Since its initial release, Starship Troopers has amassed a cult following. But what other films can its die-hard fans look to for inspiration?
Since its initial release, Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 intergalactic war film Starship Troopers, a satire on jingoistic nationalism, the military war machine, and fascism’s temptations has gained a devoted cult following among sci-fi fans. During their interstellar conflict with an alien species of giant insects known as the “Arachnids,” the Mobile Infantry’s Johnny Rico (a square-jawed Casper Van Dien) rises through the ranks.
However, Starship Troopers is an entertaining, special effects-heavy, blood-spattered space saga. However, it’s a film that benefits from repeated viewings. Fortunately for Starship Troopers fans, there are a plethora of other films that make use of sci-fi conventions to explore contemporary themes. The following list of ten sci-fi classics features both action and social commentary in equal measure.
1. RoboCop (1987)
Paul Verhoeven directed the groundbreaking sci-fi action film Robocop a full ten years before he made Starship Troopers. A police officer (Peter Weller, with a jaw to rival Casper Van Dien’s) is assassinated by a gang of thugs in Detroit in the near future, only for him to be revived as a superhuman crime-fighting machine by Omni Consumer Products, an all-seeing and all-powerful megacorporation.
Like Starship Troopers, RoboCop is a darkly comic action film with plenty of brutality and violence. Infusing satirical elements into the film, Verhoeven takes aim at issues as diverse as capitalism, law enforcement corporatization, and even free will and the concept of an individual identity.
2. Total Recall (1990)
Total Recall, another Verhoeven film, is a loose adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, which has the brilliant title. Instead of having to go on a real vacation, people can pay to have memories of fantasy vacations implanted into their brains, as depicted in the movie.
Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger at his peak) is a down-and-out construction worker who decides to take a vacation as a secret agent on Mars. Quaid is revealed to be a former secret agent in an alternate reality in which the procedure doesn’t work as expected.
To put it simply, Total Recall is a Starship Troopers-inspired sci-fi classic from the 1990s with a twist ending that will have you rethinking everything you thought you knew about the story.
3. The Running Man (1987)
While not starring Arnold, 1987’s The Running Man takes place in a dystopian future America where a totalitarian regime rules and criminals are forced to compete in a state-run game show called “The Running Man” for their lives. The story revolves around a police officer (Schwarzenegger) who is falsely accused of a crime and forced to compete in the Running Man. The film is based on a Stephen King novel (written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman).
It’s not quite as good as the Verhoeven films on this list, but it’s still a good sci-fi action film that pokes fun at our culture’s obsession with reality TV.
4. Edge Of Tomorrow (2014)
Starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow looks like the offspring of Groundhog Day and Starship Troopers. As a result of an invasion by an extraterrestrial race, Major William Cage (Cruise) a public relations officer is forced into combat. Following an apparent death in battle, Cage is stuck in a time loop, waking up the next day as if nothing ever happened. He joins forces with Blunt’s character, an elite member of the Special Forces, and the two work to find a way to end the alien threat once and for all.
By using a clever script and engaging performances from its two leads, Edge of Tomorrow successfully transcends sci-fi action film tropes.
5. Alien (1979)
Numerous sequels to Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror classic Alien have attempted to match the film’s claustrophobia, but none have been able to do so. Unlike earlier sci-fi films like Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien portrays outer space as a terrifying place reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft.
“Alien” is about a murderous extraterrestrial creature that the crew of the spaceship “Nostromo” encounters as it returns to Earth from the depths of space. Weaver’s breakthrough performance elevates a straightforward story with a tense score, horrifying creature design and brilliant direction. Not only did Alien successfully blend the horror and sci-fi genre conventions, but it can also be considered the first great feminist sci-fi film.
6. Equilibrium (2002)
Even though Kurt Wimmer’s dystopian sci-fi film Equilibrium from 2002 isn’t trying to hide its influences, it’s still a thought-provoking and visually arresting action film nonetheless.
One part Fahrenheit 451, one part Nineteen Eighty-Four, the film is set in a dystopian future in which an authoritarian government views human emotion as the root cause of all war and has thus banned it. Citizens are given drugs to suppress their emotions on a daily basis, and specially trained law enforcement officers hunt down and execute those found guilty of committing “sense crimes,” such as reading poetry or literature or feeling love. The morality of an officer’s actions is called into question when he (Christian Bale) misses one of his daily injections.
7. District 9 (2009)
Neill Blomkamp’s Academy Award-nominated film District 9 is set in an alternate reality in which aliens have invaded Johannesburg, South Africa, and deals with complex issues of racism and xenophobia. It also makes comments on the country’s history of racial segregation during the apartheid era. Like Starship Troopers and RoboCop, District 9 is an entertaining action film that also happens to be a biting social critique at the same time. District 9
Elysium (2013) and Chappie (2015), directed by Blomkamp, rehashed District 9 themes, but lacked the gritty inventiveness that made the first film so memorable for its audience.
8. Dredd (2012)
When Sylvester Stallone starred as the titular law enforcement officer in 1995’s Judge Dredd film adaptations, fans were treated to a vision of the future dystopia in which Stallone patrols Mega-City One as a judge, jury, and executioner for any unfortunate criminals he comes across. Because it failed to capture the satirical tone of the source material, the 1995 film failed both critically and financially.
However, fans of Paul Verhoeven-style action sci-fi will enjoy the 2012 remake.
In the 2012 remake, Karl Urban plays the title character and Olivia Thirlby plays his psychic sidekick, with a script written by Alex Garland, who also wrote and directed the excellent sci-fi film Ex Machina (2015). Together, they’ll have to take on the 200-story slum tower block where drug lord “Ma-Ma” (Game of Thrones star Lena Headey) has barricaded herself.
9. Videodrome (1983)
Cronenberg’s surreal sci-fi classic from the early 1980s centers on Canadian TV executive Max Renn (James Woods), who, in an effort to boost his ratings, creates and airs an obscenely violent show called “Videodrome”.
In addition to authoritarianism, consumerism, and the power of television and the media, Videodrome also deals with hallucinatory body horror, which is a trademark of David Cronenberg’s work. Videodrome is a must-see for fans of weird sci-fi films and features some truly unique visuals as well as a great early James Woods performance.
10. Mars Attacks! (1996)
Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! is more of a straight comedy than a sci-fi film, and it will appeal to those who enjoyed Starship Troopers for its more comedic elements.
Following mankind’s bumbling attempts to fight off Martian invaders, the film is influenced by Ed Wood’s pulpy low budget 1950s sci-fi films with a large ensemble cast including Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Danny Devito, Michael J Fox and even Tom Jones. Since its debut, Mars Attacks! has been frequently referenced in pop culture, making it a must-see for Starship Troopers fans.