Remember When Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis Basically Made the Same Movie in the Same Year?

It's been a decade since Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis starred in the incredibly similar films No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits, after which life imitated art.

By Billy Nilles Jan 21, 2021 11:33 PMTags
Watch: A Blast From Interviews Past: Mila Kunis & Ashton Kutcher

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're, 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.

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Ashton Kutcher & Mila Kunis: Romance Rewind

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.

As we celebrate 10 years since the No Strings Attached/Friends with Benefits face-off, 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.

Turner & Hooch/K-9

These two 1989 films shared the premise of an experience cop being partnered with a dog to solve crimes. Hilarity inevitably ensued. 

Kalifornia/Natural Born Killers

Eleven months stood between these two films each about a couple engaging in multi-state killing sprees, released in 1993 and 1994 respectively. Both took inspiration from real-life killer Charles Starkweather, and both starred Juliette Lewis.

Street Fighter/Mortal Kombat

Hollywood wanted in on the rising interest in video games, releasing these two martial arts action films based on arcade fixtures within eight months of another in 1994 and 1995.

Showgirls/Striptease

There were only nine months between the former's release in 1995 and the latter's in 1996. While Showgirls has gone down in history as one of the most infamous flops in film history, Striptease is a mostly forgotten blip in star Demi Moore's career.

Dante's Peak/Volcano

Hollywood was obsessed with volcanic eruptions in 1997, as these two disaster films starring Pierce Brosnan and Tommy Lee Jones, respectively, made their way to theaters just two months apart.

Saving Private Ryan/The Thin Red Line

1998 saw the release of these dueling WWII films just five months apart from one another. Both were critical favorites from A-list directors (Steven Spielberg and Terrence Malick, respectively), both lost the Oscar for Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love.

Antz/A Bug's Life

Animators had insects on the brain in 1998 as Pixar and Dreamworks both told tales of a non-conformist ant who falls in love with an ant princess, leaves the mound and returns a hero.

Armageddon/Deep Impact

The disaster on Hollywood's mind in 1998? Asteroids. These two films were released only two months apart.

The Truman Show/Ed TV

It was Jim Carrey vs. Matthew McConaughey when these two films about a man's life being a 24-hour reality TV show were released within nine months of each other in 1998 and '99.

Entrapment/The Thomas Crown Affair

In 1999, two male actors best known for playing James Bond (Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan, respectively) each starred in his own film about a male art thief becoming entangled with the female insurance investigator pursuing him.

House on Haunted Hill/The Haunting

Both based on source material from 1959, oddly enough, these two films released in 1999 featured people tricked into staying in some spooky homes under false pretenses.

The Matrix/eXistenZ

These two sci-fi films released in 1999 featured stories that questioned whether the world was real or an illusion. Both dealt with a virtual reality contained in a computer program, but only one launched an enduring franchise. 

Scary Movie/Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the Thirteenth

Hot off the resurgence of the teen slasher flick in the late '90s, two films spoofing the likes of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer hit theaters in 2000. Only one of them went on to spawn a franchise, for better or worse. (Have you seen Scary Movie 5? We rest our case.)

Chasing Liberty/First Daughter

In 2004, Mandy Moore and Katie Holmes both got to play the rebellious daughter of the President of the United States in romantic comedies.

Red Eye/Flightplan

2005 saw Rachel McAdams and Jodie Foster each star in their own thriller set on an airplane. 

United 93/Flight 93

Both of these 2006 films dramatized the tragic events aboard United Airlines Flight 93 as they unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Prestige/The Illusionist

Moviegoers were treated to not one, but two films about 19th century magicians in 2006.

Zodiac/The Curse of the Zodiac

Though only one made it to theaters—the latter went direct to DVD—both of these 2007 films brought the hunt for the infamous serial killer to life.

Despicable Me/Megamind

Both 2010 animated films focused on a villain who'd turned evil following a bad childhood flirting with the good side as they help to stop an even worse villain.

No Strings Attached/Friends with Benefits

In 2011, romantic comedy fans were treated to not one, but two films about friends who gave casual sex a try, only to find feelings develop. Adding a meta layer to this one is the fact that one starred Ashton Kutcher and the other Mila Kunis, for whom life imitated art the following year.

Mirror Mirror/Snow White and the Huntsman

Released only two months apart, these 2012 films took on the classic Snow White story to varying degrees of success. The former, which featured Emily in Paris star Lily Collins as the heroine, was something of a flop, while the latter proved to be a hit—in spite of, or maybe because of, the drama in star Kristen Stewart's personal life involving director Rupert Sanders.

Olympus Has Fallen/White House Down

In 2013, terrorist attacks at the White House were the hot topic, with these two films tasking Gerard Butler and Channing Tatum, respectively, with saving the day. Olympus performed well enough to garner two sequels, while White House Down, released three months later, was a bit of a bomb.

Yves Saint Laurent/Saint Laurent

2014 delivered not one, but two French biopics about the life of noted fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

Hercules/The Legend of Hercules

2014 also saw dueling Hercules films, as Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Kellan Lutz both got the opportunity to show off their pecs as the mythical Greek hero.

Spectre/Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation

The 2015 installments of these massive franchises saw their hero (played by Daniel Craig and Tom Cruise, respectively) chase down secret criminal organizations through Austria, Morocco and London while their intelligence agencies were shutting down. Originally planned for release one month after Spectre, Rogue Nation was bumped up five months by Paramount to avoid more direct competition between the two.

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