Ever heard of the expression “you’re your own worst enemy”? Well, in director Jordan Peele’s new horror movie, Us, the idiom is taken to a literal level when a seemingly average American family encounter a group of strangers that look just like them. Except their doubles have creepy grins. They wear blood-red jumpsuits and fingerless gloves. And each wields a pair of large, golden scissors…

Doppelgängers – which translates literally to “double goer” or “double walker” in German – are a familiar trope in fiction. We have encountered them as changelings in medieval folklore. In the contemporary world of comics, Bizarro, the mirror image of Superman, is a modern doppelgänger. Here are five films about fearsome facsimiles – if looks could kill, these impostors would massacre!

1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

You snooze, you lose, Donald Sutherland. Credit: IMDB

We begin our list with this landmark horror movie, which, without giving too much away, shares similar themes with Us. This remake of the 1956 sci-fi classic of the same name depicts an alien takeover of San Francisco, with humans being replaced by clones devoid of emotion. The Philip Kaufman-directed film stars Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy and Jeff Goldblum. It is best remembered by horror fans for its twist ending, which, according to Kaufman, was kept secret to almost everyone involved in production, including the actress in that scene, Veronica Cartwright. (Us, by the way, has a similarly shocking conclusion).

Another piece of legacy left behind by this film was the iconic shriek emitted by the eponymous body snatchers when they saw a surviving human. Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt created it by combining many sounds, including a pig’s squeal. The doppelgängers in Us just grunt and growl, but as we mentioned, they all wear crimson onesies and carry sinister-looking scissors, so they’re pretty easy to tell apart from the real humans.

Eagle-eyed fans of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers may spot Kevin McCarthy, who played protagonist Dr. Miles Bennell in the earlier film, as a man screaming “They’re coming!” to passing cars, and the original film’s director, Don Siegel, as a taxi driver. In Us, Peele himself allegedly makes a cameo (read on to find out who – or what – he plays). Hailed as one of the “greatest remakes ever made” by entertainment magazine Rolling Stone, the second film adaptation of Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers was succeeded by two more remakes, Body Snatchers (1993) and The Invasion (2007), with a third in the works by Warner Bros.

The invader in this next movie is not from outer space, but from another universe altogether…

2. The One

Why are you hitting yourself, Jet Li? Credit: IMDB

“What if there was a killer travelling through parallel universes and he looked just like you?” asks The One‘s trailer voiceover. That is the barmy premise of director James Wong’s 2001 film, written by him and former The X-Files scribe Glen Morgan.

The 2001 sci-fi action-adventure sees martial-arts legend Jet Li pulling double duty as both Los Angeles police officer Gabriel Law and his murderous alternate-universe counterpart, Gabriel Yulaw. Yulaw has killed 123 versions of himself in other universes to absorb their life energies and eventually become an immortal god-like being known as The One.

With Law as the last surviving alternate self, they are both equal in speed, strength and mental ability. Teaming up with interdimensional cop Funsch (Jason Statham), Law has to take down the power-hungry Yulaw and save the multiverse, before he becomes the 124th victim.

This cult classic originally had Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the lead role, but the wrestling star dropped out to star in The Mummy Returns instead. For martial arts aficionados: Li’s characters adopt distinct fighting styles: baddie Yulaw uses the very linear, offensive Xingyi Quan, while good guy Law practices the circular, open-palmed Bagua Zhang. The One boasted Li’s trademark fighting and stuntwork, choreographed by frequent Li collaborator and The Transporter (also starring Statham) director Corey Yuan, as well as bullet-time (a visual effect pioneered by The Matrix) special effects. Scenes involving Li fighting himself were shot using a stunt double. The stuntman’s face was painted green so that it could be digitally replaced with Li’s face later.

Li’s Law isn’t the only fictional law enforcer fighting his mirror image. In the next film on our list, John Travolta plays a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who finds himself in a…

 

3. Face/Off 

Nicolas Cage (left) and John Travolta play sworn enemies on opposite sides of the law who assume each other’s identities. Credit: IMDB

In John Woo’s 1997 blockbuster, Travolta is FBI Special Agent Sean Archer, a man with a personal vendetta against mad terrorist Castor Troy, played by Nicolas Cage. After a successful bust that lands Troy in a coma, Archer undergoes an experimental face-transplant procedure to take on Troy’s appearance and voice, in order to gain information from Troy’s brother and accomplice Pollux (Alessandro Nivola).

Bad idea, because Troy then wakes up and forces the doctor who performed the operation to transplant Archer’s face onto him. With this switcheroo complete, the two arch-enemies infiltrate each other’s families and organisations, while trying to bring their opponent down.

Face/Off was a commercial hit, grossing US$245 million worldwide as the 11th highest-grossing film of 1997.

