If you were bowled over by the captivating trailers for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, you weren’t alone. Luc Besson’s passion project brings the celebrated French comic book to the big screen for the very first time, and he has spared no expense, filling the screen with stunning vistas of a futuristic galaxy.
However, while Valerian is immensely popular in Europe, it’s little known in North America. Besson’s film will be most audiences’ introduction to the saga crafted by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières. It’s a story that predates a lot of the iconic science fiction, space fantasy films, and franchises that Western audiences have come to know and love.
Today we’re looking at some films that owe a debt of gratitude to Valerian and its creators. Whether directly or indirectly, they all take inspiration from the adventures of the “spatio-temporal agents” Valerian and Laureline.
If you’ve got time to kill before you get your chance to see the new film, consider screening some of these classics to get you ready.
Here are the 15 Movies You NEED To Watch Before Valerian.
15. Total Recall
Philip K. Dick is rightfully considered a legend in the realm of science fiction. His written works are beloved, and have been adapted into a number of successful films. His story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale has been adapted to film as Total Recall twice. For this list, we’re ignoring the 2012 remake, and, instead, focusing on the 1990 classic featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger.
As a story with a fantastic twist, which we won’t spoil (though most everyone ought to know it by now), it features Arnie as a regular guy who can’t shake the feeling that there’s something missing in his life. A trip to a futuristic entertainment company that can plant fantastical memories in your head (be a secret agent or be a famous actor) goes awry, and soon he’s on the run and questioning reality itself.
14. Star Wars
Star Wars is an obvious choice – and a film that, according to Mézières, rendered him “dazzled, jealous, and furious.” George Lucas has cited a number of his inspirations for the Star Wars saga (most notably Flash Gordon), but Valerian is not among them.
Despite the similarities between the two properties, it’s entirely possible he had never heard of or seen Valerian before constructing his opus. After all, the talented French duo were hardly the first to imagine a vast galaxy filled with strange creatures.
Whether or not there was any direct inspiration, Star Wars has a lot in common with Valerian. Dashing heroes, a beautiful and self-reliant heroine, new worlds to explore, an adventure that spans the galaxy… you might expect Luke and Leia to turn a corner in the Death Star and run into Valerian and Laureline.
13. John Carter
When you’re talking about science fiction, it doesn’t get much more “old school” than John Carter.
The famed Mars novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs captivated readers in the early 20th century and continue to find new fans to this day. The property has inspired virtually every notable sci-fi writer that has followed, but we’ve been hard pressed for film adaptations of John Carter’s story.
In 2012, Disney and Andrew Stanton rolled the dice with this film, starring Taylor Kitsch in the titular role. Though it ultimately disappointed at the box office, torpedoing hopes of a franchise, it’s still a solid movie that faithfully adapts the classic Burroughs adventure. It’s also full of the kinds of colorful special effects and unique alien races that you’ll soon see in Valerian.
It’s not easy to adapt a beloved book. This is true in any genre, but it seems doubly so in science fiction. Dune may have been a cautionary tale for Besson in that sense, as he worked to adapt Valerian.
David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s epic novel was brutalized by critics, and even dissatisfied many fans of the book itself. The latter is somewhat odd, since Herbert himself expressed satisfaction with the film. However, if the Star Wars prequels taught us anything, it’s that the fans of a property and its creator often don’t agree.
Still, as sprawling, epic science fiction films go, Dune is near the top of the list, in scope if not in critical acclaim. It’s a sweeping story of a young hero’s rise to power, and his struggle to free his world and people from an oppressive empire.
11. The Last Starfighter
A seemingly normal person is called on to take part in a great adventure. Sound familiar? Of course it does. It’s the basis for countless stories, from modern films to the earliest myths. Science fiction and fantasy films especially are known for utilizing this format, and The Last Starfighter is another example.
Back when the special effects industry was still in its infancy, The Last Starfighter arrived in the wake of the Star Wars trilogy and became a cult classic. It’s the story of a regular kid, Alex, who happens to be an avid gamer. His high scores on the arcade game Starfighter attract the attention of the game’s creator, who reveals himself as a member of an alien race that is under siege. Alex is called upon to utilize his unique Starfighter skills to save their planet.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy
It’s fair to say that Luc Besson would love for his new film to earn even half of the popularity the Guardians franchise has amassed.
As the galaxy-spanning offshoot of the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Guardians films have done huge business at the box office, charming audiences with its mix of action, humor, and unforgettable characters (Groot). They’ve also reiterated just how popular a well-made space opera can be.
There’s no doubt that the Guardians connection to the larger MCU (as minimal as those connections have been in the first two movies) have played a role in their success. However, there’s still a lot for other sci-fi filmmakers to learn from the ragtag group of miscreants. If Valerian captures any of that Guardians charm, it’ll be a surefire hit.
Joss Whedon’s fans will follow him anywhere. He proved that when he parlayed the passion surrounding his cancelled series Firefly into a motion picture called Serenity. The property may not have earned great ratings or blockbuster returns, but the “Browncoats” who swear by it are some of the most passionate fans you’ll find anywhere.
Whedon’s take on sci-fi casts viewers into a future that actually doesn’t seem all that different from the present. Sure, there are spaceships and a whole galaxy to explore, but people are still people: some are good, some are bad, and some are trying to eke out a living in between.
Serenity/Firefly is notable among sci-fi properties for the fact that it doesn’t feature any aliens. Only humans live in this galaxy, but their adventures are still as remarkable as any the Guardians of the Galaxy have undertaken.
At first glance, Snowpiercer and Valerian don’t seem to have much in common. They’re both set in the future, but one takes place in a colorful depiction of outer space and the other takes place on a ruined and almost monochrome Earth.
