Collages by Alyssa Kissoondath
So. You zipped through Season 5 in one sitting after waiting a year and a half for it. And now you have a big, gaping, Black Mirror-shaped hole in your heart. Well, worry not, for Technology Is Bad But Humans Are Badder is not a niche subgenre, especially on the big screen! Here are nine Black Mirror-esque movies you can binge if you’re already missing that signature miserable bleakness.
Strange Days (1995, dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
What It’s About: Ralph Fiennes is a former cop turned black market dealer who dabbles in ‘90s VR and Ben Affleck cosplay in a wild goose chase of a night with a surprising turn of events. It begs the question, “How was this made in the ‘90s?” or better yet, “How is this movie from the ‘90s still so emblematic of contemporary unrest?”
You’ve Been Rated: 3.5/5. No one directs fight scenes better than Bigelow, and the premise is so, so fascinating. The first hour is practically flawless, but it does drag for a bit after that—although you’ll be too hooked on the plot to mind. And Angela Bassett is confirmed the Hottest Person Ever, so.
Is It a Black Mirror Episode? 5/5. Yes. Definitely, DEFINITELY a BM episode, complete with plot twists and shocking turns and advanced tech, and even the “Phone Bad Reality Good” message. It warrants the same amount of emotional energy as your usual top-tier BM episode, but at least the ending’s not as bleak.
Never Let Me Go (2010, dir. Mark Romanek)
What It’s About: Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield all try to out-British each other in picturesque boarding schools and on windy beaches. But all jokes aside, do not look up the plot because it’s better if you go into this not knowing anything. There are no grand plot twists—just the slow, quiet unfolding of a destiny to be fulfilled.
You’ve Been Rated: 4/5. It’s heartbreak in slow motion; a sci-fi told in whispers. This film is so, so lonely, and we sad folk eat it up! But it can be slow in some moments, so it doesn’t really work for everyone. And I haven’t read the book by Kazuo Ishiguro but everyone’s saying it, so might as well: the book was better.
Is It a Black Mirror Episode? 2/5. Personally what I think constitutes a BM episode is the existence of futuristic tech that ultimately gets reduced to a tool to examine humanity. There are fancy gadgets, but the story isn’t inherently about it; the people and their messy tendencies are very much still the driving force of the narrative. While this film encapsulates that perfectly, the pace and tone aren’t exactly what audiences would expect from BM. It’s bleak but more in a wistful sense than in the usual extreme BM-esque sense. Still a good movie though.
The Lobster (2015, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
What It’s About: In a dystopian world, single people must find a mate within 45 days or be transformed into an animal of their choice. No spoilers, but Léa Seydoux appears halfway through; try not to freak out as much as I did.
You’ve Been Rated: 4/5. I mean, it’s Yorgos Lanthimos. It’s stylistic but doesn’t make a big deal out of it, and Lanthimos’ humor is like nails on a chalkboard and I love every second of it. The world-building is impeccable, so I got a bit disappointed when we didn’t spend more time in said world. It isn’t the director’s best, but you will definitely not see anything like it ever ever ever.
Is It a Black Mirror Episode? 5/5. Heck yeah—it’s even better. The advanced tech is there but the people remain the same, so it’s both hilarious and self-reflective to watch them navigate a world they initially built but now has a life of its own. It’s both pessimistic and hopeful, in a way that BM also captures.
Her (2013, dir. Spike Jonze)
What It’s About: An idyllic Joaquin Phoenix lives in an idyllic city and falls in love with an idyllic OS in a story of love, loss, loneliness, and ethical ambiguity.
You’ve Been Rated: 4/5. Anyone who’s had the (mis)fortune of speaking to a teenage cinephile has probably heard raves upon raves for this movie, and it’s well-deserved. It’s immaculately made (the colors… the SCORE…) and the screenplay is top-notch—happy-sad is hard to nail, but this captures it perfectly. Personally, it didn’t affect me as much as I thought it would, hence the 4-star rating, but I think this is the kind of movie that waits for you; that you would understand better the more times you love and lose.
Is It a Black Mirror Episode? 4/5. While BM is certainly intense, it’s not afraid of smaller moments, and this movie is chock-full of them. This is also an examination of human nature through the lens of advanced technology, like most episodes, but this is relatively…calmer? You definitely don’t finish a BM episode feeling like you’ve been embraced for 120 minutes, and that’s what this movie feels like: a hug, an exhale—a BM episode in an alternate universe where Charlie Brooker, the show’s creator, is less cynical.
Cam (2018, dir. Daniel Goldhaber)
What It’s About: A cam girl finds herself inexplicably replaced on her site with an exact replica of herself in a horror movie that settles, once and for all, that the scariest thing that can happen to you is get locked out of your account. The second scariest thing is discovering that the rest of the movies on Netlix’s Originals roster are disappointing after this movie raises the bar too high.
