Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a movie where we could go on and on with relevant recommended titles. Its main hero, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), is a guy who spent his first 10 years on Earth enjoying a lot of movies and music. He’s a good representation of many people his age who are still Earthbound, because he’s focally nostalgic for ’80s pop culture and is always ready to make a reference to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or some other property that existed prior to his abduction in 1988 by the space pirates known as the Ravages. In addition to the direct allusions spoken or spotted on screen (it’s cool that Star-Lord is familiar with a classic like The Maltese Falcon and apparently had an ALF sticker in his backpack when taken), the movie is highly influenced by past movies, with some big antecedents such as Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark being too popular to bother including.
And of course Guardians of the Galaxy is also reminiscent of the many followers of those two George Lucas productions. As John Gholson notes in his spot-on comic-strip review, the new Marvel movie “has more in common with Star Wars wannabes,” as he features posters for four examples: Ice Pirates, Battle Beyond the Stars, Serenity and The Last Starfighter. On top of all the movies we could urge the fans go back and watch, this release had me wanting to also do a whole list of TV series to watch after you’ve seen it. Some of the possibilities there include Out of this World, Who’s the Boss, Firefly, Red Dwarf, Doctor Who, Parks and Recreation, Pushing Daisies and The Peter Serafinowicz Show. Plus some television versions of some of the movies actually chosen for this week’s curation.
Below are 13 movies that I think you ought to be familiar with before or after seeing Guardians of the Galaxy. Many are well-known yet few are really part of any conversation these days. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people seeing the new Marvel movie haven’t seen a single one of these picks. As usual, this list contains SPOILERS for the new release in focus — including the post-credits stinger — so only continue reading if you’ve seen Guardians of the Galaxy or you just don’t care.
We don’t know who Star-Lord’s father is, but the movie eventually confirms that he’s of some cosmic alien race. Until we find out more, likely in Guardians of the Galaxy 2, let’s just pretend that the half-human Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, is the son teased at the end of this John Carpenter movie (and continued in the short-lived TV spin-off/sequel series). Never mind that he’s too old for this to perfectly link up as a prequel, as I’m just interested in the gist of the plot that romantically brings together an Earthling woman (Karen Allen) and an alien (Jeff Bridges), who wind up procreating. They should just bring Bridges back into the Marvel Cinematic Universe for another role, this time as Papa Star-Lord.
The Last Starfighter (1984)
One of the Star Wars wannabes mentioned by Gholson, this sci-fi feature takes the idea of Luke Skywalker being a humble boy from a boring planet who is whisked away into outer-space adventure and gives it a more relatable twist by having the kid be from Earth rather than Tatooine. Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) is somewhere between Skywalker and Marty McFly, which is a combination of characters that Pratt has used to describe Star-Lord. I’m surprised the Guardians of the Galaxy protagonist doesn’t reference this movie regarding his similar transition from normal Earth boy to intergalactic hero. He probably saw it as a little boy, maybe in the original double-feature release with Cloak and Dagger.
Hudson Hawk (1991)
An infamous bomb upon its release, this Bruce Willis action-comedy is certainly no masterpiece. But its main reason for failing so hard was that it’s got a distinctive comedic tone that audiences weren’t expecting. Fortunately that doesn’t seem to be happening with the silliness of Guardians of the Galaxy. The action in the latest Marvel movie sort of takes a back seat — at least in terms of us caring about the stakes — to the distinctively goofy tone. Anyway, the main reason I mention Hudson Hawk is because the opening sequence of Guardians of the Galaxy, with its diegetic soundtrack during a kind of burglary, reminded me of the heist scene in Hudson Hawk where Willis and Danny Aiello are singing “Swinging on a Star” (the theme song to Out of this World, coincidentally) as an aid in the timing of their operation.
The Usual Suspects (1995)
If only at some point in Guardians of the Galaxy Taneleer Tivan, aka The Collector (Benicio Del Toro), had reason to say “flip ya for real.” That’s a memorable line by Del Toro’s character, Fenster, in this twisty crime film by future superhero movie-maker Bryan Singer. There are plenty of movies where a ragtag team of strangers is compiled for some big job, but how many of them actually involve a police line-up where the characters first meet and band together? The parallel is enough that someone has already of course redone the trailer for The Usual Suspects to be more like the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy (see below). Makes me wonder which of the Guardians is a Keyser Soze-like mastermind. I vote on it being Drax.
