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Normal years would see a lot of big-budget summer blockbusters to try and draw people to the multiplexes. All kinds of films would be revived and remade in the future, with comic book characters and other pop culture icons starring in them. Due to the fact that there aren’t any new movies playing in theaters right now (due to the fact that there aren’t any open at all), we can only look back.
The Disney superhero comedy Sky High from 2005, which starred big names like Kurt Russell and Lynda Carter as well as up-and-comers like Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Steven Strait, celebrates its 15th anniversary this week. As a result, it was released a year or two before the true superhero craze took hold in the film industry. Though it may have drawn some inspiration from Harry Potter, the cartoonish tale of students attending a special high school for superheroes was drenched in retro comic book tropes, which stood in stark contrast to more somber movies like Batman Begins.
Since superhero movies didn’t exist before Sky High, it feels like the film was poking fun at them by focusing on the tropes and tribulations of subsequent superpower-centered films. Even though it didn’t happen onscreen, it feels like it was foreshadowing a time when superheroes would truly rule the skies.
Not only Sky High, but a slew of other genre films were released too soon to garner a devoted following until they were released on home video. This list includes 12 films (including Sky High) that took action before the world was prepared.
Blade Runner (1982)
As long as you showed up, 1982 was a good year for science fiction in mainstream cinema. That was, of course, Blade Runner’s initial problem. Blade Runner was the stuff of cult fandoms, even though it was Ridley Scott’s follow-up to Alien, pairing him with the already hugely popular Harrison Ford (fresh off of his roles as Han Solo and Indiana Jones).
It was a striking adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story, as the hardened Rick Deckard tries to find a handful of replicants in the bleak future of Los Angeles, circa… 2019 in a blend of science fiction and neo-noir.
The future may not be what was envisioned back then, but it’s certainly better now than it was then.
It’s hard to believe that Blade Runner’s dystopian vision of a city dominated by billboards, diverse cultures coexisting in a vast metropolis, and video technology was so far ahead of its time nearly 40 years ago.
The Thing (1982)
Some films gain resonance over time, while others do so due to circumstances beyond their control. Imagine a movie like The Thing, a 1982 remake of the classic horror/sci-fi film from the 1950s, in which a remote outpost is attacked by a mysterious alien with the ability to imitate anything…
You have to admire a horror film’s raw power when everyone is at risk of being infected by something unseen and debilitating. Oh yeah… they’re all also locked in.
Other horror films have tried to emulate The Thing’s gut-wrenching thrills, but it has only gotten more resonant with time. Even though the gloomy horror film isn’t enjoyable to watch right now, its foresight into how quickly people turn against one another in the face of unspeakable horror is unnerving nonetheless.
Prescient visions of the future can have difficulties gaining traction with the general public; in the case of Brazil, the problem was gaining traction with the production company. Robert de Niro and Bob Hoskins starred in Terry Gilliam’s black comedy from 1985. The film was awarded by the LA Film Critics Association after Gilliam arranged for them to see it before Universal ever scheduled its release date. However, Universal Pictures appeared steadfastly unwilling to release the film until Gilliam publicly called it out in the industry trades.
Brazil would have made a splash only in home media if it hadn’t been for a series of shortened versions. And 35 years later, its portrayal of a future dominated by corporate doublespeak, endless paperwork, and crushing soullessness feels eerily prescient. It’s a pity Gilliam’s vision wasn’t realized in its entirety at the start.
Return to Oz (1985)
A grim, gritty re-imagining of a familiar world by a major film studio in the 2010s has become almost all too common. In Hollywood today, reboots and revivals are the only way to stay relevant. However, in the mid-1980s, despite widespread adoration for The Wizard of Oz, many people were unconvinced by Return to Oz.
With Dorothy (Fairuza Balk) returning to Oz just seconds before receiving electroshock therapy in Oscar-winning sound editor Walter Murch’s sequel, the film doesn’t hold back in its brutality.
It’s available to watch right now on Disney+, and you might wonder if it would have done better with audiences in the era before intellectual property laws were put in place.
They Live (1988)
Possibly, you’ve heard of They Live from the legendary all-out brawl involving Rowdy Roddy Piper and Keith David. A simple duel between two men in an alley is all that is required in some fight scenes.) However, in the last three decades, this John Carpenter sci-fi horror film has grown in awe-inspiring significance.
As a country, it sees a country where most people conform due to the abundance of hidden messages in all kinds of products, advertisements, and more. This vision has only gotten stronger over the last 30 years as people have shown overwhelming loyalty to corporate symbols. You may come to see the fight scene, but They Live’s social commentary will stay with you long after the action has ended.
The Rocketeer (1991)
Studios flocked to the superhero genre after the release of 1989’s Batman. When Disney released The Rocketeer in the summer of 1991, it took a big risk and didn’t get much in return… except for one of its best live-action films, of course.
