Welcome to Movie DNA, a column that recognizes the direct and indirect cinematic roots of new movies. Learn some film history, become a more well-rounded viewer, and enjoy likeminded works of the past. This entry recommends movies to watch after you stream The Old Guard.
The concept of immortality has been around since the dawn of storytelling. And it’s an idea that will probably, appropriately, live forever. Gods, vampires, masked slashers, childlike androids — audiences never get tired of such everlasting characters. Now we can add the eternal warriors of The Old Guard, a Netflix movie based on the comic books of the same name.
Led by the ancient figure Andromache, the titular group also consists of a pair of lovers who met during the Crusades, another man born in the 19th century, and a newbie who has just learned she’s immortal. They tend to take on missions to help others in need but are now fighting for their own freedom against a pharmaceutical company that wants to use them as guinea pigs.
Gina Prince-Bythewood, who directed The Old Guard from a script by creator Greg Rucka, has mentioned some of the movies she watched as inspiration for her adaptation (you should also watch her previous movies, especially Love & Basketball). Those titles are joined below by some personal picks that seem relevant in a kindred manner.
I recommend you watch them all sooner than later because nobody really lives forever.
Wonder Woman (2017)
Before creating The Old Guard, Greg Rucka wrote many superhero comics, including award-winning runs of Wonder Woman for DC Comics. He didn’t have anything to do with the Wonder Woman movie (though he did receive a special thank you in the credits), but the way the title character is depicted here — an immortal figure stemming from a world thought to be mythological — easily comes to mind while watching Andromache, an immortal figure thought to be mythological, in The Old Guard.
Also, Wonder Woman comes up in interviews with Prince-Bythewood about The Old Guard because she called the movie’s director, Patty Jenkins, for advice on doing a big comic book movie. She also says in an interview for the BFI, “I remember going to the premiere of Wonder Woman and just being so floored and full of pride. Patty stepped up and succeeded and opened the door for the couple of us that have now come after her.”
The Maze Runner (2014)
I was going to just recommend the sequel Maze Runner: The Death Cure, but that movie doesn’t make much sense without seeing the prior two adaptations of James Dashner’s YA book series. The Maze Runner is about a bunch of boys trapped in the center of a maze, and while it’s not clear in the first movie, the boys are all guinea pigs in an experiment because they’re immune to a virus that has wiped out much of the world. In later movies, you learn that the evil organization behind the maze is also attempting to harvest enzymes from the immune in order to create a cure.
The trope where a character is immune to a specific disease and may be the source for a cure or vaccine is common. The idea of imprisoning and harvesting some humans to save the rest of humanity is still a bit far fetched, however. Another movie I thought of recommending for a twist on the idea is I Am Legend. In that, Will Smith plays a survivor of an apocalyptic disease that’s turned everyone into vampire-like creatures. He uses himself as a lab rat in the effort to find a cure, which if the creatures were truly vampires would mean trying to find a cure for not becoming immortal.
The Immortalists (2014)
There are no documentaries about real immortals (that we know of), but there are a few films warranting a recommendation as this week’s obligatory nonfiction pick. I could have recognized Transcendant Man for the umpteenth time; the doc is about Ray Kurzweil and includes his idea of achieving immortality by uploading your mind to a computer. There’s also the 2009 doc How to Live Forever, which does concern the quest to live forever but also just deals with how to live as long as possible (and Kurzweil is in that as well). But The Immortalists is a little more interesting while also being more easily digestible.
The documentary focuses primarily on two doctors, Aubrey de Grey (who is also in How to Live Forever) and Bill Andrews who are attempting to find a “cure” for aging. Not unlike the villain in The Old Guard, but they’re not searching for human immortals to use as guinea pigs. That isn’t to say they’re the most likable people either, however. Obviously, there’s not much in the way of how to solve the problem of aging and death, so the plethora of information shared and the science explored here involves the study of how and why living things (and our cells) do age and then die the way that we do. It’s a fascinating primer.
The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2013)
Immortals don’t really exist (that we know of), but when someone lives to be around 100 years old, they sure seem like they lived forever. Especially if their life was filled with a lot of different events. (Like we saw with the recently deceased Carl Reiner.) Or a fictional character like Allan Karlsson, the protagonist of this movie (and its source novel). Through flashbacks, we see that the centenarian touched many significant things throughout the 20th century, including the Spanish Civil War and the Manhattan Project. He’s like the immortals in The Old Guard or like Forrest Gump but a little more believable maybe.
The Grandmaster (2013)
The most recent of a number of known martial arts movies that Prince-Bythewood watched in preparation for The Old Guard (she says in one interview there were twenty but has only named five that I can find). Wong Kar-wai’s Oscar-nominated biopic looks back on and dramatizes the life of Wing Chun master IP Man. Instead of following him from birth through death, the movie picks up his story when he’s in his forties and sometimes reflecting back on earlier events, shown in flashback. Not that unlike how the past of the immortals of The Old Guard is shown.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
In addition to Asian action movies, Prince-Bythewood has cited Zero Dark Thirty, Logan, Man on Fire, and the bathroom fight scene from Mission: Impossible: Fallout as inspirations for The Old Guard. Logan likely because of Wolverine finally becoming more vulnerable after being seemingly immortal due to his healing factor. Man on Fire, which she discusses at length on a new episode of the Switchblade Sisters podcast, but I just recommended that recently (albeit a different version) with another Netflix Original. Zero Dark Thirty, though, seems to be a more significant influence, and not just because it’s also made by a woman.