If only at some point Star-Lord started making jokes about Yogurt, Pizza the Hut and other characters from Mel Brooks‘s Star Wars spoof. He definitely would have seen it. Forget the wannabes that Gholson mentions, because at times Guardians of the Galaxy is more Spaceballs than any of them. Mainly it’s that Star-Lord is a lot more like Lone Star (Bill Pullman) than Han Solo or any other knockoff. And Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) occasionally made me think fondly of Barf (John Candy), this movie’s own human/animal hybrid. Yondu (Michael Rooker) is totally the Pizza the Hut equivalent.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
Can Disney re-release this adaptation of Douglas Adams‘s sci-fi comedy masterpiece and slap a Marvel logo on the front, regardless of the fact that it has nothing to do with Marvel? There’s no reason why Guardians of the Galaxy should open to five times the take of this funnier and smarter space adventure. I’m not even a huge supporter of Garth Jennings‘s movie, and I’ll always encourage everyone to first read the book, but it’s about as great as it can be given how expositional the text is. And I was really looking forward to seeing what Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith (together aka Hammer & Tongs) would have done with the rest of the series.
Of all the movie references Star-Lord makes in Guardians of the Galaxy, this is the best and most extended. I could have tossed it to the side along with the Maltese Falcon allusion but this is in need of further address if only because the 2011 remake has probably taken over as the go-to version for young moviegoers. I can just imagine some of them not even knowing about the original and being confused about the Kevin Bacon jokes. It’s too bad there wasn’t a single Kenny Loggins song on the soundtrack, even one other than “Footloose.”
Not only is this James Gunn’s feature directorial debut and also about aliens and also co-starring Rooker, but there’s a great link between Slither and Guardians of the Galaxy. The parasitic alien slugs from the former make a cameo appearance in The Collector’s warehouse of goodies. Or so I’ve read. I didn’t notice them when I saw the new movie, but you can bet I’ll be looking hard during my next viewing.
Sparky & Mikaela (2008)
Gunn also wrote and directed this short film, which was made for his XBOX Live “Horror Meets Comedy” series. Interestingly enough, it involves crime-fighting superheroes, one of which is a very crass talking raccoon. After meeting Sparky here you’ll likely think Rocket is disappointingly tame. Watch the TV sitcom pilot parody in full below.
Pom Poko (1994)
You’ll also find Rocket to be one of the least imaginative raccoon characters after seeing this Japanese animated feature directed by Isao Takahata and produced by Studio Ghibli. Technically, though, the characters in Pom Poko are shape-shifting raccoon dogs of Japanese folklore. And they go to war with human developers trying to encroach on the forests they call home. Particularly of note, too, is the notorious testicular element to the anthropomorphic animals. In various forms they take, their balls and scrotums have different functions, including as weapons and means of flight. People think Guardians of the Galaxy is a weird movie.
The Iron Giant (1999)
The last time Vin Diesel played a character in voice only was with this 15-year-old animated feature. And back then, just as now, the character was also a large being from outer space who had a little friend who sat on his shoulder. The Iron Giant is not the most eloquent speaker, but he has a better vocabulary than Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy. Not that that’s saying much. Both characters are gentle giants who love children, with Groot showing his sensitive side when he offers a little girl a flower from his own flesh. That moment is also yet another reminder that you all should see Frankenstein if you haven’t already.
One of the most underrated sci-fi movies of last year, this second sequel to Pitch Black is a great little raw, R-rated action Western set in space. It’s like a Eastwood/Leone movie crossed with Rio Bravo and Stagecoach with aliens in place of Native Americans and hoverbikes in place of horses. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, it easily continues into another movie but is compact enough that it doesn’t need a follow-up, even though it sort of ends on a cliffhanger. It’s just pulpy goodness, an independently existing story within a bigger universe. Of course, it also stars Diesel and features the first really notable movie appearance of WWE wrestler Dave Bautista, who is a total scene stealer in the newer movie as Drax the Destroyer.
Howard the Duck (1986)
If you missed the Guardians of the Galaxy post-credits scene, you maybe think this infamous movie is on here because it features a band called the Cherry Bombs and the song “Cherry Bomb” is on the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. No, the reason is that the title character makes a cameo appearance in The Collector’s collection. Whether or not it’s just a one-time nod to the anthropomorphic duck, Marvel is likely trying to give us a new version of Howard on the big screen in order to make up for and maintain that we forget about the George Lucas-produced flop. But I say it should make people finally watch the thing, if they haven’t. It’s not as big a turkey as it’s been made out to be. It’s not great, but there’s much to enjoy here. For one thing, Jeffrey Jones is as awesome in Howard the Duck as he is in anything else he did in the ’80s.