Tor.com content by

Joe George

Ranking the Live-Action Members of Superman’s Supporting Cast

Although Superman first appeared in pages of 1938’s Action Comics #1, no single medium could contain the Last Son of Krypton. Within ten years, the Man of Steel started showing up on toy store shelves, in a radio show, and, of course, on the screen. Since the 1948 Republic Pictures serial Superman starring Kirk Alyn, we have always had a human face to go with the world’s first superhero, a tradition that continues today with Tyler Hoechlin in the new Arrowverse series Superman & Lois.

But while we could discuss the individual merits of the many men who have donned the Man of Tomorrow’s signature red trunks, I’d argue that any Superman adaptation is only as good as its supporting cast. Superman stories live and die by their portrayals of ace reporter Lois Lane, Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen, Daily Planet editor Perry White, and, of course, the diabolic genius Lex Luthor. Instead of ranking the different Clark Kents (Clarks Kent?) and their alter egos, I find it far more interesting to rank the various live-action takes on his supporting cast.

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Ten of the Best Recent Horror and Sci-Fi Movies to Stream Right Now

2020 was a weird year for movies: closed theaters, no Marvel movies, and the new Bond movie and The Fast and the Furious sequel pushed to 2021.

But limitations on theater attendance not only pushed studios to experiment with their releases, but also allowed some smaller genre movies to attract attention that usually would have been taken by blockbuster franchise films. In other words, 2020 made room for some great new genre movies, and gave viewers more of an opportunity to watch them.

Here are ten of the best sci-fi and horror movies of 2020 (in no particular order), all of which you can watch right now.

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Slashing Through the Snow: Ranking the Killer Santa Movies

Look, 2020 has been a horror show for many of us. There’s not one part of the past year that hasn’t been tainted by the pandemic, politics, anxiety, and unrest, so it’s understandable if the holidays feel a little off this year. Maybe this is the season to embrace our discontent with some good old-fashioned cathartic chaos…in the form of old Kris Kringle himself?

[There’s something special about the odd subgenre of killer Santa movies…]

6 Perfect Episodes of MST3K to Help You Really Just Relax

Imagine this: a person stuck inside, all alone with nothing to do but watch movies (while occasionally receiving confusing and misleading reports from the people who are ostensibly in charge). That might seem to describe most people in the world right now, but it’s actually about the future. The not-too-distant future, in fact…

It is, of course, the premise of the cult TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000, the show in which robots Cambot, Gypsy, Tom Servo, and Crow T. Robot join a human host to make fun of terrible movies. Inspired by the 1972 Douglass Trumbull film Silent Running, series creator and original host Joel Hodgson created a joyful, scrappy celebration of humor and comedy in the face of loneliness and powerlessness. Even as the series changed channels, casts, and hosts over the years, that basic hopeful message remained consistent: Even in the direst situations, you can try to keep your sanity with the help of your (synthetic, if necessary) friends.

For that reason, MST3K is the ideal comfort watch for times such as these, when we’re all scared, stuck, and alone, together.

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Ten Stylish Sci-Fi Films to Watch This Noir-vember

When most movie fans hear the words “film noir,” they probably think of movies from the genre’s classic period in the 1940s and ’50s: Humphrey Bogart as a ragged gumshoe in The Maltese Falcon (1941), Barbara Stanwyck’s femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson descending the stairs in Double Indemnity (1944), or James Cagney on the top of the world in White Heat (1949).

But noir isn’t limited to a single time period, nor is it only about crime stories. Films noir, aka “dark movies,” continue to be made, with noir themes and style filtered through a variety of genres, including science fiction. 1982’s Blade Runner is, of course, the most obvious example of this melding and a mainstay on any film fan’s list, but sci-fi noir goes far beyond Ridley Scott’s classic.

Here are ten more films for sci-fi fans to watch during Noirvember…

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Ten International Horror Movies to Stream This Halloween

Halloween might have roots in Ireland and other Celtic territories, but for many, it is a thoroughly American holiday, celebrated by watching scary movies—generally English language, Hollywood horror. Every year brings new offerings to go with old classics, slasher films, and cult favorites, but focusing only on U.S. films misses the rich vein of horror being mined all around the world.

Here are ten recent movies (all currently available to stream online) to watch if you want to add international flair to your spooky season.

