The upcoming Ghost in the Shell movie starring Scarlett Johansson will be an intriguing blend of genres. It will bring the cyberpunk subgenre to a mainstream blockbuster for the first time since The Matrix. It will be a dystopian film that isn’t based on a YA book. It will also be live action but steeped in anime and manga history thanks to the franchise it comes from.
Now, the obvious choice for your pre-Ghost in the Shell research is to dive into its canon, which includes anime films, TV shows, and manga. But if you’ve got a hankering for the various narrative traditions it draws from, try these earlier movies too.
All the tentpole dystopian films of late have been adapted from YA novels: The Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner. While they have their merits, comparing them to Ghost in the Shell is comparing apples to oranges. But Snowpiercer is the best standalone adult dystopia film to emerge in recent years. Released in 2013 by Korean director Bong Joon-ho, it involves a gritty future with a disparity between rich and poor. This is a staple of cyberpunk that manifests in the world of Ghost in the Shell, too. The catch is that it’s all set on a train hurtling through desolate landscapes.
2. Dark City
Dark City is a cyberpunk classic. Released in 1998, it involves a conspiracy narrative, amnesia, and a shadowy group called the Strangers pulling the strings in a mysterious city, which are also touchstones of the Ghost in the Shell story. If you haven’t seen Dark City, remedy this before catching Ghost in the Shell.
3. The Thirteenth Floor
The Thirteenth Floor has the unfortunate distinction of being a cyberpunk film that came out around the same time as The Matrix. While the latter skyrocketed to fame, the former faded on the wind, but it’s a worthwhile watch. Although its tech elements have laughably ‘90s graphics, it’s an engaging conspiracy story involving manufactured computer worlds.
4. A.I. Artificial Intelligence
This 2001 Spielberg film is far too underrated. Like Ghost in the Shell and Westworld, it concerns the humanity of — you guessed it — artificial intelligence. There are futuristic cities, familiar landmarks in ruin, and Jude Law as a robot gigolo. It’s meditative yet surprisingly fun.
5. Spirited Away
Spirited Away has few similarities with Ghost in the Shell in story and plot, but it’s an anime classic. If you want to familiarize yourself with the anime side and dive in, start here.
Ghost in the Shell hits theaters March 31, 2017.