David Cronenberg Had A Different Title For Dead Ringers In Mind

"Dead Ringers" is an undersung gem in David Cronenberg's body of work. It's fairly restrained in onscreen gore (by the director's usual standards anyway) but that's because it's a work of emotional body horror, about a single soul split between two bodies.

Jeremy Irons plays twins Beverly and Elliot Mantle, who both work as gynecologists in Toronto. The two share everything in life — even their romantic relationships, with the more confident Elliot handing off women to his shy younger brother. They become disentangled once Beverly falls for their patient, actress Claire Niveau (Geneviève Bujold), who in turn gets him hooked on drugs. Can the twins survive as individuals?

Irons' work is the most impressive "single actor playing twins" performance I've ever seen, especially since so many of his scenes are with, well, himself. As alike as his characters seem, Irons maintains an individual presence whenever he slips from one part to another and as a result, the twins truly feel like different people. Since the brothers are the film's subject, Cronenberg originally titled his film, "Twins." Why did he change it? Because there was another film due out in 1988 called "Twins," one that couldn't be further from the nightmarish tone of "Dead Ringers."

The other Twins

The other "Twins" was directed by Ivan Reitman, a Canadian director like Cronenberg, but who specialized in comedy, not horror. In Reitman's film, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito played the Benedict twins, Julius and Vincent. Born as the product of a genetics experiment, the two are separated at birth and only reunite 35 years later. They find that their differences aren't just skin-deep: Julius is goodhearted and book-smart, Vincent is a street-smart con man.

Reportedly, Universal executives thought that the absurdity of the premise, that two men as different looking as Schwarzenegger and DeVito could be related, let alone twins, was comedy (and box office) gold. The "Twins" poster shows this absurd juxtaposition up front. The stars stand next to each other with the title hovering above them.

During an interview with Spin in November 1988, just after the release of "Dead Ringers," Cronenberg discussed the film. For "an undisclosed but persuasive sum," he let Reitman and Universal have the title they wanted. So how did he come up with a new one for his movie? "Any title with the word 'Brothers,' 'Sisters,' 'Split,' 'Reflection,' 'Double,' or 'Mirror' was automatically disqualified," Cronenberg says. With those parameters set, he arrived at "Dead Ringers." As he told Spin, it wasn't lost on him that this was his second film with "Dead" in the title.

I'd say things worked out for the best. "Twins" is, truth be told, a rather generic title more befitting Reitman's comedy film. "Dead Ringers" conveys the same point but is more ominous, befitting a psychological drama like Cronenberg's.