Throughout the first two seasons of the British sci-fi anthology Black Mirror, creator Charlie Brooker has delivered pointed commentary on the technologically interconnected worlds of today and tomorrow, while nodding to the pop culture of the past. No episode of the show has been a direct adaptation or even an obvious homage, but they've all been tinged with the sensibility of a man who's clearly watched a lot of movies and TV shows—and has internalized their meaning. There are echoes of the poignant memory-play Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in Black Mirror's similarly melancholy "The Entire History of You." The "beware the populists" political commentary of 1957's A Face in the Crowd gets updated for the 21st century in "The Waldo Moment." And so on.
But what about season three? For those of you who have finished the six newest Black Mirror episodes on Netflix, here are some suggestions of films and television episodes to watch next, depending on which of the six you liked best.
If you liked "Playtest," watch 'eXistenz.'
Director David Cronenberg's trippy 1999 riff on virtual reality video games was ahead of its time, and not just because it could serve as a kind of prequel for Black Mirror's own story of a careless young man and a gaming trial gone wrong. Unlike the more character-driven "Playtest," eXistenZ is a dense, far-reaching statement about biology, technology, and consciousness, asking whether our true identity can be found in the characters we pretend to be. But both the movie and the TV episode ultimately consider what it really means for a game to be "lifelike," and whether that's actually a worthy goal.
If you liked "Hated in the Nation," watch 'the Fringe' episode "The Dreamscape."
Honestly, the sentence above could just read, "If you liked Black Mirror, watch Fringe," since the two shows share an interest in how the machines we create warp the lives we lead. But there's also a distinct similarity between the swarms of robotic "autonomous drone insects" in "Hated in the Nation" and the razor-winged mechanical butterflies that attack a salesman in the cold open of "The Dreamscape." In both cases, the imagery is ominous: weaponized cyber-bugs, which at first seem harmless, but then work together to fell a human being.
If you liked "Men Against Fire," watch 'Starship Troopers.'
The mutated "roaches" of "Men Against Fire" don't recall the giant alien arachnids of the science-fiction satire Starship Troopers, but the episode itself covers some of the same thematic ground as director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Edward Neumeier's wry adaptation of Robert Heinlein's novel. "Men Against Fire" and Starship Troopers plunge viewers into the middle of wartime mayhem, and in the process, both expose the way government inspires the populace to hate the enemy, through a combination of propaganda, demonization, and patriotic pep rallies.
If you liked "Nosedive," watch 'The Best Years of Our Lives.'
This recommendation may seem like a bit of a reach, since a 1945 post-WWII homefront melodrama has little superficial connection to a quasi-comedic fantasy TV episode about a future where everyone's worth is determined by social media ratings. The most blatant link between the two is that each contains a similarly thrilling, moving scene, in which the main character stands up to give a speech that starts out embarrassing and eventually becomes empowering. Even beyond that shared moment, though, both The Best Years of Our Lives and "Nosedive" are—deep down—about status-obsessed societies and the individuals who learn to buck the norm.
If you liked "Shut Up and Dance," watch 'Seven.'
It's hard to think of any movie or TV show quite like the most stomach-turning, soul-crushing installment of Black Mirror's third season. The bleak 1995 neo-noir Seven fits the bill for two reasons. For one, the basic framework of "Shut Up and Dance"—which sees a young man being blackmailed by internet trolls into doing their bidding—isn't too far removed from the way the serial killer in Seven makes two detectives jump through increasingly twisted hoops to try and stop him. But it also matters that the movie is so punishingly dreary, painting a portrait of the world where everyone's a sinner. Like "Shut Up and Dance," it's entertainment designed for people who enjoy feeling wrung out.
If you liked "San Junipero," watch the 'Lost' episode "The Constant."
The most hopeful season three Black Mirror episode follows two dissimilar women who find each other and fall in love within a kind of vividly detailed computer simulation, where their consciousnesses occasionally dwell. Along those same lines, one of Lost fans' favorite episodes—if not the all-time favorite—is about a man who loses his grip on his sanity as his mind drifts back through time, until he realizes that he can hold himself together if he just concentrates on the woman he loves. "The Constant" is a wild science-fiction story with a warm, beating heart. And like Lost, Black Mirror at its best aims to send chills down viewers' spines without ever losing the human element.
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