Welcome to Beat the Algorithm, a recurring column dedicated to providing you with relevant and diverse streaming recommendations based on your favorite movies. This time, we’re recommending movies like Jalmari Helander’s Sisu.
While the Second World War dies down, a lone man (Jorma Tommila) riffles through the Finnish tundra in search of gold. Aatami Korpi may be a one-man killing machine. But right now he’s not concerned with global warfare. He wants to find gold. Plain and simple.
Saddlebags heavy with glittering ore, Korpi’s journey into town crosses the path of a squad of retreating nazis. When the German soldiers spy the old man’s treasure, they leap at the chance to buy their way out of the fate awaiting them in Berlin. But as the soldiers quickly learn, they literally could don’t have picked a worse person to rob. What ensues is one old, incredibly stubborn man’s quest to get his gold back from an increasingly shrinking handful of nazis.
A thoroughly satisfying hoot, Sisu boasts back-to-back set pieces that make for one heck of a B-movie rollercoaster. And if you want to embark on a similar ride you’ve come to the right place.
Without further ado, here are twelve movies like Sisu:
The General (1926)
If you’re a fan of action movies like Sisu that chugga-chugga-choo-choo from one action set piece to the next, you have 1926’s The General to thank.
Inspired by an honest-to-goodness Civil War train chase, Buster Keaton co-directs and stars as a man with time for two things: his girl and his train. When the two loves of his life are stolen by Union spies, it’s up to Johnnie to save his sweetheart and beloved engine.
Believe it or not, The General was poorly received at the time of its release; a financial disappointment that would ultimately force Keaton into an exploitative deal with MGM. Nearly one hundred years later — Confederacy propaganda notwithstanding — The General ranks among the best films ever made. Full steam ahead!
Available on Prime Video, The Criterion Channel, Tubi, and Kanopy.
First Blood (1982)
The first and most straight-faced entry of the franchise, First Blood follows John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), a decorated Vietnam veteran haunted by his deployment. While attempting to visit an old army buddy, Rambo runs afoul of a small-town sheriff (Brian Dennehy) with a stick shoved firmly up his butt. Escaping from the local jail, Rambo goes into fight-or-flight mode as an overblown manhunt forces him back into his old survivalist ways.
Arguably the one-man-army movie, First Blood is a tragic, brutal examination of post-war PTSD and society’s shameful treatment of veterans. I am also required by my government to remind everyone that this thoroughly Yankee-coded movie is, in fact, Canadian content. Somewhat infamously, an on-set theft resulted in the “misplacement” of over $50,000 worth of imported firearms. Only 15 guns were ever found. Thanks, Rambo!
Available on AMC+ Roku Premium Channel and DIRECTV.
The Unknown Soldier (1985)
It’s possible that a part of you came away from Sisu with some, uh, “historical accuracy” questions. While it pains me to tell you that Sisu is a work of fiction (albeit one indebted in spirit to the improbably real story of Simo Häyhä), your curiosity may have been piqued nonetheless about 20th Century Finnish military history.
If that’s the case, I wholeheartedly recommend seeking out The Unknown Soldier, a 1985 film directed by Rauni Mollberg based on Väinö Linna’s novel of the same name. While both earlier (and later) adaptations exist, for my money, Mollberg’s is the best.
Set during the Continuation War (1941-1944), the film follows a Finnish machine gun company as they make their way into the Soviet Union. Character-driven and thoroughly unsentimental, The Unknown Soldier is a must-watch for World War II history buffs… assuming you can find it.
Unavailable to stream. But keep your eyes on Mubi, those maniacs have streamed it before!
The Winter War (1989)
Like the aforementioned The Unknown Soldier, The Winter War focuses on the bitter infinity-based conflict between Finland and the Soviet Union.
Stateside fans of history will be bummed to learn that the Golden Bear-nominated film — known locally as Talvisota — is sarcastically hard to find. Adding insult to injury, the film enjoyed a 4K digital restoration in 2013; a bonafide tragedy for anyone with taste.
Nevertheless, this three-and-a-half-hour epic about two Finnish farmers turned infantrymen is one of the greatest anti-war films ever made: a breathless denunciation of armed conflict that feels like a Finnish version of Band of Brothers. It’s ruthlessly depressing. And that’s the whole point.
Available absolutely nowhere if you’re American.
Sisu — and a good chunk of movies like it — fall under the blood-splattered umbrella of “Rambosploitation,” the usually, but not always, uber-macho sub-genre that pits one guy who is very good at killing against, uh, the whole world.
Enemy (a.k.a. Fatal Mission) is the dictionary definition of Rambosploitation in that it takes the wrong lessons from First Blood. Indeed, most Rambosploitation movies are way more interested in glorifying rugged survivalism than critiquing policing or a lack of social support systems. But hey, not every film can be First Blood. And that’s okay. Sometimes you don’t want to think about the massive psychic damage inflicted on an entire generation of young men forced to participate in senseless violence. Sometimes you just want to watch square-jawed GIs in headbands build makeshift boobytraps.
