Shrinking and enlarging effects have been around since the dawn of cinema. Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp is just the latest in a long history of depicting the fantasy of changing size, yet we’re still amazed and amused by how the concept is executed on screen. The easy thing to do for this week’s list of Movies to Watch After… would be to just recommend the most notable examples in this film history. I’d rather link out to Crooked Marquee’s recent lesson and then highlight only the most relevant to the superhero blockbuster at hand.
Plus there so many other kinds of movies worth recommending after you see the Ant-Man sequel. There are specific titles that influenced director Peyton Reed. There are other movies that seem to be referenced in tribute. And there those that Ant-Man and the Wasp made me, personally, think of while watching. Below is just a starting point, with additional suggestions acknowledged within certain entries. Watch them chronologically for a tour through time, and you’ll get a sense of what came beforehand.
The Dwarf and the Giant (1901)
As always, one of the best originators or early pioneers of a special effect is Georges Melies. The magician-turned-filmmaker was all about cinematic trickery, and his 1901 film The Devil and the Statue is typically brought up as an early example, if not the first film, to showcase the shrinking and enlarging of characters — in time rather than as a jump-cut substitution. Melies’ The Dwarf and the Giant was released the same month and is more just a presentation of the trick, which utilized a special dolly system and forced perspective. Perhaps Scott Lang was also, in his magic interests, a fan of Melies’ films.
Seven Chances (1925)
Yes, I did just recommend Seven Chances on my list of movies to watch after Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Apparently, it’s a big inspiration on filmmakers right now, because Reed actually mentioned the Buster Keaton feature specifically as one of the big influences on Ant-Man and the Wasp. From a new /Film interview:
“I think the ‘Ant-Man’ movies are different than a lot of the other things in the MCU in that all the action sequences are really they come from a comedic place. And Buster Keaton is a giant influence. I went back and watched ‘Seven Chances’ again, which has to me the greatest chase scene of all time in a movie.
“And also to me like one of the earliest examples of a ticking clock in a movie. You know, if you’re not married by 7:00 PM on your 27th birthday, you’re gonna not get this 20 million dollars or whatever it was in the movie. Like that kind of thing was like okay, that’s what we’re doing. We, if we can make a connection to the Quantum Realm and we can get Janet’s location, great, but there’s a finite amount of time that we have to do it. And it’s good for the drama and it’s good for the comedy.”
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Another early film employing shrinking and enlarging effects is the 1903 version of Alice in Wonderland, which uses various effects to depict the title character’s changes in size. While not an example of live-action trickery, Disney’s animated adaptation is also worth looking at in relation to Ant-Man and the Wasp, because it does the best job of portraying Alice as sort of embarrassed and frustrated by her many awkward transformations, much like Scott feels when he’s unable to control his new Ant-Man suit.
What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
No action movie set in San Francisco is complete without a chase sequence up and down the city’s hilly streets. You have to do that stunt where the cars jump into the air as they reach a peak and start to descend again. Every time, it’s a nod to the iconic chase of Bullitt. When done more comedically, as in the case of Ant-Man and the Wasp‘s sequence, you also must recognize What’s Up, Doc?, Peter Bogdanovich’s San Francisco-set movie that parodies Bullitt‘s sequence from a few years earlier. The movie also, like Ant-Man and the Wasp, involves a MacGuffin changing hands as it’s pursued by multiple parties.
Here’s Reed in the new /Film interview on the influence of What’s Up, Doc?:
“Of course, Bogdanovich’s ‘What’s Up, Doc?’ was a big influence. A movie I loved as a kid and we screened at Marvel and it’s like here’s the ridiculous comedic car chase through San Francisco. And also the chemistry between Streisand and Ryan O’Neal in that movie. And that was a big one.”
After Hours (1985)
This Martin Scorsese movie is cited in many interviews as a direct influence on Ant-Man and the Wasp. Reed told /Film why After Hours was a big one as far as what he looked at going into his Ant-Man sequel:
“We liked the idea of a very specific timeline, just over a couple of days. Scott Lang has three days left of house arrest. What could possibly go wrong? Yeah, that was the, you know, really was just kind of like one crazy night idea.”
And here’s producer Stephen Broussard speaking on the set of Ant-Man and the Wasp (also via /Film) on how After Hours — as well as Go and Adventures in Babysitting — relates to the new superhero movie:
“I don’t really know if it’s a genre unto itself but movies that have always been kind of ‘one bad night,’ when something just goes terrible and just kind of spirals out of control. ‘After Hours’ is a great touchstone. I like ‘Go.’ ‘Go’ is a great movie. You know, ‘Adventures in Babysitting’ for the lighter fare. It just feels like it started so simple but then it kind of just goes up and up and up, and then you have a character trying to race to put it all back in the box before they get caught.”
Going back to movies where characters change size, this Joe Dante sci-fi comedy should be right up your alley if you enjoy the Ant-Man movies. Reed has cited Fantastic Voyage as one of his influences for the franchise. That’s another good movie to watch after these, but Innerspace, which is also about a miniaturized ship navigating the microscopic map of a human body, has the element of humor that makes it a more appropriate selection. Also, similar to Scott during the elementary school “heist,” there are characters who shrink just slightly, to child size. Maybe the next Ant-Man movie could see the superhero tasked with entering someone’s insides.