You’ve Been Rated: 4/5. It doesn’t drag for a single moment, and the screenplay is rock solid (it was written by Isa Mazzei, an actual cam girl!!!). It also touches on certain themes I didn’t expect it would consider, like internet anonymity and our online presence as an entity separate from our IRL selves. It’s very easy to sympathize with the protagonist so this was really exasperating to watch, but frankly that’s what makes it so gripping.
Is It a Black Mirror Episode? 5/5. It definitely shares a lot of BM’s recurring themes, so audiences drew the comparisons almost automatically. A bit too horror than your usual episode, but BM is not one to shy away from that genre anyway (“Playtest,” anyone?). I’m not saying BM should hire Isa Mazzei to write one of their episodes, but BM should definitely hire Isa Mazzei to write one of their episodes.
The Truman Show (1998, dir. Peter Weir)
What It’s About: Truman Burbank is the star of a 24-hour “reality” show in the movie version of the “FBI agent watching me through my webcam” meme, except the FBI agent is the entire world and your webcams are hidden cameras—and reality as you know it is actually just a TV set.
You’ve Been Rated: 4.5/5. I mean, this is such an immensely fascinating premise that explores relationships, privacy and perpetual surveillance, celebrity culture, and existentialism, among other themes. Thought-provoking but not heavy-handed; it pushes the viewers to the extreme by forcing us to confront just how far we as audiences would go for media consumption (again, how can a movie from the ‘90s encapsulate a seemingly contemporary phenomenon?).
Is It a Black Mirror Episode? 4/5. The best kind of BM episodes are those that don’t feature any futuristic gizmos but seem very dystopian anyway, like it’s not the technology that’s been pushed to the limit but human nature itself (“National Anthem!” “Shut Up and Dance!”); and this movie falls perfectly into that subgenre. It shares the same vein as “Nosedive” (that production design!) and even “White Bear,” but it definitely isn’t as bleak.
Circle (2015, dir. Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione)
What It’s About: A mysterious chamber houses fifty strangers arranged in the titular circle. With no memory of how they got there and upon the discovery that a device in the center of the room executes one of them every two minutes, they quickly get into heated debates that are not too dissimilar from the ones that occur during Thanksgiving dinner with your conservative extended family.
You’ve Been Rated: 3/5. Objectively not a good movie, but it is impossible to turn off. Nothing exactly climactic happens—the movie is called “Circle” so they just stay in the titular circle—but the tension is built well and it never drags. The parts where you’re forced to listen to racists and homophobes decide who deserves to live is very, very infuriating, but watching them die is equally cathartic (oops, spoiler—but honestly, what enticed me to watch this in the first place was the prospect of seeing bigots get shot dead). Not as good as other high-concept, low-budget movies that preceded it like The Killing Room and Cube, but this is a great gateway to that genre of horror.
Is It a Black Mirror Episode? 5/5. A bit too dystopian than usual episodes, but all elements are there: the advanced tech, inexplicable premise, characters you want to strangle, thought experiments, murder, and that juicy Charlie Brooker-esque plot twist (this is my favorite quip about the plot twist).
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, dir. Michael Gondry)
What It’s About: Jim Carrey is heartbroken that his (ex-)girlfriend Kate Winslet underwent a procedure to erase him from her memory, so he does the same. Except in the middle of it, he decides that maybe he doesn’t want to forget her anymore. As the movie’s tagline goes, “You can erase someone from your mind. Getting them out of your heart is another story.”
You’ve Been Rated: 5/5. Come ON. COME ON. Makes you feel everything between the “love is a social construct we enter this world alone and we will leave it alone” and “if I don’t find the love of my life within the next 10 minutes I’ll DIE” spectrum. A perfect hodgepodge of melancholic cinema and soft sci-fi and reflections on love and selfhood.
Is It a Black Mirror Episode? 5/5. Achieves the same thing as episodes like “Be Right Back” and “The Entire History of Us”; all three dabble in relationships and memories, and leave you confused as to whether you love or hate it with your whole being.
Ex Machina (2014, dir. Alex Garland)
What’s It About: Domhnall Gleeson bags the prize of a competition we all wish we could win: spending a week with Oscar Isaac on a private mountain retreat. There, he meets the world’s first true AI, housed in the body of a beautiful robot girl and wearing an Alicia Vikander mask.
You’ve Been Rated: 5/5. Alex Garland is the master of visceral sci-fi, and his skill is on full display here. It’s practically perfect; the screenplay is fascinating and the cinematography is to die for. The tension is built flawlessly and the crescendo of the third act is unlike anything I’ve seen before. Heavy breathing and swearing from the audience are abound.
Is It a Black Mirror Episode? 5/5. Is the sky blue? Is water wet? This is a BM episode, period (it even has Domhnall Gleeson in it).