“Zero Dark Thirty for the grounded feel of it and the way that Kathryn [Bigelow] stayed with the action,” Prince-Bythewoood tells Slashfilm of borrowing the hand-held style of filming. “Shooting it in handheld with 65-millimeter cameras, which hadn’t been done until now, because they’re so heavy. The clarity that they give, I just wanted to try it and props to our camera folks for doing that for sixty-three days. They did get massages every week. But also being able to really tell that story by being able to see the action, feel the action, and you certainly do that with what am I going to do with the handheld, being up in there.”
The Raid (2011)
Another of the Asian action movies that Prince-Bythewood names as an influence on The Old Guard. As she says about the lot of them in the BFI interview, “Over here, we are desensitized a bit to violence. We watch people like Rambo, who kills a bunch of people and then he’s pumping his fists and making a cool quip after it. In Asian cinema, you see the effect of it not only on the person that has been hurt or killed but on the person that did the killing. That makes for more interesting storytelling.”
The plot of the first Raid movie doesn’t have much in common with The Old Guard, but the climax of the latter does involve the main characters having to make their way to the top of a pharmaceutical company’s building, where the evil CEO is hiding in the penthouse, killing many anonymous minions along the way. The Raid, meanwhile, follows a member of a police force making its way upward through a building to get to a crime boss, killing many anonymous minions along the way.
13 Assassins (2010)
You might expect Blade of the Immortal to be the recommended Takashi Miike film, but 13 Assassins is the one that Prince-Bythewood acknowledges is among her influences. And at least the BFI interviewer assumes she means this remake and not the 1966 original. The film follows a baker’s dozen men united to kill an evil feudal lord in 19th century Japan. Though it’s not likely a part of why Prince-Bythewood chose it, 13 Assassins does have a hint of an immortal character at the end.
Ong Bak 2 (2008)
Of the martial arts films included on this list, Prince-Bythewood has named The Raid the most in interviews. Ong Bak 2 is a close second, though, as being among her favorites. It goes without saying that you will likely first want to watch the original, Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior. But Ong Bak 2, which again stars Tony Jaa, is actually a prequel. So you should be just fine skipping the initial installment and watching this movie following the hero Tien during his martial arts training.
Years ago, Prince-Bythewood noted that she went through a whole Zhang Yimou phase just after film school. She apparently watched at least this one again in preparation for The Old Guard. Featuring Christopher Doyle’s most deliciously colorful cinematography, the wuxia film is set in Ancient China and stars Jet Li on a mission to kill a king after successfully defeating three other assassins, the stories of which are told in flashbacks.
When I think of immortal warriors, I first think of Highlander. The movie has spawned a number of sequels and television series, but for me, there can be only one…entry in the franchise. The big difference between Highlander and The Old Guard is that the immortals in the former are more powerful in their rarity, so some of them wish to eliminate all others like them. Also, they can be killed, and only be killed, by beheading, which made me wonder throughout The Old Guard what would happen to its characters if their heads were cut off.
As long as you’re watching Highlander, which features Sean Connery in a supporting role as the immortal who trains and teaches the main character, you might as well also watch Zardoz. Connery stars in this movie — one of his first big titles after retiring from the James Bond franchise for the second time — and famously wears one of the most ridiculous costumes in all of cinema. Anyway, Zardoz is a weird post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie in which immortals rule over mortals. Of course, that description makes it sound like the plot of the movie is so simple when it’s anything but.
The Trojan Women (1971)
Charlize Theron’s character in The Old Guard, fully named Andromache of Scythia, is possibly based on the mythological character who was the wife of the Trojan prince and warrior Hector (and/or she’s an Amazonian warrior, another way she links to Wonder Woman). The Trojan Women, adapted from the ancient Greek tragedy play by Euripides, stars Vanessa Redgrave as Andromache opposite Katherine Hepburn as Hecuba, Geneviève Bujold as Cassandra, and Irene Papas as Helen. The story depicts the aftermath of the Trojan War as the surviving women consider what happens next for them and their ruined kingdom.
The same Andromache character appears in any number of other movies set during the Trojan War. In the most famous of these, 2004’s Troy, Saffron Burrows plays the role. Patricia Marmont portrays her in a smaller capacity in the 1956 film Helen of Troy. As far as I can tell, there are no films featuring the Amazon called Andromache, who is more likely the inspiration for Andy in The Old Guard. Most movies featuring Amazonian warriors leave such character nameless. But there were Amazons in the Trojan War, so watching films like Troy and The Trojan Horse can sort of fit regardless.