Eternals is nearly here. Chloé Zhao is diving into the MCU with her epic sci-fi take on superheroes and we cannot wait. To prepare for its groundbreaking arrival, we’ve curated a list of films for you to enjoy, from Zhao’s own masterpiece to her influences and even some movies that feel tonally evocative of the massive 25th MCU entry. So leave Disney+—there are no Marvel movies here—and instead prepare to lose yourself in these stunning tales.
The Rider (2017)
Sony Pictures Classics
Where to watch: Starz
While you may have already seen Zhao’s stunning work in her Oscar-winning hit Nomadland, The Rider is where we’re suggesting you head before Eternals. Intimate and beautifully shot, this is loosely based on the real life of the central actor Brady Jandreau. After an injury, Brady’s success as a rising rodeo star shatters. Here we follow him come to terms with that loss and reckon with what it means to not be able to ride anymore. Zhao’s character work, ability to tell a story that feels real, and choice to work with non professional actors all make this a truly unique film. And it’s this side of her work that fans are really hoping she brings to the MCU and the sprawling sci-fi of Eternals.
20th Century Fox
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video and Peacock
Ridley Scott’s controversial return to the world of Alien has been cited as an influence for Eternals. While it might surprise, it does make sense. The two stories share thematic threads about the origins of humanity, and both are epic in scale. Prometheus also goes back to the earliest moments of a beloved franchise; the Weyland-Yutani corporations sends a team of explorers to find the origins of life on Earth. Looking at the Eternals trailers, there’s a tempered and cool sci-fi aesthetic that also harks back to Scott’s work on this and Alien. So no better time to jump into this esoteric and dense exploration of life and faith.
Fantastic Planet (1973)
There were a lot of animated movies that came to mind when we thought of Eternals. Sadly, some of the weirder and most tonally fitting ones—Moebius’ Time Masters—aren’t currently streaming. Luckily, thanks to Criterion, René Laloux’s surreal and psychedelic sci-fi masterpiece is. Deep in space, a race of giant aliens keep humans as pets. Laloux builds his world magnificently, crafting an allegorical tale for the ages. It also happens to be one of the most interesting and original animated films ever made. For Eternals fans out there it’s a great primer for losing yourself in an entirely original alien world, one both deeply connected to humans whilst also entailing nothing of the familiar.
This ambitiously ridiculous ’90s sci-fi was a staple for kids of the era. It’s also one of the few big budget Hollywood science fiction films that tries to reimagine the origins of the planet we live on in such broad and often outrageous swaths. Despite its many problems, Stargate is a visual and narrative forebearer to the Eternals. It imagines a world where aliens were key to our existence and evolution. It also has a sexy young James Spader in big glasses doing science. His role is key not only as a scientist but also as part of a deep universe-spanning romance, an aspect of sci-fi storytelling that Eternals is deeply invested in exploring.
The Hidden Fortress (1958)
Where to watch: HBO Max
Producer Nate Moore has stated that Eternals wants to be “Marvel’s Star Wars” but seeing as you’ve all already watched that space opera we’re going down a different route. This classic Akira Kurosawa adventure is the film on which A New Hope was based. Without this, there is no Star Wars. That makes it key to the origins of Eternals. Tahei (Minoru Chiaki) and Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara) are at the heart of the film as two peasants trying to make their way through Feudal Japan. Their lives take an unexpected turn when they agree to help a man (Toshiru Mifune) and woman (Minoru Chiaki) on a dangerous journey in order to earn some gold. So dig into to one of the best adventure movies ever made.
The Gangster, The Cop, and the Devil (2019)
Where to watch: Rakuten Viki, Pluto TV, and Vudu
Sure, this might be a bit of a tonal shift, but it’s a great introduction to Don Lee. The Korean superstar is headed to the MCU as Gilgamesh. You’ve probably already seen him in the stunning zombie flick Train to Busan. So why not check out this searing crime thriller? Lee plays the titular gangster Jang Dong-soo. After being attacked but surviving a brutal serial killer (Kim Sung-kyu), Dong-soo ends up entangled with a cop, Jung Tae-suk (Kim Mu-yeol), trying to solve the case. A gritty odd couple thriller, this is a perfect example of the action chops and emotional heart that made Don Lee such a huge star.
Logan’s Run (1976)
Eternals is an epic space adventure with a huge cast (including a few Brits) facing down formative foes. That immediately sent our minds to this iconic Brit sci-fi thriller. Starring Michael York and Jenny Agutter, the futuristic flick takes place in a seemingly Utopian society where members age out at 30. While at first it seems like the so-called Carnival is a great honor, our heroes soon realize that their destiny is to be killed so the younger members of the society can live. It’s an intriguing premise that, like Eternals, explores the concepts of destiny, fate, and fighting for what you believe is right in the face of horrific odds.
The Wandering Earth (2019)
Where to watch: Netflix
If you’re looking for some epic contemporary sci-fi to get you in the mood for Eternals then this is a must watch. Just like Zhao’s MCU debut, this is a massive ensemble piece dealing with the fate of Earth and the universe. It’s also stunningly directed by Frant Gwo. Mixing huge special effects with practical sets and human stories, there are a lot of similarities between what Eternals and The Wandering Earth want to achieve. But this is also at its heart a disaster movie, so if you miss the days of Armageddon and 2012 then you’re in luck.
Where to watch: Tubi
Zhao’s docu-drama background plays a big part in what makes Eternals so special. As Kevin Feige has mentioned—a lot—she insisted on shooting on location. Those sweeping shots of beautiful locales around the world are all thanks to Zhao. And that globe-trotting documentary aesthetic mixed with the brutalist technology of the Eternals makes Koyaanisqatsi a must. Godfrey Reggio’s experimental documentary masterpiece showcases the globe in a way most of us have never seen. There’s beauty there but also poverty, struggle, and destruction from human industrialization. It’s stunning and sprawling in scope. There’s nothing quite like Koyaanisqatsi. Pure atmosphere and an exploration of the world we live in and on at a macrocosmic level, this is a perfect cinematic and stylistic appetizer to Eternals.
Featured Image: Sony Pictures Classics, Marvel Studios, Criterion Collection