Hollywood movies are seeing double

What's behind the bizarre phenomenon of releasing similar films around the same time? We look at four duelling "twin" movies to watch for this year?

A prosthetics-clad Anthony Hopkins stars as the title character in Sacha Gervasi's all-star Hitchcock. Suzanne Tenner
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Last year, there was Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, two competing projects about the fairy tale character. The year before it was romantic comedies Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached, both dealing with the same relationship phenomenon, and Skyline and Battle: Los Angeles, both sending alien hordes to zap the City of Angels. And that's just scratching the surface of this bizarre Hollywood phenomenon: the twin movie.

More and more, it seems, one production company announces a project and, before you know it, another Hollywood outfit has launched a rival project. It can be any genre - from historical drama (1992's Christopher Columbus: The Discovery and 1492: Conquest of Paradise) to disaster movies (1997's Volcano and Dante's Peak), to science fiction (1998's Armageddon and Deep Impact; 2000's Mission to Mars and Red Planet). Even relatively obscure topics attract bedfellow films, as when Prefontaine (1997) and Without Limits (1998), two movies about the long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine, emerged in the space of 12 months.

But what causes this oddity? Is it simply a lack of fresh ideas in Hollywood? Is it more abstract than that, with writers drawing from the collective consciousness? Or is it simply that topical events, such as the killing of Osama bin Laden, will inevitably prick the interest of producers? Doubtless, it's a mix of all these, alongside plain old industrial espionage as screenplays circulate in Hollywood and word gets around that there's a new hot-button movie in the pipeline. With no copyright on ideas, it must be tempting for studio executives to put their own take on a story into motion.

If the added publicity for both films can be a bonus, such increased competition in an already fiercely competitive marketplace often means it's essential that your movie gets to the starting gate first. Take the case of Infamous and Capote, two rival biopics of that most erudite of writers, Truman Capote. While Bennett Miller's Capote made it out first, it took US$49 million (Dh180m) and was heralded with an Oscar win for star the Philip Seymour Hoffman. Infamous, a more star-sprinkled tale starring Toby Jones as Capote, flopped, making just $2.6m.

Sometimes the rivalry doesn't even stop with the box office. In the case of Tarsem Singh's Mirror Mirror and Rupert Sanders' Snow White and the Huntsman, both fared well with audiences (raking in US$166m and US$396m, respectively). But it didn't stop there, with both films nominated at this year's Oscars for Best Costume Design. It's a rarity in this rarefied world of twin movies, a trend that, judging by the upcoming crop of double features, isn't going to stop any time soon.

Here are four twin movies to watch for in 2013.

Hitchcock vs The Girl

Sacha Gervasi's all-star Hitchcock centres on the making of Psycho and stars a prosthetics-clad Anthony Hopkins as Hitch, leering over his leading ladies (Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel). Typified by Hopkins' take on the filmmaker - more impression than incarnation - it's cartoonish and caricatured. Arriving at the same time, the HBO/BBC telefilm The Girl is another "making of" movie dealing with the director's obsession with his latest blonde. This time, the story spans the productions of The Birds and Marnie, Hitch's two films that followed Psycho, and the girl in question is Tippi Hedren. Straying into much darker territory than Hitchcock, The Girl features Sienna Miller, who is adept as the actress, but Toby Jones dominates as Hitch, proving you don't need make-up to play the man.

Code Name: Geronimo vs Zero Dark Thirty

Given that the Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found and killed in May 2011, it's no surprise that two rival films swiftly emerged documenting his discovery. That said, it almost feels unfair to compare the featherweight Code Name: Geronimo with the heavy-hitting Zero Dark Thirty, the new film from the director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, the team behind the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker. While the latter is a gripping, authentic and painstaking procedural, Code Name: Geronimo is a mishandled, made-for-television mess, as the Navy SEALs (only glimpsed in the final segment of Bigelow's film) take centre stage. (Zero Dark Thirty opens in the UAE on Thursday)

Lovelace vs Inferno

Premiering at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Lovelace appears to have won the battle of the rival films about the adult star Linda Lovelace. Starring Amanda Seyfried in the title role, it deals with her rise as the celebrated star of Deep Throat and her later emergence as a women's rights activist. To date, Inferno, which is set to star Watchman's Malin Akerman as Lovelace and also promises to deal with her secret life as a battered woman at the hands of her husband, has yet to get under way, and may never see the light of day.

Olympus Has Fallen vs White House Down

This will be the year the US President's home comes under attack from terrorists. While neither has been released yet, White House Down has strong credentials, not least because it's directed by Roland Emmerich (who knows a thing or two about attacking this most iconic of American landmarks after blowing it up in Independence Day). The story is of a US Secret Service agent (Channing Tatum) who must rescue the President (Jamie Foxx) when a paramilitary group overruns the building.

Beating it to release in the US by three months, though, is Antoine Fuqua's Olympus Has Fallen, in which Gerard Butler plays - guess what? - a US Secret Service agent. This time, the President (Aaron Eckhart) is under siege from a group of North Korean terrorists.