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8 Movies to Watch After You See ‘The Dark Tower’

Aim your eye — with your mind and your heart — toward these more satisfying films.
By  · Published on August 5th, 2017

The wait is over. A movie based on Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series is here. And it probably has made you feel rather empty inside. There’s so little substance to the adaptinuation (that’s adaption + continuation) that you need to fill the void with something else. Maybe eight somethings else. This week’s Movies to Watch will probably seem rather superficial and repetitive in its curation, but The Dark Tower isn’t interesting enough to inspire a variety of recommendations. And I didn’t want to just fall back on the known influences on King’s source material (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and The Lord of the Rings, in particular). So here are selections that sprung to my mind while watching the new movie, as I wished I was watching them instead.

Day of Anger (1967)

The same month The Good, the Bad and the Ugly made its way to the US, this lesser-known Spaghetti Western debuted in Italy and was another huge hit for the genre. Today, it’s recognized as one of the standout great Italian Westerns in a sea of mediocrity. That’s one reason that, if I’m trying to avoid the most obvious pick for an obligatory Spaghetti Western to recommend, I choose Tonino Valerii’s sophomore feature. Valerii had been the AD on the first installment of the”Dollars Trilogy,” A Fistful of Dollars, and he clearly learned from the master of the genre, Sergio Leone.

I also choose Day of Anger because The Dark Tower is not the same as its source material. It’s not just about a Gunslinger modeled after Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name. In the movie, the Gunslinger has a young companion, and I tried to think of a Western with a similar situation. This one came to mind, although the young companion here is hardly a kid (the character is played by Giuliano Gemma, who was nearly 30 at the time). He becomes apprentice to a gunfighter (Lee Van Cleef, who you know from “Dollars” installments For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) and helps him as he takes on an old foe (who’s also a former partner). But ultimately, the duo clash, because this gunfighter is also the real villain of the film. If you like For a Few Dollars More, you’ll recognize some of the main locations here. And if you only know that and its two “Dollars” companions, Day of Anger is a great next step in your appreciation of the Spaghetti Western genre.

The Shining (1980)

I thought about avoiding all other Stephen King adaptations, mainly because the “Dark Tower” books link to so many of King’s other works, and even the Dark Tower movie has allusions to ItCujo, and Christine (and probably more that aren’t as blatant). There are also a couple direct visual nods to The Shining, but that’s not why it’s on this list. I’ve chosen to make an exception for Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation because there is one key element to The Dark Tower that might be better appreciated with a familiarity with this. In the new movie, young Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) and other children are revealed to have “the shining,” or psychic powers.

In The Shining, the titular gift is possessed by another kid, Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd), as well as by an old chef (Scatman Crothers) at the Overlook Hotel, where Danny’s father serves as caretaker. And also “you could say the Overlook Hotel here has something about it that’s like shining.” The hotel, which you can see in a photo in the child psychiatrist’s office in The Dark Tower, winds up having an effect on Danny’s dad, Jack (Jack Nicholson), causing him to become a murderous psychopath. There is nothing like that in The Dark Tower, which is not a horror movie, but an additional thing it has in common with Kubrick’s film is it’s dismissed by King fans who prefer faithful adaptation.

Time Bandits (1981)

When it comes to movies about youths being transported to other worlds, a lot of the classics (namely Alice in WonderlandThe Wizard of Oz, Labyrinth) involve girls. For something similar with a boy protagonist, the best example is Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits. The comedic fantasy film follows a kid named Kevin (Craig Warnock) as he travels through time and myths alongside a group of little people. Ultimately they all must face “Evil,” a devil played so brilliantly by David Warner that he makes Matthew McConaughey seem like an amateur as he portrays the devilish “Man in Black,” who seems by comparison to be a harmless bore.

Another part of Time Bandits that The Dark Tower reminded me of is Kevin’s relationship to King Agamemnon (Sean Connery). The boy lands in Ancient Greece separate from his traveling companions and is found and adopted by the mythological Mycenaean leader. Kevin sees a father figure in the man, much like Jake sees a father figure in Roland, the Gunslinger. And then the “time bandits” show up and ruin that bond between Kevin and Agamemnon, whisking the boy — and as much of the king’s riches they can carry — away.

Last Action Hero (1993)

Working with a screen-traversing conceit in the tradition of Sherlock Jr.The Purple Rose of Cairo, and The Icicle Thief (and later Fat Albert), John McTiernan’s meta blockbuster stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as an action hero in the movies who gains an unlikely companion in the form of a teenage boy (Austin O’Brien) from the real world. Same as The Dark Tower, the kid is transported to the other dimension — here a fictional film series rather than a another key piece of a multiverse that Earth is also part of — and then he brings a hero from that dimension back with him in order to catch a villain (Charles Dance) who also made his way to the real world.

The Dark Tower isn’t a copycat, though, because its Earth location is New York City, not Los Angeles. It’s also not very clever in its contrast of the two worlds or in its twofold fish-out-of-water story. Yes, The Dark Tower has some sort of funny lines, but they’re generic, unmemorable, and usually out of nowhere stranger-in-a-strange-land jokes, not unlike those in Thor (which also features Idris Elba). The humor of Last Action Hero is always specific to its premise and its division of universes, so it’s also a satire of action movies and stars like Schwarzenegger. The Dark Tower is full of references to other King works, but it’s never actually self-referential. It doesn’t lampoon its own genre or brand. Not that it should have been meta; that’s just its distinction here.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.