Netflix series Squid Game is one popular show alright, and according to the streaming platform’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos, might be on track to be their biggest non-English language series in the world, yes, ahead of Money Heist even. In fact, there’s “a very good chance it’s going to be our biggest show ever”, he said at the recent Code conference in Los Angeles.
The dark survival thriller pits 456 players against each other across deadly childhood games, all for a cash prize of 45.6 billion won. What the show has going for it though is a just-as-deadly combination of compelling characters and emotional depth, while offering us a sobering perspective on society — which helps set it apart from other films and series of its genre.
But what do you do when there’s no more “Next Episode” button for you to succumb to? Turn to other survival dramas that feature a similar “battle royale” theme. Defined by players duking it out till the last man (or woman) standing, battle royale content has been around for a long time; some might even say it dates all the way back to ancient Rome’s gladiator events. One only needs to turn to games such as Fortnite and PUBG for a quick death match or two, though nothing raises the stakes like watching our favourite characters die on screen — not a spoiler, by the way!
Ahead, we’ve got 5 classic, genre-defining movies and series that will satiate your post-Squid Game lust for self-induced anxiety.
1. ALICE IN BORDERLAND (2020)
You don’t even need to click away from Netflix for this. Released December 2020, the Japanese sci-fi series is a good follow-up to Squid Game, which explains why it’s trending again on Singapore’s Top 10 list. In it, we follow an avid video gamer and his two friends, who suddenly find themselves trapped in an abandoned parallel Tokyo, and forced to compete in a series of dangerous games to survive. One of the most impactful scenes, seen in the trailer, is of the usually-crowded Shibuya Crossing totally devoid of human life. For a quick comparison, the violence here can be more gratuitous than the k-drama, with more focus on the plot and game design than in-depth character studies — after all, the manga-based series does feature more complex games one can outsmart, akin to deadly escape rooms.
2. BATTLE ROYALE (2000)
This next one is a Japanese cult classic that’s still as haunting today as it was more than 20 years ago — which was when it had drawn so much controversy that it was banned in North America for about a decade. The film’s shocking premise sees a group of middle school students on a class field trip, who suddenly find themselves in a remote island and forced to fight to their death by a totalitarian Japanese government that’s taking extreme measures to curb juvenile delinquency. Brutal. The violence is just as brutal, even more so because we’re seeing children kill each other on screen, but either way, you won’t want to cover your eyes for any part of this gut-wrenching classic.
3. AS THE GODS WILL (2014)
This Japanese horror film is one that Squid Game is often compared to, due to the similarity of the k-drama’s first “Red Light, Green Light” game with the kids’ games played by high school students in the movie. Squid Game director Hwang Donghyuk, however, has since said there’s no connection to the show, especially since his script was finished as early as 2008, years before the movie had hit screens. Controversy aside, the premise of students undergoing a series of trials set by “gods” that look like giant Japanese dolls is certainly compelling if you’re already into the genre, while the film does have a more supernatural slant, considering ideas of theism, for instance. A peek of the trailer also shows a grittiness and amped-up, even casual, violence usually associated with daring cult films.
4. THE HUNGER GAMES (2012 – 2015)
This movie franchise marks a significant point in pop culture, when YA dystopian films were all the rage. Based on a popular Young Adult series of books written by Suzanne Collins, the movies star Jennifer Lawrence in a defining role as teenage protagonist and archer Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to represent her district in a battle royale match called The Hunger Games. There are interesting points to be made about the rich-poor divide, and the absolutely distasteful way the Games have been broadcast for popular entertainment, though we’d say that the style of the series is still very much in line with family-friendly summer blockbusters.
5. THE PURGE (2013)
For the feel of total chaos and anarchy, and vicarious living we might add, you might be interested in The Purge. The movie has an unusual, what-if premise that sees the US government sanctioning an annual 12-hour period where all types of crimes, even murder, becomes legal. Looting, raiding, and revenge-fuelled killing ensues. To be fair, this horror film’s probably the furthest away from Squid Game‘s character-driven drama, but if you’re in for a violent visual feast and an anxiety-ridden good time, you’ll find it here, from the comforting safety of your sofa.
Banner Image: Alice in Borderland, As The Gods Will, Battle Royale.