They say that, somewhere in the world, everyone has an exact double. It’s called the legend of the doppelganger, and supposedly, if you run into your other self, dark and diabolical things will happen. Hollywood also seems to believe in this concept. From the earliest days of the silent era to recent turns such as Enemy and The Double, the concept of personal duplicates has become synonymous with the suspenseful and the sinister. Perhaps that’s why twins are also the subject of so many thrillers. While you can salvage some comedy out of dealing with your biological other, more times than not, the family feud is frightening. Here are 10 of the best examples of human carbon copies in film. Now all of them are up to no good, but for the most part, dealing with replicas almost always results in trouble… big trouble.
#10 – Basket Case
As one of the last great exploitation pictures of the whole sleaze-oid 42nd Street era, Frank Henenlotter’s ode to all things conjoined sees a young man, plagued by his past — literally. You see, our hero Duane Bradley was born with a “thing” attached to his side, and for the last few years he’s been keeping his still-living “brother” in a wicker basket. The pair are out to get revenge on the doctors who separated them. All kinds of nasty, gore-splattered gratuity ensues.
#9 – Start the Revolution Without Me
Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland play two sets of twins in the time of the French Revolution. One pair — Phillipe and Pierre DeSisi — are part of the aristocracy. The other ones — Charles and Claude Coupé — are destitute, and dumb. Spoofing the kind of fancy dress period pieces that were prevalent in the ’60s, this comedy from TV vet Bud Yorkin (who worked with Norman Lear on such groundbreaking sitcoms as All in the Family and Maude) is a bit dated, but still delightful.
#8 – Sisters
After a stint in exploitation and a couple of social commentary comedies, moviemaking maverick Brian De Palma decided to give in and channel his adoration for Alfred Hitchcock in this, his first real thriller. Starring Margot Kidder, the story centers on a pair of twins — one good, one psychologically unbalanced — and what happens to them once the dead bodies start piling up like cordwood. Over the top and cinematically hypnotic, it would become one of De Palma’s many odes to the Master of Suspense.
#7 – A Zed and Two Noughts
Peter Greenaway’s breakout film finds two brothers — Oliver and Oswald Deuce — becoming more and more obsessed with death and decay after a tragic car accident kills both their wives. Working in a zoo, they begin using time-lapse photography to capture various dead creatures as their bodies rot away. When they meet a woman named Venus, it looks like they may have a shot at normalcy. Turns out, she’s mixed up with a surgeon out to alter her body for his own bizarre needs. Truly strange and surreal.
#6 – Dave
Kevin Kline is an average Joe who just so happens to look like the sitting President of the United States. He even gets paid to impersonate him from time to time. When our Commander in Chief suffers a stroke during an extramarital affair, his aides seek Dave out, hoping he can cover for the Leader of the Free World until doctors can figure out what to do. Naturally, our everyman discovers a den of thieves — and some decent people — in the Oval Office.
#5 – Bowfinger
When a down on his luck producer (Steve Martin) decides to direct a low budget movie to save his career, he knows that only a big name superstar (Eddie Murphy) will do. Unfortunately, he can’t pay such a celebrity. So he gets the bright idea of making the film “around” the A-lister, capturing footage of the famous face without him knowing. He also hires a lookalike (Murphy again) to fill in for those moments when the subterfuge can’t or won’t work. One of the late ’90s’ best comedies.
#4 – The Other
Robert Mulligan adapted Tom Tyron’s novel about two disturbed twin brothers living on a farm in 1935. At first, everything seems idyllic, with the boys’ grandmother (Uta Hagen) teaching one of them — Niles (Chris Udvarnoky) — to use his inborn psychic abilities. Along the way, however, items go missing around the house. Then a young playmate winds up dead. Then a neighbor. When a newborn baby goes missing, all eyes focus on the twins, and with good reason. The final revelation remains a shocker.
#3 – Incendies
One of the best movies of 2010 (it was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film that year) offers up a bifurcated story to match its twin leads. A brother and sister must fulfill their mother’s last wishes and venture to the place of her birth in the Middle East. Turns out, their parent was involved, both directly and indirectly, in a brutal civil war, where she was both rebel and refugee. Further discoveries throw the duo’s (and the audience’s) notion about their mom into turmoil.
#2 – Adaptation.
Nicolas Cage is both Charlie and his may-or-may-not-be “imaginary” brother Donald Kaufman in Spike Jonze’s surreal-meta-semi-autobiographical motion picture about the former’s attempts to bring Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief to the big screen. Dramatizing events in the book while showing the screenwriter’s struggles with writer’s block, Kaufman finds the “truth” in the tome while simultaneously upending everything Orlean set out to accomplish. And he does it all with the help of a sibling that kind-of, sort-of, almost really exists.
#1 – Dead Ringers
Fresh off his fantastic deconstruction of the hoary old ’50s schlock classic The Fly, bio-horror pioneer David Cronenberg next decided to adapt Bari Wood’s novel Twins into a fascinating, psychologically-dense effort. A pair of sibling gynecologists (Jeremy Irons) engage in bizarre personal, professional, and sexual behavior, all in an attempt to address their various identity issues. When a famous actress (Geneviève Bujold) comes between them, the duo spirals into a cycle of depression and drug addiction. A triumph of perversion and interpersonal rivalry.