels in the Outfield (1994)
Little Big League (1994)
Rookie of the Year (1993)
[Kids play in the big leagues]

Other than being kids movies about baseball, none of these movies is similar, plotwise.

Angels in the Outfield is a remake of a 50s movie about a kid who can see angels, one of whom helps an inept Major League team start winning.

Little Big League is about a kid who’s grandfather owned a Major League. After dying, he leaves the team to the kid, who installs himself as manager.

Rookie of the Year is the only one about a kid playing in the big leagues.

I think a more typical scenario is that a studio will have a project stalled in development indefinitely–until they hear another studio is working on a similar film, and then it’s a race to the finish line. The Thief and the Cobbler had been languishing half-finished for decades when **Aladdin **suddenly popped up in 1992, with some visually identical characters and the same basic story, and Cobbler was released the following year.

I think Never on Sunday (1960) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) tell the same basic story, to the point where both movies open with the female lead, an improbably beautiful prostitute, sings the theme song.

Rob Roy and Braveheart both had heroic kilted Scotsmen and some similar subplots. There were dissimilarities; they were set about 500 years apart, and one ended less happily than the other and was more epic in scale. But they were in the theaters at the same time.

Right now, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader are competing in the theaters, and are very visually similar (They both feature a dragon, a mansion and some ghosts that are virtually interchangeable, as well as subplots about invisibility, sorcerers and collecting magical swords and trinkets). The trios of British schoolchildren invite comparison, but not deep comparison.

The second and third Matrix movies. Also, every Twilight movie and the following Twilight movie. Would it kill them to come up with something original?

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)
Christopher Columbus: the Discovery (1992)

The one for The Day The Earth Stopped is by a studio called The Asylum which specializes in making cheap direct-to-video efforts with titles designed to confuse gift-buying grandmothers and ruin birthdays and Christmases for kids the world over. They also gave us Transmorphers, The Terminators, AVH: Alien Vs. Hunter and Sunday School Musical.

I’ve seen both, & I like the relative realism of Runaway. Terminator is a far more powerful thriller though, & inspired an extensive comic-book mythos.

I think there are three different phenomena here:

  1. Some studios will rush something into production just to rip off another project which they know is going on. This is not so hard. Very few projects are pursued in secrecy; people in the business know something is going on, & they think, “Oh, we could use that concept & make some money off it too.”

  2. Sometimes a particular pitch gets shopped around & ends up unofficially forking–or multiple pitches cross-pollinate. This is believed to have happened in some way with Babylon 5 & Deep Space Nine, though that may really be mostly phenomenon 1.

  3. Once something has been done, &–this may be key–done well, there is a sense that it’s been done, it’s old news, we don’t need to rehash it. So if two studios independently greenlight simultaneously, they’ll happily race to get their projects out. But at some studios a new project is less likely to be greenlighted that’s too much like something we’ve already seen. So *Antz *& A Bug’s Life both happened because they both happened simultaneously. If there weren’t already money invested in one once the other had been released, the second might not have been made.

Note that 3 does not always apply. A studio may decide to do a “better” version of something we’ve seen before. And some outfits exist to rip off more familiar concepts in various ways.

Huh? Those don’t have anything to do with what the OP was asking, those are just sequels.

Oh, and 4) There may be less than obvious reasons behind the scenes for different teams to think in parallel. Both Harlow movies followed, & one was based on, Irving Shulman’s 1964 biography of Jean Harlow, which reignited interest in its subject (I suppose; before my time). Antz & A Bug’s Life were exploiting a newish animation technology. Possibly by using more “inhuman” pseudo-arthropods instead of mammalian forms, they meant at first to cover problems of technique.

Independence Day, The Arrival and Mars Attacks all come out in 1996.

I remember reading an article back in 1989 when the Abyss, Deep Star 6, and Leviathan were coming out. The author was a writer who had started an screenplay with a working title of ‘Monsters on a Sub’ (and you thought ‘Snake on a Plane’ was original!) when they found that a bunch of other folks had come up with the same basic idea. The comment was that sometimes similar ideas come up in hollywood at exactly the same time.

Reanimator, Day Of The Dead, and Return Of The Living Dead, all zombie films, were all released in 1985. There was a bit of confusion amongst casual viewers regarding Day and Return.

An interesting counter-example occurred when Warner Brothers was developing a movie based on The Tower and 20th Century Fox had a movie in development based on The Glass Inferno. The projects were merged, and the result in 1974 was the epic The Towering Inferno.

“Private Pyle, what are you trying to do to my beloved womb?”

Best Typo of the Month.

Two Joan of Arc movies in 1999:

The Leelee Sobieski TV vehicle
Luc Besson’s theatrical take, with Milla Jovovich in the title role

I was not impressed by either actress-Sobieski was pretty lightweight (and her ending prayer to save herself pain was completely out of character), while Jovovich played as almost a psychotic.

There’s an urban legend that if your college room-mate dies or commits suicide you will be assumed too grief-stricken to work, and will be given automatic A’s. Two films came out around the same time based on this legend with the plot of a pair of students trying to murder their room-mate in order to get an easy pass.

Dead Man on Campus
Dead Man’s Curve

Don’t forget Snakes on a Train.

Jack Frost is a horror film about a serial killer who dies in a truck accident and is transformed into a living snowman.

Jack Frost is a family film about a father of 3 who dies in a car accident and is transformed into a living snowman.

Two very different takes on the same concept with the exact same name released two years apart. IIRC the cover art for both movies features the titular snowman smiling, one is just a really sinister smile.

Both of my grandmothers (in different years) rented the former thinking it was the latter. Both were quite surprised.