Enemy sees Peter Fonda (yes, that Peter Fonda) as the very boringly-named Ken Andrews: A CIA operative pretending to be a journalist who assassinates a North Vietnamese politician and promptly disappears into the jungle. There, he meets Mai Chang (Tia Carrere), a spy and an unlikely ally. The two would-be enemies (get it) are forced to work together to survive. The film also stars mononymous legend Mako and Robert Mitchum’s oldest boy, James!
Available absolutely nowhere if you’re American.
Riddle me this: what do a Finnish killing machine and a tiny Irish cryptid have in common? If you answered: “Someone stole their gold,” congratulations you have a massive brain.
Yes, amidst the action classics and harrowing war epics, I am indeed recommending that Sisu enjoyers watch the early 1990s horror-comedy Leprechaun. In case you’ve been living under a rock (the Blarney Stone, perhaps?), Mark Jones‘ 1993 film follows the temporary occupants of a farmhouse in North Dakota as they unthinkingly free, and goad, the mythical creature (Warwick Davis) who promptly refuses to rest until he has recovered every single last piece of his gold.
While we’re here, consider this: if Sisu‘s silent protagonist stole the titular Leprechaun’s gold… who would be the last man standing?
Available to rent on Apple TV and Amazon Video.
The Protector (2005)
If you like Sisu, then you’ve got an appetite for foreign action movies about very competent killers. And that means you will also like The Protector, a.k.a. Tom-Yum-Goong, a.k.a. Warrior King, a.k.a. Thai Dragon, a.k.a. — (look, this film has a lot of names, and I think that’s funny. Sue me).
The Protector sees martial arts star Tony Jaa re-team with Ong-Bak director Prachya Pinkaew. The film follows Kham (Jaa), the sole-surviving member of a family dedicated to watching over the King of Thailand’s war elephants. When elephant poachers steal the animals, Kham must travel to Sidney, Australia to save them and punch the hell out of the mobsters who stole them. John Wick eat your heart out.
Available on The Roku Channel, Vudu, and Tubi.
Valhalla Rising (2009)
Sisu‘s protagonist is a man of few words. And as far as tongue-tied action heroes go, you can’t do much better than One Eye. Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2009 film follows the mute Norse warrior (Mads Mikkelsen) as he and his young companion (Maarten Stevenson) slay their captors and embark on a religious pilgrimage. If a bloody, muddy, quest of self-discovery set in the Middle Ages sounds up your alley, this is the film for you!
Available on AMC+ Amazon Channel and Tubi.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
I know some of you saw this coming. But we can’t assume that everyone has been on the Jalmari Helander hype train since the beginning.
Starting life as a short film (as most theatrical debuts do) Rare Exports is, and I don’t say this lightly, one of the most unhinged Christmas movies ever made.
Set in the forbidding mountains on the border of Finland and Russia, the film tells of a nefarious archeological dig with the singular goal of unearthing Santa Claus. Not long after the expedition hits Père Noël pay dirt, local children begin to disappear. It’s up to a boy (Onni Tommila), his father (Sisu‘s Jorma Tommila), and the local community to get to the bottom of things.
Available on Peacock, Tubi, and Kanopy.
The Raid: Redemption (2011)
Yes, that’s right, it’s another foreign-language film with a sarcastically high death count.
In the slums of Jakarta, Indonesia, a sadistic drug lord named Tama uses a rotting apartment complex as an impenetrable fortress. The police are unwilling to enter. But a small, highly-trained S.W.A.T. team is up for the task. When their cover is blown, and a massive bounty is placed on their heads (literally), the surviving team members must fight their way through the building to reach Tama.
Rightfully hailed as one of the 21st century’s greatest action films, The Raid: Redemption is a must-watch for fans of uber-creative fight choreography.
Available on Netflix.
John Wick (2014)
A couple of franchise entries deep, it’s easy to forget about John Wick‘s humble beginnings and indie spirit. But back in 2014, we all had our loafers blown off by the simple but effective tale of an infamous hitman (Keanu Reeves) pulled out of retirement to avenge the domestic life ripped away from him by a spoiled mobster’s son (Alfie Allen). He knows gun-fu. And he wants to avenge his puppy. It’s a tale as old as time.
Available to rent on Apple TV and Amazon Video.
If you’re on the hunt for movies like Sisu that are keen to spill Nazi blood, boot up a lil’ ole banger called Overlord.
The film follows a small squad of American paratroopers tasked with destroying a radio tower in Nazi-occupied France. With the help of a local woman, the group learns that something sinister (and undead) is going on in the old church.
Directed by Julius Avery (The Pope’s Exorcist) and produced by J.J. Abrams, Overlord delivers on its pulpy premise while ponying up enough cracked bones and slick guts to satisfy the gorehound in your life. Throw in some truly committed supporting performances by the likes of Wyatt Russell, Pilou Asbæk, and John Magaro, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a late-night watch.
Available to rent on Amazon Video.