Unfortunately, The Rocketeer couldn’t compete at the box office with other popular films like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and T2: Judgment Day.
Its vision of superhero culture in the ’30s harkens back to old-fashioned serials as much as it does to Indiana Jones and the Back to the Future movies. That being said, The Rocketeer also served as a prelude to the MCU version of Steve Rogers, whose innate good will and old-fashioned values would be established in Marvel’s first Captain America film by director Joe Johnston.
However, Cliff Secord from The Rocketeer was the first true all-American hero.
Mars Attacks! (1996)
When they’re first released, some films are way off the wall. Mars Attacks!, a 1996 science fiction comedy film directed by Tim Burton and starring a large ensemble cast, is a good example.
Although the story takes place in the present day, the film has a lot in common with 1950s B-movie schlock. While Mars Attacks! came out just months after the summer blockbuster Independence Day, it felt like a timely parody, but one that was just a little too weird to really connect with the intended audience.
Even Burton couldn’t have imagined how timely his gaudy portrayal of American culture as being so self-absorbed and media-saturated is now. That doesn’t make the film an appealing portrayal of human culture, but then… maybe we don’t anymore.
Andrew Niccol, the author of the critically acclaimed The Truman Show, had a different vision for the near future when he wrote Gattaca. Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and a young Jude Law starred in the dark sci-fi drama, which also featured an impressive ensemble cast. The film depicted a future in which the quality of a person’s character is largely determined by their genetic make-up.
A janitor with aspirations of exploring outer space is played by Hawke, but his bad genes will prevent him from doing so until he works with Law’s wheelchair-bound invalid (who has perfect genes) to help him achieve his goal. The notion that people are obsessed with their physical appearance (and denigrate those with inferior qualities) has not diminished in the new century, despite the fact that the majority of the scientific theories presented here feel like hooey.
Dark City (1998)
A year after the cult hit The Crow, director Alex Proyas shifted gears to make the darkly surreal 1998 science fiction noir Dark City. However, while filmmakers love to do this kind of genre mashup, audiences didn’t seem to think so.
At the center of this disturbing drama is amnesiac Rufus Sewell, who is trying to recall his identity and figure out how and why he ended up in an abandoned city where it’s always night and no one but our brave hero seems to notice that it’s always night.
Even though Dark City was a fantastical concept when it was first proposed, it seems eerily prescient in light of how jumbled our understanding of reality has become. It was thanks to Proyas’ eye for detail that Dark City came to be such an unforgettable experience.
Mystery Men (1999)
Popular culture has featured superheroes for more than a century. However, they were much less common in cinema for a long time. There was a Supergirl or a The Shadow for every Superman: The Movie. So, in the late 1990s, making fun of superheroes in movies was a bit more difficult.
That was the goal of the hilarious and strangely prescient comedy Mystery Men. Each of the three main characters, Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, and Hank Azaria, was a singular hero with questionable powers. It’s The Shoveler, played by Macy, who is a sincere good guy who happens to carry around a shovel and use it as a weapon. With Captain Amazing (who wears advertisements and sponsorships all over his body) out of the picture, these B-list heroes are forced to face the bizarre and terrifying Casanova Frankenstein.
The humor in Mystery Men is nonsensical, and the main character’s special skill is tossing a bowling ball containing her father’s head. But it was a few years ahead of its time in predicting a world dominated by superheroes.
Sky High (2005)
This list would not be complete without mentioning the film, which is celebrating its anniversary this month. As far back as a few years before Walt Disney purchased Marvel and brought the MCU into the fold at Disney, they released the lighthearted superhero teen comedy Sky High.
As in Harry Potter’s world, Sky High imagines a world where budding heroes attend a specialized school to learn their trade. As the only child of two of the world’s most adored superheroes, our hero Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) must shoulder a lot of responsibility (Kurt Russell and the late, greatKelly Preston). Will, on the other hand, discovers his own abilities, meets new people, and ends up saving the day.
Compared to the MCU, Sky High is a more lighthearted take on superhero culture. Unfortunately, this film didn’t do as well as it should have. Its charms grow on you after a few viewings.
Because of the numerous allegations of abuse and assault against men at all levels of power and in various industries, the male toxicity is undeniable today.
In contrast, the 2017 genre mash-up Colossal showed how a seemingly nice guy (Jason Sudeikis) turns out to be very cruel and nasty by revealing his true colors to our heroine, played delightfully by Anne Hathaway only a few months earlier. When she’s walking in a specific playground at a specific time, Hathaway, who plays an angry woman, can transform into a Godzilla-like monster wreaking havoc in Seoul, South Korea.
In addition to Anne Hathaway’s nuanced and dimensional performance, Colossal’s portrayal of men terrorizing women, especially when they appear nice, turned out to be horribly prescient in the post-#MeToo era.