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Grading the Best Time Travel Movies Ever Made

Shortly after the release of Bill and Ted Face the Music, Ed Solomon (who co-wrote the film with Chris Matheson) responded to a dismissal of the movie’s science by tagging quantum physicist Spiros Michalakis for confirmation that his portrayal of time travel checked out.

While Solomon found the exchange funny, in a Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall sort of way, it does raise a question: Does good time travel science make for a good time travel movie? While there are certainly hard science fans out there, and scientific discovery has always opened up storytelling possibilities, we don’t always place that demand on other types of stories. We don’t generally criticize superhero movies for failing to explain how the heroes’ powers work, for example. Explaining the Force in terms of microscopic living beings didn’t make Star Wars better.

Still, the question persists for time travel movies. So I’m going to solve it, once and for all.

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How Superheroes Help Us Imagine a World Without Police

As people across the country grow increasingly aware of police brutality, systemic racism, and abuses of power, we’re hearing calls to abolish the police. To be sure, there is some disagreement about what that statement means, ranging from reduced funding and increased oversight to literal abolition. But more and more people are reassessing the need for the kind of modern, militarized police force that has resulted in so much violence and death in communities across the U.S.

For some, it’s hard to imagine a world without a police force. Even if they’re sympathetic to the idea, many have questions: Who will solve crimes? Who will stop criminals? Who will keep us safe?

Those questions require complex answers. People much smarter than me are offering those answers, working hard to provide the first steps to systemic change, but for the moment, I can address the issue of imagination.

While a world without police might seem unimaginable, we actually imagine alternatives to familiar forms of law enforcement all the time, in the form of superheroes. There are some exceptions, but almost every superhero is a private citizen who protects the community by solving and stopping crimes.

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Five Lessons from the Star Trek Mirror Universe That We Need Now More Than Ever

Some days, it feels like we’re living in an alternate reality. It’s like we’ve slipped through some mysterious portal and ended up in a world where powerful governments fumble pandemic responses. A world where demagogues make moral arguments that place profits over people. A world more cruel than the one we thought we knew.

Alternate realities have always been constant in genre storytelling, from Thomas More’s Utopia to the DC Universe’s Earth 3. These stories let us examine our fundamental beliefs in a new and unfamiliar context, to test the character of our heroes in radically different situations. For that reason, the Mirror Universe of the Star Trek franchise remains one of the most compelling alternate reality conceits.

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Six Perfect Episodes of MST3K to Help You Really Just Relax

Imagine this: a person stuck inside, all alone with nothing to do but watch movies (while occasionally receiving confusing and misleading reports from the people who are ostensibly in charge). That might seem to describe most people in the world right now, but it’s actually about the future. The not-too-distant future, in fact…

It is, of course, the premise of the cult TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000, the show in which robots Cambot, Gypsy, Tom Servo, and Crow T. Robot join a human host to make fun of terrible movies. Inspired by the 1972 Douglass Trumbull film Silent Running, series creator and original host Joel Hodgson created a joyful, scrappy celebration of humor and comedy in the face of loneliness and powerlessness. Even as the series changed channels, casts, and hosts over the years, that basic hopeful message remained consistent: Even in the direst situations, you can try to keep your sanity with the help of your (synthetic, if necessary) friends.

For that reason, MST3K is the ideal comfort watch for times such as these, when we’re all scared, stuck, and alone, together.

[Read more]

Netflix’s I Am Not Okay With This Updates the Themes of Carrie for a New Generation

The new Netflix series I Am Not Okay With This is more than okay with revealing, even reveling in, its influences. The story of misfit Sydney (Sophia Lillis of It and Gretel & Hansel) navigating the high school social order carries the DNA of John Hughes films of the 1980s, complete with a detention episode reminiscent of The Breakfast Club. On the other hand, Sydney’s telekinetic superpowers bring to mind decades of X-Men comic books and, in one explosive sequence, the David Cronenberg classic Scanners.

But I Am Not Okay With This acknowledges its most important cinematic influence with its opening image, a climactic moment from which the series flashes back and builds toward over its eight-episode season: Sydney walking away from a disastrous high school dance, her dress covered in blood.

