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July 11, 2013

Have you noticed that “Olympus Has Fallen” and “White House Down” are basically the same movie? Yeah, you probably have. And do you remember having that feeling in the past, with “Oblivion” and “After Earth”? And what about “Mirror Mirror” and “Snow White and the Huntsman”; “Friends with Benefits” and “No Strings Attached”; “The Truman Show” and “EdTV”; “Dante’s Peak” and “Volcano”; “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact”? The list goes on and on.

Here is a look at a bunch of such twin movies – all of them are clearly descendants of a common ancestor-script and were released within a few months of each other. They are arranged chronologically (from bottom to top) into pairs and then compared according to their production budget, worldwide grosses and ROPB, which is a term I invented for Return On Production Budget (kind of like ROI):

Twin movies - budget, grosses and ROI

So, before I plotted this thing, I thought I’d get a clear pattern showing that the first movie of each twin-pair to be released will be the winner, as in the case of Olympus vs. White House, but that didn’t happen. Then I thought perhaps grosses depend on budget, but that too was not the case and the ROPB doesn’t show any clear patterns either.

I slowly reached the sad conclusion that these are most likely case-by-case scenarios, in which marketing is probably the biggest X factor: in some cases, the general buzz is shared by both twin-movies, especially when they are well differentiated – like in the case of “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact”, or “Dante’s Peak” and “Volcano” – which nourished each other by making it clear that while they are similar in concept, they are different in the experiences they offer.

The first mover advantage comes into play when the two movie-brands are mixed up and tangled into each other – like in the case of “Olympus” vs. “White House Down”: they were both perceived as “that White House destruction movie” – if I saw the first one, why should I see it again?

A good marketing campaign is one that not only creates anticipation for a concept, but also creates awareness to a specific and unique production version of that concept. In my experience, a good example is “The Truman Show” vs. “EdTV” – Truman came out first, but that’s not why I saw it rather than EdTV at the time. I remember very clearly waiting for the specific “Jim Carrey borderline-artsy movie”.

The same applies for “A Bug’s Life” that was beaten to the release-line by “Antz” but ended up doing much better – because viewers knew it wasn’t just “another cartoon about bugs”. The same applies to “Snow White and The Huntsman” that was well differentiated from “Mirror Mirror” – by emphasizing its darkness, style, unique special effects and star power.

The bottom line:

If you are a studio exec and you know your competitors are working off a similar (if not identical) primary script darft – don’t focus on being the first to the finish line. Rather, focus on making your presentation of that concept unique and easily differentiated, via creative production value (harder) or original marketing efforts (a bit easier).

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** All grosses figures and most budget figures for this post are from Some production budget figures are from

One Comment
  1. What I heard is that Studios make production decision on what the competitor is shooting, and produce the twin. Those twin movies got produced and released on the similar date so the one that is produced later can have a free ride on the earlier one’s marketing and by making them similar enough, confuse audience’s choice. . I got fooled a couple times.

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