Twins are genetically duplicate siblings. This is a real world phenomenon and not an inherently fantastic one. In cinema however there are a number of fantastic variants on the theme.
The most frequent of these variants is the good twin/evil twin theme, which plays out usually in a series of psycho-thrillers usually involving masquerade and identity swapping/theft.
Another common theme is the (real world) belief that twins share a psychic connection – a number of films feature twins that display unusual mental abilities or at least are able to intuitively communicate.
Good Twin/Evil Twin
The most common of twin themes is the good twin/evil twin trope, which usually involves games of identity confusion, theft and masquerade. A number of films involve plots in which one twin leads a good and upstanding life before the other twin, who may have been psychiatrically incarcerated or that the good twin did not know about, reappears and takes over their life and/or starts stalking them and those around them.
Examples of this story include Among the Living (1941), The Dark Mirror (1946), Dead Ringer (1964), The Ninth Confirguration (1979), The Initiation (1984), The Mark of Cain (1985), Scissors (1991), Gemini (1999), Alone with a Stranger (2000), The Tiger’s Tale (2006), The Absent (2011) and House of Mirrors (2012). It was played for comic effect in Ernest Goes to Jail (1990) and as part of an incomprehensible scheme in Southland Tales (2006). One variant on this was the Hammer film Twins of Evil (1971) where one of the twins becomes a vampire.
The games of masquerade were used with unique effect in The Prestige (2006) where part of stage magician Christian Bale’s creation of an apparent teleportation effect involved the use of a twin. In Whispers (1990), twins are revealed as the explanation of how a man can be killed but reported alive at the same time, while a similar twist appears the Cyberpunk film Chrysalis (2007), while in Rocktober Blood (1984), a twin is part of the eventual rationalised explanation as to why an executed killer is seemingly returned and killing again. Meridian (1990) concerns twin brothers afflicted with a werewolf transformation curse.
Another variant on this came with The Other (1972) featuring two twin boys before a twist ending that revealed that one of the twins was dead and existed only in the living twin’s mind. Variants on the imaginary twin twist have appeared in Sisters (1973), Alone (2007), The Absent, Seeing Heaven (2010) and Goodnight Mommy (2014).
The definitive work about twin psychology – and almost certainly the work that killed further cliches about good and bad twins – was David Cronenberg’s masterpiece Dead Ringers (1988) with Jeremy Irons giving a tour-de-force as twin brothers who descend into an obsession with gynaecology, drug addiction and sexual fetishism.
Twin Psychic Links
A frequent other theme in fantastic cinema is the belief that twins share a psychic connection, although no proof of this has ever been demonstrated in the real world beyond anecdotal stories.
A number of films feature twins that display unusual mental abilities or at least the ability to intuitively communicate. Examples of psychic twins include Cassandra (1987), Jack’s Back (1988), When the Bough Breaks (1995), I Know Who Killed Me (2007), Under the Mountain (2009), Hereafter (2010) and The Forest (2016).
The most notable example of this was Seconds Apart (2011) featuring malevolent twins with considerable ability of psychic control over others.
One strange variant was the Kurt Vonnegut adaptation Slapstick of Another Kind (1982) in which two imbecilic twins prove to be alien geniuses when together.
Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire (2017) features a twin brother and sister who share empathic links to a dragon but are on opposing sides of a conflict. Also to be included here might be the miniature twin sisters that appear in Mothra (1962) and have a psychic ability to control the creature.
Conjoined (or Siamese twins) are less popular, although examples can be found in Sisters and Alone in which the seperated twin lives on in the other twin’s imagination. In Accion Mutante (1993), The Bride with White Hair (1993), The City of Lost Children (1995) and Hellraiser: Bloodlines (1996), they are freakish villains.
In Big Fish (2003) and tv’s American Horror Story: Freakshow (2014-5), conjoined twins appear as players in circuses. The classic Freaks (1932) featured real-life conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton among its parade of actual physical deformities.
Frank Henenlotter made the darkly funny cult classic Basket Case (1982) and sequels Basket Case 2 (1990) and Basket Case 3/Basket Case 3: The Progeny (1991) about an average guy who keeps his severed conjoined twin alive in a basket – a hideously deformed and murderous figure that exists only as a torso and a pair of arms.
The theme of the unborn twin coming to haunt the still living twin can be found in films such as Three … Extremes (2004), Solstice (2008), The Unborn (2009), Ju-on: Girl in Black (2009) and Let Her Out (2016), and possibly in The Dark Half (1993).
Jonathan (2018) is an SF film about two brothers that live in the same body and is essentially a split personality film. The Shuttered Room (1967) and Bethany (2017) feature maddened twins locked up in the attic/cellar.
The comedy Wonder Man (1944) has Danny Kaye guided by the ghost of his murdered twin brother to masquerade as him and give evidence at a trial.
What Happened to Monday (2017) features septuplet sisters all masquerading as the one person in a dystopian future that mandates that parents can only have one child.
Nocturne (2020) concerns the rivalry between two twin sisters at a music school where one gets an occult text that appears to give her an advantage.
One can also not go without mentioning Twins (1988) with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito cast as mismatched clone twins, a charming comedy based on the two actors’ mismatched physiques.
Twin Creative Talents
While on the theme it may be worth simply noting several twin teams that work as directorial talents (although none of the films listed in this section are actually about twins). These might include:-
– John and Roy Boulting, the British duo who made Seven Days to Noon (1950) and Twisted Nerve (1968)
– Danny and Oxide Pang, the Thai brothers who made The Eye (2002) and sequels, among a host of other films both together and individually including Re-Cycle (2006), The Messengers (2007), Storm Warriors (2009) and The Child’s Eye (2010)
– Mark and Michael Polish who work as a creative team with Michael usually directing and Mark writing and starring with the likes of Northfork (2003), The Astronaut Farmer (2006), Amnesiac (2014) and Hot Bot (2016)
– Mark and John Polonia who have been making very low-budget horror films since the 1980s, which are regarded as notoriously bad, including the likes of Splatter Farm (1987), Hellspawn (1993), Feeders (1996), Splatter Beach (2007) and Forest Primeval (2008), among others. Following John’s death in 2008, Mark has continued a prodigious output on his own, which numbers over fifty films between them
– Stephen and Timothy Quay, makers of a number of surrealist shorts and the full-length films Institute Benjamenta; or This Dream People Call Human Life (1994) and The PianoTuner of Earthquakes (2005)
– Jen and Sylvia Soska, the Canadian sisters responsible for Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2010), American Mary (2012), See No Evil 2 (2016) and Rabid (2019), who also make frequent cameos in their own and others films
- The Other (1972)
- Sisters (1973)
- Basket Case (1982)
- Dead Ringers (1988)
- Twins (1988)
- Gemini (1999)
- Alone with a Stranger (2000)
- Seconds Apart (2011)
- Goodnight Mommy (2014)
A full list of titles can be found here Twins