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Looking for a Romantic Horror Movie to Watch This Valentine’s Day? Try Spring

For most horror movie fans, the 1981 Canadian flick My Bloody Valentine is the obvious choice for required viewing on February 14th. The movie offers everything the holiday demands: kissing, lots of pink hearts, and a killer in mining gear. My Bloody Valentine holds particular appeal to those who aren’t into the whole lovey-dovey thing: After all, what better way to undermine grandiose romantic claims than the sight of actual bloody hearts in decorative boxes?

But what if I told you there was a better option for horror fans who might not be sold on the idea of romance? A movie that climaxes with a man and a woman ending their spontaneous week-long affair trying to decide if it will continue for the rest of their lives?

[Okay, I know that sounds more like the end of a romantic drama than it does a horror film, BUT]

Oddballs vs. Graboids: Celebrating 30 Years of Tremors

When it comes to creature features—the horror subgenre built around monstrous beasts and the spectacular havoc they tend to wreak—two decades stand out. The atomic anxiety of the 1950s gave birth to classics such as Godzilla, as well as generating future Mystery Science Theater 3000 fare like The Crawling Eye. Then, as the conservative revival of the 1980s took hold in the U.S., filmmakers critiqued the movement and resulting cultural shifts via darker, more cynical features such as David Cronenberg’s The Fly and John Carpenter’s The Thing. 

Although praised less rarely, the 1990s also saw its fair share of films that share significant DNA with classic creature features, from Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster Jurassic Park to the Renny Harlin schlock favorite Deep Blue Sea. Unlike their predecessors, however, these movies were often upbeat and fun, escapist films that celebrated the strangeness of the monster instead of the vileness of humanity. In these movies, man is rarely the true monster. 

No movie signaled this change in approach better than Tremors, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this month. With its impressive practical monster effects and cast of small-town oddballs, Tremors changed the direction of creature features to something wackier and more fun, but no less interesting.

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Unwrapping the Yuletide Dystopia of Brazil

Terry Gilliam’s 1985 comedy Brazil may take place in a dystopian country “[s]omewhere in the 20th century,” but it fully develops that setting in its first five minutes. 

In the opening scenes, the camera pulls back from a tube television playing a commercial for designer ductwork to reveal a whole storefront display of TVs. As the commercial gives way to a chat show interview with Eugene Helpmann (Peter Vaughan), a high-ranking official in the Gestapo-like Ministry of Information, a bomb explodes, destroying the display and incinerating a passing shopper. As a match cut transitions us from the one television that survived the carnage to a TV set playing inside the concrete office of a nervous executive, we watch Helpmann answer a question about recent terrorist attacks. In contrast to the destruction we just witnessed, Helpmann speaks in warm paternalistic tones, dismissing the terrorists as “poor sports” while promising to further violate civil liberties in pursuit of security. Helpmann brings this fascistic nightmare to a conclusion with a comforting smile to the audience, wishing viewers “a very Merry Christmas to you all.”

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10 Horror Classics You Can Stream This Halloween

When the Twitter feed for Disney+ published a thread listing every title subscribers could find on the new service, some pop culture fans cheered. But even as commenters celebrated the chance to revisit pre-’70s family films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves or The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, others noted the absence of early films in other genres, especially from Disney’s newly acquired 20th Century Fox back-catalog.

On one hand, this lack shouldn’t be a surprise. Disney+ bills itself as a family service, and there are plenty of other outlets where one can find and stream movies. On the other hand, a number of critics have found that these services tend to overwhelmingly favor recent cinema over the old. Sure, Netflix still carries gems like the Kino Lorber collections of films directed by women and African Americans, and you can rent foundational works like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or The Wizard of Oz through Amazon. But these exceptions prove the rule that subscription services tend to primarily carry movies from the past thirty years.

As a result, the public has fewer opportunities to explore and learn about the history of cinema. Fewer and fewer modern viewers will get the chance to wrestle with films that built the foundations of the movies they love, or come to understand filmic language that predates the modern blockbuster era, let alone the New Hollywood revolution of the ’70s. In short, restricted access to first 70 years of movies makes us all a little less literate in what has become the dominant storytelling medium.

That’s particularly troubling in October, when audiences tend to make a point of not only watching horror movies, but of expanding their horizons in search of new thrills, tales of suspense, and haunting visuals. Now more than ever, movie fans want to watch important films in the genre or discover surprising works they’ve never heard about. But as subscription-based streaming services continue to overtake rental stores, indie and arthouse theaters, and cable, it becomes harder and harder for an enterprising viewer to broaden their tastes.

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