Dead Ringers (film)

Dead Ringers is a 1988 Canadian-American psychological thriller film starring Jeremy Irons in a dual role as identical twin gynecologists. David Cronenberg directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Norman Snider. Their script was based on the lives of Stewart and Cyril Marcus and on the novel Twins by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland, a "highly fictionalized" version of the Marcus' story.[4]

Dead Ringers
Dead ringers poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid Cronenberg
Produced byMarc Boyman
David Cronenberg
Written byDavid Cronenberg
Norman Snider
Based onTwins
by Bari Wood
Jack Geasland
Music byHoward Shore
CinematographyPeter Suschitzky
Edited byRonald Sanders
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • September 8, 1988 (1988-09-08) (TIFF)
  • September 23, 1988 (1988-09-23) (United States)
Running time
115 minutes[1]
United States
Budget$13 million[2]
Box office$8 million[3]

The film won numerous honors, including for Irons' performance, and 10 Genie Awards, notably Best Motion Picture. Toronto International Film Festival critics have ranked it among the Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time.


Elliot and Beverly Mantle are twins and gynecologists who jointly operate a highly successful clinical practice in Toronto that specializes in the treatment of female fertility problems. Elliot, the more confident, suave and cynical of the two, seduces women who come to the Mantle Clinic. When he tires of them, the women are passed on to the shy and passive brother Beverly, while the women remain unaware of the substitution. The alpha twin Elliot believes his introvert brother's virginity would likely still be intact were it not for their shared subterfuge.

A famous actress, Claire Niveau, comes to the clinic for her infertility. It turns out that Claire has a "trifurcated cervix", a fascinating rare mutation, which means she probably will never be able to conceive children. Elliot later seduces Claire and is starstruck by the encounter. He wishes his brother to share in it and urges Beverly to sleep with her too (under Elliot's guise). Beverly reluctantly does so but soon becomes emotionally attached to Claire. His possessiveness of Claire upsets the equilibrium between the twins. Overwhelmed, Beverly also begins sharing Claire's abuse of prescription drugs, which he abets through his medicinal authority. Claire, meanwhile, gets increasingly puzzled by her lover/s shifting "subtly schizophrenic" character. On discovering her gynecologist's renowned twinship through a gossiping friend, Claire insists on an introduction. Confronting both brothers at a bar, her suspicions are confirmed when Claire learns that Elliot has been taking sexual advantage of her by impersonating Beverly. Angry and humiliated, she immediately departs and leaves the enamoured Beverly in tears, much to Elliot's surprise. Later, however, she decides to forgive him and continues an exclusive relationship with Beverly.

The twins' established routine is increasingly unbalanced. An obsessed Beverly fails to dissuade Claire from leaving town to work on another film. A misconstrued phone call leaves a fast deteriorating Beverly convinced Claire has betrayed him for another man. This, combined with long-unresolved borderline-incestuous interdependent-twinship issues surfacing, sends Beverly spiraling into clinical depression, more severe prescription drug abuse, and paranoid delusions about "mutant women" with abnormal reproductive organs/genitalia. Beverly seeks out metallurgical artist Anders Wolleck and commissions a set of bizarre "gynecological instruments" for operating on these supposedly mutant women. Beverly prepares to operate on a patient during surgery, revealing his new set of sinister surgical instruments, while his shocked surgical team exchanges horrified glances. Before he can proceed, the drug-addled doctor drops one of the clawed tools on the ground and collapses atop the patient as he scrambles to inhale from her gas mask, to the horror of the surgical team. Both brothers are immediately suspended from practice and put on administrative leave by the hospital board.

With their medical careers on the brink of ruin, Elliot locks Beverly inside the clinic and tries to clean him up, taking pills himself in order to better "synchronize" with Beverly. When Claire returns, Beverly leaves the clinic to be with her. After rekindling his affair and somewhat recovering his sobriety, he is concerned about not having heard from his brother, and goes back to the clinic. There he finds the clinic in shambles and Elliot despondent and thoroughly intoxicated. Their positions have become reversed as Beverly now needs to care for Elliot. Drugged and despairing, they celebrate their mock birthday whilst receding into the solace of a childlike state. They begin re-enacting the surgical roleplay of their childhood (recapitulating the opening scene of them "operating" on a plastic figurine as children) and Elliot volunteers to play patient and be operated upon, so as to “separate the Siamese twins" and allow Beverly to finally live his own independent life. Another opiate shot is given/shared to numb Elliot's pain, then Beverly disembowels him on an examination table with his claw-like surgical tools.

