With its inspiration coming from both ’70s paranoia thrillers and today’s headlines, there’s a lot of background to cover for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Basically, the list of movies to watch for this new Marvel sequel could simply be: all post-Watergate conspiracy theory movies from around 40 years ago and all documentaries of the last 10 years dealing with post-9/11 fearmongering and domestic surveillance.
But I’m going to be a little more specific with those targets while also highlighting some directly referenced movies, some earlier features starring cast members of The Winter Soldier, a new documentary about one of the supporting players and more. We’ve actually already featured a whole trilogy that compliments the plot of the Captain America sequel, which you can read about over on our sister site, Nonfics.
Unlike that post, this one is hopefully pretty light on spoilers. However, I like to give the warning with these lists that it’s best to actually see the movie in focus before reading ahead.
Three Days of the Condor
This obligatory selection has been talked about a lot in connection with The Winter Soldier, as directors Anthony and Joe Russo admit to being heavily influenced by Sydney Pollack‘s 1975 thriller and keep referring to their Marvel tentpole as “Three Days of Captain America.” Robert Redford, who co-stars in the new movie as S.H.I.E.L.D. and World Security Council official Alexander Pierce, is the lead in Condor as a researcher for the CIA. And like Cap, Condor (that’s the codename of Redford’s character) becomes a wanted man in the middle of a major political conspiracy in which he can’t tell who to trust. Sadly there’s no direct homage in The Winter Soldier where Cap and Black Widow (or his cute neighbor, Kate) have to get snuggly in the trunk of a car.
Available on iTunes.
While we’re on movies with the word “condor” in the title, it’s time to once again recommend this cheesy superhero movie from 1981, back when Disney wasn’t making great entries into the genre. I featured Condorman last year related to Fast & Furious 6 because it has an awesome car chase scene. Now it’s time to acknowledge the title character’s power of flight, achieved with the help of specially made wings, just like Anthony Mackie‘s The Falcon in The Winter Soldier. It takes a while for Condorman to get to a point where he’s got working wings, and strangely after their first use he just abandons them.
Back to Redford movies, I have to include another favorite, and no it’s not his Watergate-based drama because I’ll save that for when Captain America 3 turns out to be about two journalists simultaneously uncovering the full extent of the conspiracy seen in The Winter Soldier. Sneakers is one of those movies that might not necessarily be underrated but it isn’t talked about enough. Redford stars as the leader of a team of security experts tasked with intercepting a Macguffin that will aid the Russians. If Marvel ever wants their TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to be great, they need to take a lot of inspiration from this movie. I’m now wishing that we could see some interaction between Redford’s Pierce and Ben Kingsley’s character from Iron Man 3.
Both Sneakers and WarGames were written by Walter F. Parkes and Lawrence Lasker. The main reason it’s on this list is because of the direct allusion when Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) asks, “Shall we play a game?” in a computer-like voice when she and Cap discover a bunch of old computers in a bunker.
A Bridge Too Far
Okay, this is the last Redford movie on the list, but it’s because of an alleged winking reference in The Winter Soldier. Pierce tells Cap that his grandfather served with the 101st Airborne Division during World War II. Why it would be his grandfather and not father, I don’t know, but I’ve seen it noted that the man Redford portrays in this Richard Attenborough-directed epic from 1977 was also in the 101st. From what I gather, though, that’s not true at all. The 101st was involved in the battle depicted (James Caan and Elliott Gould play members of that division), but Redford’s character, Major Julian Cook, was in the 82nd Airborne Division. I guess technically he served with them, just not as one of them.
Another direct-reference Easter Egg, one that is for certain intentional, is the Bible passage inscribed on Nick Fury’s tombstone (sorry for the slight sorta spoiler). “Ezekial 25:17” is famously quoted by Jules (who, like Fury, is played by Samuel L. Jackson) in Quentin Tarantino‘s 1994 movie. Why should I think that anyone who sees The Winter Soldier wouldn’t get the joke or hasn’t seen Pulp Fiction? Because a 20-year-old movie might as well have been made at the same time as the Bible as far as the kids today are concerned.
Die Hard: With a Vengeance
Including this third Die Hard installment actually has nothing to do with the fact that it also stars Jackson (with fellow Pulp Fiction actor Bruce Willis). It’s all about the elevator scene in The Winter Soldier being reminiscent of one in the 1995 action sequel. Willis, as John McClane, enters an elevator with some security guards and a police detective, all of whom he immediately suspects to be bad guys. He quickly takes out all four (or five?) of them. There have been other great elevator fights in recent years, including those in Drive, Quantum of Solace and Gareth Evans’s Merantau. But this is the one that Cap’s battle seems most similar to — with more men involved, of course.
Available to stream on Amazon.
Takedown: The DNA of GSP
I love when big action movies recruit real-life action stars, such as MMA champ Georges St-Pierre, who plays Marvel villain Batroc the Leaper in the first action sequence of The Winter Soldier. Batroc is the closest thing in the movie to a match for Cap, which makes sense because St-Pierre is a really talented and really strong fighter, not an actor (though he has already appeared in a few smaller action movies). I haven’t seen this new documentary about him. I don’t think it’s available outside of Canada yet. But I’m interested in learning about the guy, and I’m sure others who see him in The Winter Soldier will be, too, so chances are it’ll find its way to eyeballs in the U.S. and other parts of the world soon.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray imported from Canada. Hopefully coming soon to America.
The Shock Doctrine
Whether you want to watch the feature documentary directed by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross or the better, more concise short by Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron, it’s worth learning about author Naomi Klein‘s claims that natural calamities and man-made devastation (wars, coups, terrorism, etc.) are exploited by leading nations and global organizations and corporations for profit and other gain through what she calls “disaster capitalism.” When similar long-going plots are brought up in The Winter Soldier, I couldn’t help but laugh since apparently, according to Klein’s book and lectures, we don’t need a comic book type evil agency such as HYDRA to be behind that sort of thing.
The short can be watched in its entirety below.
Under the Skin
It’s obvious which one of Johansson’s movies will be seen the most this weekend, but if you’ve got room for one, then why not two? Surely all the comic book dorks flocking to the latest Marvel movie want to see Black Widow naked, right? Never mind if it’s a body double. And don’t actually let that be the only reason for you to see the latest from Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast; Birth). See it because it’s a must-see cinematic sci-fi masterpiece.
Now playing theatrically in limited release.
We can pretend this is a comedic short film and not just one of a handful of sketches produced for the Kids in the Hall reunion a few years back. But since you might not qualify it, it’s in addition to the 10 real selections. The four-minute piece is directed by the Winter Soldier-helming Russo brothers and it’s pretty different from anything you’ll see in the Captain America sequel. The filmmakers are rooted in comedy (I could maybe have recommended their somewhat amusing feature debut, Welcome to Collinwood) but this is just downright silly. If only the guys had included a third post-credits stinger revealing that Gary Shandling’s Senator Stern was into fucking cars. I wouldn’t be surprised.
Watch the short in its entirety below.