It's plagued Hollywood for the past two decades. It eats away at an audience's suspension of disbelief. It hurts the overall level of creativity in the movie industry. No, I'm not talking about Keanu Reeves' career, I'm alluding to the phenomenon known as "twin movies."
These copycats feature similar plots in the same genre and are released within a few months of each other. Take White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen. The latter hit theaters in March with a harrowing plot that involved terrorists taking over the White House, and an ex-Secret Service agent's efforts to prevent a nuclear disaster. White House Down, meanwhile, was released three months later, with a harrowing plot that involved terrorists taking over the White House, and a failed Secret Service agent's efforts to prevent a nuclear disaster.
Having déjà vu? Check out the posters for each film:
Clearly, any action junkie who ever pondered an Oval Office shootout had a great summer, even though both films received subpar reviews.
Olympus earned a respectable $160 million worldwide on a budget of $70 million, while its twin, which was distributed by Sony's (NYSE:SNE) Columbia Pictures, grossed $205 million on a budget of $150 million. In terms of profit, the earlier Olympus out-gained White House Down $90 million to $55 million, and a sequel, London Has Fallen, is in the works. In this case, it appears that the early bird got a proportionally larger worm.
While White House Down generated 28% more in ticket sales, but this was largely due to timing -- summer box office movies typically draw a larger crowd than spring releases. Taking that into account, White House Down underperformed.
Prefer spewing volcanoes to White House sieges? Or maybe an alien invasion? In 1997, we got natural disaster flicks Dante's Peak and Volcano, and 2010-2011 brought us Skyline and Battle: Los Angeles. In both instances, the earlier films (Dante's Peak and Skyline) were more profitable on a percentage basis.
And then we have 1998's Deep Impact and Armageddon, two action thrillers that depict a near-Earth object and a crew's efforts to divert its path. DreamWorks' (NASDAQ:DWA) Deep Impact debuted in May and made nearly $350 million, or 4.4 times its budget. Disney (NYSE:DIS) and Touchstone's Armageddon, meanwhile, was released two months later, and made $550 million, about 3.9 times its budget. Again, the second twin made more at the box office, but it was less profitable than its peer.
So, in the action genre, the first in twin pairs is typically released outside of the traditional summer blockbuster season, and is generally more profitable. The latter usually makes more in revenues because of a more favorable opening weekend, but often carries a higher budget.
For the comedy buffs
In the land of comedy, moviegoers were treated in 1998 and 1999 to The Truman Show and EDtv, two films depicting a main character who lives his life on a reality television show. As you'd expect, the earlier movie was more profitable, and The Truman Show, distributed by Viacom's (NASDAQ:VIAB) Paramount, was further helped by its June release. It brought in a little over $260 million on a budget of $60 million. EDtv was a bust, making just $35 million the following spring after costing $80 million to make.
And 2011 rom-coms No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits fall into this pattern. Viacom and Paramount's No Strings Attached, which starred Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, was released in January and made $147 million at the box office, good for about six times its budget. Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis' Friends With Benefits hit theaters that June and made a slightly larger $149 million, but it was less profitable, outpacing its budget by a four-to-one ratio. And the trend continues.
Don't forget about the kids
In the realm of kids' movies, one of the most blatant twin movie examples happened in 2005 and 2006.
DreamWorks' Madagascar debuted in the summer of 2005 to much fanfare, and booked a total of $530 million on a budget of $75 million. The following April, The Wild, which was distributed by Disney, made $102 million on an $80 million budget. Once more, the earlier of the twins was more profitable.
From mall cops (2009's Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Observe and Report) to post-apocalyptic comedies (This Is the End and The World's End), the trend holds, no matter which side of the equation Seth Rogen falls on.
Race to theaters
Clearly, studios are aware of this phenomenon, which can lead to a race to the big screen. In the case of Skyline and Battle: Los Angeles, the latter was produced in the fourth quarter of 2009, and it had a lengthy post-production cycle, lasting into early 2011. Skyline began filming five months later in 2010, but it was able to wrap up post-production in that same year, giving it a head start at the box office. As expected, it was the more profitable flick.
A feud between Sony, which distributed Battle: Los Angeles, and Skyline shows that both sides know the stakes. The directors of Skyline own Hydraulx Filmz, which had been hired by Sony to work on the visual effects of Battle: Los Angeles. Sony alleged that their film inspired Skyline and asked that its release date be pushed back. Obviously, these efforts didn't work, and Sony eventually dropped its claim against Hydraulx. Observe and Report producers also openly acknowledged the obvious similarities between their work and Paul Blart: Mall Cop, calling it fair competition.
The factors vary -- whether it's the timing of the release, the allure of the actors, or the quality of the film -- but it's clear that it's good to be the first twin.
Fool contributor Jake Mann has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends DreamWorks Animation and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.