We’ve been in the Golden Age of Television for more than a few years at this point, but 2016 continued to up the ante. Not only did hit shows like Game of Thrones and Mr. Robot continue wowing audiences, but new arrivals like Stranger Things took social media and the water cooler by storm. As the year came towards a close, HBO delivered one final blow to the TV landscape with the Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy series Westworld.
Based on the 1973 Michael Crichton film of the same name, the series was executive produced by J.J. Abrams. Mixing his previous body of work with Nolan’s show Person of Interest, Westworld teased out the idea of a Western-themed amusement park populated by hyper-realistic androids. Along the way, the show explored themes of personhood, agency, and the advancement of technology.
While you wait for season 2 of Westworld to arrive, we thought we’d give you some media to hold you over. Here are 8 Similar Shows, Movies, And Comics You Should Check Out.
Honorable Mention: “Itchy & Scratchy Land” from The Simpsons
Before we get into the list proper, we couldn’t go on without mentioning the fourth episode of The Simpsons’ sixth season. Named after the titular theme park the family visits, “Itchy & Scratchy Land” plays like a humorous precursor to Westworld as the Simpsons contend with an onslaught of animatronics gone rogue. Obviously, the 1994 episode was inspired by both the original film and the previous year’s Jurassic Park, but it’s highly enjoyable to rewatch after finishing the first season of the Westworld series.
8. JURASSIC PARK
If you’re looking for a more serious analog to both versions of Westworld, Jurassic Park itself is one of the best. Written by Crichton almost 20 years after Westworld, it explores a number of similar themes, except with… dinosaurs. Like a number of entries on this list, you can consume this story in multiple formats. There’s the original book, which is able to go into more detail on the science and the mindset of the characters, and then there’s the film.
The movie, for its part, still holds up today. Thanks to its heavy use of practical effects and miniatures, the action sequences and dinosaurs still look flawless and far outstrip much of today’s CGI. It also boasts an incredible cast, with Richard Attenborough subbing in for both the Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Wright characters.
Not only do the book and film deal with a rogue theme park, but they ruminate on the hubris of man and one of sci-fi’s guiding principles when it comes to technology: the difference between “can” and “should.”
7. BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Like Westworld, the 2004 version of Battlestar Galactica was a remake of a property from the ‘70s. Originally a short-lived series that began in 1978, Ronald D. Moore’s remake of Galactica is considered one of the greatest TV shows of all time. Boasting a stellar cast, the series followed a group of human refugees and military leaders stuck in space as part of a constantly moving convoy of ships. Fleeing a group of renegade androids called Cylons who are always in pursuit, the characters of the show are set adrift with their homes and many of their families destroyed.
Along with themes of isolation and loss, the show probed extremely deeply into what it means to be human and the ideas of personhood as the characters slowly discover that there are Cylons living among them. As the series progressed, allegiances were formed, questions were raised, and a number of heady philosophical discussions broke out amongst the crew and civilians of the various ships.
Westworld has been intriguing so far, but Battlestar Galactica is still one of the legacies it needs to live up to.
6. VISION VOL. 2
The Vision has always been a character used by Marvel Comics’ writers to explore humanity and personhood. The modern version of the character was first introduced in 1968’s Avengers #57 as a sort of son to the villainous Ultron. Over the years, he’s grown more and more human, even forming a relationship with Scarlet Witch and having children. Due to his human-like appearance and physiology, and the radical augmentation many of his fellow heroes have been through, he’s been the perfect vessel to analyze what makes someone a person.
Using a mental blueprint from Scarlet Witch (given consensually), he creates a wife named Virginia. He then mixes Virginia’s and his mental makeup to create twin children named Viv and Vin. From there, the comic gets more and more bizarre as it delves into this family of androids as they try to live an average suburban lifestyle. For fans of Westworld, it’s a must-read.
5. TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY
Like Jurassic Park, Terminator 2: Judgement Day is an obvious inspiration for the new Westworld. While its lens is more focused on dystopian futures and action, it still uses the formerly emotionless villain of the first Terminator film to explore the idea of humanity. It’s certainly more blunt than most other approaches, but it’s an all-around fun film.
