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Watch ‘Thor: Ragnarok,’ Then Watch These Movies

We recommend some goofy space comedies, a documentary on Australian cars, and more.
Thor Ragnarok
By  · Published on November 4th, 2017

Midnight Run (1988)

I’ve already recommended the buddy comedy shenanigans of Abbott and Costello, but there are other buddy films actually directly cited by people involved in Ragnarok that are worth highlighting. One is Midnight Run, the Martin Brest-helmed road movie starring Robert De Niro as a tough guy bounty hunter escorting a not so tough accountant for the mob, played by Charles Grodin. The odd couple, who have a similar dynamic to the brawnier Thor and the brainier Bruce Banner ( aka Hulk), has to travel from New York to LA by train, bus, and however else they can.

Early last year, Ruffalo had this to say to Empire magazine:

“There’s a little bit of ‘Midnight Run,’ with Grodin and De Niro. I feel like that’s kind of where we’re heading with this relationship between Thor and Banner…It is a universal road movie – that’s where we’re heading. It’s not where you’d think it will be, so it’s not your classic road movie but it has that structure, I think.”

Honorable mentions: in a March 2017 EW article, other cited influences for the buddy comedy road movie aspect include the 1982 Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte pairing 48 Hrs. and the 1987 Steve Martin/John Candy pairing Planes, Trains & Automobiles. More recently, in the print version of Empire, Ruffalo’s comparison to Midnight Run is mentioned while Hemsworth is said to liken the movie to the 1969 Western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Waititi is quoted as referencing the 1987 British cult classic Withnail & I. He says:

“Hulk is like this strapless horse, and self-destructive as well. He’s internally very conflicted, an imbalanced character who can flip out at any moment, and the idea of Thor having to be with him reminded me of I trying to deal with Withnail.”


Arena (1989)

Gladiator games are a popular staple of sci-fi, whether they’re brought back into human entertainment culture in future dystopian settings or found in other parts of the universe. The latter idea might originate in the Edgar Rice Burroughs “John Carter of Mars” books, which certainly influenced fights in the Star Wars movies Return of the Jedi and Attack of the Clones, which in turn surely influenced some of the arena stuff in Ragnarok.

The lesser-known Arena, though, is worth a look for a whole movie focused on intergalactic bouts between weird-looking aliens. Itself inspired by an old Star Trek episode titled “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” the low-budget sci-fi movie is about a human (Paul Satterfield) recruited to fight in games that no human has ever won before. Until now. His first win is kind of like when Thor surprises everyone on Sakaar by giving their champion, Hulk, a good fight.

Honorable mentions: there’s another B-movie titled Arena from 2011 that stars Kellan Lutz as a guy in the distant future who is, like Thor, kidnapped by a beautiful woman and forced to fight in prisoner-based gladiator games. MCU star Samuel L. Jackson plays the Goldblum equivalent, running his “Deathgames” from a control room. It’s more bad cheesy than good cheesy like the 1989 film, but it’s kind of funny to watch. Also, as far as dystopian future gladiator match movies go, Ragnarok‘s Sakaar stuff reminded me a lot of 1987’s The Running Man.


Mom and Dad Save the World (1992)

One of the most underrated goofy sci-fi comedies comes from the writers of the Bill & Ted movies. Mom and Dad Save the World stars Jeffrey Jones and Terri Garr (who is also in After Hours) as a couple who are zapped across the galaxy to the planet of Spengo, named after its moronic despot, Tod Spengo (Jon Lovitz). He wants Garr’s mom character to be his wife, so he kidnaps her in the midst of his plans to destroy Earth.

Like most of the movies recommend this week, this one did not do well in its theatrical release. I don’t think it’s found much of an audience since then, either, and that’s a shame because it’s hilarious. Spengo isn’t the dumbest inhabitant of his planet by a long shot, and idiocy provides the movie with lots of comedic opportunity. Some of it fails, but much of it succeeds, including a recurring grenade gag that, thanks to its execution, has me laughing out loud every single time.

Honorable mention: the comedy of Ragnarok is downright cartoonish at times, so of course it’s comparable to Looney Tunes cartoons, including the live-action/animation hybrid feature Space Jam. The hit movie, which has become a sort of nostalgic cult classic, sees a kidnapped Michael Jordan recruited into an intergalactic game of basketball, albeit one that doesn’t actually take place in space.


The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

Nobody mixed sci-fi and comedy better than Douglas Adams, whose “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” books are masterpieces of satire that use adventures in time and space to joke about life, the universe, and everything. Arthur Dent, their reluctant hero, is just a nobody from Earth who is mostly led through these adventures by other forces after being whisked to space just before the demolition of the planet. Joining him, or joined by him, are an assortment of amusing characters, including a depressed android who is kind of like a more downbeat precursor to the funny alien Korg (Waititi).

This was the second screen adaptation of the books, the first being an ’80s TV miniseries with its own charms but lackluster special effects. Disney’s big budget Hitchhiker’s movie did not perform well enough at the box office to warrant its continuation as a franchise, and that’s all the more evidently unfortunate given what we’re seeing Disney/Marvel do with these comedic cosmic entries in the MCU. This movie could have been even jokier, a la Ragnarok. Perhaps we’ll see another, more financially successful attempt at the series in the future.

Honorable mentions: for my last group of additional suggested viewing, I’m going to highlight some stuff involving the talents of Ragnarok. For another hilarious Waititi movie, see the vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, co-directed by Jemaine Clement. You can also find the great Rachel House, who plays the Grandmaster’s assistant, Topaz, in Waititi’s other movies, most notably perhaps in Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

For Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie), the must-see is her breakthrough, Dear White People. And for Cate Blanchett, not to ignore her many great movies and roles but considering she’s a bit of a disappointment in Ragnarok I recommend her more satisfying villain role in another Disney release, Cinderella. And for more Goldblum, how about some of his ’80s sci-fi cult classics like Earth Girls Are Easy and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension?

You can also find Goldblum and Blanchett and another score by Mark Mothersbaugh all together in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Finally, if you want more of Hulk and Thor from Ragnarok co-writers  Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, they previously worked on the scripts for the animated features Planet Hulk and Hulk Vs., the former being an adaptation of a comic that heavily inspired the new movie and the latter featuring a battle between the two Avengers.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.