It almost seems like intentional trolling. Marvel beat DC by almost a year with its own nod to Penny Marshall’s Big. Shazam!, which arrives next April, will come across as having a more direct and full link to the comedy that broke Tom Hanks out as a big movie star (and an Oscar-caliber one to boot), but Ant-Man and the Wasp certainly pays tribute during that sequence where Scott is stuck in an awkward size while wearing a blue hoodie and having to navigate his daughter’s school. He’s Small rather than Big, but that adds to the gag.
Midnight Run (1988)
This buddy comedy from Martin Brest has also been mentioned by Reed as a source of inspiration. He told Fandango:
‘Midnight Run’ was a big influence just in terms of that movie is all forward motion, and the lead characters have a very simple goal, but that goal is constantly thwarted throughout the movie for various reasons.
In many interviews (including this one at Uproxx), the director also pairs mention of Midnight Run with After Hours because in both “there’s a very simple goal that needs to be accomplished, and the journey getting there is nuts, and all of these people come out of the woodwork.” With just Midnight Run, though, there’s also a dynamic of characters similar to that of Hank Pym and Scott Lang in the Ant-Man movies, as Robert De Niro plays a serious bounty hunter escorting a more comical common man type played by Charles Grodin.
Tequila Sunrise (1988)
Whenever there’s a flashback that employs de-aging effects, I like to recommend the movie(s) where the actor actually looked as they magically appear in this scene. Ant-Man and the Wasp begins with a sequence from 1987 with youngified Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer. For him, that’d be around the time of Fatal Attraction and Wall Street. For her, it’s Married to the Mob, Dangerous Liaisons, and Tequila Sunrise, the last of which would be the most fitting watch. Like Ant-Man, its main character (Mel Gibson) is an ex-con trying to go straight and be with his kid but is pulled back in and must deal with a variety of foes. Also, hey, look it’s young Ego (Kurt Russell) from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2!
There’s another flashback in Ant-Man and the Wasp featuring a de-aged Laurence Fishburne (partly played by his son Langston), but the year it takes place is not clear. If we go by the age of the girl who plays young Ava as it relates to the age of main Ava/Ghost actress Hannah John-Kamen, we’re looking at the sequence being set around 1996-1997. So, maybe add Event Horizon to your suggested viewing list, as well.
Get Shorty (1995)
What is this Hollywood-based crime comedy doing on this list? Aside from an excuse to give you another great appearance from Dennis Farina, who is also in Midnight Run, and a movie featuring Thor’s mom, this is also another movie cited as an influence. Well, maybe it was a reference to the book. And really just Elmore Leonard’s work overall. But “Get Shorty” is the only one I’ve seen sort of specifically named by the Ant-Man and the Wasp team.
Reed has acknowledged Leonard in many interviews as an influence and has mentioned the idea of what “if Elmore Leonard had written a science fiction novel and Marvel made a movie of it.” Meanwhile, Broussard said this more lengthy bit on the set of the movie:
“I’m a big Elmore Leonard fan, in the way that there’s all these sort of colorful characters kind of colliding with one another. That feels crime-adjacent, to use that term again, and so we wanted to populate this movie with a lot of antagonists. Not so much people that are like villains or supervillains, but like obstacles in the way. They have their own agendas, their own journeys. They’re not trying to take over the world but they’re clearly standing in the way of our heroes, and Elmore Leonard was such a master at that. The Get Shortys of the world. Everybody is in a circle trying to get somewhere else and just colliding in the middle and that was a huge inspiration for the tone and the framework of where this movie could go.”
Being John Malkovich (1999)
One scene in Ant-Man and the Wasp appears to be a direct nod to this debut feature of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (directed by Spike Jonze). Scott dozes off in the bathtub and in what seems like a dream his consciousness is transported into the mind of Janet van Dyne. He suddenly sees through her eyes, only realizing what’s going on when he glimpses into the mirror and sees de-aged Michelle Pfeiffer instead of Paul Rudd. Later, Janet takes over Scott’s body, puppeteer-like, in a scene with Hank and Hope.
While there are other two-way body-swapping movies that could be recognized instead, or maybe the 1984 comedy All of Me, in which Lili Tomlin (star of her own shrinking person movie a few years earlier) takes over part of the body of Steve Martin. But I think Being John Malkovich is the only movie that fits that also shows us the character POV in the very same way as is done in Ant-Man and the Wasp. Now if only we could see Janet go inside her own head for a surreal sequence where everyone is Michelle Pfeiffer and all their dialogue is “VanDyne Van Dyne VanDyne.” We all wanted to see more Pfeiffer anyway.
Mercury 13 (2018)
For this week’s documentary pick, I’m going with something very recent. Mercury 13 is a Netflix Original release about women who were unofficially tested for NASA’s initial astronaut program. Thirteen women went through the training, hence their eponymous label akin to the Mercury Seven group of men that was admitted into Project Mercury (they were also known as the First Lady Astronaut Trainees, or FLATs). The documentary chronicles a history that follows through to Sally Ride, unrelated to the FLAT group, becoming the actual first woman in space, as well as other female astronauts that have come since.
Recommending Mercury 13 is not just about the relevance of women qualified or even more appropriate for a role that men have dominated, though Hope as the Wasp definitely shows that anything a male counterpart can do, she can do better. It’s also not because the FLATs are acknowledged in a 2012 “Captain Marvel” comic book and therefore could be also recognized in the next Marvel movie. I mainly find it interesting that the Mercury 13 women were an evolution from a little-known group formed during World War II called WASP — an acronym for Women Airline Service Pilots — making Hope’s superhero moniker even more significant as a slight, maybe even unintentional nod to those real heroes.