Westworld isn’t all philosophy, as part of its appeal is the “no rules” nature of the Wild West setting. Though Terminator 2 doesn’t feature horses and revolvers, it plays like a somewhat modern version of the same genre. Using motorcycles and shotguns, the film employs the same reckless abandon for collateral damage as the good humans and robots rise up against the evil offshoots of technology.
And while Westworld hasn’t yet delved into the idea of singularity, the Terminator franchise’s Skynet offers a blueprint for how that could work in the near-future world of the HBO show as it moves forward.
4. EX MACHINA
While Westworld was likely deep into production and past the initial writing stage by the time Ex Machina hit theaters in 2015, it’s hard to imagine the creators of the series weren’t at least paying attention as they worked. Ex Machina, for those who haven’t yet seen it, is almost as if Arnold’s time with Dolores were the sole focus of Westworld. Like the subplot of the series, it follows a programmer attempting to run an android through the Turing test. For those unfamiliar, the Turing test, talked about several times on Westworld, is a process for determining the effectiveness of an artificial intelligence.
Developed by mathematician and father of modern computing Alan Turing in 1950, it’s become en vogue amongst sci-fi circles given its relevance today in our world of growing A.I. While this idea runs throughout Westworld, it’s the primary focus of Ex Machina. The film itself was one of the best from the past few years, thanks in part to a stellar script and direction by 28 Days Later scribe Alex Garland and a cast comprised of Star Wars alums Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, plus future Tomb Raider Alicia Vikander. If you want a more intimate exploration of the themes present in Westworld, Ex Machina should be the first thing you check out.
3. BLACK MIRROR
Like a mix between Stranger Things and Westworld, Black Mirror has taken social media by storm thanks to its mix of sci-fi and horror. Conceived by Charlie Brooker and originally airing on Britain’s’ Channel 4 in 2011, the show has reached global prominence thanks to Netflix picking it up and producing more episodes with an all-star cast and crew. Taking its name from the “black mirror” that is our smartphone screen, the show is an anthology series that operates like a modern-day Twilight Zone or Outer Limits.
Debuting in 2004 on ABC, Lost is one of the more obvious successors to Westworld. With a massive ensemble (plus lots of famous guest stars), Lost helped establish the rules for much of modern genre TV. Along the way, it helped build the idea of a dedicated fanbase and social media following hungry for answers to the show’s ever-growing mysteries. It was packed full of symbolism, featured a dense mythology, and was buoyed by its human characters. While they may not have been robots, the protagonists and villains of the show struggled with what makes you who you are and what the difference between good and evil is.
Considering J.J. Abrams helped craft Westworld, and given LOST’s enduring legacy, it’s really no surprise how similar the two are. While the symbolism of Westworld was often a little less organic than on LOST, it still used various sigils and themes to detail the deeper mysteries at the heart of the series. It also feature many of the same character archetypes and LOST’s tendency to weave in various genre elements with surprising twists. If you’re a fan of Westworld, do yourself a favor and start binging LOST now.
Though it was never the massive hit that Lost was, Fringe is probably the closest thematic companion to Westworld. Created by Abrams following his work on LOST, Fringe was truly defined by the idea of what separates humans from everything else. While this wasn’t robots or monsters, it still touched on science and technology gone awry, and what happens when a detached genius begins playing god. Like Black Mirror, Fringe dove into how we are shaped by our tech, and how much we can change ourselves and still be considered human.
Along the way, it involved alternate timelines and realities, doppelgangers, science-based terrorists, and ideas of fascism as a method of peacekeeping. Though it focused on a smaller cast than Lost, it still built an ensemble of duplicates and past & future versions of its characters to explore the decisions we make and how those choices change who we are as people. There’s no gunslinging or androids, but Fringe remains the high watermark for asking the simple question: what makes us human?
Which media on this list is your favorite? Any other comics, shows, or movies you think are similar to Westworld? Let us know in the comments.