The next morning, Beverly awakens from a nightmare and realises he killed Elliot during their drug-induced delirium. Devastated, he attempts pull himself together, leaves the clinic, and calls Claire on a pay phone. When she answers, Beverly remains silent and leaves the phone. He then walks back into the clinic and dies (possibly from withdrawal/overdose/shock/sorrow or a combination thereof) in Elliot's dead arms.


  • Jeremy Irons as Beverly Mantle / Elliot Mantle
    • Jonathan and Nicholas Haley as young Beverly / Elliot
  • Geneviève Bujold as Claire Niveau
  • Heidi von Palleske as Cary
  • Barbara Gordon as Danuta
  • Shirley Douglas as Laura
  • Stephen Lack as Anders Wolleck
  • Nick Nichols as Leo
  • Lynne Cormack as Arlene
  • Damir Andrei as Birchall
  • Miriam Newhouse as Mrs. Bookman
  • Jill Hennessy as Mimsy
  • Jacqueline Hennessy as Coral
    • (Jill and Jacqueline Hennessy, themselves identical twins, made their film debut as twin escorts)


Jeremy Irons played the two roles of Bev and Elliot Mantle.

Although Dead Ringers closely follows the case of Stewart and Cyril Marcus, director Peter Greenaway notes that Cronenberg queried him about his film A Zed & Two Noughts for two hours before going on to make Dead Ringers eight months later.[5]

In his DVD commentary, Irons claims that Robert De Niro declined playing the Mantles due to his unease with the subject matter and portraying gynecologists, while William Hurt decided to reject the parts because "it is hard enough to play one role".[6] This movie marked the screen debut of actress Jill Hennessy and her twin sister Jacqueline, who play call girls in one scene of the film.

Irons was given two different dressing rooms with two sets of costumes for playing his two characters. However, given the fact that he said "the whole point of the story is you should sometimes be confused as to which is which", he chose to use only one of the rooms and combine different costume items intended for different characters. Irons also developed an "internal way" to portray each character, employing the Alexander technique for "different energy points", giving each character his own appearance.[6]

A second dream scene was also shot which featured a parasitic twin emerging from Beverly's stomach but this sequence was not used in the final cut.[7]

Reboot as TV seriesEdit

On August 18, 2020, Amazon Prime Video gave production a straight-to-series order and Rachel Weisz is set to star in the series.[8]


On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 83% based on 40 reviews, and an average rating of 7.64/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Dead Ringers serves up a double dose of Jeremy Irons in service of a devilishly unsettling concept and commandingly creepy work from director David Cronenberg."[9] Roger Ebert gave the film two and a half stars, writing "it's like a collaboration between med school and a supermarket tabloid", and said it was challenging but interesting for his female friends to view. Ebert also credited Irons for making each twin unique.[10] Variety said Irons portrayed his characters with skill.[11] In The Washington Post, Desson Howe assessed it as "unnerving but also enthralling".[12] For the same paper, Rita Kempley called it "every woman's nightmare turned into a creepy thriller", adding it was "like slowing down to look at a traffic accident, afraid you might see something. It's really sordid stuff that becomes ridiculous, painful, unbelievable and tedious".[13]

It is the favorite Cronenberg film of Korean director Chan-wook Park[14] and was voted for in the 2002 Sight & Sound poll by Lalitha Gopalan.[15] In 1999, Rolling Stone listed Dead Ringers as 95th on their list of "100 Maverick Movies".[16] Total Film placed Dead Ringers 35th on their list of the "50 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time"[17] while Entertainment Weekly placed it 20th on their list of "The 25 scariest movies of all time".[18] It was named one of "The Top 10 'True-Story' Horror Movies of All-time!" by Bloody Disgusting.[19]

In 1993, the Toronto International Film Festival Group compiled a Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time list, with festival director Piers Handling writing a lack of Cronenberg films was significant, and that Dead Ringers and Videodrome divided voters, causing neither to win a place on the list.[20] Dead Ringers afterwards ranked sixth in the 2004 update,[21] and seventh in 2015.[22]


