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by M.G. Siegler


Hollywood's Weird "Twin Film" Habit

Kelsey McKinney on one of the strange phenomena near and dear to my heart:

Imitation — or, more vulgarly, plagiarism — is seen as a form of flattery in Hollywood. One studio hears that another is making a movie, presumes it will be fairly popular, and rushes a thematically similar one through production, hoping to beat them to the theaters and steal a bit of the shine. But what makes something an idea worth stealing isn’t just the story—it’s the story’s place in the culture at that exact time.
Sometimes that’s simply an anniversary (like Steve Jobs’ death leading to both Jobs and Steve Jobs in 2013 and 2015, respectively), but often there’s more to it. And that’s what makes the duality of Gone with the Wind and Jezebel so interesting. Both are films about the antebellum South and the Civil War, which arrived in a marketplace that had never before rewarded those kinds of stories. Every Civil War movie before these two bombed at the box office. Before production of the two films, Irving Thalberg, a beloved movie producer, brushed off Gone with the Wind — now known to be one of the most profitable films in American history — saying, “No Civil War film ever made a nickel.” He was right: Until then, that was true.
So why did Gone with the Wind gross approximately $198 million domestically at the time (about $1.8 billion when adjusted for inflation)? And why did Jezebel, which is far less popular today, have absolutely no problem out-earning its incredibly expensive production costs? Because they were both released at exactly the right time.

She also rattles off some of the key examples I grew up with:

1985’s Real Genius and Weird Science; 1986’s Top Gun and Iron Eagle; 1995’s Babe and Gordy; 1997’s Dante’s Peak and Volcano; 1998’s Deep Impact and Armageddon; 2003/04’s Finding Nemo and Shark’s Tale; 2005/06’s Capote and Infamous; 2006’s The Prestige and The Illusionist; 2011’s Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached.


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