Face/Off is not the smartest action flick, not by a long shot (you can watch a cynical dissection in the video below), but it is possibly the most absurdly entertaining, with two of Hollywood’s hammiest actors at the time playing each other’s roles and delivering scenery-chewing lines.

This movie proved prescient – 13 years after its release, the world’s first full face transplant was performed in Spain, with a shooting-accident victim receiving a new mug from a donor. The medical procedure in the following title has not been done yet, at least, to our knowledge…

 

4. Moon (2009)

Sam Rockwell’s astronaut is beside himself when he discovers he has a clone. Credit: IMDB

It is sometime in the near future. Man has colonised the moon and mega-corporation Lunar Industries has built a facility there to mine alternative fuel. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the lone human overseeing the operation onsite, with an artificial intelligence named GERTY (Kevin Spacey) keeping him company.

Two weeks before the end of his three-year work contract, he begins to experience hallucinations and during one of them, gets into an accident that renders him unconscious. Upon awakening, he returns to the accident site and discovers a doppelgänger. Who’s the real Sam Bell? Is one of them a clone? Are both of them clones? And why is one of them mysteriously coughing up blood?

That is the premise of Moon, the 2009 feature debut of director and story writer Duncan Jones, who later went on to helm Source Code, another mind-bending sci-fi flick, and fantasy epic Warcraft. After a well-received premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, the indie flick went on to make US$9.76 million worldwide.

The movie was also warmly received by the scientific community – at a screening at NASA’s Space Centre Houston, an audience member revealed she was coincidentally working on one of the technologies depicted on the film, and the film ranked No. 3 on the relevance list of the Cognitive Science Movie Index, a ranking of the top brain science movies of all time.

So far, no full human beings have been cloned. But in January last year, two monkey clones were created in a Chinese lab using the technique that produced Dolly the sheep. For the final (and arguably most well-regarded and iconic) film on our list, we return to San Francisco to meet a human duplicate that can evoke the feeling of…

 

5. Vertigo

James Stewart hangs around with Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece. Credit: IMDB

Cited as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best works and based on the 1954 novel D’entre Les Morts (From Among The Dead), Vertigo tells the tragic tale of John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart). A retired police detective with a fear of heights, Scottie is tasked with tailing his friend’s wife, who is behaving strangely.

As Scottie tails his mark, Madeleine (Kim Novak), through the streets and art galleries of San Francisco, he discovers she is the living impression of a dead woman named Carlotta Valdes. He also realises he’s falling for her and they begin a whirlwind romance. After a horrific event befalls Madeleine, Scottie is struck with grief and guilt. Until one day he notices a woman who resembles her. A woman whom he can seduce all over again and remake in his previous lover’s spitting image. Little does he know the awful truth…

Hitchcock’s 1958 film was released to mixed reviews, but it did get two Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction – Black-and-White or Colour and Best Sound. Years later, it went through a critical re-evaluation and has since been regarded in a better light. In 1989, Vertigo was recognised as a “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant” film by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

In 2005, it came in second (to mob drama Goodfellas) in movie magazine Total Film‘s book, 100 Greatest Movies of All Time. In 2008, a poll by film magazine Empire of readers, actors, and critics named it the 40th greatest movie ever made. Featuring great performances from Stewart and Novak, an Ouroboros-like score from Bernard Herrmann, and a devastating ending in which Scottie finally loses his acrophobia, along with everything else, Vertigo is a film worth watching twice… or more times!

Hitchcock was also notable for making cameos in his movies – 39 of his 52 surviving films, to be exact. In Vertigo, he walks down a street carrying a trumpet case, which you can watch above.

Us director Peele also cameos in his own films, albeit in voice roles. For Get Out, his directorial debut which won him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 2018, he voices a dying deer and a United Negro College Fund narrator. In Us, he claims he voices another wounded critter – we won’t tell you what, but you can find out in this interview.

Peele’s second film has, at the time of writing, a 97 per cent critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It also stars Black Panther alumni Lupia Nyong’o and Winston Duke as the Wilsons, the parents of two young kids who find themselves being hunted by another family that look just like them. Who are their creepy counterparts, known as “The Tethered”? Where did they come from? And what do they do to their victims with the aforementioned golden scissors?

You’ll have to watch Us to find out – just leave your evil twin at home.

Sources: Golden Village, IMDB, Bustle, Movieclips, Hollywood Reporter, Rolling Stone, YouTubePopMatters, ShortListCinemaSins, The Guardian, Popular MechanicsLiveScience, Sony Pictures ClassicsBBC, Total Film, Empire, Vanity Fair, Fandango All Access, Rotten Tomatoes, Universal Pictures

 

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