Ah, the movie business – where no idea is new and similar plots are practically everywhere. Yes, The Incredibles is Watchmen for kids, George Lucas has confirmed that Star Wars was heavily influenced from Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. The Lion King can easily be seen as the animal version of Hamlet and there are so many action movies that share the premise of Die Hard that the phrase ‘Die Hard set in ____’ is a common trope by now (Speed is Die Hard on a bus, Air Force One is Die Hard on a plane and so on) .
Plot similarities aren’t restricted to the cinematic medium alone: James Cameron has confessed that The Terminator is inspired from Harlan Ellison stories, the first Pirates of the Caribbean film has a lot of similarities to a video game, and Quentin Tarantino; well, let’s just say that the plot similarities between his films and his favorite films are the stuff of legend.
However, sometimes the coincidences become a little too uncanny. On one hand, the plotlines resemble each other too eerily, but that is one thing: when you realize that the films were released in the same year, even the most indifferent movie lover will ask: what the hell? Can the coincidence in the following films be explained by ‘Somehow two groups of people had exactly the same idea at exactly the same time’? Could it be something else?
We might never know, but what is clear in these examples is that out of the pair, only one film reached iconic status and the other, not as much. One wonders whether the fate of these lesser-known films would have been different, had their more famous doppelgangers not existed.
1. 12:01 overshadowed by Groundhog Day (1993)
Coincidental premise: Man discovers that the same day is repeating for him, tries to do whatever it takes to break the loop and meanwhile, attempts to win the heart of his lady love.
Groundhog Day is obviously a timeless classic (pun intended) about cynical weatherman Phil Connors (effortlessly played by the one and only Bill Murray), who finds himself trapped in a time loop of the same day. But very few people have heard of 12:01, the ill-fated TV movie that was made in the same year and which had the misfortune of having a relatively unknown cast.
It’s an adaptation of a 1973 story and follows the misadventures of Barry Thomas, whose day endlessly restarts at one minute past midnight. He is also in love with scientist Lisa Fredericks, who is intimately connected with the reason the time loop occurred in the first place.
Beyond the obvious similarities between the two films, 12:01 is actually surprisingly good, with a scientific explanation to account for the reason the world has been frozen in time (if you have seen Groundhog Day, you know that the cause of the time loop is never mentioned).
In contrast to the bitter Phil Connors from Groundhog Day, 12:01’s protagonist is romantic, and his efforts to redeem his love are truly heartwarming. The makers of 12:01 actually believed their work was stolen by Groundhog Day, though in the last 23 or so years since the two films were released, it’s the Bill Murray version that has stood the test of time.
2. Antz overshadowed by A Bug’s Life (1998)
Coincidental premise: An ant that considers itself different from the rest of the ant colony, will go to great lengths to save his princess and eventually, the colony itself.
The similarities between these two animated ant capers were so obvious that a public feud resulted between two rival studios: Pixar and Dreamworks. Lasseter (A Bug’s Life) claims that at the time the Pixar film was being made, the story and plot ideas made quite a round in animation circles, and it’s not unusual for Katzenberg (Antz) to have known about them.
Whatever the truth may be, the two films are uncannily similar, though it was the Pixar film that eventually became more renowned. Antz has its own qualities – it’s less family-friendly and explores darker issues of society and totalitarianism, and also enjoyed a decent critical response in the long run.
3. The Thirteenth Floor overshadowed by The Matrix (1999)
Coincidental premise: A man discovers, to his horror, that his present existence could be part of a virtual simulation.
Life as a simulation is nothing new as a thought. From Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to Harman’s Brain in A Vat thought experiment, mankind has always wondered about reality. 1999’s The Matrix made that thought a part of pop culture. The film spawned as much philosophical discussion as it did bullet time action sequences – a true masterpiece (and unfortunately, the only one) of the Wachowski brothers (oops, it’s actually the Wachowski sisters now).
However, not many audiences remember The Thirteenth Floor, which is basically a murder mystery that takes place with virtual simulations as its core. The film explores less action sequences and more science fiction elements like simulations within simulations and humans as programs. It’s worth a watch, and over the decades, has gone on to acquire cult status.
4. Megamind overshadowed by Despicable Me (2010)
Coincidental premise: Supervillain schemes to execute an evil plan, but has a change of heart.
Despicable Me is everyone’s favourite film featuring Steve Carell and minions, the beginning of a mega successful franchise whose fourth entry will release in 2017.
The film features Gru, a supervillain who, in his quest to become the most evil person ever, plans to shrink the Moon and ends up adopting three orphan girls to help in his scheme. He eventually warms up to them and decides to raise them, while the minions continue with their obsession with bananas. Kids and parents alike loved the film and the fandom doesn’t seem to be dying any time soon.
However, 2010 also saw Megamind, a not-bad-at-all animated film that wasn’t even remotely as successful as Gru’s adventures. Will Ferrell voices Megamind, a supervillain who realizes that life is boring after he defeats all the superheroes of Metro City. The story is an obvious parody of Superman’s tale, and has a lot of funny moments and characters. Though not probably as family-friendly as Despicable Me, both films feature a supervillain who eclipses the hero and has a change of heart.
5. Flight 93 overshadowed by United 93 (2006)
Coincidental premise: The events of the ill-fated United Airlines Flight 93 during 9/11.
Both films are so similar that a lot of audiences thought them to be the same film, with different versions. United 93 was made by the shaky camera master, Paul Greengrass, and won critical acclaim. Flight 93, on the other hand, was a TV film that never got the love it deserved, as it’s quite a good watch.
While Greengrass’s film is much more polished and focuses on the logistics of the event, the latter film makes us connect deeper with the passengers, and is definitely more human when it comes to the tense situations that unfolded on that fateful day.