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“The Jungle Book,” “Mowgli,” and more strange cases of the “twin film” phenomenon

By Adam Epstein

The first trailer for Warner Bros Pictures’ Mowgli hit the internet yesterday (May 21). Based on the famous Rudyard Kipling story, The Jungle BookMowgli mixes real actors with computer-generated animals to tell the fantasy-adventure tale of a boy raised by wolves in the jungles of India.

If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because Disney made that exact movie, based on the same source material, in 2016, when it was called The Jungle Book (the same as Kipling’s story). That one was directed by Jon Favreau and featured the voices of Bill Murray, Scarlett Johannsson, and Idris Elba. It grossed nearly $1 billion at the global box office.

Mowgli boasts a formidable voice cast of its own that includes Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, and Benedict Cumberbatch. The Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes motion-capture legend Andy Serkis will direct. Serkis has said his film will be darker and grittier than Disney’s adaptation of the Kipling work.

Two nearly identical films being made by different studios, within two years of each other, is more common than it sounds. Hollywood is actually filled with examples of what the industry has dubbed “twin films.”

Sometimes similar scripts bounce around Hollywood studios and production companies, resulting in analogous films. Sometimes there’s a race to produce a film based on a major current event or celebrity death. And sometimes, twin films are just the result of a weird coincidence.

In the case of Mowgli, the film was in development before Disney’s The Jungle Book was even announced. But the Disney film was able to get made first, making Mowgli look like the duplicate. Having to essentially re-tell a story told just two years ago by Disney, however tonally different, will make it very difficult for Serkis’ film to perform as well at the box office as Favreau’s did.

But the film that comes first isn’t necessarily the more successful one. Danny Boyle’s 2015 film about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs (played by Michael Fassbender, from a script by Aaron Sorkin), for instance, was far better received than the 2013 Jobs biopic that starred Ashton Kutcher.

Here are some other notable examples of twin films throughout Hollywood history:

Film 1Film 2Shared plot
The Warriors (1979)The Wanderers (1979)Both follow teenage street gangs at war with one another in New York City
Rookie of the Year (1993)Little Big League (1994)Both are about a 12-year-old boy who is shockingly recruited into Major League Baseball
Prefontaine (1997)Without Limits (1998)Both are biographical sports movies about American Olympics long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine
Antz (1998)A Bug’s Life (1998)Both are animated films about a young male ant trying to win the affections of a princess
Capote (2005)Infamous (2006)Both are about novelist Truman Capote and his writing of his masterpiece, In Cold Blood
Observe and Report (2009)Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009)Both are comedies about being a mall cop
No Strings Attached (2011)Friends with Benefits (2011)Both are romantic comedies about young people who engage in a consensual, purely sexual relationship but end up falling in love
Mirror Mirror (2012)Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)Both are about the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “Snow White”
Jobs (2013)Steve Jobs (2015)Both are biopics about Apple founder Steve Jobs
Olympus Has Fallen (2013)White House Down (2013)Both are action movies about a terrorist attack on the White House

For more instances of “twin films,” TV Tropes has compiled a nearly exhaustive list. The most recent case might be the 2017 film All the Money in the World and the 2018 FX series Trust, which are both about oil tycoon J. Paul Getty and the kidnapping of his grandson, John Paul Getty III.