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The Biggest Grift Is Having (at Least) Two Movies Made About You

A slew of recent grifters and hackers are getting their stories told twice, or in the case of the GameStop saga, three times. But why is Hollywood obsessed with duelpics?

The stonks are going to Hollywood. Three weeks after Reddit’s r/wallstreetbets short squeezed hedge funds, three film adaptations of the stock market snafu are already in the works. MGM scooped up the rights to journalist Ben Mezrich’s book proposal. Yes, proposal. The man jokingly tweeted a longline and four days later sold his book that hasn’t even been written. A few days later, Netflix began finalizing a deal with the Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) to write a film, starring former internet boyfriend Noah Centineo. And just last week, HBO threw their gamer headset into the ring with a movie from Billions co-creator Andrew Ross Sorkin.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only real-life story hitting screens multiple times. We’re on the precipice of several dueling biopics — duelpics? Shonda Rhimes and Lena Dunham are both working on Anna Delvey tales, while Kate McKinnon and Jennifer Lawrence will star as Elizabeth Holmes — aka the Theranos lady — in separate projects. There are also two WeWork dramas in the works, one starring Nicholas Braun (aka Succession’s Cousin Greg aka Sky High baddie) as the infamous coworking space’s co-founder Adam Neumann. Meanwhile, Apple greenlit the TV series WeCrashed, starring Jared Leto as the We guy and Anne Hathaway as his We wife. Unfortunately, we will watch all these contending adaptations.

In an era where there’s too much content, it’s odd that so many real-life tales are being told twice, especially when we could just look at a book or news article and read all about it right now. But scammers and hackers will ultimately get the last laugh because there’s simply no bigger grift than having your sensational story bought, sold and told twice. 

Twin films are a storied phenomenon in Hollywood, dating back to 1934 when two Catherine the Great biopics premiered. There’s perhaps no bigger example than Armageddon’s 1998 space race against Deep Impact. Why would two film studios compete for the same audience when they could each come out with different stories for different audiences? The answer, like all things business, is capitalism. “It’s an arms race. Who can do it best and, really, who can get there first?” says box office expert Paul Dergarabedian

It’s common to see fairytales and classic books told twice by famous auteurs, too. Think of it as the World Series, but for dude directors flapping their wings of masculinity. Jon Favreau and Andy Serkis both released live-action, CGI adaptations of Jungle Book — Favreau’s came out first in 2016 and garnered higher praise than Serkis’ 2018 offering. In 2018, there was also Snow White and the Huntsman vs. Mirror Mirror. Do you want Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart in the former or Julia Roberts and Lily Collins in the latter? Most audiences chose Theron and K-Stew. 

It’s rarer, however, to see competing biopics. “Famously, Stanley Kubrick had Napoleon in the works, but then there was that De Laurentiis movie that flopped, Waterloo,” Dergarabedian says. “So they decided not even to make the movie.” 

Sometimes the rivalry is due to timing. Historical events happen, and naturally more than one studio is going to want to adapt it. To avoid copycatting, the films’ genres might differ: In 2012, Kathryn Bigelow retold the assassination of Osama bin Laden (who died the year prior) through the eyes of a fictional CIA agent in Zero Dark Thirty. National Geographic Channel, however, opted for an ensemble action flick with their version, SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden

Some directors will wait and hope the first duelpic flops. Just ask Aaron Sorkin: In 2013, Ashton Kutcher starred as Apple’s co-founder in the long-forgotten film Jobs. Sorkin’s version came two years later and garnered him a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay. “If it’s a theatrical play, it’s hard to get one person — let alone the populous — to see two movies about the same situation in a very short timeframe,” Dergarabedian explains. 

That’s why, with streaming services proliferating, we’re bound to see even more duelpics. If anything, it’s already starting. In 2019, two Fyre Festival documentaries premiered on Hulu and Neflix. In the streaming era, hitting the zeitgeist is perhaps more important than ratings, so some networks now embrace duelpics to hold onto the talking stick with a narrative film and a complimentary documentary — the former gives you emotional intensity, while the latter is a follow-up to explain what you just saw. Both garner ratings for the company. 

This occurred in 2019 when Netflix premiered both Zac Efron’s portrayal of Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile just a few months after a documentary on the serial killer. “It’s not as heavy of a lift for the audience to watch both in terms of time, money and resources,” Dergarabedian says of streaming duelpics. So, get used to the duelpic takeover — we’ll surely be force-fed more than one COVID-19 retelling. Hell, we’ve already seen several and the pandemic isn’t even over. 

As for our grifters about to hit the big and small screens, at least they’ve succeeded in having us all remember their name. Anna Delvy is in Rikers Island prison serving four to 12 years for a slew of larceny and fraud charges. Soon enough, however, she might end up in the National Film Registry.

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