Irons won critics groups' Best Actor awards for Dead Ringers, and when he won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1991 for Reversal of Fortune, he thanked Cronenberg in his acceptance speech.[23]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Chicago Film Critics Association 1989 Best Actor Jeremy Irons Won [24]
Genie Awards 22 March 1989 Best Motion Picture David Cronenberg and Marc Boyman Won [25][26]
Best Direction David Cronenberg Won
Best Adapted Screenplay David Cronenberg and Norman Snider Won
Best Actor Jeremy Irons Won
Best Actress Geneviève Bujold Nominated
Best Editing Ronald Sanders Won
Best Art Direction Carol Spier Won
Best Cinematography Peter Suschitzky Won
Best Costume Design Denise Cronenberg Nominated
Best Score Howard Shore Won
Best Sound Bryan Day, Andy Nelson and Don White Won
Best Sound Editing Terry Burke, Richard Cadger, Wayne Griffin, David Evans and David Giammarco Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association 24 January 1989 Best Director David Cronenberg Won [27]
Best Supporting Actress Geneviève Bujold Won
National Society of Film Critics 9 January 1989 Best Screenplay David Cronenberg 2nd Place [28]
New York Film Critics Circle 15 January 1989 Best Film 3rd Place [29]
Best Actor Jeremy Irons Won

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Dead Ringers (18)". British Board of Film Classification. September 26, 1988. Retrieved November 9, 2014.
  2. ^ Melnyk, George (2004). One Hundred Years of Canadian Cinema. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-3568-X.
  3. ^ "Dead Ringers (1988) - Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 18, 2010.
  4. ^ Maslin, Janet (October 2, 1988). ""Ringers": the Eerier, the Better". The New York Times.
  5. ^ "October 2004 - Online Q&A with director Peter Greenaway". The Plasma Pool. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
  6. ^ a b Mcgue, Kevin (October 7, 2010). "Dead Ringers Review". A Life At The Movies.
  7. ^ Browning, Mark (2007). David Cronenberg: Author or Filmmaker?. Intellect. p. 99. ISBN 9781841501734.
  8. ^ Ausiello, Michael (August 18, 2020). "Gender Swapped Dead Ringers Reboot Set at Amazon; Rachel Weisz to Star". TVLine. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  9. ^ "Dead Ringers (1988)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved July 11, 2019.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (September 23, 1988). "Dead Ringers". Retrieved April 12, 2017.
  11. ^ "Review: 'Dead Ringers'". Variety. December 31, 1987. Retrieved April 12, 2017.
  12. ^ Howe, Desson (September 23, 1988). "Dead Ringers". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 12, 2017.
  13. ^ Kempley, Rita (September 23, 1988). "Dead Ringers". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 12, 2017.
  14. ^ Neil Young's Film Lounge (August 22, 2004). "Park Life".
  15. ^ BFI | Sight & Sound | Top Ten Poll 2002 - How the directors and critics voted
  16. ^ Travers, Peter (December 30, 1999). "100 Years, 100 Maverick Movies". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 12, 2017.
  17. ^ "Shock Horror!". October 10, 2005. Retrieved February 23, 2011.
  18. ^ "The 25 scariest movies of all time". Entertainment Weekly. February 19, 2011. Retrieved February 23, 2011.
  19. ^ "BD Horror News - The Top 10 'True-Story' Horror Movies of All-time!". June 7, 2008. Retrieved February 23, 2011.
  20. ^ Handling, Piers (Fall 1994). "Canada's ten best". Take One. p. 23.
  21. ^ Gravestock, Steve (June 26, 2015). "Essay". Toronto International Film Festival. Archived from the original on July 4, 2016. Retrieved August 28, 2016.
  22. ^ "Atanarjuat voted No. 1 Canadian film of all time". CBC News. April 24, 2015. Retrieved August 29, 2016.
  23. ^ "100 Essential Male Film Performances - The Dark Side". PopMatters. July 28, 2009.
  24. ^ "Chicago Film Critics Awards – 1988–97". Chicago Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on December 17, 2012. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
  25. ^ "Genie Award Nominees 1989". Cinema Canada. February–March 1989. pp. 27–35.
  26. ^ "Dead Ringers". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 11, 2017.
  27. ^ "14th Annual Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards". Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Retrieved April 11, 2017.
  28. ^ Carr, Jay (January 9, 1989). "National Critics Choose 'Lightness'". The Boston Globe. Retrieved April 11, 2017.
  29. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 16, 1988). "'Accidental Tourist' Wins Film Critics' Circle Award". The New York Times. Retrieved April 11, 2017.

External linksEdit