Hollywood has a thing about making the same movie more than once. And often at the same time.
Over the years, we've watched as an idea takes hold of the town in such a way that films released within months of one another wind up competing because they are, in essence, telling the same story. In 1997, it was Dante's Peak vs. Volcano. A year later, moviegoers chose sides in the asteroid film face-off between Deep Impact and Armageddon. In 2004, the adventures of the president's daughter were top of mind in both Chasing Liberty and First Daughter.
It's a phenomenon known as the twin films, born out of a somewhat cutthroat industry that's smaller than you might think, where a pass on producing a script just might lead to the desire to compete with it instead. And it dates back to the late '30s when Bette Davis, having been denied the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind, reportedly sought out a film of her own about a strong-willed Southern woman set against the backdrop of the Civil War. And just like that, Jezebel arrived in 1938, positioned as a rival for the 1939 film.
While the twin film concept is nearly a century old at this point, we're officially a decade out from one of the most amusing examples of the cinematic coincidence. We're talking, of course, about the 2011 release of both No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits.
What about these two films hitting theaters months apart makes us chuckle whenever we think of them, aside from the fact that they're both somewhat racy romantic comedies about two friends who attempt a casual sexual relationship, only to develop feelings? Well, it's the fact that each features one former That '70s Show co-star and future spouse of the other, with Ashton Kutcher toplining the former and Mila Kunis the latter. (Even funnier? Kutcher's No Strings Attached co-star was Natalie Portman, fresh off her Oscar win for Black Swan—which co-starred Kunis.)
No Strings Attached hit theaters first, on Jan. 21, after changing its name from—you guessed it—Friends with Benefits. Kunis' Friends with Benefits arrived in July. And though the latter had to deal with the optics of being an imitator of the earlier, it actually won at the box office, taking in $1.2 million more than No Strings Attached when all was said and done.
At the time, Kunis defended her film's existence in the shadow of Kutcher's, telling The Arizona Republic, "A lot of romantic comedies or comedies in general, they have the same idea. It doesn't mean that you get from A to Z the same way. I don't feel like our movies are at all similar whatsoever...It's just two different movies. There's only, however Shakespeare put it, so many stories you can tell in the world. This is just one of the many."
More importantly, she would later admit to a bit of life imitating art. During a 2018 appearance on the podcast WTF with Marc Maron, Kunis said, "I did a movie called Friends With Benefits. He did a movie that was very similar called No Strings Attached. We lived our movies out. We were just like, let's just hook up. Let's have fun. We're both single. We both trust each other. Everything's great."
With Kutcher separated from then-wife Demi Moore in late 2011, he and Kunis—clearly neither holding any sort of grudge over their competing films—began dating in early 2012 and were engaged by February 2014. Daughter Wyatt Isabelle arrived that October. Kutcher and Kunis were married in July 2015, with son Dimitri Portwood arriving the following year. Talk about a true Hollywood happy ending.
Now, take a look at the most memorable twin films to have arrived in theaters both before and since. There are quite a few of them.