Stories are powerful.
They are some of the most important things there are. They teach us who we are, who we can be, and how to live our lives. For many of us in the United States, the end of 2016 has been a time of profound suffering, and when we are suffering, stories can lift us up, bring us comfort, and strengthen us. Over the past few weeks, I’ve found movies to be particularly helpful. With that being said, I present “Top 10 Geeky Movies For When The World Is Ending And It’s Time To Start The Revolution.”
Full disclosure: my husband and I mainly watch two types of movies: children’s cartoons and franchise action flicks, so that’s what I’m going to be drawing on for this list (“Franchise action flicks?” said my husband. “That’s a pretty fancy way of saying ‘Marvel.’” “Ah,” I said, “but we also saw Ghostbusters. That’s not Marvel.”) And, while we’ve been spending our pre-apocalypse playing a fun game called “Give All Our Money To The Disney Corporation” – they produced six of the ten movies on this list – Disney didn’t give me anything for writing this post other than sweet, sweet movies and movie-related merchandise.
Anyway, to paraphrase Jillian Holtzman, grown-up movies are for dudes.
10. Inside Out
Inside Out is an amazing movie to watch at pretty much any time, but at its surface it doesn’t have much to do with the apocalypse or the revolution. What it is about is processing difficult emotions. I’ve been having a lot of those lately: anger, sadness, fear. You probably have too. Inside Out helps us name them and accept them. It’s good to watch any time you’re going through something difficult; I must have watched it about a dozen times in 2016. It helps.
9. The World’s End
Shaun Of The Dead would have been a great pick, and I’m giving it an honorable mention, but I believe The World’s End is the strongest of Edgar Wright’s Cornetto movies in terms of theme, writing, and overall quality. Besides: the name kind of says it all.
The World’s End is about a group of friends who return to their home town to discover that their friends and family are being replaced by alien ‘blanks.’ They spend the rest of the movie fighting ‘blanks’ in some seriously badass action sequences and eventually defeat the aliens through sheer stubbornness. “It’s no use arguing with you,” says the alien speaker before buggering off and leaving the humans to their own, dubious devices. Also, the world ends. But our main characters survive (more or less) and build new lives in the epilogue. The world’s end is, for some, a new beginning.
8. Captain America: The First Avenger
There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned Nazi-fighting superhero movie for when your country’s being taken over by neo-Nazis IRL. Furthermore, Steve’s personal journey is one many of us can relate to. He starts the film with little going for him other than courage and self-sacrifice, but grows into a true hero. He stays true to his principles even when he becomes powerful, even when he feels like an impostor. Captain Steve Rogers is someone we should all aspire to be like. He reminds us what America’s true values look like, and what they don’t.
Speaking of TFA…
7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
No Star Wars movie would be out of place on this list (well, maybe the Ewok movies but they shouldn’t count). Their themes of resistance and rebellion against fascist autocracy are particularly resonant today.
I chose TFA in particular for some of the same reasons I chose The World’s End. Coruscant is destroyed, but it’s not the end of the movie (seriously, what is it with JJ Abrams and blowing up beloved planets?). Han Solo dies, and it’s not the end of the movie. Finn and Rey both had horrible childhoods that could have made them callous and bitter, but instead they join a generations-long fight for freedom and justice. This is especially resonant in Finn’s case, as a former Storm Trooper. The movie is a reminder that we can survive tragedy and that each of us has the capacity to become a hero. Plus, I think that all of us have a Kylo Ren somewhere in our friends or family.
Home got mediocre reviews when it came out, but I still don’t understand why. It is for sure the best post-apocalyptic kids’ movie since Wall-E, if not even better. Home is the first movie I watched after I learned the election results. I watched it with my daughter. It is the story of a daughter and her mother and the end of the world.
The end of the world is prologue in Home. We watch through the eyes of a well-meaning aliens as the humans of Earth are forcibly removed from their homes and transported to ‘Happy Humansville’ (totally not a concentration camp). The aliens, known as the Boov, have destroyed human civilization without malice or even knowing that what they did was wrong. As the film progresses, we watch Oh, the Boov voiced by Jim Parsons, befriend Tip, a human girl who has been separated from her mother. Through knowing her, he slowly begins to realize what effect the Boov invasion has had on her life. With creativity, empathy, and hope the two change the entire galaxy for the better.
5. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Much like with Star Wars, all of the Hunger Games movies deserve an honorable mention, but Catching Fire is special to me. I chose it for this list because it is the beginning of the rebellion. It is the point in the series where the ‘games’ become more than that: where the players start to look and act beyond the arena in earnest.
The thing that, for me, makes Catching Fire so powerful right now is the story of people who have been pitted against each other by a system that controls and exploits them coming together to wield their righteous anger against that system. At the climax, Katniss turns the table on the Panem elite, directing her weapon not at another player, but at the system itself. In a time when so many of us are focused on levying blame on one another, we need to heed Haymitch’s words and remember who the enemy is.
Ok, Moana probably seems like a break in the pattern, but bare with me. The world doesn’t end in Moana (though it comes close), and nobody fights in a revolution. At its core, though, Moana is a movie about moving beyond one’s comfort zone. In order to save the world, Moana has to break with tradition and leave the island where her people have resided for a thousand years. Maui overcomes anxiety and self-doubt, becoming a selfless hero in the process. Both characters embody courage, and that type of courage is one thing we desperately need.
The themes and story aren’t the only reasons I chose Moana, though. Moana is the first movie on this list to come out after the 2016 election rocked our world. When I saw it for the first time, I was expecting a brief escape from the nightmare around me, but what I got was much more than that. I got a reminder that, even in the darkness, there is still good in the world. Moana is the epitome of feminist princess movies; Moana stands on the shoulders of Belle and Jasmine, Mulan and Tiana. She is both feminine and heroic, and there is no compromise or dichotomy between the two. There doesn’t need to be. Moreover, the film features only characters of color, played by actors of color. That Moana is a major, box office topping motion picture today is evidence that even with everything that’s going on, there are a lot of good people in the world, who can accomplish amazing things when they work together. It illustrates how far we’ve come as a society. And that there’s just no telling how far we’ll go (sorry, I had to).
On that note (no pun intended), Moana is also the only musical on this list, and it’s a proven fact that singing makes people feel better(1). So find the music, learn the lyrics, and rock out. I sure as hell have and it’s the only thing that keeps me going some days. Also, since they were composed by the same person, some of the melodies in Moana remind me of Hamilton, which is only not on this list because it is not a movie (yet).
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Without going too deep into spoilers, suffice it to say that for those of us in the USA, this movie has been a little too real as of late.
…what with the bad guys we thought we got rid of at the end of World War II showing up again, infiltrating the government and messing everything up, not being able to trust anyone, the best friend brainwashed by Russians, leadership acting like nothing’s wrong even though it clearly is, I could go on and on.
Thomas Paine wrote, “THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman,”(2) leading some critics to posit that the true ‘winter soldier’ of the film is not Barnes, but Rogers, who stands steadfastly for his country even when everything is going to hell. I’ll say it again: we should all aspire to be like Captain Steve Rogers. It’s going to be a long winter.
2. Rogue One
…I assume. I haven’t actually seen it yet, but from what I hear it’s everything we need right now, and might just be the second best movie ever for starting a rebellion and fighting the evil empire when everything seems hopeless. There’s only one movie that does it better.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
This film is pure perfection. It’s got everything. Apocalypse: check. Revolution: check. Baddies that are larger than life but seem a little too real in our current political climate: check and check. The desolate landscapes that are showcased so beautifully are a perfect mirror for the desolation of my soul following the election, and the characters perfectly express the pain and rage I’ve been feeling and continue to feel.
And yet. And yet it is still a story of heroes. A story of hard choices in desperate situations, of horror and violence, of unspeakable loss, but, ultimately of defiance, rebellion, and justice. It teaches us that we are stronger than we know, better than we know, that we can find allies in unexpected places, and that, ultimately, even long after the world has ended, we still have the power to build a better society.