Months after the release of Netflix’s Squid Game, viewers are still talking about the hit show — and rightly so. It’s been a while since any series or film has succeeded in playing with themes of survival, violence, and class struggles, all while making you root for and against the central characters.
The South Korean dystopian drama is a certified blockbuster. In under a month on the platform, Netflix data reveals that viewing time reached 1.65 billion hours, with Squid Game quickly becoming their most-watched show.
Nine episodes are not nearly enough to satiate audiences’ thirst for well-paced psychological tales. The good news is that, however fresh the story feels, it’s not the first to explore similar themes and motifs. Creator Hwang Dong-hyuk himself cited comics, manga, and anime as major influences (though he didn’t drop any names) for Squid Game, many of which have been turned into feature films and TV shows of their own.
And if you’re looking for something to scratch your Squid Game itch, here are a few titles to add to your to-watch list:
Battle Royale (2000)
Battle Royale sounds like a fast-paced exciting arena game. However, you wouldn’t want to be picked as one of its players — not when, much like Squid Game, the rules are to fight each other to the death.
Directed by acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Kinji Fukasaku, Battle Royale (Batoru Rowaiaru) is based on a 1999 novel of the same name. It’s set in totalitarian Japan, with a government determined to quell juvenile delinquents who might become rebels.
The government’s solution is unique but also extreme: subject a group of young rule-breakers to an annual three-day deathmatch and make an example out of them.
Each student is given a map, a weapon to eliminate their opponents, and a collar to keep track of their whereabouts. The collar also explodes if they step out of line as the game’s facilitator, a former teacher, demonstrates early on in the game.
Battle Royale puts players under a similar psychological test as Squid Game. When the stakes are high — like 45.6 billion won or your life — how far are you willing to go to win? And, in the case of the Japanese thriller, will you claim the lives of people you know and might have grown up with to save your own?
The Japanese novel-turned-movie is the closest to Squid Game we might ever get. But, be warned: It was banned in several countries for being too graphic. A movie that Quentin Tarantino claimed to be his all-time favorite is bound to be dark and violent.
The Wilds (2020)
2020 marked the release of some amazing TV shows, though not all received the recognition they deserve. One contribution we have for this growing list of underrated series — and content that Squid Game fans will surely enjoy — is the young adult drama The Wilds.
The Amazon Prime Original follows the story of nine teenage girls on their way to Dawn of Eve, a female empowerment retreat. Things go south as their plane crashes, marooning them on an unknown island with limited resources and survival know-how.
What makes The Wilds stand out is the diversity in the characters and the stories they tell. Each episode of the 10-part series is a balancing act of unfolding the girls’ individual narratives and how they all fit together.
To our relief, the teen drama Sarah Streicher created isn’t given The CW treatment. The actors and the roles they play don’t look and feel unnecessarily grown up. That said, viewers of any age will find their personal struggles relatable and, at times, painful — from facing overwhelming external pressures to coming to terms with one’s sexuality, from falling in love to learning to let go of a loved one.
In a twisted sense, their empowerment is tested on the island more than any kind of retreat could. But is all the misfortune just a result of an accident? Some of the girls don’t seem to think so and they might be right.
The first season ends on a cliffhanger, but the show will return to answer our burning questions in 2022. As of now, Amazon Prime Video hasn’t announced an exact release date, though they did hint at a bigger cast and even bigger stakes.
The Game (1997)
When we think of David Fincher, we think of psychological thrillers. Sure enough, some of his most well-known films are Se7en and Fight Club, both of which have become a standard to strive for in the edge-of-your-seat genre.
In between the release of those two iconic titles is The Game. Roger Ebert rated it three and a half stars, praising the acting chops of Michael Douglas in his prime. The movie itself isn’t bad and has all the elements of a classic Fincher suspense — from the moody, wide shots to the mind-blowing twist.
Douglas plays Nicholas Van Orton, a rich banker who is subjected to a mysterious game. This is based on the recommendation of his brother, Conrad (Sean Penn). Unlike the Squid Game games, the rules here are as unclear to Nicholas as to the audience throughout most of the film.
The lines between his life and the game begin to blur as the banker struggles to figure out who to trust and what’s real. Is all of it just part of this elaborate game Conrad put him up to?
Much like dystopian settings, the game tests him physically and psychologically. This one hints at a bigger conspiracy at play. Maybe there is no game to win after all — at least not for Nicholas.
The Game and Squid Game share an urgency for self-preservation regardless of your social status. And although the twist is met with conflicting reviews, David Fincher already knew how to build suspense so well even in the early stages of his directing career.
The Game is another successful attempt at keeping viewers glued to the screen. Blink and you might miss an important detail that ties it all together. That, and I do have to agree with Ebert on this one: Michael Douglas as a cold, calculating, and paranoid player delivers a bigger reward than the plot’s final reveal.
Alice in Borderland (2020)
If deadly games are what hooked you on to Squid Game, Netflix’s 2020 release Alice in Borderland is a binge-worthy alternative.
The TV adaptation of Haro Aso’s manga introduces viewers to a group of misfits. The protagonist, Ryōhei Arisu, is reminiscent of Squid Game’s Seong Gi-hun as both have no direction in life and very few people they can turn to. Only instead of gambling, Arisu’s obsession lies in video games.
Arisu and his friends accidentally enter Borderland after a near-death experience. Unbeknownst to them at the beginning, this parallel universe is a place of limbo. Those who find themselves in Borderland must survive a series of dangerous games if they want to go back to the world of the living.
The games in Alice in Borderland have simple mechanics, too, but the threat of death makes them a bit trickier than expected. Here is a chance for our hero to excel. Arisu’s ingenuity allows him to survive and even help others out. The gamer becomes a character we don’t mind rooting for, like Gi-hun, despite his shortcomings.
The visual effects of Alice in Borderland are also worth a shoutout as they make the show a stellar adaptation. Fortunately, a second season is slated for release in December 2022, and we can once again immerse ourselves in the show’s strange universe. Let’s just hope that in it, Netflix untangles all of the threads of the first season.
Squid Game will be back for a second season, but Hwang Dong-hyuk hasn’t confirmed a target year or even a fully cooked storyline for it yet. Until then, these titles can keep you company. Just try not to binge-watch them all in one weekend.