One of the most interesting phenomena in Hollywood is the concordant release of two films with identical plots. It happens more often than one might expect and, though the interval is a bit wider, we are witnessed one such double-up this past weekend. Friday saw the theatrical release of Repo Men
starring Jude Law
and Forest Whitaker
. Repo Men
centers on a multinational corporation known as The Union that offers organs for transplant at reasonable prices. But make sure you read the fine print before you buy that shiny new kidney because if you fall behind on your payments, their collection specialists will come to repossess the collateral…with extreme prejudice.
If the plot of this film sounds familiar it’s because it is identical to 2008’s Repo! The Genetic Opera
; chief difference being that Repo! The Genetic Opera
is a musical while Repo Men
is a straightforward actioner. When these situations arise, the easy assumption is plagiarism; a knee-jerk reaction that can usually be discounted by any number of facts. I will be examining the Repo Men
situation in conjunction with two other doppelganger release scenarios. My contention is that each of these pairings can be explained by the zeitgeist of their release. Armageddon and Deep Impact (1998)
Both films center on giant asteroids that are threatening to destroy the Earth. Sure, it isn’t the most unique of concepts but it is a little suspicious that we hadn’t seen a big budget asteroid flick in a while and then we got two of them in the same summer. But the two-month difference in release dates signifies that these films were also in production simultaneously so the plagiarism assumption doesn’t really hold water. It sounds absurd to think of 1998 as a “different time” but when taking into account the immeasurable collective fear of Y2K, it becomes more apparent just how different a time it was.
Y2K, although essentially just an operating system snafu, harbored fears of outright apocalypse. The impending millennium was a source of widespread dread for more than just the religiously fanatic. Both Deep Impact and Armageddon being released just two years prior to the arrival of Y2K is an echo of this dread and a perfect example of how studios can capitalize off of the spirit of the times. The public obsession with the end of the world created the perfect environment for multiple disaster films in which a force beyond our control threatens the destruction of everything we know. It’s therefore no surprise that both films enjoyed success at the box office, but it is interesting to note that the film in which the asteroid doesn’t hit the Earth, Armageddon
, made significantly more money. Capote and Infamous (2005-2006)
In 2006, the relationship between author Truman Capote and a convicted murderer was depicted in two films. The first was Capote
starring Philip Seymour Hoffman
and the other was Infamous with Toby Jones
playing the eccentric author; both films being quiet, introspective character pieces. The great thing about the near simultaneous release of these two films is that their subject matter completely precludes the assumption of one studio stealing from another. Where is the profit in that plagiarism? There is no guarantee that one film about Truman Capote will turn a profit, let alone enough assurance to warrant releasing a second in the same year. So what is the origin of this duplication?
I believe the renewed interest in Capote comes from the discovery of a lost manuscript. In 2004, a former house sitter of Capote’s found his previously unpublished novel, "Summer Spring". This discovery made international headlines and it stands to reason that two screenwriters could have been inspired by the event. So again, it has little to do with unscrupulous studio practices and potentially more to do with the real world events of the time in which the scripts were written. Repo! The Genetic Opera and Repo Men (2008/2010
This pairing seems the most eligible for claims of plagiarism because of the two year divide between release dates. But the thing most people don’t know is that the script for the recently released Repo Men
sat on a shelf at Universal for quite some time before they moved forward. I honestly believe the concept at the heart of both films is a statement about the appalling state of our nation’s health care system. Think about it, the first thing that happens in both films is that medical care is privatized and the welfare of the people becomes further subjugated to profit. This has been a problem for a long time, but the last few years have brought the controversy to a head and thus spawned two separate incarnations of our outrage.