6. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
If ‘Jaws’ set the template for every summer blockbuster in the past half century, then ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ did the same for every UFO movie that followed it. Spielberg was already a household name in his own right by the time 1982 rolled around, but it was his first contact caper that truly put him on the map as a force to be reckoned with. An electrical lineman and a single mother in Indiana find themselves in the middle of a labyrinthine mystery after a fortuitous encounter with an entity from the great beyond. What follows is a boilerplate post-Watergate conspiracy thriller that casts an unwavering eye on mankind’s insatiable wanderlust, exposing how inexorably drawn we are to mysteries beyond our comprehension, theories and speculation.
“‘Close Encounters’ is such an awe-inspiring cinematic feat and I think the ambition with a flying saucer film and taking that on, he brought the appropriate ambition to it and so I felt a sort of responsibility to take on that ambition and do things in my style,” explained Peele in a recent interview. Not without reason have many viewers drawn comparisons between the 1977 classic and Peele’s newest neo-western thriller as two films imbued with a similar thematic fabric, complex characters and intrigue.
7. Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion (1997)
At face value, ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ is just a Japanese anime that follows an introverted 14-year-old kid-pilot who’s thrusted into the role of mankind’s savior and forced to combat otherworldly beings called Angels. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that this surface reading grossly undersells it, as it glances over the hidden meanings and valuable lessons that cemented the show as the measuring stick by which all subsequent anime would be judged.
Though Hideaki Anno often toed the line of generic storytelling, once ‘Evangelion’ ditches its episodic structure, the series shows its true colors as a metaphysical exploration of trauma, depression and the human condition. The 1997 feature-length film is only the icing on the cake that further establishes the show’s core underpinning — the dangers of letting escapist entertainment and oppressive technology engulf our lives — with a mind-bending coup de grâce.
The connection with Jordan Peele’s work, though, is not so much thematic as it is aesthetic. According to ‘Nope’ visual effects supervisor Guillaume Rocheron, the show played a significant part in inspiring Jean Jacket’s final form. “When you look at the Angels in ‘NGE’, it’s like they have a purpose or a function or a way to operate and a design strictly tailored to just do that,” Rocheron revealed in the interview. “So we started a few rounds of designs on this, and then very quickly we came in with a very ‘Evangelion’-esque alien entity that looked like he was an origami, and at the same time, a very simple design.”
8. Critters (1986)
Everyone has guilty pleasures, the kind of films that you don’t necessarily hold in high regard and rarely make the best-of-the-year lists — but that somehow despite their blatant flaws, hold a very special place in your heart. When asked by The Wall Street Journal to name his favorite horror B-movie, Jordan Peele professed his unconditional love for this 1986 ‘Gremlins’ knock-off.
“In retrospect, it’s fairly bad,” the director conceded. “But it gave me a wrong sort of feeling. Those little things were so mischievous and so…evil. They had those evil-ass faces.” From toothy space furballs, shape-shifting bounty hunters, Billy Zane, and gooey practical effects — ‘Gritters’ is pure unadulterated campy ’80s romp. As long as you turn your brain off and keep your expectations in check, you’re in for a treat (and if you’re looking for more action, check out the batch of sequels it spawned).
9. The Fly (1986)
From ‘Scanners’ to ‘Videodrome’ all the way to ‘Dead Ringers’, the ’80s were a hell of a decade for David Cronenberg. Rarely does a filmmaker churn out so many era-defining works in such a short amount of time. And yet, it’s hard to look past ‘The Fly’ as the summative triumph of his career, as well as a microcosm of all the perversions and fetishes he’s never quite shaken off in the past fifty years.
Equally entertaining to watch on a surface level as it is enlightening to break down and peel back its many layers; few sci-fi movies have aged better — or grown as pertinent — as Cronenberg’s opus. For many viewers including a young Jordan Peele, ‘The Fly’ served as the rite of passage into the bizarro world of Canada’s enfant terrible. The ‘Nope’ director cited the film as the first one that truly got under his skin — hefty praise coming from the newest poster boy in the horror genre. “So scary, so inappropriate for how old I was, and yet I was able to watch it and understand it, and at the end of it, I felt less scared than I did before watching it, so that’s how I knew the power of horror.”
10. C.H.U.D. (1984)
A VHS tape of this obscure ’80s monster flick can be spotted sitting on the shelf on the very first scene of ‘Us’. Believe it or not, this blink-and-you-miss-it nod has single-handedly given ‘C.H.U.D.’ a second life — if not achieving cult status altogether — with a new generation of moviegoers discovering its schlocky thrills for the first time in no small part due to Peele’s easter egg. Does it hold a candle to ‘The Fly’, ‘Akira’, or ‘Close Encounters’? Not really. Yet again, it’s hard to live up to that kind of standard. But if ‘Nope’ was Peele’s rendition to ‘Tremors’, ‘Us’ was him trying to do ‘Funny Games’ by way of ‘C.H.U.D.’.
‘C.H.U.D.’ (short for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers), walks a similar line to the 2019 doppelgänger nail-biter by introducing underground creatures who have been left to fend for themselves in abandoned tunnels and sewers across New York City. In fact, the entire concept behind the ‘Tethered’ seems to be lifted straight from this B-movie. Both titles make salient points about being an outsider — and the heavy cost of turning a blind eye on marginalized people. If you’re looking for a schlocky double-header to kick-start your weekend the right way, this is as good as it gets.