They do have some unexpected similarities, though. For one, like Valerian, Snowpiecer is adapted from a popular French graphic novel.
In Snowpiercer, the remnants of humanity circle a frozen Earth on a train: the poor and infirm are confined to the back of the train, while the rich and affluent live at the front. Naturally, there’s a fair amount of conflict between the two castes, and it boils over throughout the film. Valerian’s Alpha (the City of a Thousand Planets) is a considerably more successful experiment in bringing different people (and aliens) together.
7. Children of Men
Not all science fiction is bright and hopeful. In fact, a lot of it is downright depressing. Some films foretell a pretty miserable future for humanity (or what little of it remains).
Children of Men is one such film. Clive Owen (who also appears in Valerian) plays Theo, a disenfranchised man just trying to survive in a crumbling society in which no babies have been born for decades. When a woman becomes pregnant for the first time in recent memory, fate brings her and Theo together, and he must protect her and her child by any means necessary.
6. Jupiter Ascending
As noted earlier, a lot of good science fiction stories focus around a normal person who discovers that they have a destiny greater than they could have ever imagined. Jupiter Ascending is one such story.
Mila Kunis plays the title character, a normal woman living a normal life on what seems to be a perfectly normal Earth. So it’s a bit of a shock when she learns that she is galactic royalty who must save her home planet from powerful aliens who seek to strip it for its resources (namely people).
Like Valerian, this film features an ever-expanding galaxy filled with incredible sights. Of course, Jupiter is completely unprepared for the new galaxy she discovers, while Valerian and Laureline are seasoned warriors. The comic book Laureline could probably relate to Jupiter, though: she’s a time traveler who was born in 11th century France.
5. District 9
The City of a Thousand Planets is a place where lifeforms from all over the galaxy come together and live in harmony. Yes, they all reside in their own separate environments, tailored to their specific needs, but they do come together and interact with their neighbors from time to time.
For an example of aliens and humans living in far less idyllic circumstances, look at Neill Blomkamp’s breakout film District 9. A movie that’s as socially relevant as it is uncomfortable, it features alien refugees who come to Earth and are forced to live in squalid conditions in a government camp.
The aliens face poverty, starvation, and the seething hatred of much of the human population. The discrimination they face on Earth is immense, and makes the viewer wonder just how real people would react if aliens really did arrive on our planet seeking a new home.
4. Star Trek
Gene Roddenberry’s immortal story of humanity’s journey in the distant stars first hit television screens in 1966, predating the first installment of Valerian’s adventures by a year– so no, Star Trek wasn’t inspired by Valerian… at least not at first. Maybe later series took some inspiration from the comic, or perhaps the comic took a few pages out of Roddenberry’s book.
Whatever relationship the two properties may or may not have, they are certainly similar. Both feature humans and aliens mixing in a galactic society, sometimes harmoniously, sometimes not. While there have been many Star Trek films, we’re pointing out the recent “NuTrek” films here because, as more recent productions, they are more visually in line with what you’ll see in Valerian. Modern movies do have an undeniable advantage in using the latest technology to bring a truly stunning depiction of outer space to life.
3. Blade Runner
Once again we look at the work of Philip K. Dick, or at least a celebrated adaptation of it. This time it’s Blade Runner, an adaptation of Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Harrison Ford, already an icon for the roles of Han Solo and Indiana Jones, earned even more geek credit with the role of Rick Deckard. As a blade runner, he is charged with hunting down replicants: cyborgs who are virtually indistinguishable from human beings.
In the future that Blade Runner posits, humanity has colonies on other planets, where replicants work to serve their human masters. The film is confined to a futuristic Los Angeles, though. Still, it’s a beautifully realized setting, especially when you consider the limitations director Ridley Scott was facing in 1982.
The upcoming Blade Runner 2049 is sure to be an even more impressive visual feast.
2. The Force Awakens
True, we’ve already got the original Star Wars film on this list, but it’s also the oldest movie here, and, as great and timeless as it is, it does look its age. The art of filmmaking has come a long way since then, and Valerian is proof of this.
For more proof, look at Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Star Wars made a triumphant return in 2015 with Episode 7, a film that some have criticized as basically being a re-skinned version of the 1977 classic. There is definitely some truth to that, but audiences clearly didn’t mind (just look at its box office profit for proof).
Of all the films on this list, TFA is definitely the most visually similar movie to Besson’s new opus (well, it and Guardians). It’s filled to the brim with colorful characters of all shapes and sizes, and it’s a galaxy-spanning adventure that Valerian himself would be proud of.
1. The Fifth Element
It only makes sense to finish our list with Besson’s previous sci-fi epic, a story he spent decades crafting and which was clearly influenced by his lifelong love of the Valerian comics. In fact, Besson brought in Valerian co-creator Jean-Claude Mézières as a concept artist. Mézières contributed a lot of ideas that would come to life in the film, from the flying taxi cab piloted by Bruce Willis to the Fhloston Paradise liner.
Bruce Willis is a cabbie in the New York City of the 23rd century who is dragged into events of world-shattering proportions thanks to a chance meeting with the mysterious Leeloo (Milla Jovovich). The film received strong reviews, earned a devoted fanbase, and was celebrated for its colorful and vibrant depiction of a futuristic metropolis.
It was definitely a trial run for Besson’s eventual take on his favorite comic book, and the new Valerian film looks like a worthy successor to this 1997 classic.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets will be hitting theaters on July 21, 2017.
Are you looking forward to Valerian? What movies will you be watching in anticipation? Let us know in the comments.
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